I’m going to tell you the biggest of all diet secrets! But before I do, please indulge me in a little mental recall exercise. First, get a pen and paper and then set a timer for 30 seconds. Once I count to 3 and say go, I want you to write down all of the diets you know or have heard of. Ready? 1, 2, 3, GO!
How’d you do? Did you get at least 5? Nice work! Now, tell me what do those diets have in common? The most common answer I get is that they are “restrictive.” If you noticed this common theme, you get a bonus point. What most mainstream diets have in common is that they restrict you in some way; they could be low-carb, low-fat, limitations to meal timing, restrictions around a specific food, etc. And this requirement of restriction is where these fad diets go wrong.
But I totally get why we still buy into diets. The too good to be true “promises” that come along with these restrictive diets are enticing. “Lose inches fast,” “change your health in 3 days,” or “don’t eat after 8 pm and you’ll lose belly fat”—I know you have heard them. To help us find a better option, let me bust the 3 most common diet myths and “promises” I hear.
- Don’t eat after 8 pm.
No matter the time of day, nutrients are the same nutrients and calories are calories. Eating the same food at 6 pm versus 9 pm will have the same impact on your body. This myth started as a way to restrict that late-night snacking habit we can often fall into. When we snack at night, it isn’t the timing but actually the choices that our brain gravitates toward that tend to be less healthy. This is because we are 1) tired or 2) bored, and in these circumstances, we choose something fast and typically sweet or salty. These choices are typically high in processed sugar or fat. To avoid these choices, try these 3 things: 1) go to bed, 2) drink more water after dinner, and 3) shift your dinner a little later in the evening.
- Carbs make you gain fat.
Carbohydrates are absolutely essential for your body to do the awesome work it does every day. Carbs are actually the only nutrient that your brain can use as fuel when following a normal diet. So why do carbs get such a bad rap? Well that’s because it isn’t carbs that are unhealthy—it’s processed carbs that cause health concerns like weight gain. When we eat a whole grain carb, the fiber and the complex structure of the carb support an even blood sugar as we absorb those carbs, giving us essential fuel that we need. But when we eat processed carbs, our blood sugar spikes (this is negative for our cells and can lead to weight gain) and then our body overcorrects and we get low blood sugar (which can lead to low energy, food cravings, and overeating). To avoid this, I recommend that at least 75% of your carbs come from whole and unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, dairy, and whole grains.
- Food labeled as “low-carb” or “low-fat” foods are always healthier.
Low-carb or low-fat foods often have a lot of hidden ingredients to make them more tasty. So before making a low-carb or low-fat choice, be sure to review the nutrition label and ingredients list. Skip if you see any added simple sugars, unhealthy fats, or artificial ingredients.
Too good to be true “promises”
- Lose more than 2 lbs of fat in 1 week.
I know this might be a hard truth, but any weight loss over 2 lbs in a week isn’t typically going to be fat loss. To lose 1 lb of fat, the average person needs to have about a 3,500-calorie deficit. So to lose over 2 lbs of fat requires a 7,000-calorie deficit, or 1,000 calories daily for 7 days. Instead of that weight loss being fat loss, weight loss over 2 lbs per week is your body shedding glycogen, water, or the food in your GI tract. These pounds will return once you end the “diet.” Instead, I recommend a sustainable nutrition plan and weight loss goals. With a reasonable calorie deficit and a nutrition plan that is based on whole foods, losing any amount of weight is possible over time and leads to a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
- Skipping meals is an easy way to lose weight.
This promise comes from the trend of intermittent fasting and the weight loss some people experience from it. The process of intermittent fasting isn’t just skipping meals. It is actually very involved and does require a lot of oversight since it has its risks. If you aren’t following a strict pattern, skipping meals actually leads to low energy and fatigue, which typically causes us to overeat and make less healthy choices in our next meal. Also, there is the risk of low blood pressure, whereby you can experience dizziness, foggy brain, or even fainting. Instead of skipping meals, try reducing the portions in one of your meals and make one healthier choice in another meal.
- Eating (fill in a specific food) will help you (fill in the blank).
There are many food-specific diets that have their day in the sun, but none of these is sustainable or the only reason that people, say, lose weight. No single food is the magic pill to being healthy. Instead, being healthy is about a whole lifestyle of choices. A variety of whole foods and a combination of nutrients will always serve your body the best.
So what about that biggest diet secret I promised? Well, the secret that fad diet writers don’t want you to know is that these fad restrictive diets are actually associated with weight gain over time (1). That’s because they lead us down a pattern of short-term restriction followed by long-term overindulgence. Instead, a healthier nutrition plan is to strive for balance and moderation over time. It’s much more enjoyable as well.