Debunking Diet Trends
'What diet should I follow? Should I go low carb? Can I lose 12 pounds if I drink celery juice for 7 days? My health coach told me to follow the blood type diet, it’s the best diet out there, isn’t it? Is butter a carb?' 1
It can be overwhelming to keep up with the latest diet trends, let alone deciding which ones to follow. From the news to magazines, it seems there is always someone coming up with a new way to lose weight fast. Especially now with social media and influencers, deciphering fact from fiction can be challenging. So, how do you know what to follow when there are so many options out there?
Nutrition and diets are unique to each person. We always suggest chatting with a registered dietitian about your specific needs and preferences before making changes to your diet. Why go to a registered dietitian? Well, in short, I wouldn’t go to a plumber to have my car’s oil changed and you shouldn’t go to anyone except a dietitian for personalized nutrition advice. Dietitians are the nutrition experts. They incur rigorous schooling, supervised practice, credentialing, licensing, and continuing education every year to stay relevant with the ever-changing world of nutrition. Dietitians are committed to delivering you the most up-to-date and researched information. Dietitians can help you debunk nutrition myths and help you decide what trends should be followed and which should be left behind. So let’s jump right into some of the most common trends and questions our N4L dietitians encounter!
If I eat carbs will they make me gain weight? Carbohydrates are often the first macronutrient seen as a “dieting devil.” Here at N4L, our dietitians absolutely hate that carbs are demonized! Carbs – especially complex carbs – are so incredibly important for energy, brain function, and even weight loss. Did you know that the brain’s preferred energy source is glucose (which is what carbs are broken down into) and you need about 120g per day for proper brain function?² Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, beans, and vegetables. They’re rich in fiber, which helps you stay full and satiated. When people talk about ‘cutting carbs’ they are often referring to simple carbs. Simple carbohydrates are found in high-sugar, processed foods, and grains. These simple carbohydrates are missing the fiber that is found in complex carbohydrates. Without fiber, these carbohydrates leave you unsatisfied, leading you to often overindulge later in the day. We recommend taking a broader look at your diet and asking yourself, “Am I eating a healthy diet, to begin with, or is there room for improvement?” Keep in mind, any food you eat in excess will cause you to gain weight; so, don’t point fingers at one of the major food groups. Think about your selections and portion sizes when it comes to carb choices.
Is snacking ok? There’s a fine line between a smart snack and grazing. The difference between the two can make or break your health goals and healthspan. A smart snack is planned, consumed when true hunger strikes, and includes nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein. It can help bridge the gap between meals to ensure we don’t overeat later in the day. Grazing, on the other hand, is frequent eating of an undefined portion of food, i.e. munching mindlessly on potato chips. Grazing can include the consumption of high-calorie and nutrient-poor foods and can lead to unwanted weight gain. When done correctly, snacking is a healthy habit to incorporate into our everyday routines. The key from our dietitians is to “be smart about it”.
Does eating at night lead to weight gain? Yes and no.
Physiologically, calories don’t count more at night. When your total calorie intake falls within your daily needs, weight gain doesn’t suddenly happen as a result of eating at night. There may be other reasons you’re gaining weight which could be related to lack of sleep, an increase of stress, underlying health issues, new medications, and a sudden decrease in activity level. Our dietitians want to make it clear that under normal circumstances, weight does fluctuate due to long-term patterns of eating and exercise. Your body won’t store more “fat” after eating the same meal at 9 pm vs 6 pm if the calorie intake is the same. If you overeat, your body will store extra calories as fat regardless of the time of day you consume them (or what macronutrient they are.)
So why do so many people point the finger at ‘nighttime eating’ for the cause of their weight gain? There is research out there that shows late-night eaters often eat out of habit, not hunger and the food choices made are often unhealthy (i.e., chips, cookies, chocolate, and ice cream). We tend to do more mindless eating and less mindful eating when in front of a TV, browsing the internet, or watching TikToks on our phone. Our suggestion? Step away from the distraction, be mindful, and assess if you truly are hungry (or thirsty!) If you are, then of course grab a glass of water and a light snack that includes a small amount of protein, carbohydrate, and fat – that way you’ll be satisfied and less likely to head back to your kitchen for more. (link to one of our blogs re quarantine weight gain)
Can I just be in a calorie deficit to lose the weight I want? I need a quick fix. We love this one. Relying only on calorie intake (“calories in, calories out”) doesn’t take into account many other variables that may prevent you from losing weight. We’ve coached several clients eating only 800 calories per day seeking weight loss that only truly achieved their goals when *gasp* they started eating more! Following a low-calorie diet doesn’t account for hormonal imbalances, metabolic changes, medication usage, and genetics. Following a low-calorie diet isn’t sustainable for long-term health or diet quality.
