Why finding healthy foods you love beats avoiding treats

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Don’t eat the ice cream. Seriously, don’t eat that smooth, chocolaty ice cream. How much do you want ice cream now?

Many people will try this method of avoiding treats to improve their diet. Another common diet strategy is to eat more healthy foods. We know that maintaining a healthy weight is important for preventing cancer and other chronic diseases. But how effective are these avoid and approach strategies for adopting a better eating pattern?PicMonkey Collage

The newest study on these diets finds out why people with high self-control have more success.

Healthy college students were asked to list foods they would approach or avoid if they were dieting. Self-control level was measured and compared to their food choices. The results showed that high-control people tend to approach healthy foods they really enjoy and avoid treats that they like, but can live without. The opposite was found for people with low self-control. They avoid their favorite treats and approach healthy foods that they don’t like very much. 

While this study was relatively small, it brings up the point that diets are more successful when you eat foods that you like. In actuality, there is no single diet or “magic bullet” for weight loss. For example, a study from 2015 showed no difference in weight loss between low-fat and high-fat diets.

Go back a few years to 2013 and we can find an editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association that urges for lifestyle changes in long-term weight loss. The authors state that one diet cannot work for everyone because of personal differences in food preferences, religious or cultural traditions, food availability, and food intolerances.

These studies collectively make one big point – your “diet” should be the lifestyle that works best for you. But with all of the fad diets, superfoods, and “toxic” foods, how do you decide what’s best for you?

A good place to start for cancer-prevention is with AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer. Find some you like, and try to eat more of those foods. Basically, if you love kale, eat more kale. And, if you love ice cream, don’t completely avoid it.

Kaila Schoenberger is an Education & Communication Intern at AICR. She is an MPH/RD candidate from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. She believes in preventing cancer by encouraging simple ways for people to eat well and be active.

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