Crowding Out: Why Adding Foods Equals a Healthier Diet than Subtracting

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 22 January 2015
  • 3 minute read
Crowding Out: Why Adding Foods Equals a Healthier Diet than Subtracting | The Health Sessions

“Ok, this is my last cookie! Starting tomorrow I’m only gonna sip on coconut water and have steamed fish with salad for dinner each night.”

“Well, maybe just one more…  After all, it is my last chance to munch on something sweet for a while…”

Be honest, how many times have you had this talk with yourself?

For some people, cutting out cookies and following a strict but healthy diet works out great. (‘The Happiness Project‘ author Gretchen Rubin has written a compelling post about the difference between abstainers and moderators when trying to change bad habits.) But too often, people confuse healthy eating with restricting and depriving yourself.

But what if you looked at it differently? What if, instead of thinking of which foods you have to give up to eat healthily, you start focusing on nourishing your body with wholesome foods that actually taste good too? 

There’d be no need to constantly muster up the willpower to resist that chocolate mousse that’s calling your name. You just make a deal with yourself to always have a healthy and nutritious dinner first before you dig into dessert. Or you could have a glass of green juice on busy mornings, to set the tone for a vibrant day and soak up the extra vitamins, whatever the rest of the day might bring foodwise.

The more you fill yourself up with nutrient-dense foods, the less room there’ll be left in your stomach, thoughts and kitchen for unhealthy snacks. 

You get the same outcome, but you won’t feel like you’re denying yourself anything. The mindset of ‘crowding out’ focuses on the positive effects of the changes you’re making. That’s probably why superfoods like chia seeds, goji berries and coconut oil have become so popular over the last years: the idea of nourishing your body with health-boosting nutrients adds a level of excitement to the previously ‘boring’ concept of healthy eating. That positive approach can make it easier to switch to a healthier lifestyle and stick to it in the long run.

When you gradually change your food pattern by adding wholesome ingredients, your health immediately benefits from the extra vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you’re consuming. What’s more, you give your taste buds time to get used to the more pronounced flavours of fresh food compared to a diet of processed meals packed with sugar, salt and unhealthy fats. We’re built to love sweet and fatty foods because of their high energy content. This preference may have helped our ancestors survive during times when food sources were scarce, but it’s a lot less useful now that we’re surrounded by temptations all day long.

Research suggests it takes us longer – roughly 10 to 15 exposures – to learn to enjoy the taste of healthier grub, like the bitterness of broccoli or sourness of citrus fruit. By slowly including a wide variety of vegetables, (pseudo)grains and seeds into your regular diet, those flavours will grow on you and your palate will adjust. And there’s more good news: The less sugar and unhealthy fats you eat, the more your physical cravings will fade away. You might still long for the comforting feeling of ice cream after a rough day, but that’s a whole other topic for another blog post.

So now that you know the benefits of ‘crowding out’, how can you start putting this food principle into action?

Crowding Out: Why Adding Foods Equals a Healthier Diet than Subtracting | The Health Sessions

12 Ideas for Applying ‘Crowding Out’ in Your Life

When it comes to changing your habits, the same advice always applies: Build one small, doable habit at a time. Focus on which healthy food(s) you want to add to your diet, not on what you shouldn’t eat. So no internal struggles about giving up pizza or carbs for good, but fill your belly mostly with power food instead.

  1. Start your day with a nutritious breakfast. Eating poached eggs with veggies, a green breakfast bowl or Greek yoghurt with berries, seeds and nuts in the morning sets the tone for your food choices during the rest of the day. And even when you do decide to have your standard micro-waved meal for dinner, at least you consumed more vitamins and minerals than you normally would have.
  2. Enjoy a cup of green tea on your coffee break. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, this swap can help you gently wean off coffee. Plus, green tea contains loads of antioxidants that lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Nice bonus, right?
  3. Eat a side salad with your regular lunch. Just mix some greens with at least one other colorful vegetable (radishes, bell peppers, carrots) and a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. You could also add slices of tomato or argula to you good old cheese sandwich.
  4. Want to kick your soda habit? Put a pitcher with water on your desk or carry a BPA-free water bottle around with you and resolve to drink it by the end of your work day. Stir in a few slices of citrus fruits and mint for a more exciting flavour.
  5. Instead of fighting the urge to hit the vending machine when the afternoon slump rolls around, bring healthy snacks you enjoy to work with you. Think bananas and grapes, a cup of plain yoghurt, roasted chickpeas or a small piece of bitter chocolate.
  6. Have a bowl of good quality vegetable soup or bone broth before your meal. Aside from being packed with disease-fighting nutrients, eating soup as a starter helps you eat less calories in total for dinner. (I’d never recommend counting calories, but if you’d like to lose weight for health reasons, this science-backed trick might help.)
  7. Experiment with cooking with one new healthy ingredient each week. You could add everyday ‘superfoods’ to your meals, like salmon, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, oats and avocado if you don’t normally eat them. Or you could expose your taste buds to more exotic flavors – from sea vegetables, and quinoa, to kumquats and kombucha or whatever you’d like to try!
  8. Slowly replace your staple foods for healthier versions. For example, next time you’re out of white rice, buy brown rice or quinoa instead. You could also swap your regular cereal for unsweetened muesli and oatmeal or choose olive oil, ghee or coconut oil over low quality vegetable oils.
  9. Spice up your meals. Grow a tiny herb garden in your window box and find ways to enjoy their flavoursome and medicinal features as often as you can. Or stock your spice racks with cinnamon, turmeric and cardamom, which are all known for their disease-fighting properties.
  10. Follow a sensible dietary guideline. Do you belong to the majority of people who don’t eat the recommended 200 grams of vegetables and two pieces of fresh fruit each day? Make a powerful change by focusing on adding veggies to most of your meals and snacking on fruit instead of candy bars. You could also dedicate a certain day of the week to eating omega-3 rich fatty fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines or have a Meatless Monday packed with veggies and plant-based protein.
  11. Treat yourself to homemade desserts. Wait, you mean I can still have cake? When you make your own desserts, it takes time and effort, which probably means you won’t eat them every day but save them for the weekend or special occasions. You also have control over what goes in it. Maybe more natural sweeteners like dates and bananas instead of sugar? You can sneak in super healthy ingredients like chia seeds, quinoa flakes or even veggies! Download the Green Kitchen Stories Dessert App (no affiliate link) for tons of delicious recipes.
  12. Snack on nuts when watching TV. Studies found that people who eat a handful of nuts everyday lived longer and healthier lives than people who don’t consume nuts. Now doesn’t that make it more likely for you to happily munch on roasted rosemary almonds than tormenting yourself with daydreams of ‘forbidden’ bags of chips?

Tell me, which foods or crowding out tactic will you be adding to your diet? 

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