As a dietitian, I hear all kinds of bad ideas about dieting, and most of them come from people who are trying the hardest to lose weight. The truth is, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the foods we eat—and the ones we forego—in the name of better health. So I want to set the record straight. It’s time we separate the fact from fiction. Let’s start with 10 common misconceptions about dieting.
LIE #1: “A diet is temporary.”
This is the biggest mistake people make. By convincing yourself that you only have to change habits for a short period of time (until you see the results you want) you don’t put the time and effort into finding long-term solutions and substitutions for old habits. The truth is that changing your diet is permanent.
LIE #2: “If I work out, I can eat whatever I want.”
The biggest problem here is that many people tend to overestimate calories burned and under-estimate calories eaten. Example: It takes an average of 350 burpees to burn off a slice of apple pie à la mode, but mere minutes to eat it.
LIE #3: “Fewer calories equals faster weight loss.”
If cutting out 500 calories a day helps you lose weight, then cutting out 1,000 must be better, right? Wrong! The body needs a minimum of about 1,200 calories per day just to operate (organ function and breathing). If the body senses inadequate calories to support daily function it will switch into protection (read: survival) mode. One of its first acts of protection? Slow down that metabolism to burn through fewer calories.
LIE #4: “Thinner is better.”
Gone are the days when thin was in. Now we use the term “skinny fat” to describe people within an ideal body weight but who lack the eating habits to fuel a healthy body. Body composition (lean versus fat mass) is a far better indicator of health than thinness. Your daily eating habits predict your overall health, not just the number on the scale.
LIE #5: “I should avoid carbohydrates.”
People think that avoiding carbs will lead to quick results. The problem is that carbohydrates encompass a large group of foods that can provide us with nutritional benefits not easily found in other sources. Additionally, the plan to eliminate carbohydrates for the rest of your life is probably not realistic (see Lie #1). Instead, learn how to choose the right carbohydrates, such as fruits and whole grains.
LIE #6: “Any weight loss is good weight loss.”
Although you may lose a more significant amount of weight in the first couple of weeks, a more sustainable rate of loss is 0.5 to 1 pound per week. If the number on the scale is dropping too fast, you may be losing critical lean muscle mass.
LIE #7: “Avoid all fat.”
Reducing unhealthy saturated and trans fats is enormously beneficial. However, classifying all fats into one category is not only unrealistic but also unhealthy. Beware foods marked “low-fat,” because food manufacturers also replace lost fats with sugar, salt, or other additives to help improve flavor, taste, and texture.
LIE #8: “Avoid dairy.”
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the naturally occurring sugar (lactose) in dairy. Eliminating or limiting dairy for this reason may decrease digestive discomfort such as cramps, bloating, and gas.
Not lactose intolerant? You may want to think twice about cutting out milk and cheese. Dairy products are excellent sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. They can also be a fast, easy, and delicious post-workout re-fuel because they don’t come with a bunch of unrecognizable ingredients.
LIE #9. “Cleans or detox at least once a month.”
Detoxing or cleansing are words often used to describe periods of time (usually one to three days) in which an individual abstains from certain foods and beverages in an effort to rid the body of toxins. If done properly, these periods aren’t harmful to your health. However, they are often costly, challenging to maintain, and can have side effects of weakness, irritability, and fatigue.
More concerning: Going about a detox or cleanse may result in an eating disorder. For example, people often view cleanses and detoxes as opportunities to binge or eat unhealthy in the days prior. They see a detox as a “reset” for bad behavior.
The truth is, our bodies have a liver designed to rid the body of toxins. An overall nutritious diet doesn’t require any cleanses at all.
LIE #10. “Fruit has too much sugar.”
There are plenty of calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods that we should avoid. Chips, cookies, ice cream, fried foods. But fruit? Eat it! Fruit has natural sugar that the active individual can use to fuel workouts and recovery. But more importantly, fruits provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and much needed variety to our diets.
There’s a reason why bananas are at every finish line.
5 Truths About Dieting We All Need to Know
The National Weight Control Registry set to find out whether people can be successful at taking and keeping weight off, and if so, how? The answer? Yes they can. Here are the five habits of the most successful dieters.
- Engage in high levels of physical activity. Spartans should have no problem here. To lose an average of 1 pound per week, you need an overall reduction of about 3,500 calories. Calorie reduction through food alone is too restrictive. Physical activity allows you the ability to manage your overall intake, fuel appropriately, and lose at a healthy rate. More importantly, it allows you to maintain lean muscle mass for future calorie burn.
- Eat a diet low in calories and fat. Excess calories beyond your individual needs are stored as fat. High-fat diets (from unhealthy sources) provide a lot of calories in a small amount of food, often resulting in overeating.
- Eat breakfast. I still consider it the most important meal of the day—not because it leads to weight loss, but because it jumpstarts your metabolism and fuels your brain. Those who start the day with this healthy habit will often make future healthy choices throughout the day. Don’t like breakfast? Don’t overthink it. An easy handheld fruit and small handful of nuts and you’re on your way.
- Maintain a consistent eating pattern. Most people do very well making the right choices during the week but relax their efforts on the weekends, often undoing most of their hard work. By maintaining a more consistent eating pattern all week—one that allows for small moments of indulgance as part of a planned routine—you will be able to find a balance that works for sustained weight loss.
- Catch “slips” before they turn into larger regains. We all have those foods that can send us into a downward spiral. Mine is chocolate. But I don’t avoid it; I accept it and plan appropriately. These foods are kept out of sight and out of mind, and I have a small square of 72 percent dark chocolate almost every night. Find your trigger, embrace it, and find a permanent solution.
21 free meals planned for you. Download a free Spartan Meal Plan.