Good nutrition for picky eaters is the same as it is for everyone: You're advised to fill your plate with fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins when you're trying to lose weight, but these aren't foods you naturally enjoy. You can list the vegetables you tolerate on one hand and prefer nachos and burgers to brown rice and chicken breast.
Being picky doesn't mean you can't lose weight, though. Reform your picky eating by waking up your taste buds that have become sensitized to certain foods. Also, recognize that your pickiness isn't necessarily a bad thing when it comes to dieting. Sticking to a predictable set of meals day after day may actually lower your overall calorie intake.
Weight Loss Basics
The fundamentals of weight loss are the same for a picky and non-picky eater: Create a caloric deficit to drop pounds. This entails eating less and moving more. Cutting back from two doughnuts to one at breakfast and ordering a smaller size of soda and fries could technically help you lose weight, but it isn't the most nutritionally sound way to do so. Subsisting on sugar, fried foods and refined grains does little for your energy and can still leave you vulnerable to health problems, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Eating a variety of quality foods provides you with optimal nutrients to support your health and energy as you lose weight. Many Americans are deficient in vitamin D, potassium, calcium and dietary fiber, reported the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause your body to release more hunger hormones and raise your body's natural weight set point. Eat more fatty fish and fortified milk to get optimal servings. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition published a paper in October 2011 noting that adequate calcium and dairy intake may help obese individuals lose weight. Dietary fiber, found in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, slows digestion so you feel full longer and experience less hunger when dieting. Including healthy foods in your meal plans supports weight loss; you just have to find versions of them that you like.
Read more: 10 Superfood Swaps for Picky Eaters
Healthy Food for Picky Eaters
Sometimes healthy foods, such as vegetables and broiled fish, just don't taste good because you've eaten highly-flavored, processed foods for so long. You can learn to like whole, natural foods that support weight loss, but it will take a period of adjustment. Go cold turkey off the processed products and eat only whole foods for a few weeks. For example, have eggs and fruit for breakfast, a salad with grilled chicken and olive oil and vinegar dressing for lunch, and broiled flank steak with broccoli and a baked potato for dinner.
Your taste buds might be resistant at first as they're used to being dazzled by synthetic flavors. But as your hunger increases and these healthy foods become familiar, you may begin to crave tastes and textures that you had previously told yourself you don't enjoy. Slow down as you eat to actually chew and experience your food.
Have the whole family make the switch too; this way, you don't feel as if you're being punished or having to exhibit extreme willpower to resist the meals others are eating. Be persistent in your efforts. It takes repeated tastings, sometimes up to 20, to learn to like a food. An open mind can be a powerful tool when trying new foods.
Read more: 10 Sneaky Ways to Eat More Vegetables
Be Creative With Meals
You don't have to subsist on celery sticks and boiled chicken to lose weight. Invest in a subscription to a light cooking magazine or purchase a few new cookbooks focused on healthy fare to get inspired. Sometimes, pickiness stems from just not knowing the possibilities for meals.
Explore creative ways to fit in healthy, low-calorie foods. Instead of salad, perhaps you get a serving of vegetables in a breakfast smoothie made with frozen berries, milk, low-fat yogurt, protein powder and spinach. If you miss chicken nuggets and french fries, make baked versions at home.
A perfectly acceptable weight-loss menu might include a cup of fortified, low-sugar breakfast cereal with low-fat milk; a sandwich made with turkey breast on whole-wheat bread with a side of carrot sticks, apple or grapes for lunch; and rotisserie chicken breast with a whole-grain roll and sliced cucumbers at dinner. Keep your portion sizes in line with your calorie needs for weight loss.
Some Advantage to Dietary Sameness
It's OK if you find just a few healthy, diet-friendly meals that you like and stick to them day after day. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August 2011 showed that women presented with the same food daily actually ate fewer calories overall.
An earlier study, published in Obesity Research in May 2005, determined that people who successfully lose and maintain a healthy weight consume a limited variety of foods. You simply become bored of a certain food if you eat it day after day and automatically stop when your energy needs are met. This habituation works best if you eat a food or meal every day, rather than once every week.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Long-Term Habituation to Food in Obese and Nonobese Women"
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: "Human Obesity: Is Insufficient Calcium/Dairy Intake Part of the Problem?"
- Obesity Research: "Amount of Food Group Variety Consumed in the Diet and Long-Term Weight Loss Maintenance"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 2. Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns"