Why eating ‘right’ could cause you to stray from your diet

It is well known that eating healthily helps us to maintain a stable and healthy body weight, as well as improving energy levels and reducing our risk of various diseases. However, for most of us, making healthy dietary choices is easier said than done. So what’s the best way to lose weight and stick to a healthy diet?

It is OK to give into your cravings once in a while, says Dr. Thomas.Cat Box | Shutterstock

Reduce red and processed meat

New findings published on the 17th April in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggest that even the recommended amounts of red and processed meat may be harmful to health. This single large prospective study of half a million people in the UK showed that red and processed meats are carcinogenic to the human colon.

Researchers found that adding 25g processed meat or 50g red meat to your diet can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 20 percent! To put this in perspective, 25g processed meat is equivalent to one slice of ham or a single rasher of bacon. Similarly, 50g of red meat is just one more lamb cutlet or one thick slice of roast beef.

People who ate meat more than four times per week were compared to those who ate, on average, less than 21g/day, which typically included those who only consumed this type of meat on two or fewer days of the week.

The study looked at a very large number of subjects – over half a million men and women – of whom more than 2600 eventually developed colorectal cancer.

The alarming part of this study is that UK government recommendations for average daily intakes of red and processed meat top out at 90g/day, but most subjects at increased cancer risk in this study only consumed around 76g/day. This means that the average amount of meat consumed by the subjects at greatest risk of colorectal cancer fell well within the UK government recommendations of 90g/day or less.

Drink alcohol in moderation

The same study showed that for each additional 10g of alcohol per day (the same as half a pint of 4.5% w/v beer), the colorectal cancer risk went up by 8%.

Choose whole grains

The study also reported a reduced risk with a higher intake of fiber in the form of bread or cereal reduced the risk by 14%. Fiber from fruit and vegetables didn’t count, apparently.

Keep expectations within limits

In other words, don’t try to lose twenty pounds just two months. Not only is this unrealistic (promoting diet drop-outs), but it also locks you into unhealthy patterns which could be harmful in the long run. It takes time to build a healthy habit; studies show that it can take up to 66 days on average to change a new behavior into a habit.

Avoid anything that claims to provide the “perfect diet”, as the likelihood of this being right for you is very slim. You will need to customize any dietary plan you choose to take up to fit your needs and schedule, without putting undue strain on your life and relationships.

A great way to maximize your win from dietary changes is to begin an exercise plan at the same time, which has been proven to boost weight loss goals.

Why is this study so important?

While earlier studies have highlighted the same issues, this was the first study to consider the sources of nutrients in a modern-day population as well as typical eating patterns in developed nations. These techniques enhanced the accuracy of risk prediction and minimized various biases.

Using these methods, the risk was calculated to be almost double that reported by earlier researchers.

The results were adjusted for no less than 18 parameters, including waist circumference, dairy intake, smoking and alcohol, as well as for illness-induced major dietary modifications within the past 5 years. Yet the results remained just as valid.

In other words, it is surprisingly easy to put oneself at risk of colorectal cancer on the average Western diet. And the risk rises to alarming levels with just a single additional serving of processed or red meat.

Why eating ‘right’ isn’t always healthy

So what if you gave in and ate that dessert, it definitely doesn’t mean you have to ruin your whole day by going on a binge! Consider your craving subdued, and get back on track immediately – instead of useless (or even worse, negative) regrets.

Keep tempting but unhealthy foods out of sight in your environment to avoid breaking down your self-control. Instead, keep healthy bites (rich in protein and low in fats and sugars) on hand. This applies especially when you’re traveling and healthy snacks are hard to find.

Plan ahead when you decide to eat out. Research some healthy eating places when you have to take a trip out of town, and promise yourself an incentive if you stay on the wagon until the end of the trip.

Enjoy your meal

Eat slowly, thoughtfully and in small bites – you’ll appreciate its taste more and you may even stop bingeing, as one study showed.  

Online apps to track your food intake can be a helpful way to keep yourself on track. For instance, one study showed that the use of pedometers helped women who were overweight to lose three times more weight than the women in the control group.  

Join up and get going!

Get a partner or join a group if you can. This is especially useful if you take up the same diet. A high-protein breakfast helps keep you full longer and you end up eating much less at lunch.

The take-home message

Choosing a healthy diet should include slow steady steps, replacing red meat and processed meat with healthier alternatives, and aiming for a sustainable pace of weight loss rather than a flash-in-the-pan style.

Dr. Liji Thomas

Written by

Dr. Liji Thomas

Dr. Liji Thomas is an OB-GYN, who graduated from the Government Medical College, University of Calicut, Kerala, in 2001. Liji practiced as a full-time consultant in obstetrics/gynecology in a private hospital for a few years following her graduation. She has counseled hundreds of patients facing issues from pregnancy-related problems and infertility, and has been in charge of over 2,000 deliveries, striving always to achieve a normal delivery rather than operative.

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