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Keep It Simple: Read Labels and Avoid…

by Lisa on November 4, 2011

Yesterday, Kathleen posted about fast food, and speculated that we are mistaken when we vilify it without also condemning many of the other crappy quality foods we have in our lives. It made me start thinking about healthy eating and food rules, and how we set our limits about what we will or will not eat.

My mom and I recently reflected on how our food habits have changed in the last year. Neither one of us was even slightly tempted to eat a piece of Halloween candy this year. Last year? I probably would have at least considered it, and the year before that I would have eaten some for sure.

My rules for food have changed. I see it in my friends and clients too. I’m so proud when someone starts to tell me about how they didn’t buy X product because of what was on the label. It means…they’ve set standards for what they’ll put into their bodies.

The truth is, fast food is crappy quality food, and if you eat it often, it will damage your health. Similarly, if you consistently eat processed foods from the grocery store (or from other run-of-the-mill restaurants), you’re also going to damage your health over time.

If I had to put my own personal food rules in a list, they would look like this:

No high fructose corn syrup

No sugar added

No sugar substitutes (except stevia in some forms)

No white flour or gluten

No vegetable oils

No hydrogenated oils

Minimal fruit (mostly just berries)

Only grass-fed organic meat and butter

Only farm fresh free range eggs

Only organic full fat dairy (ideally unpasteurized, but always full fat)

Only raw aged cheeses

For produce: non-organic for only the clean 15, the dirty dozen: organic only

Only organic nuts and nut butters

Only organic fair trade coffee

Fage Total (full fat greek yogurt) + Organic peanut flour + stevia = my current favorite snack (eaten out of a measuring cup so I don't overdo it---because I easily could!). Where I'm compromising: it's yogurt made with pasteurized milk and it's not explicitly organic, although Fage says the milk farmers do not use hormones/antibiotics. Where I'm not compromising: it's full fat, the peanut flour is organic, and the sugar content in the yogurt (7g per 1 cup) is natural sugar, not added.

When I go out to eat, I make the best choices I can, realizing that the meat and produce are usually not the quality I would buy and eat at home. Maybe my rules are too strict for a lot of people (or not strict enough for others), but they’ve evolved this way–and they guide my choices on a daily basis, even when I’m not thinking about them.

With clients and students, I start with this: No high fructose corn syrup (yes, you’ll have to cut out regular Heinz Ketchup—and just because that is generally accepted as a staple in most homes does not mean you should ignore the ingredients and consume it anyway!). The second rule I begin with is: No hydrogenated oils.

From there, we’d graduate to cutting out/down white flour and sugar products, increasing the quality of dairy products consumed (not fat free!), and reducing/cutting vegetable oil intake.  It’s a process that takes time!

As long as we’re doing the best we can with the information we have at any given time, that’s enough. Lifestyle change is a process, and a person has to be ready for it in order for it to work.

My students recently did an assignment comparing costs for a meal plan made of entirely fast food vs. a meal plan made of unprocessed healthier grocery store options. Every student who did the assignment right (i.e. used the cost of one chicken breast vs. the cost of the 6 that came in the pack that could be eaten on another day), concluded that fast food is more expensive than healthy food you make at home. Many of them were really surprised!


We can moderate our toxin exposure by making good food choices, and we can also do detoxifying things, like exercise and use an infrared sauna. This thing is fantastic, by the way!

What food rules do you follow in your life?


It’s Friday again, and I’m eagerly anticipating enjoying #WineFriday this afternoon, but first I have some work to do, some working out to fit in, a session in my sauna…and cleaning. I better get started!


  • Lisa @ Healthful Sense

    Your list looks just like mine would look!!
    I just love greek yogurt + peanut flour!!  So good!
    Have a great weekend!!

  • Dairy Free Betty

    I can understand and appreciate food rules, but the only one that I have is no dairy (obviously) and no red meat – both of which really upset my stomach…  everything else I approach with the 80/20 rule.   As soon as I put restrictions on myself I go crazy and all I want are those things.   

