Variety, not restriction

There are so many times when I see a person’s food log, and I feel like I’m reading the same day over and over. Mainstream diets even encourage people to believe less variety is better. Sure, we’re creatures of habit, but we also have a deep-seated need for novelty. When it comes to food, a little bit of variety will give you more energy and make you feel better.

Not all food has to be salad to be nutritious, but even the ordinary salad can be created with variety.

If you eat the same cereal for breakfast, the same sandwich for lunch, and the same pasta for dinner you’re not only limiting the amount of nutrients you are consuming, but you are boring your brain. Both lead people to eat more. Here’s why:

  • Our bodies create unique amino acids based on the ways we combine foods. For example, eating an onion with broccoli and sweet potatoes will produce different amino acids than eating an onion with broccoli and white potatoes or rice or a banana for that matter. It’s the variety of food combinations we make that are just as important as the meals we choose to eat. If we don’t get the nutrition our bodies need, hunger and cravings increase because the body is searching for missing vitamins and minerals. (One caution: variety here means choosing from a wide range of whole foods, not from the kind of variety one experiences at a buffet restaurant.)
  • Food psychology also comes into play here as well. If we eat the same foods over and over, we lose interest. We start craving stronger flavors like sugars and fats more often. We want foods that will provide a counterbalance to how boring our daily diet has become. Bottom line: If we don’t feel satisfied with what we eat, we’ll want to keep eating.

Instead of restrictive diets, counting calories, eliminating favorite foods, and feeling guilty, I tell clients to focus on creating variety, color, moderation, and (yes, even) fun into their diets. I don’t know why we ever adopted the idea that food has to be boring, tasteless, and restrictive to be “good” for us because that has only made us food neurotic–and not a bit healthier.


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