I was inspired to write this post when I was at my parents house over the weekend for Father’s Day. My dad and I were sitting on the porch and the topic of nutrition came up (as it often does whenever I open my mouth). As I mentioned the disease-preventing benefits of eating a healthier diet, my dad got that familiar pained look in his eyes, and said “Jenny, I just don’t want to give up the foods I love.” I could see the genuine concern he felt at the very thought of the enormous sacrifices that would surely come along with eating healthier.
This scenario is extremely common. Most of the time when people think about eating healthy, they think they have to cut out everything they love eating and just live on steamed broccoli. This is not the case, my friends (although after you start enjoying healthier foods more often, I promise steamed broccoli becomes way more appealing). But the honest truth is this: eating well doesn’t have to equal banning every food that brings you pleasure. I want to squash that thought right now! You can reap the benefits of healthier eating while still allowing yourself to enjoy your favorite foods. The key is a concept called crowding out.
The idea of crowding out in order to eat healthier is one of the first things I learned at Integrative Nutrition. It is such a simple concept, but amazing and it really works. Instead of going on a strict diet where you banish your favorite foods, you actually incorporate MORE foods into your diet. That’s right. I said it – eat more.
“How exactly does this work?” you may ask. Well, very easily actually. You simply start eating healthier foods in ADDITION to what you’d normally eat. It works the best when you eat the healthier food first, and then allow yourself to have the less-healthy food after. The easiest things to start adding in are fruits, vegetables (leafy greens are #1) and water. Other great things to consider are whole grains, beans, raw nuts & seeds.
Why is crowding out beneficial?
- Your body will get the added vitamins, minerals and nutrients in the healthy foods even if you’re still eating not-so-healthy foods too.
- The more you eat healthy foods, the more you crave them (trust me on this one).
- The more you eat the healthier foods, the more your taste buds will actually prefer the natural sweetness of fruit and the vibrant taste of vegetables over the processed snacks.
- The more new and different foods you add into your diet, the more you’ll open your eyes to the vast variety of delicious plant-based choices that are out there.
- Cravings usually stem from a lack of certain nutrients in your body. The more you fill your body with nutrient-dense foods, the less room there will be for cravings.
- Plain and simple, your stomach can only hold so much. If you fill it up with healthy food first, you’ll have less room for the alternative. You’ll start to get used to eating smaller amounts of the unhealthy food.
For Father’s Day dinner at my house, we had a crowd-out meal for my dad without him even knowing it. He had the steak he wanted, but instead of having a loaded baked potato or bread & butter along with his steak, I made a big salad and grilled vegetable skewers, and my mom made baked sweet potato fries from fresh sweet potatoes. He ate everything and loved it all. He probably didn’t even think about having bread & butter or a loaded baked potato because he was so full of veggie goodness. Cool, right?
Here’s another stellar example of crowding out in action — a few months ago, my boyfriend and I were hanging out after dinner at our apartment. He was craving something sweet. His initial reaction was to eat a cookie. I reminded him that we had a big fresh pineapple – and that maybe we should eat some of the pineapple, and then have a cookie later. He agreed. We cut up the pineapple and ate it — it was so sweet and delicious that it totally satisfied his craving for sweets. He didn’t even feel like eating the cookie anymore!
After awhile of adding in a healthier sweet option for dessert (a banana with almond butter, an apple with raw honey, a piece of raw chocolate, etc), he has totally changed his habits and doesn’t even think about cookies. But because he used the crowding out method, he never had to “cut out cookies.” They were always available to him, but he started putting them on the back burner in favor of the better snacks until it just became a habit. See, crowding out RULES!!
So if you feel like eating healthier is overwhelming and scary, and you don’t want to give up pizza and candy, fear not! Start by adding some fruits, veggies and water into your diet along with your regular meals. See how crowding out can benefit you. Eat up!!
**Learn more about my education at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.