weight loss

The Trap of Clean-Eating Treats

by Sally on March 27, 2014

The Trap of "Clean-Eating" Treats by Real Mom Nutrition

I’m a little bit worried about the words “healthy” and “clean”. Because I’m seeing them everywhere on social media in relation to dessert: There are recipes for Healthy Peppermint Patties. Clean Cookie Dough Blizzards. Healthy Clean-Eating Double-Chocolate Brownies with Marshmallow and Bacon Hot Fudge Sauce. Okay, I made up that last one. You get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong: I love seeing so many recipes with non- or minimally-processed ingredients. I use things like whole wheat flour and flaxseed in my own recipes too. And I enjoy experimenting with recipes that use, say, dates instead of sugar like the cookies above (read: “Simple No Bake Cookie Balls“).

But I worry because recipes using so-called “clean” ingredients seem to be getting a free pass lately as healthy and nourishing no matter what they actually are. A peanut butter cup made with coconut oil is still a peanut butter cup. When you’re eating raw vegan cookie dough bites, you’re still eating, well, balls of cookie dough.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with dessert in my book–even every day. I love dessert. But goodies like these can easily become a problem if we’re eating or serving them more frequently (or in larger portions) because we perceive them as particularly wholesome. I’ll admit I’m guilty of doing that (read: “Too Much of a Good Thing: Why Calories Still Count.”).

Bottom line: We can serve our family “clean” snickerdoodle cream pie, but even if it’s made with agave and raw cashews, kids still need to understand that pie is a sweet treat. And so do we.

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Calories Still Matter by Real Mom Nutrition

When the FDA recently proposed changes to the food label–including calorie count in a larger, bolder font–there were people who said that if you’re eating a diet of mostly whole foods, you don’t even need to think (much less worry) about calories at all. That calories don’t really matter.

Oh, they matter alright. I’ve learned that myself the hard way. Twice.

In college, I gained the dreaded and cliched “Freshman 15″ thanks to a whole bunch of junk food (read: “The Freshman 15 is a Myth? Alas, Not For Me.”). But more recently, I gained weight thanks to a whole bunch of really wholesome food. A couple of years ago, I made a big push to get rid of a lot of packaged food from my life and start making more things myself. But turns out, my homemade nut butter was so good that one spoonful wasn’t enough. The bars I made with dates and unsweetened coconut seemed so healthy that having one after lunch and dinner seemed perfectly reasonable. And my homemade bread (with real butter, natch) didn’t have any high fructose corn syrup or chemical dough conditioners, so why not have an extra slice before bed? Though I was eating a seemingly “cleaner” diet than I had been, my pants were getting tighter by the day. I was simply eating too many calories.

I went to my clean eating guru, fellow dietitian Danielle Omar, with my problem. Yes, she said, you can get too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to calorie-dense foods. Case in point: coconut oil. ”People go a little overboard with it, adding it by the cup-full to desserts and other recipes without any regard for calories,” she said. According to Danielle, though research is showing that coconut oil is a great anti-fungal and anti-microbial and can even help improve metabolism, the studies often use only 15-30 grams per day–that’s only about 1 tablespoon! “There’s a false notion that if a little bit of something is good, a lot is even better,” she says.

Believe me, I don’t actively count calories. I don’t eschew butter or nuts because of the calorie content. I focus on the overall quality of the food over digits on the label. But I also believe that calories matter. Because when it comes to our weight–something that many of us are either focused on losing or maintaining– it’s about the energy we put into our bodies and the energy we expend. That energy is counted in calories.

In an ideal world we’d eat only when we were hungry and stop when we were full. (There would also be peace and harmony in the world and no mean people on Facebook.) But in the real world, we also eat because we’re bored, because it’s so delicious, or because it’s six-o’clock. No matter how clean or healthy or virtuous our meals and snacks are, we have to create calorie balance.

So yes, I still eat calorie-dense foods. I still enjoy from-scratch bread and homemade nut butter. But if I want to maintain my weight–and as I get older, I’m more focused on doing just that for the sake of my health–I have to watch my portions. I have to balance out those foods by loading my plate with salads and vegetables too. Because balance is important.

Calories are important.

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Project 40: October Diet & Fitness Goals

October 5, 2011

It’s tempting to kick off Project 40 with an insanely inspirational game plan (Train for a Marathon! Stop Eating Sugar!). But I’d last about six days. And I’ve got six months ahead of me. Instead, I’m doing what I’ve always recommended to clients: Setting a few small, doable goals each month. So here’s what I’m […]

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Pick a Little, Gain a Lot

March 8, 2010

In my self-righteous, childless days, I had a very long list of things I said I’d never do once I had them: change a diaper on an airplane seat, let my toddler run screaming through Target—and definitely never eat my kids’ food scraps. Even those cute, young dads licking away the drips on their child’s […]

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OK! Not really.

January 20, 2010

The cover of last week’s OK! magazine brings back so many memories—of me, after my son Sam was born 20 months ago, making soy protein and flaxseed smoothies in full makeup and a fashionable yet supportive tank top. Alright, alright. For the first four (read: eight) weeks, I ate cereal out of the box, wore […]

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Pie for Dinner

June 16, 2009

On a recent episode of the “Today” show, Dr. Nancy Syderman was debunking diet myths (and promoting her book, Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat). She talked about some of the usual stuff, like how white foods such as potatoes and bananas aren’t the enemy, why you need some fat in your diet, and that […]

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