From food bloggers to television shows to Pinterest boards, there’s an overwhelming amount of nutrition information, everywhere you turn. How’s a normal person supposed to identify the difference between trendy diet news and legitimate science-based advice?
I called on some of my fellow registered dietitians to help me set the record straight—because we’re the ones required to stay informed on current nutrition research and trends (or else we lose our credentials!). Below is a list of the most common diet mistakes committed by clients who are just hoping to be healthier. Are you guilty of any of these?
You … Don’t Eat Enough Calories
“I have many clients who try to continually eat less and less calories. They think, ‘If I lost weight eating 1,500 calories, then I will lose even more if I only eat 900.’ But it won’t work—because at some point the calorie intake for the day is too low. It’s different for each person, but typically the body then becomes more efficient at using the lower calories because your body is just trying to survive. This is the starvation mode.” —Jennifer Pullman, MA, RDN, LDN
You … Starve, Then Binge
“I see it all the time: people not eating enough in the first half of the day, then spending the second half of the day gorging themselves. Then they come to me and complain that they don’t know why they eat so much at night! The solution is to eat adequate, protein-rich meals and snacks—and to stop skipping breakfast.” —Abby Langer RD, Abby Langer Nutrition
You … Assume All Smoothies Are Healthy
“There is a health halo surrounding smoothies and juices. They are not all created equal and many do more harm than good. Some have impressive names or claims but can be loaded with sugar and calories. It’s important to read labels to be sure you’re not getting duped.” —Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
You … Don’t Eat Protein for Breakfast
“Many of my clients come to see me for weight management. They often either skip breakfast or have a high-sugar granola or cereal bar. Unfortunately, they miss out on the satiating benefits of protein at breakfast and end up hungry, hitting the coffee shop or vending machine by 10 a.m. I encourage them to instead have a boiled egg, Greek yogurt or, if in a hurry, grab a handful of nuts with a piece of fruit.” —Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, owner of Marisa Moore Nutrition
You … Are Obsessed With Fad Diets
“People tend to jump from one fad diet to another without understanding the pros and cons and whether it is a lifestyle that suits their needs. I wish people would stop worrying so much about what diet their neighbor is on and, instead, spend that time and energy getting to know their own body and how it reacts to certain foods and dietary patterns. The more nutrition science uncovers, the more we understand that we are all individuals with unique dietary needs.” —Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, nutritionist and natural chef
You … OD on Low-Cal Snacks (Especially at Night)
“Many individuals trying to lose weight will stock their pantries and freezer with ‘skinny’ snacks, such as bags of 100 calorie popcorn and frozen dessert bars to snack on at night. Unfortunately, they spend a lot of money for these specialty foods and then often exceed the serving sizes. They think that these are ‘halo’ foods and are ‘calorie free,’ which they aren’t. They need to save their hard-earned money and get out of habit of snacking at night. This is the best strategy for getting the weight off and keeping it off.” —Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, author of Nutrition & You
You … Opt for Processed Diet Food
“I wish people would stop relying on unhealthy ‘health foods.’ Fat and calories are not the enemy! There’s nothing better than seeing a client choose real peanut butter on real whole grain bread rather than fat-free peanut ‘spread’ full of chemicals on a low-carb wrap made with processed fiber. Eat real food!” —Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD, blogger at Hummusapien.com
You … Cut Out Nutritious Carbs
“I’m still seeing my clients go too low with eating the right kinds of carbohydrates—whole grains, starchy vegetables and fruits. They try to eliminate or significantly reduce these high fiber, nutrient-dense foods, but these are the foods that can help them with their goals!” —Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD, owner of Cherry Creek Nutrition, Inc.
You … Only Eat Healthy When It’s Convenient
“Many people only watch what they eat when they’re [on a diet]. Eating healthfully should be an everyday thing—not just when you’re trying to lose weight.” —Toby Amidor, RD, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen
You … Snack With False Confidence
“Planned healthy snacks like nuts, fruit, and Greek yogurt can be a good way to avoid hitting the vending machine, but we still need to be conscious of how many calories they have. Even ‘healthy’ snacks have calories that add to our total calorie intake.” —Leah McGrath , RDN, LDN, Corporate Dietitian Ingles Markets
You … Rely on Supplements
“A common mistake I see is clients relying solely on supplements rather than real foods, such as replacing your meals with weight-loss shakes.” —Angie Asche, MS, RD, LMNT, owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition, LLC
You … Eat While Distracted
“The one bad habit that I would like to see people break is to cut out multi-tasking while eating. Multi-tasking is a prized skill in today’s society—but when it comes to eating, our bodies haven’t caught on to this phenomenon. Our stomachs send us subtle cues to tell our brain to stop feeding it, but these can be easily missed if we’re distracted! When people turn off the TV, put down their devices, and focus on their food, they are better able to listen to their bodies’ needs. This helps them to enjoy their food more, and be much more satisfied with it, despite the fact that they will likely end up eating less overall.” – Jessica Penner, RD, Smart Nutrition
You … Are Too Hard On Yourself
“The habit I want people to break is going all or nothing. This attitude sets them up for failure when they inevitably have a bad day or give in to temptation. Instead of just starting again at the next meal, this attitude sets them up for longer stretches of unhealthy thinking and eating.” —Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD, Southern Fried Nutrition Services
You … Are a Diehard Member of the Clean Plate Club
“I wish my clients would stop feeling like they have to eat food that is on their plate to keep it from going to ‘waste.’ They should realize it’ll go to waste either way; it’ll just do damage to your body first.” —Sherryl Hanna, M.Ed, RD, LD, Consultant Dietitian
You … Assume Gluten-Free Means Healthy
“A mistake I see many people making is eating only specialty gluten-free products because they think gluten will make them fat. Often times, these specialty products are loaded with more preservatives, additives, sugar, salt, fat or calories than their regular gluten-filled counterparts and are therefore not necessarily the best choices for weight management. Aim for more whole grains that are high in fiber and protein and worry less about whether they contain gluten.” —Abbey Sharp, RD, owner of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.
Photo courtesy of SELF.