  • lindsay cotter

    mine have changed significantly as well. I hate to say it, but its because of our FDA. We have to be aware of whats in our food now, because lets face it, we could easily be eating chemicals all day long and not know it.

  • Jess

    My healthy eats revolve around as many “real” and “whole” foods I can get. I used to do the fake sweeteners. No more. I used to be MUCH more careless about the snacky junk I’d allow myself to have at parties and stuff, but now I just don’t WANT that stuff because it doesn’t make me feel good. I feel so so so much better when I’m eating whole and real and DELICIOUS foods. 

    I do have one question on your list that stumped me – how come you limit fruit intake? Is it because of the natural sugars? Or something else? 

  • Lisakthrives

    Hi Jess, I’ve been experimenting with eating extremely low amounts of sugar, and have found that for me it helps my energy levels, decreases carb cravings, and helps my skin be clear…so although I know there are lots of great things in fruit, the sugar doesn’t really work for me personally!
    I feel the same way as you about junk—the outcome of feeling crappy makes it not worth eating!

  • Lisakthrives

    Totally true—once we know about all the political crossovers that occur with the government/food recommendations, I think it’s safe to say we all need to advocate for our own health through educating ourselves about safe healthy food. The government sure isn’t going to do it for us!
    Have a great weekend, Linds!

  • Anonymous

    hmmm…I’ll be honest with you- I’m not a big fan of anything that says you can’t have x ever period. I think there are some foods that are best to avoid. But every GREAT once in a while…I see no harm.

  • Katelyn Block

    ahhhh FAGE!!! I have some coming tomorrow when my daddy passes through :) he’s running NYC this weekend! I misssss you, let’s talk soon and please come visit if you can!!

  • Alexia @ NamasteYoga

    i have never tried greek yoghurt and peanut flour! Must try to get peanut flour somewhere. my list would also look similar to yours except the meat part since i dont eat any at the moment. If i would though i would definitely try to only eat organic meat and farm fresh eggs. I have been travelling and the quality of meat and fish very bad so i stuck to my veggies. i grew up on a farm in austria (where i am right now too) and i have always been used to fresh products, especially eggs (its a chicken farm :)

  • Pure2raw twins

    looks like you have a good set of food rules. ours are pretty similar. it is funny to think about how each year something in our food guidelines change ;) )

  • Anonymous

    ah, a sauna session would really hit the spot right now! hope you were able to fit that in (and if you were crunched, hope you ditched the cleaning for the sauna time!).
    i agree with eating as cleanly as possible although i think that has a different definition for everyone. i also like to be happy – and sugary cereal makes me happy. i have “given it up” in the past  and sorry, but life is too short to deny myself a couple of “guilty pleasures!” (ahem, diet coke!)

  • Melissa S

    My food habits have changed over the last year.  Initially I was playing with the idea of becoming vegetarian, but since I was diagnosed with a GI disease, I have become gluten free and have kept high quality meat in my diet.  After watching food inc, I have an appreciation of high quality meat and dairy.  Just wondering, what is wrong with fat free or low fat dairy?

  • Stephanie

    I need more rules.  Or rather, I need to learn to follow the rules that I set for myself.  It makes me a bit sad to think about how I eat things that I don’t even enjoy when I’m not even hungry.  It’s not a joyful way to live.  Some weeks are better than others…

    I feel best when I eat lots of fruit and no processed sugar.

  • Jamie Walker

    I have been a vegetarian since I was like 6 years old (I’m currently 29) and so my food habits have always been more towards eating veggies, whole grains and fruits than anything else…though the processed crap would sometimes come into play especially through teen-age and college years….but now I’m a full fledged vegan so my eating habits have changed a ton and I love it. I feel so good about the choices I’ve made for myself!

