Despite having a daughter who constantly nags her and continually informs her of the evils of dieting and the truths of nutrition and good general health and wellbeing, my mum still struggles with her weight and self-esteem. She’s held negative beliefs about herself (and well-developed bad habits) for many years now, so it’s understandably difficult for her to change, but I’m making progress. She’s now only eating wholesome, healthy foods, consumes full-fat everything and is slowly but surely starting not to worry about calories and fat content.
Imagine my horror then when I return home to find a box of diet ‘treat bars’ on the coffee table – open.
Although for obvious reasons I can’t name the manufacturer, these were chocolatey sweet bars made by a popular diet company and only available via their regular meetings. The photograph on the box depicted an artificial-looking slab of cocoa and bright pink marshmallows with a creamy drizzle on top. It certainly didn’t look anything like healthy. Although I’m an advocate of real food, I don’t condone people cutting out conventionally ‘unhealthy’ things from their diets completely – food is all about balance. But what I totally disagree with is diet companies flogging expensive crap filled with additives and sugars which people trying to be healthy then buy, thinking they’re making a positive choice.
Here are just a few reasons why you should never buy these types of diet bars – and what you can eat instead to nourish your body and take care of your mind, too.
1 – The FIRST ingredient was sugar
As you may have gathered, I am very strongly against diets and diet foods for a number of reasons (some of which I’ll discuss in this blog). So I grabbed the box and studied the ingredients list, and straight away I confiscated them. The very first ingredient was a type of sugar. And the second, and the third. Then there were chocolate chips – predominantly made of sugar. And mini-marshmallows – predominantly made of sugar. As I went down the list it became clear that these bars had absolutely NO nutritional value whatsoever. And yet they were being marketed as a sensible choice for people who wanted or needed to lose weight or get healthy.
2 – The rest of the ingredients were largely unrecognisable
The ingredients I could make out all involved lots of sugar and little substance. But more frighteningly there were plenty of things on that list that sounded like the type of thing you’d clean your toilet with – totally unrecognisable chemical names which didn’t belong on a list of things contained within something a human being is going to digest. Again these chemical substances will never contribute to weight loss, and are more likely to contribute to weight gain. What’s more they won’t nourish your body in any way.
3 – There was zero nutritional info on the packet
Surprisingly given the nature of the brand there was no clear information explaining the nutritional value of the bars (laughable, since that’s about zero in reality!) Checking packets for nutritional content is not something I agree with at all (all the best foods don’t come in packets and we should eat without anxiety or over-thinking) but I thought it was telling that the actual contents of the bars were omitted, as if they had something to hide. I imagine that’s because one look at the calorie content would probably send serial dieters running for the hills.
You’ll know if you’ve read my books that I don’t believe calories are very helpful, and that they shouldn’t be counted or rationed. However most foods should display nutritional info, and if they don’t I think that’s pretty suspect.
What’s the alternative?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to talk about diet bars and what people ‘shouldn’t’ be doing then not discuss the better alternative. I go into more detail in my books, but after battling an eating disorder then spending years eating crappy diet foods and abusing my body I suffered the consequences and developed IBS. After that I made sure I mostly ate foods with good nutritional value – things which tasted lovely but benefitted my body, too.
I often make quick, easy and cheap cookies, cakes and bars which would perfectly substitute sweet rubbish like the bars my mum brought home this week. These are high in protein, low GI and full of good fats – great all-rounders if you’re peckish or fancy a snack. They’re real food, and you’ll recognise all the ingredients as most of them are in their raw state! If you fancy reading more about how I eat you can take a look at Nutrition in a Nutshell, or pre-order my recipe book here.
If you’re not into making your own food then there are other alternatives. How about mixing almond butter with cocoa and palm sugar and refrigerating for a Nutella-style snack? Boiled eggs with spinach? A slice of wholemeal toast with peanut butter? A little fruit with some cream or yoghurt and pumpkin seeds?
Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact I believe getting in right involves keeping it simple.
You can read more about diets and my view on nutrition here.