Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store and glance to your left. You see rows of flashy magazines with your favorite celebrities promoting various diets that ‘hold the key’ to the perfect body and the secret to happiness.
It’s undeniable that diets can offer appeal and intrigue, but doesn’t all this talk (and the endless sales pitches) annoy you sometimes?!
Almost everywhere you go these days, everyone is talking about diets. Whole 30, Paleo, South Beach, The Zone Diet, The Fresh Diet, the Pressed Juicery Cleanse….and the list goes on and on. Almost all of them seem to have celebrity backing – Nicole Richie, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara, Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow and even football legend Tom Brady with his $200 cookbook.
In a world where celebrity endorsement means more than ever, there are hundreds and hundreds of “trendy” diets out there, each offering something different. And if it “works” for a celebrity, it must work for you too, right?
The actual truth: No. Everyone is different and so are their nutritional needs.
In fact, diets actually don’t promote a healthy lifestyle. And they can be hazardous to your health.
When following a diet, it can often become stressful. They can be disruptive to one’s physical, mental and emotional well-being, and in the end, leave us feeling frustrated and defeated amid empty promises. Fear not, because this is important: we don’t fail diets—diets fail us!
Don’t get me wrong – it’s important to properly nourish ourselves and be mindful of our eating habits, but that does not mean dieting is the answer. In fact, I strongly advise against it. If you’re searching for answers on how to feel comfortable living in your body, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find them in diets.
Let’s take a look at some red flags commonly seen with dieting:
1. Diets encourage rigidity and over emphasize control: Diets are very rule-based – and extremely strict about these rules. Avoid “X” or remove “Y.” Or you can ‘indulge’ in “Y” but absolutely not “Z.” Proper nourishment and a positive relationship with food are not about control. Rather than focus on what we can’t or shouldn’t do, I would suggest paying special attention to the queues our bodies give to us, listening and acting upon them and allowing flexibility within our own lifestyles.
2. They have specific rules about when to eat: Some diets even say you can only eat at certain times of the day or that you must follow a strict ‘eating pattern’ through intermittent fasting. Believe it or not, our bodies keep their own schedules and do not need us to ‘cut ourselves off’ just because the clock doesn’t say the ‘right’ time. Fighting natural hunger/fullness cues is very disruptive for our bodies, and if these signals are ignored, it can take months before they return to normal.
3. They are ridden with sensationalized words like ‘cheat’ or ‘tricks’: A select group of diets promote a ‘cheat’ day – i.e. eat anything you’d like! How is a diet plan that requires or even encourages a cheat day sustainable for our bodies and our minds? Our bodies are too sophisticated to ever be ‘tricked.’
4. They often promote the elimination of an entire food group: Vegan diets, for instance, call for the elimination of dairy, fish and meats from your diet. The 4-Hour Body tells you to avoid whole wheat and fruit. Unless you have a medical condition that requires you to alter your diet or omit certain foods, there is no scientific reason to deprive our bodies of the nourishment they need from the different food groups. A balanced diet is essential for our physical and mental well-being. Elimination diets can put you at high risk for developing nutrient deficiencies if you are not careful.
5. They have expiration dates: Most diets are designed to be temporary. Crash diets, for example, offer the marketing appeal that you will rapidly lose weight in a short period of time. Whether it’s three days, seven days or 30 days, how can a plan with an expiration date support sustainable health? It may even compromise our health in the short term depending on what the plan rules are and even lead to weight gain in the long run.
6. They can get boring!: Food fatigue is real. Remember how most diets limit you to only certain foods or products? You CAN get burnt out on even the most delicious food if you have that food – and only that food – repeatedly. There is no magic superfood. You cannot get all the nutrition you need from a single product. This can leave you with intense cravings and put you at high risk for nutrient deficiencies.
7. They often highlight detoxes or cleanses: There is no shortage of celebrities promoting the latest detox diets, designed to “cleanse” the body by eliminating the “toxins” certain foods or food groups bring. Thankfully for most of us, our bodies are equipped with livers and kidneys that do this for us on a regular basis, without the need to change our food intake or rely on supplements or special juices. Staying hydrated is key.
Keep in mind this list is not exhaustive. It’s just a place to start.
Also keep in mind, this is not meant to be judgement on those who follow specific diets due to religious, cultural, environmental or moral beliefs, or individuals who have specific dietary restrictions due to allergies or other medical conditions. Food is fuel. I urge you to listen to your body and nourish it with the nutrition it needs and the foods you enjoy.
If you still find it difficult to tune out all of this diet (and celebrity diet) talk, I would encourage you to consider the following:
1. Reduce exposure to the diet culture in your life, whether that means changing who you follow on Instagram or skipping over certain sections of your favorite magazine (or perhaps find a new favorite).
2. Find a registered dietitian who has an awareness of disordered eating and whom you trust to answer your questions and make nutrition recommendations that are tailored specifically to you and your health.
So, what is the best nutritional plan for me?
What’s most important is that you’re consuming a balanced diet. This means asking a series of questions:
1. Adequacy: Are you eating enough to support your energy needs during the day?
2. Variety: Are you regularly eating different foods?
3. Moderation: Are you having too much of one food group and/or not enough of other types?
4. Balance: Are all food groups accounted for in your meals and snacks on a daily basis?
5. Satisfaction: Do you actually enjoy what you eat?
Eating well incorporates ALL of these factors – not just a few. And that’s what matters the most at the end of the day.
If you or someone you know would like additional nutritional support, we’re here to help.
Danielle Sommers MS, RD, LDN is the program dietitian for Walden’s adult and adolescent PHP as well as the Free to Be program in Braintree, MA. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Biology, Health, and Society from Cornell University and completed her Dietetic Internship with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition at the University at Buffalo. She is passionate about eating disorders and helping others foster positive relationships with food through individual counseling, psychoeducation, group nutrition therapy, and meal planning. She implements Motivational Interviewing and Medical Nutrition Therapy in her work with patients and families. In her spare time, you can find her cake decorating or catching up on some reading.