As a dietitian, I hear all the stories. By and large, people are confused about how to eat healthy. I want to make sure that you have the facts as you get started, and know the difference between fact and fiction. Let’s start with 10 common misconceptions about eating healthy.
10 Lies About Eating Healthy That Everyone Believes
Lie No. 1: “Eating healthy is temporary.”
This is the biggest mistake that people make. By convincing ourselves that we will change habits for a short period of time (until we see the results we want) we don’t put the time and effort into finding long-term solutions and substitutions for old habits. The truth is that changing your meal plan is permanent.
Lie No. 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 No. 3: “Fewer calories = 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 to protection (also known as survival) mode. One of its first acts of protection? Slow down that metabolism to burn through fewer calories.
Lie No. 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 No. 5: “I should avoid carbohydrates.”
People eliminate carbohydrates for quick results. The problem is that “carbohydrates” encompass a large group of foods that can provide us with nutritional benefits that are not easily found in other sources. Additionally, the plan to eliminate carbohydrates for the rest of your life is probably not realistic. Instead, learn how to choose the right carbohydrates, such as fruits and whole grains.
Lie No. 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 No. 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.
Related: Is Eating Fat Good or Bad for You?
Lie No. 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 simply eliminating dairy. Dairy products are excellent sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. They can also be a fast, easy, and delicious post-workout fuel because they don’t come with a bunch of unrecognizable ingredients.
Lie No. 9: “Cleanse or detox at least once a month.”
Detoxing or cleansing are words often used to describe periods of time (usually 1-3 days) during which an individual abstains from certain foods and beverages in an effort to rid the body of toxins. If done properly, they are not harmful to your health. However, they are often costly, challenging to maintain, and can have side effects of weakness, irritability, and fatigue.
And perhaps even 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 No. 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?! Not so much. Fruit has natural sugar that active individuals need to fuel workouts and recovery, and it provides fiber, vitamins, minerals, and much needed variety to our diets.
There’s a reason why bananas are at every finish line.
5 Truths About Eating Healthy That We All Need to Know
The National Weight Control Registry set out to find out whether people can be successful at losing and keeping weight off, and, if so, how? The answer? Yes, they can! Here's how.
1. Engage in high levels of physical activity.
Spartans should have no problem here! To lose an average of 1 pound per week, we need to have an overall reduction of about 3,500 calories. Calorie reduction through food alone is too restrictive. Physical activity allows us the ability to manage our overall intake, fuel appropriately, and lose at a healthy rate. More importantly, it allows the ability to maintain lean muscle mass for future calorie burn!
2. Eat a diet low in calories and fat.
Excess calories beyond our 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. Instead, eat to match your energy needs and opt for low-fat foods over full fat.
3. Eat breakfast.
Still the most important meal of the day, breakfast jump starts the metabolism and gives us brain fuel! 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. Grab an easy handheld fruit and a small handful of nuts and you’re on your way!
4. Maintain a consistent eating pattern.
Most people do very well with 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 seven days of the week and allowing small moments of indulgence as part of a planned routine, you will be able to find a balance that works for sustained weight loss.
5. Catch “slips” before they turn into a larger problem.
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% dark chocolate almost every night. Find your trigger, embrace it, and find a permanent solution.