Dieting can be hard, especially when "health companies" take shots at your dignity with photoshopped images of happy, racially ambiguous people that "look and feel great" because they drink the carb-less protein mush with 34 billion necessary vitamins and minerals. (Spoiler alert: they don't actually drink it.)
So where lies the truth in the oversaturated health food market? Are any foods truly evil or off limits?
It depends. The most important thing to remember is that dieting is not about finding this magic weight-loss regimen to try for a few months. I actually don't even like the term "dieting," as it implies there will be a time in the future when you're not "on your diet." Dieting is about gradually working into a healthy lifestyle that you can stick with. If you can't stick with it, it's not going to help.
As complicated as the human body is, it's actually been fairly well mapped out from a nutritional standpoint. Yes, there's always infinitely more to learn, but what we know about nutrition is more than enough to help you attain whatever sort of figure you want.
Most nutritionists break food down into three categories: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. You need all three. Let's start with carbs. There's simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are delicious, delicious sugars. These are found in honey, molasses, fruit beverages and sugar of all kinds – brown, white or otherwise. They are called simple carbohydrates because they are quite small, molecularly speaking and they digest QUICKLY.
Complex carbohydrates are just long strings of simple sugar subunits linked together. These are found in many vegetables, pastas, grains, oatmeals and beans. Simple carbohydrates are quickly processed, and can lead to reactive hypoglycemia, a scary term for a sugar crash. Complex carbohydrates are great for more sustained energy. They are also going to help you eat less often and reduce your total caloric intake. Lean away from simple carbs and more toward complex carbs.
Next comes protein. Honestly, protein is great. It makes you feel full, takes longer to break down (leaving you feeling full), and is responsible for the development of skeletal muscle, as well as muscle recovery (on top of a multitude of cellular uses). Protein, while sometimes used to gain mass when paired with size-building exercise, can actually help maintain weight loss goals by curbing appetite. This fact has nothing to do with the excessive, dangerous diets that cut carbs. Protein is great when kept within reasonable caloric parameters. Don't eat meat? Protein can be found in soy, kale, nuts, beans and seeds. However, these protein sources are often not as complete as ones found in meat, so some mixing and matching may be necessary for a well-rounded protein intake.
Last, the F word: Fats. Not all fat is bad fat. Unsaturated fats, both mono and poly, are incredibly healthy in certain amounts. They raise your HDL cholesterol (the good kind), lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), protect against plaque buildup in arteries, contain those great omega-3s you hear about, and can even prevent belly fat. Saturated fats are a different beast, promoting heart disease, bad cholesterol and inflammation. Do your best to limit them.
All of that said, I want to end with what would seem like an obvious statement: Eat real food.You're worth more than what's easy. Convenient foods are foods that are easy for others to make, easy to preserve and easy to sell. Convenient foods are also horrifying conglomerates of odd things, like that episode of Spongebob where they start serving fake Krabby Patties.
Did you know that Chick-fil-A pickles are dyed with yellow 5 and blue 1? That's because their pickles aren't green, and they have to dye them to make them look green. That's not some weird propaganda circulating the internet. That's on their website. Look it up. Food chains don't care about your health. They care about their money.
Andrew Fleming is a junior in neuroscience. He can be reached at email@example.com.