An extensive study by Harvard University researchers reveals that french fries are the food most significantly associated with weight gain. 

Rounding out the list of edibles prone to pack on the extra pounds are potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, red meats and processed meats, other forms of potatoes, sweets and desserts, refined grains, other fried foods, 100-percent fruit juice and butter.

An article in the NY Times quotes one of the lead researchers as saying “There are good foods and bad foods, and the advice should be to eat the good foods more and the bad foods less.”

Labeling foods good and bad may work for folks without troubled relationships with food, but for the rest of us it tends to suck the enjoyment out of what is meant to be a pleasurable and satisfying part of our daily life.

I agree that we need to become more aware of what we eat and how it impacts our bodies.  For the most part, the recent addition of nutritional content on the menus of major food chains has been a helpful wake up call to many of those I work with.  But  “good” and “bad” food lists don’t work in the long run.  They only extend the cycle of false hope, failure, and self-condemnation deeply engrained in the experience  of long-term dieters.

A more empowering model is to  “pay attention” to how specific foods effect the way you feel in your body.

I know when I eat a significant amount of high sugar or fat foods, especially alone or in combination with  other very dense foods, my digestive tract says “Too much.”  My body just doesn’t process all those heavy foods well.

If you’ve tried and failed at the “good/bad” food game, consider listening to your body.  Here are a few prompts to help you get started:

  • Notice how you feel after grabbing only a cup of coffee for breakfast?
  • How’s you energy after eating a big dish of pasta with cream sauce compared to a smaller portion balanced with some steamed vegetables or a salad?
  • What do you notice when you come home from work and flop on the couch to watch television the rest of the evening?
  • What do you notice after taking a brisk 15 minute walk instead of flopping on the sofa after work?
  • How do you feel when you overeat, over drink, or under sleep?

Studies like this are great for confirming what our bodies already know.  But, our greatest problem isn’t that we’re stupid or lacking information about what is “good” and “bad” for us. Our greatest problem is that we’ve stopped listening to the inherent wisdom of our bodies.