Yes, you can stay fit & eat cheese puffs. Here’s why

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Most afternoons, as the workday heads to a close, I get a craving.


A craving for processed, puffed corn coated with cheese, or even…*gasp* cheese-flavored powder.


Never mind that cheese puffs were accidentally discovered in Wisconsin as part of an animal feed company’s process to declog their grinder.


I really don’t care. And I know that they’re not healthy. Even the ones that pretend to be healthy (I see you, Hippeas). It’s 4 p.m., and I want my cheese puffs.


Related: Running fixes everything


It’s no surprise that I crave cheese puffs and other unhealthy snacks, particularly toward the end of my workday. Cheese puffs and your other favorite junk food can cause something called food euphoria—they’re so pleasurable, your body wants more of them, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, other factors like lack of sleep and stress can also play a role.


The key is how you manage these cravings. Do you try to suppress them and not give in to the urge to eat that entire bag of chips? Or do you allow yourself to give in every once in a while?


So in nutrition terms, are you rigid, or are you flexible?

Rigid v. Flexible Dieting: The Showdown

Lucky for us, scientists have been studying these approaches.


One study comparing the two dieting strategies found a correlation between flexible dieting and “the absence of overeating, lower body mass and lower levels of depression and anxiety.” In addition, the same study “associated calorie counting and conscious dieting with overeating while alone and increased body mass.”


Another study aimed to find out how these two dieting strategies might have an effect on body mass and the presence of eating disorders in a group of nearly 200 women:


The study found that individuals who engage in rigid dieting strategies reported symptoms of an eating disorder, mood disturbances, and excessive concern with body size/shape. In contrast, flexible dieting strategies were not highly associated with BMI [Alex’s note: this means a higher body mass index], eating disorder symptoms, mood disturbances, or concerns with body size….These findings suggest that rigid dieting strategies, but not flexible dieting strategies, are associated with eating disorder symptoms and higher BMI in nonobese women.


An additional study looked at how dieting strictness on weekends and holidays impacted weight loss maintenance. The assumption with this study seems to be that the people included were eating pretty strictly during the week, as well.


Those who were less strict with their eating on weekends were less likely to regain weight in a year’s time compared to the strict dieters, and “Adopting a less strict diet regimen during weekends, when compared to weekdays, was a behavioral strategy associated with long-term weight management in our sample.”

Getting Flexible With Your Diet

At Practically Fit, we believe you should be able to eat and drink things that you enjoy, as long as your diet is reasonably healthy and you continue your exercise program. The notion of being flexible in your diet fits right in with this belief, as long as you take a mindful approach.

When I was younger, I used to think of being flexible as having a “cheat meal,” which can inadvertently lead you to labelling foods you are “cheating with” as “bad” (it’s so naughty!) and other, more healthy foods as “good,” causing you guilt.


You might also think, “oh, I can just eat healthy during the weekdays and pig out on the weekend.” That might not be the best solution, either, despite the research cited previously. One study found that this approach can slow weight loss efforts.


A quick Google search reveals numerous diet plans and programs focused on eating flexibly, so if diet plans are your thing, there’s a flexible one for you. Even the definition of “flexible dieting” appears to be open for debate.


But one thing that might help you eat more flexibly is to think of your food as a percentage. For example, you might take an “80/20” approach: focus on eating roughly 80 percent healthy, whole foods, and allowing about 20 percent of your diet to be whatever you want. Some people might want to do 90/10.


I don’t think this percentage has to be heavily tracked, either, as long as you’re sticking to the general approach. And rather than focusing on having a few “cheat meals” throughout the week, this allows you to eat things you enjoy on a daily basis.


So go ahead, have some cheese puffs. Maybe just don’t eat the whole bag.

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Common diet & weight loss myths that can hurt more than help


When it comes to diet and nutrition, we all want to find “the answer” that will fix our alleged problems. As a result, we often latch onto crazy diet ideas that, in the moment, sound like the perfect solution. But these too-good-to-be-true “solutions” can hurt more than help us in our attempts to achieve weight loss and gain healthy habits.

Here are some of the most common diet myths exposed.


Related: How to eat healthier, even at the drive-thru




The protein-pushing keto craze sure makes it seem like carbs should be avoided at all costs. But do grains deserve their bad reputation?


“People often say that carbs are fattening,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD. “But complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, are not ‘fattening’ foods.’”


In other words, avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, rice and processed snacks, but keep those whole grains for a healthy balance.


Getty Images | Sean Gallup


While diet sodas may be a better alternative than their full-sugar counterparts, medical studies are starting to show that the artificial sweeteners may actually cause us to eat more calories later in the day. If you want to keep the fizz and ditch the artificial sweetener, try flavored carbonated water instead.


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Like carbs, the type of fats we eat makes a difference. That, in combination with how many calories we eat each day, determines our body weight. Trans fats, typically found in many fried foods, can cause cardiovascular disease. However, saturated fats do not have the same effect and can, in fact, help keep us satisfied longer, leading to fewer calories consumed.


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Maybe you’ve only been eating the egg whites to avoid raising your cholesterol. Well, maybe you don’t have to anymore.


“Unless you are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease, eating the eggs AND yolks can actually help you,” says Darin Hulslander, CEO and owner of DNS Performance and Nutrition. “For one, yolks are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Egg yolks also elevate high-density lipoproteins, which are the ‘good’ proteins that can help remove plaque from the arteries.”


If you count calories, you might think losing weight is as simple as staying under a certain number every day. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. You can eat 200 calories of lean protein or 200 calories of chocolate, but the body processes each differently. Depending on what you eat, your body can store or burn more calories. So, use those calories wisely!