Typically, those following a low-calorie diet for weight loss are eating foods very low in nutrient quality and are often severely processed. What’s our recommendation? Speak with a dietitian for your specific needs and eat whole, nutrient-rich, plant-based foods. Low-calorie diets should only be followed under the guidance of a medical professional.
White potatoes are unhealthy. When did white potatoes become the bad guy? White potatoes are often labeled unhealthy and restricted in diets. Eating too much of any food, including white potatoes, can be unhealthy and lead to weight gain. But! White potatoes are highly nutritious and can be a part of a healthy diet. They’re an excellent source of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. Our tip is to enjoy them baked or roasted, not fried. Keep the skin on to get all of the nutrients that a potato has to offer!
I must track my calories and macros for weight loss. This is always a tricky comment to combat. Food tracking can be a handy tool to see what your current macronutrient and caloric intake are note areas where you can improve your diet. With that said, food tracking is not the best fit for everyone. Being overly preoccupied with food, calories and exercise can be associated with an increased risk of disordered eating habits. Before beginning to track your diet, we recommend you address any questions or concerns with your health care professional.
If you and your health care professional feel tracking your food for a few days may help with understanding your diet trends, we recommend choosing 3-5 days to track. Our dietitians recommend being diligent about tracking the amount of food you eat, as well as jotting down how you feel before and after meals.
Can this food help me burn more calories? Although it would be wonderful, no. Caffeine and spicy ingredients (capsaicin) can increase metabolism, but not enough for significant calorie burning or weight loss. So, what’s the secret solution? Diet and exercise
Why is everyone pushing for more plant-based diets, I don’t want to be a vegan. Great question! You most certainly don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to follow a more plant-based meal plan. A plant-based diet simply entails prioritizing plant-based foods and making them the star of your plate. Plant-based diets have been linked to a bunch of health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, some cancers, obesity, and diabetes.3-6 Many Americans don’t consume nearly enough plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts) so by following a plant-based diet, you’re actually minimizing the “not-so-great” (fast food, ultra-processed, refined, and artificial) food choices and allowing room for the better-for-you options. The N4L dietitians encourage getting more plants in your diet to help increase your fiber intake and to eat the color of the rainbow to get an array of phytonutrients! Plant-based diets not only provide benefits for our bodies but plant-based diets are better for our planet.7
What the big takeaway? The nutrition world is laden with misinformation. This overabundance of misinformation leads to confusion, mistrust of health professionals (that’s us – your Registered Dietitians), and poor dietary choices. Nutrition science is constantly changing and evolving. (remember when they said eggs weren’t good for your heart health? Now they are). It’s no wonder that most people have a distorted view of what is or is not part of a healthy diet. Educating yourself when it comes to nutrition can help you feel empowered to develop the best dietary pattern for you. This means connecting with a registered dietitian, reading scholarly reviewed research articles, and creating the most nutritious and sustainable “diet” to increase your healthspan.
The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.
- Waters MS, Michaels L, Fey T, et al. Mean girls. Hollywood, Calif: Paramount. 2004
- Boyle NB, Lawton CL, Dye L. The effects of carbohydrates, in isolation and combined with caffeine, on cognitive performance and mood – current evidence and future directions. 2018;10(2):192. DOI: 10.3390/nu10020192
- Huang RY, Huan CC, Hu FB, Chavarro JE. Vegetarian diets and weight reduction: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Gen Intern Med. 2016;(1):109-116. DOI: 10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7.
- Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Spiegelman D, et al. Healthful and unhealthy plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in US adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017;70(4): 411-422. Doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047.
- Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Graser G. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidem Biomar. 2012;22(2):286-294.
- Satja A, Bhupathiraju SN, rim EB, et al. Plant-based dietary patterns and incidence of type 2 diabetes in US men and women: results from three prospective cohort studies. PLoS Medicine.2016; 13(6). Doi: 1371/journal.pmed.1002039
- Aleksandrowicz L, Green R, Joy EJM, Smith P, Haines A. The impacts of dietary change on greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and health: a systematic review. PLoS One. 2016;11(11). Doi: 1371/journal.pone.0165797.