  • Laury@thefitnessdish

    I try to not have too many food rules but I typically do not eat HFCS or hydrogenated oils at all. Or many processed foods. I try to just have it be my goal to eat as many foods as close to their natural state as possible!

    When I was eating meat and dairy it was organic, but now I don’t so I don’t have to worry about it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with occasionally having a dessert out that may have something in it I typically wouldn’t eat. If I am going to have candy I go for the good quality stuff like Nibmoor chocolate. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a couple pieces of Halloween candy because, well just because ;-) Once or twice a year won’t kill me!

  • meri

    I’m more of an “avoid” than a “no”, but my list is enriched white flour, high sodium, lots of sugar (unless its fruit, for example…) avoiding any trans fats or high saturated fatty foods.

  • Laura @ nevernotbeautiful

    In a perfect world, I would adopt all of those food rules, minus the meat and eggs, cause they give me the heebie-jeebies. I would be so proud of myself if I could cut out corn syrup and and added sugars, if only for a few days! The other stuff (gluten, white flour, sodium) seems so much easier.

  • Lisakthrives

    I’m the same way—if it feels restrictive…I’m definitely going to want whatever it is that I can’t have. I probably should have said something other than “rules” since that sounds restrictive. I definitely splurge too :)

  • Lisakthrives

    That’s a loaded question! Just kidding :) Doing the full fat thing has to do with a few things—some of which have to do with the health aspects of having a higher fat (and lower carb) diet, and others have to do with the quality issues that occur with more processing of dairy (and that when you take out the fat, substances like lactose are concentrated, etc). I’m planning to write a post about it—I just have to figure out how to write all of it out effectively (and take the time to do it!).

  • Lisakthrives

    The way I got to this point (actually following the rules) was to nudge in that direction. The thing is, people will often say things to me about being strict with what I eat—and I’m not actually. I didn’t force myself to fit a food mold, I gradually (over 8 years, so far) changed what I wanted to eat. The way I first started was to get really passionate about not eating high fructose corn syrup—I read and watched stuff that made me learn in depth how toxic it really is. Then it was easy to cut it out—and I just picked other things to eat in its place. I pretty much did that, one by one…and here I am. Plus…I still splurge sometimes…and I have found that I primarily eat when I’m not hungry. It’s frustrating—I’m working on that, but I’m not one to do anything that makes me feel restricted—if it doesn’t feel good, I don’t do it! If I come up with anything for that, I’ll let you know … It’s all such a journey :)

  • Lisakthrives

    Oh yes, splurging is something I should have mentioned too :) I just splurged on stuff other than halloween candy that particular day—so that the candy really didn’t look good. I didn’t have Nibmoor, but I find that type of stuff more satisfying now than the junky stuff. In general, I’ve actually changed what I want to eat over time (and don’t even really want dessert) but there’s no way I’m going through the holidays without dessert :)

  • Lisakthrives

    Avoid is a good word—I should use it too :)

  • Lisakthrives

    That’s kind of how it worked for me—I did one thing at a time, whatever seemed manageable (and I read tons about it to get grossed out too, and learn about what it does in the body—so that it would feel important)….It took me 8 years to actually easily and effortlessly eat this way, going up and down along the way. I don’t think I would have done it if I had to force it…I didn’t try to fit a food mold, I just gradually changed what I wanted/liked to eat. Most of my clients pick one thing to focus on (that seems easy) and just do that for a while before they focus on another.
    Have a great Saturday :)

  • Lisakthrives

    Yeah—it’s pretty much like that for me too—I probably should word the “rules” differently‹I have a big problem with restriction (it makes me crazy). My way of eating happened so slowly (like 8 years) that it doesn’t restrict me…I actually always eat what I want. Somehow along the way, I gradually changed what I want for a variety of reasons. Some of it is for health reasons (sugar, grains) – so once I discovered that, it’s a no brainer—eat that stuff and be sick! I like the 80/20 rule—it leaves room for splurges :)

  • Lisakthrives

    Go Padre! How exciting (and chaotic) to run the NYC….I’m gonna follow him online along with my girl who is raising money for the Every Mother Counts org :)
    Let’s chat!