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Reading headlines such as “red meat could lead to cancer” is frightening. And while some studies indicate there is an association with red meat consumption and cancer, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean it causes cancer. Eating red meat in moderation is not dangerous.


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The American Heart Association recommends that people consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium (salt) each day. Excessive sodium can lead to high blood pressure. However, this doesn’t mean we have to eat bland food. Use salt in moderation and, if you have high blood pressure, talk with your doctor on the best guidelines for your individual needs.


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Sure, peanut butter is a good source of protein and fat. However, you need to be careful about what kind you put in your pantry. Many national brands of peanut butter are filled with extra sugar, fats and preservatives that counteract any health benefits. Check the label and pick up a jar with as few ingredients as possible to get the healthiest version of this favorite snack.


Getty Images | Justin Sullivan


Calories can’t tell time. The time of day of when you eat only matters if you tend to overindulge at the end of the day and eat too many calories. If you happen to eat a late dinner or snack but stay within your normal calorie range for the day, it should all even out in the long run. However, many people mindlessly eat at night because they are bored or tired, and this is what leads to weight gain.


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This is the one case where all calories are pretty much alike. Multiple studies show that eating the same amount of calories in either a few larger meals or more frequent smaller ones have the same outcome on the body. In other words, this is a case where 1,000 calories in a day are the same, no matter how often you eat during the day.


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With labels like “Lean Cuisine” and “Healthy Choice,” it’s easy to think that pre-packaged frozen meals are not only convenient but also a better choice to help us in our diet goals. This isn’t always the case. Many of these pre-packaged meals contain too much sodium, which can lead to water retention and bloat. Also, many offer too few calories, which can lead to hunger later on in the day. Check the labels carefully and make sure you’re making the best choice.




When looking to avoid processed carbohydrates, many people reach for wheat or multigrain bread over white. But be careful! Make sure you’re picking up 100% wheat or whole grain bread. Otherwise, you could be just be getting mostly white bread with a little wheat flour mixed in — or even just food coloring to make it look brown!


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This nutrition myth has been around forever, but it’s just not true for most people. Medical studies show that among extremely active people such as marathon runners and skiers, taking at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C every day can possibly cut the risk of getting a cold in half. But for most people, taking daily vitamin C did not seem to actually reduce the risk of getting a cold.


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Wouldn’t it be great if there were such a thing as a negative-calorie food? You know, the kind that burns more calories when we eat it than it has? Sadly, there is no such thing, even when it comes to something as healthy as a piece of celery.

“Regardless of the [calories] in the food, you’re always going to be able to get something out of it,” says Stephen Secor, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alabama.


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Organic is simply how ingredients are grown, usually pesticide-, herbicide- and insecticide-free. An organic label does not mean it’s healthier than non-organic foods. Even things like sugar, granola bars and boxed mashed potatoes can be organic. So, don’t rely on an organic label to tell you if something is automatically better for your diet.


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While cutting out gluten from your diet can help if you have celiac disease, it isn’t really a factor in weight loss.


“Unless you suffer from celiac disease, there’s not much scientific support to back the claim that eating gluten-free is healthier or a smart strategy for weight loss,” says Ashvini Mashru MA, RD, LDN. “Cutting gluten out of your diet most often leads to a reduction in overall calories, simply due to the sheer amount of grain-based foods that we eat on a regular basis.”


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Fewer calories consumed means weight loss, right? Not so fast!


“In fact, studies have proven it to be the opposite: skipping meals promotes weight gain,” says Cheryl Forberg, RD, nutritionist for “The Biggest Loser.” “When we skip a meal, by the time we eat, we’re so hungry we consume too much, too fast and choose the wrong foods.”




Foods like asparagus and lemons are known as natural diuretics. And while these kinds of foods may not hurt when it comes to holding onto excess water, eating large amounts of them will not help get rid of belly bloat or weight.


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Your daily cup of coffee may give you a good dose of caffeine, which is a stimulant to your body. However, that caffeine jolt does not boost your metabolism enough to be a weight loss cure-all. Also, depending on what you add to your coffee (cream, flavorings, sugar), you could be adding extra calories to your day. So if you love a cup of joe, keep it basic and black, if possible.


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This is a short-term fix with many long-term problems. By severely cutting daily calories for extended periods of time, your entire metabolism can change to actually hold onto weight! Also, your body needs adequate nutrition to stay healthy. If you want to lose weight and keep it off forever, you need a modest calorie restriction plan that you simply continue and never stop.




You cannot outrun a bad diet. It’s as simple as that. Exercise is great for our cardiovascular health and for building good muscle tone. And yes, it does help regulate our weight. But the amount of exercise you have to do to counteract a few extra slices of pizza isn’t sustainable or reasonable. So work in a healthy diet plan along with your regular workouts for optimal results.


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In a pinch, these convenience items are helpful in maintaining a healthy diet. But things like shakes and nutrition bars are not meant to be long-term replacements for healthy meals. Check the ingredients for artificial sweeteners if you buy these items. Your best bet: Make these at home and use them occasionally.


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Yes, some people should probably cut back on sugar in order to make their diet healthier. But naturally sweet foods such as fruits are sources of important vitamins and minerals. The sweets to avoid are those with added sugars and syrups.


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Good news! While fresh vegetables are always a healthy option, so are most frozen varieties. Over time, fresh vegetables can lose nutrients, while frozen ones can retain them longer. Make sure you pick up frozen vegetables without added sauces, cheese or sodium to keep them as close to fresh as possible.


Getty Images | Sean Gallup


Can you imagine life without ice cream, cookies or cake? You don’t have to in order to follow a healthy eating plan. In fact, planning to have some of your favorite treats occasionally can ensure you don’t feel deprived and end up splurging later on.

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