Should I cut certain foods out of my diet?

Is it necessary to cut certain foods or food groups out of your diet to see results? This is a two-fold answer because it depends on the type of results you are looking for. If you are looking to FEEL better, reduce inflammation and work towards overall internal health, then identifying which foods don’t agree with your body can be really beneficial and may require elimination. If you are wanting to LOOK better, lose weight, build muscle, etc. then no, you don’t need to cut out food groups to achieve those results. You will need to play around with portion sizes from different food groups to make a difference, but you won’t need to eliminate them to see results (thank goodness!).

Let’s explore when you would want to experiment with elimination:

You notice you don’t feel good after eating your meals. You may experience bloating, gas, bowel movement issues, stomach aches, headache, foggy brain, skin or joint inflammation, fatigue, or just a general sense of not feeling awesome, just to name a few symptoms.

Our food is the fuel our bodies need to function properly and it will give us signals if something is not right. The phrase “our body is like a really expensive car, and the food we eat is the gas we put in that car” can be a helpful metaphor. Would you put lesser quality oil in a Ferrari? Of course not.

Our bodies use the food we eat as the foundation to regenerate themselves, so we literally become what we eat. The body is forgiving in the sense that it can take quite a beating before breaking down, but it’s not invincible, and it’s easier, in the long run, to practice preventative measures rather than fighting illness later on.

If you aren’t used to paying attention to how you feel after eating food, check in with yourself during and after your meal. Most people don’t know how good they can feel until they start tweaking their diet, so give yourself time and space and to notice how your meals affect you and make mental notes from there.

Some of the top foods that cause pain (or the symptoms listed above) are dairy, gluten, refined sugar, ultra-processed foods, and vegetable oils. Unfortunately, the food we consume today isn’t of the same quality it used to be, and because it’s been tampered with (our animal products weren’t designed to have antibiotics in them, for instance), our bodies don’t know how to process the foreign substances and it leads to issues down the road.

An easy way to see if certain foods are triggering symptoms is to cut them out for a short period of time, about 2-3 weeks, and see how you feel. You can then add one food group back in at a time (usually every 2-3 days) and see how you respond. If it brings back the symptom, then you have successfully identified a trigger food.

If you reintroduce a food and it doesn’t cause any symptoms, you can assume your body tolerates it well and can move on to the next food group. The whole process can take about 5-6 weeks, and if you are cutting out several food groups, it’s best to be under the supervision of a dietician to make sure you don’t have a nutrient deficiency.

Now let’s explore cutting out food groups to change body composition:

Cutting carbs or limiting fats is a popular practice among those trying to lose weight and lean out. While portion sizes matter and need to be manipulated to see changes, no food needs to be off-limits to technically see results. This is great news because this principle promotes sustainability and having a good relationship with food.

So how do you go about this?

Fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods 85-90% of the time. Nutrient-dense foods are whole foods that our body recognizes and will help it thrive. You want a good balance of veggies, protein, carbs and fat. Shoot for filling half your plate with non-starchy veggies, at least a quarter of your plate with protein, about a quarter of your plate with starchy carbs, and if your protein source is low fat (like chicken breast), add a small amount of plant-based fat to your meal.

For most people, eating this way consistently will get them the results they want. You can enjoy a treat here and there and move on and not feel like you are ruining your diet since you aren’t “perfect” (no one can be, by the way). That’s where the other 10-15% comes into play—that’s the wiggle room to enjoy a free meal, a treat, or something out of the ordinary occasionally and then go right back to your normal eating habits.

As long as you are in a deficit, you will continue to lean out. There are many factors that lead to whether or not you are in a deficit, including how much you move during the day, how much fiber and protein you eat (those foods cost more calories to digest than carbs and fat do), if you eat whole foods versus processed foods (again, whole foods burn more calories to digest), how much muscle mass you have, how long you’ve been in a deficit, etc.

The closer you get to your goal, the more you’ll need to adjust your habits to help your body continue to see results, and you may decide you want to forgo certain foods that don’t help you achieve that goal for the time being. An example of this is eating a donut–you could make it fit into your day and still be in a deficit, but you would feel hungry quickly and it may not be worth choosing it over other foods that would keep you fuller longer.

The great thing about working towards your goal, whether it is to feel better or to change your body composition (or both), is you get to be in the driver’s seat. There is more than one way to achieve your desired outcome and you can decide what you are willing to do to get there. For everyone though, results come with consistency, so whatever habits you adopt, you’ll want to be sure you can practice them day in and day out to get and keep what you’ve worked so hard for.