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10 Foods I Used to Think Were Healthy

Sometimes it seems cliche to call improving your health, nutrition or fitness a journey rather than a destination. I’ve always found it to be true, however. Recently, I was reminiscing about the past 15-20 years, during which time I've developed a sincere interest in fitness and the personal motivation to live what I've learned along the way. If you recall from a previous post, I was a fat kid for most of my younger years, with my most memorable nickname being Chubby and Porky. I didn't enjoy that, but it was something that fueled my passion for health and fitness. As I think back over the years, I have to laugh at some of the things I once thought were good for me. You may have a similar story if your journey's been six months, six years or a life time. I hope you enjoy the list I came up with. Please share your own in the comments section below. 

1. Mozzarella Stick Appetizers

They were part of my first plan for losing weight, in fact. I was around 14-years-old at the time. We had a Nordic Track and a Nordic Track Gold in our basement. I read a couple bodybuilding magazines at the time. The messages boiled down to portion control and moderation as supposed solutions for weight management. In my mind, that told me I could keep eating everything I liked to eat as long as I just ate less. 

I was en route to a ski jumping competition with my parents and brother, and we stopped at a restaurant along the way. It was something like an Applebee’s. I remember looking at the categories of meals – appetizers, soups and salads, burgers, sandwiches, entrees, drinks, etc. As I scanned the categories, I logically thought “Appetizers are usually smaller in portion size because they’re like a snack before a meal. I should get something from the appetizer list.” I remember ordering those mozzarella sticks like it was yesterday. In my mind, because the appetizers were smaller portions, they’d be healthier than any of the entrees. My parents looked at me kind of funny, but I didn’t tell them I was “going on a diet.”

They were, of course, breaded, fried, and came in a portion big enough to satisfy a couple people. But, hey, I truly believed it was all about the portions.

2. Salsa Sandwiches

During my junior year of high school, I’d been fortunate enough to have some success with ski jumping (and I’d lost some of the weight by then). Along with four other boys, I got to go to school in Marquette, Michigan, and stay at their Olympic Training Center, which was part of the Northern Michigan University. Along with going to high school, we focused on training for ski jumping.

At some point in the fall, my coach made mention of the fact that I still needed to lose some weight to be competitive in ski jumping. I cut back a ton on what I was eating, even though we’d train for 2-3 hours in the evenings. At that point, I’d not yet begun to understand anything about food quality. I only tried to keep my calorie intake as low as possible.

I cut way back on just about everything except water and diet soda. We usually trained 2-3 hours in the evenings with sprints, stairs, running, weights and a variety of other workouts. Being young and generally healthy, I’m glad the ultra-low calories and high volume of exercise didn’t cause problems.

Like almost anyone who follows a very-low calorie diet, I had strong cravings. My desire for succeeding in ski jumping helped me stick with my calorie restriction, but I did find myself giving in (a little) on Friday nights. A standard convenience store was across the street from our dorm. For a “snack” once a week, I’d stop in for a bag of bread and a bottle of salsa. I’d take them back and make salsa sandwiches as a snack. Pretty gross, I know.

Today, I laugh as I remember savoring that Friday night cheat meal while following my ridiculous low-calorie, low-fat diet. I’m sharing it because I think you may find it funny too. (Maybe you have a similar story or odd indulgence from your past.)

But, hey, I thought I needed to just control my calories to manage my weight.

3. Fat-Free Frozen Yogurt Mixed with Fat-Free Granola

In the spring of my junior year of high school, while still living at Northern Michigan University’s dorm, I continued looking for information on health and fitness. I first read that fat was supposed to be bad for me.

I was sick of my salsa sandwiches and not trying to maintain my 137 pound body weight for ski jumping. I ventured to one of NMU’s cafeterias and got myself hooked on mixing fat-free frozen yogurt with fat-free granola. That became almost a daily snack that spring. I was lucky enough that I didn’t put on a ton of the wrong kind of weight from eating it. I can’t imagine how much sugar I was consuming.

But, hey, I thought I just needed to eat low fat.

4. Tuna Mixed with Macaroni & Cheese

I went to The College of St. Scholastica for my pre-med Biology Degree. During the first couple of years, I lived on campus. I had a membership for Sam’s Club. If you would have walked into my dorm room, my shelves would have looked like a set of retail shelves for macaroni and cheese and canned tuna.

I did eat at the cafeteria on campus, but I mixed macaroni and cheese with two cans of tuna each evening as a final meal. Of course, I didn’t use butter for making the macaroni and cheese, since I still thought fat was bad. As I think back on all the gluten and food coloring I ate every day, I cringe.

Along with the tuna with macaroni and cheese, you would have seen stacks of low-fat Ramen noodles in my dorm room. Low fat, complex carbs right?

But, hey, I thought “complex carbs” were supposed to be better than “simple carbs.” Plus, I knew I needed more protein in my diet.

5. Egg White Omelets

When I consider the number of egg white omelets I used to eat, I think about all of those nutritious, tasty yolks I tossed into the garbage. Since I cooked them in a non-stick pan without any oil, they often tasted like lightly seasoned rubber. Salsa helped a little. Then they’d taste like salsa-covered rubber instead of just rubber.

I have to chuckle because just a couple weeks ago I had breakfast with Mark Sisson at a restaurant in California, where I ordered their menu’s egg white omelet “with whole eggs” instead. Mark thought that was funny, too.

But, hey, at the time, I thought egg yolks were bad for me because of the fat and cholesterol.

Others That Make the" Misdirected" List

If I thought about it long enough, I’d probably come up with dozens of foods I once thought were good for me (or at least, not bad for me). Here are some more that come to mind. I wouldn’t eat these anymore. Nor would we buy them for anyone else in our family to eat or drink. In years past, however, I truly believed I was doing my health a favor with these choices. Live and learn, right?

6. Jelly Beans (They’re fat-free, right?)

7. Bagel Shop Bagels (But they’re complex carbohydrates….)

8. Diet Drinks (They’ve got artificial sweeteners, but they’re calorie free….)

9. Turkey Bacon (Where does turkey bacon come from anyway?)

10. Butter Spray (Gotta have some fat-free butter spray for the low-fat bagels, right?)

It’s amusing as well as heartening to look back on how far I’ve come in my own health journey. At this point, my ideas of what was nutritious feel as dated as my old Converse shoes, but there’s something to be said for the learning process itself. I’ve come to appreciate my ability to question the messages I read and the logic of my body’s own feedback.

Now it’s your turn! What food choices did you make previously that you’ve since relegated to the past?

Written by Tom Nikkola - Sr. Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.



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