  • Gina (Candid RD)

    Just to be clear, HFCS is added sugar, so that second rule takes care of the “no sugar added”.  I just want to say that because a lot of people don’t understand that concept. Also, if you say “no white wheat”, that also is encompassed in the “no gluten”.  That’s just something I get a lot of questions on and I just want to make sure that’s clear, people don’t understand that wheat AND whole wheat is gluten, not just white wheat.
    I don’t really follow many rules, but the one rule I ALWAYS follow is NO refined grains!  Zero, not even ones that are gluten free.  The only time I buy refined grains is when I eat out at restaurants and I have no choice.  I wish whole grains were offered more!  I also have rules that I have to follow for my IBS diet, which are never-ending and quite tedious.

  • Lisakthrives

    That’s exactly what happened! The sauna was fab…the cleaning is still waiting :)
    I know what you mean about the cereal—there are some things that are not worth compromising for! I still have a diet Dr. Pepper sometimes…and I would be still living on cereal if it didn’t make me ill. I used to love eating sugary cereal with ice cream too….talk about sugar shock (it was wonderful!).

  • Lisakthrives

    Yes, I know there is overlap in the rules :)
    I was just being overly descriptive since I know people don’t necessarily know what contains what…and in my head, the No HFCS rule is more important than No Added Sugar (so if I’m gonna splurge, I might have something with added cane sugar, but I would not splurge on something with HFCS)…so it’s all a little twisted in practical application :)
    Won’t it be a great day when whole grains are offered in restaurants and everywhere? I tend to avoid the refined grains under all circumstances…and just choose something else in a restaurant.

  • Kathleen

    Thanks, Lisa!

    And you’re so right. I think, for many of us, our food rules keep changing throughout our lives. I’ve been through quasi-vegetarian, no wheat, no dairy, no fruit phases over the years, only to return to a little of this or that. I’ve now been reading Donna Gates’ The Baby Boomer Diet, which is big on cultured foods and probiotics. So I’ll be changing my diet once again.

    I like that class assignment. It’s great for your students to understand that quality foods can be made at home, much less expensively than that purchased under the golden arches.

  • Lisakthrives

    I love Donna Gates! Body Ecology was my intro to fermented foods a few years ago, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. I’ll be interested in your thoughts on the Baby Boomer Diet!
    Diet, in general, is a lot of trial and error…and testing things out to see how it goes. I anticipate my food values to keep changing too… (and I definitely “cheat” on my rules—I really liked how your post emphasized that it’s what you do consistently that matters!).

  • Jane

    Wow, thanks Lisa!  This was really informative.  I agree that our food rules are constantly changing, I know mine are!  Since most of my focus on food has been to lose weight, I know I am guilty of focusing on lower calorie foods, especially in dairy …  I think I am a work in progress, but I definitely think if you would look back to how I was eating a few years ago, I am paying more attention to those labels now!  Thank you for the inspiration!

  • Anonymous

    It all changes when you just quit seeing junk as food!!!!

  • Jay

    wow…thanks lisa for sharing this wonderful post..would love to stick on to some food rules now..;)
    Tasty Appetite

  • Tessa @ Amazing Asset

    Hi Lisa!
    Thank you for this info! I don’t say no to all of these, but I definitely avoid and consider before I eat them.

  • Anonymous

    I only had 3 little pieces of candy this Halloween and that’s huge for me! Since I can remember, I’ve always overloaded in sugar when it came to Halloween. 

    The general rules I follow are: No high fructose corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils, purchasing mostly organic fruits & veggies, organic meats and dairy products, no cow’s milk, and I avoid processed foods as much as I can!

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