No matter who you side with in the diet wars, everyone agrees that removing processed foods from your diet is a good thing. No one thinks “food” that we generally find in the inner isles of the grocery store to be good for you. There are a number of problems with these foods, but the main problem when it comes to people interested in body composition and weight loss is that they are hyper-palatable, calorically dense, and completely novel to our “monkey brains”.
Pop open the pint of Ben and Jerry’s thinking one bite won’t do any damage, insert a small scoop in your mouth, and alarm bells start going off in your brain. Your brain recognizes the sugar and fat and says “GIVE ME MORE OF THAT, THIS IS GREAT SURVIVAL FOOD!”. Next thing you know you are sitting down with the pint in your lap and having your best Netflix binge.
The reason why your brain goes bonkers for these foods is because of the unique combination of fat and carbohydrates. These are two critical components of food that are necessary for our survival because it provides calories (1g of fat has 9 calories in it, double that of protein and carbohydrates) and carbohydrates are quick acting fuels that come in quite useful when we need to move around to survive.
The problem is we are neither low on calories or moving too much these days.
Due to the novelty of these foods our brains have a tough time regulating our consumption of them. Outside of human breast milk, there are almost no naturally occuring foods that contain both fat and carbohydrates in them, so when we encounter a “food” item that has both of these macronutrients we go bonkers for it. In addition the caloric density of these foods is completely unnatural making it really hard to judge the calories in these foods ,.
How do I combat the processed food conundrum when I work with clients?
You might expect me to “lay down the law” and tell clients to remove all these foods and take them out of their diet.
After all, losing fat needs to be a miserable experience and you have to suffer right?
For one, completely changing anyone’s diet in one go generally results in them eventually crashing and burning. Some people can make big changes quickly, but most quickly fatigue, willpower runs out, and they break and return to exactly what they were doing before.
What I first do is make small, harmless changes to their diet that they can “easily” do without completely overhauling things.
In the case where someone is consuming processed foods and is looking to improve their body composition they are almost always eating less protein than they should be eating. Processed foods not only taste good, the companies that produce them are also very good at marketing.
Look at many processed food packages, lots of them say they are “a great source of protein” or are “high in protein”. You might look at that and say
“Great! This thing tastes amazing AND ITS HIGH IN PROTEIN, all aboard the gainz train!”
The problem is there is no definition for what constitutes “a great source of protein” or “high in protein”. Turn over the package and it might only have 9g of protein in it. If you are an infant then that might be high in protein for you, but for an adult that is very low in protein. In addition, to get the 9g of protein from the processed food item you might end up consuming several hundred calories. Compare that to 9g of protein from chicken breast, a whole food, and you would only consume about 50 calories.
The lack of protein in the diet of someone who consumes large amounts of processed food is nicely illustrated by the graph below .
As you can see in the graph above, as processed food intake increases, protein intake tends to decline.
What happens if we reverse this trend?
What happens when protein intake increases?
When I see this pattern in clients I work with I don’t tackle the processed food intake, I instead tackle the protein deficiency. I challenge them to increase their protein intake every few weeks up to about 0.8 grams per pound of body weight, or even more in some cases. My one ask to them as they do this is that they try to get the protein from whole foods if at all possible. Meaning they consume things like steak, fish, foul, mollusks, pork, buffalo, lamb, and wild game.
As they work their way through the process of increasing their protein intake something magical happens, much of the processed foods get eliminated from their diet. Whole food protein sources are satiating and they just don’t experience as much hunger leading them to no longer turn to the processed foods. This then leads to them decreasing their overall caloric intake “accidentally” due to not eating hyper-palatable calorically dense foods.
Now here comes the magic!!!!
While I have them increase their protein intake I also add in at least 2 days a week of strength training. By adding in strength training to their workouts it will promote using the additional protein to build muscle.
By eating adequate protein and adding strength training we are able to remove processed foods, decrease caloric intake, and maintain satiety. This results in two major wins, they will lose fat, and not feel like they are starving. By stacking strength training on top of this we have the perfect combination of fat loss and muscle gain to achieve their body composition goals.
No surprise that making these changes aligns us with our ancestral norms and by doing so we are improving health and performance without being miserable. Eating an ancestrally appropriate diet and moving in a way our bodies were meant to move results in optimal human health and performance. To get more information to help you achieve your weight loss, body composition, or performance goals enter your email address below to join my email list and get all the information you need to accomplish your goals.
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(2018, June 14). Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and … – Cell Press. Retrieved March 4, 2021, from https://www.cell.com/fulltext/S1550-4131(18)30325-5 ↑
(n.d.). Ultra-processed foods, protein leverage and energy intake in the USA. Retrieved March 3, 2021, from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/ultraprocessed-foods-protein-leverage-and-energy-intake-in-the-usa/6CF9634EFA3B0D771E8EFBF58C74583F ↑