• Kathryn Bianga

The Problem With "Healthy Alternatives"



Have you ever grocery shopped and found the entire process to be overwhelming? The amount of choices we have for our needs are vast in today's grocery stores. In our incredibly health-conscious society, "healthy alternatives" are popping up all over. So many products are branding themselves as healthier, sharing marketing messages in their branding that insinuate they are a better choice. A few popular examples are "skinny" popcorn, "low fat" crackers, "detox" water (seriously?), and lets just get straight to my favorite example... low-calorie diet ice cream.

At first glance, these products illicit positive feelings. You think you're making the healthier choice by choosing them. You're doing a good thing for your health while still satisfying your need, you'll say. That's largely the facade that companies use in their marketing to trick consumers into purchasing these things. If you were to compare, say, low fat cheese crackers to regular cheese crackers, you'd see that there are only 4g less fat in the healthy alternative. All plain-popped popcorn has a low number of calories if you're counting. It just makes it so appealing when it's in a beautiful bag with bold colors advertising that you'll be skinnier if you eat it.

Now let's dig deep. Not only do healthy alternative products often hide behind a marketing facade of health, but many actually encourage toxic disordered eating habits. Let's compare a pint of diet ice cream to a pint of full-fat ice cream. One of these choices advertises on the package how many calories are in the entire thing. Stating "230 calories per pint" insinuates that a buyer is going to eat the entire thing (or could, because it's so low calorie). There's no brand of full-fat ice cream that would advertise a full-pint calorie count, because it's not assumed anyone is going to eat a whole pint. Many times, those seeking diet ice cream are having an intense craving for something sweet and could possibly be following restrictive meal plans that don't allow the "real thing." To try to achieve the satisfaction their body is craving from a treat, they'll eat the entire pint - which isn't healthy either. In this case, the healthy alternative encourages over eating and binge behaviors + eating past the point of fullness. In reality, it's possible that a 1/4 cup of regular ice cream could satiate this craving entirely.

Do not be tricked by products that claim to be healthier when they aren't. They might be lower calorie, have a few less grams of fat, or contain some other minute detail that differentiates them. This does not mean they are a better choice. If your body is telling you that it's craving something, it happens for a reason. Cravings and hunger are not designed to be ignored or worked around. The most liberating feeling will come when you can satisfy your body with what it's actually asking you for.

My challenge to you? Go into the store and purchase one item that you'd normally buy the "healthier" alternative to. If you buy 45 calorie/slice bread, try the heartier oat nut loaf you're always eyeing. If you buy rice cakes but constantly crave chips, grab a bag that looks good and enjoy them. I used to never allow myself granola bars that weren't super low-sugar and filled with protein. I discovered that taste-testing the many varieties of chocolate dipped, coconut, peanut butter filled granola bars is my favorite.

Drop me an email and let me know what you chose in this challenge...and move forward with knowledge that healthy isn't always healthy, and healthy is sometimes just marketing.

(Disclaimer: I understand certain dietary restrictions may occur that might stop certain people from consuming a normal version of a product. Proceed on as normal!)


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