Seven Healthy Eating Myths That Aren't Serving You Well
Developing a healthy relationship with food often requires taking steps to unlearn diet culture, a form of social pressure that prioritizes thinness rather than true wellness. One of the most impactful ways to begin this unlearning is to debunk several diet myths that don't serve your physical or mental health. According to Johna Burdeos, RD, the following diet myths lead you toward unsustainable habits that can have long-term, negative impacts on your body. "These diets don't ask what we registered dietitians ask," Burdeos says, "which is, 'Will you be able to eat like this the rest of your life?'"
Ahead, more nutritionists and registered dietitians share the truth about the following myths surrounding carbohydrates, sugar, and more.
Myth: Over-restricting calories is healthy.
For years, the weight loss industry has marketed the idea that eating 1,200 calories or less is ideal for most adult women who are looking to slim down. But as Caitlin Mudd, RD, LDN, explains, that's not only a dangerous myth perpetuated by diet culture—it's factually incorrect. "1,200 calories per day is the recommended calorie requirement for a toddler," Mudd notes.
Beyond not providing your body with nearly enough fuel, restricting calories to this level can harm your metabolism and mental health, resulting in binge eating and feelings of deprivation, says Mudd. "Diets and restrictions have shown to slow down metabolism, causing our bodies to store excess fat and causing overall weight gain long-term," she adds. So, what is the healthy amount of calories to consume in a day? That just depends on you, your personal health, and your doctor's recommendations. "All people have different calorie needs based on things like body size, activity level, and age, so using a diet with a set number of calories won't work for everyone," Brittany Lubeck, MS, RD shares. "Nutrition should be tailored to the individual." Lubeck notes that we should avoid extreme weight loss measure—including super low-calorie diets—and focus on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods instead. "Add to your diet," Lubeck says, "rather than taking foods away. Restriction cannot work long-term."
Myth: Everyone should be gluten-free, since gluten is inflammatory.
If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you should avoid eating gluten for your health and overall comfort, but if your body doesn't have an aversion to this protein, which is found in wheat and other grains, then it's best to embrace it and steer clear of any strict dietary guidelines. "Most of the population can digest gluten just fine," says Tayler Silfverduk, a registered dietitian who specializes in celiac disease. "It is a great plant-based protein to add to your diet and offers delicious flavor and texture to baked goods." Adds Marissa Kai Miluk, MS, RDN, "Unless a person has been diagnosed with celiac disease or a wheat allergy, current evidence does not show any negative health impacts from consuming gluten. Trying to avoid gluten unnecessarily can lead to further issues from missing out on important nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and magnesium." So, long story short? Eating wheat is important.
Myth: Carbohydrates are bad for you.
"Carbs seem to be the number-one enemy in the dieting world, with no good reason at all," says Julia Denison, MS, RD, LDN, who notes that carbohydrates are critical for so many reasons. "Carbohydrates are absolutely necessary for all aspects of life. You need them to sustain your basic functions, such as using your brain and breathing," Denison says. Specifically, they provide us with energy and fiber, and make it possible for exertion during a workout—so majorly restricting your intake can have a negative impact on your overall health.
Myth: There is "good" food and "bad" food.
According to Silfverduk, food has no moral value, which means it's neither good nor bad. While it's important to acknowledge that not all foods are equal in terms of nutritional value, that doesn't make dessert or processed foods "bad." Lubeck adds that when you ascribe moral value to your food, it can result in disordered eating. The best thing to do is recognize how all foods can benefit you: "Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein are important to your health and should be included in your diet, but foods like ice cream, pizza, and French fries play a role, too," Lubeck says. "The foods often deemed 'bad' would be better named as 'fun.'" Fun snacks can bring you joy and comfort after a tough day or be part of a celebratory meal, Lubeck says, and you can balance these meals with other food groups to ensure you get nutrients, flavor, and comfort.
Myth: High-fat food is unhealthy.
This is factually incorrect, says nutritionist Juliana Tamayo, MS. "Foods such as nuts, fatty fish, avocados, and olive oil are almost all fat, but they contain a large amount of unsaturated fatty acids and essential fatty acids," Tamayo explains. "These acids can be heart healthy and anti-inflammatory." In fact, Tamayo says that including healthy fatty acids in a meal is a healthier option than going for a low-fat food.
Myth: Juicing detoxes your body.
It's very common to see social media ads for juices and teas that claim to "cleanse" your body and help you lose weight via "detoxing," but as Denison explains, that's a huge misrepresentation of the word and of how these liquids function in your body. "Juicing or a 'cleanse' is not going to encourage your body to remove any toxins," Denison says, because your body already detoxifies itself naturally thanks to your liver and kidneys. "As a dietitian, I would never recommend anyone to do a 'cleanse' or 'detox,' as these words can be harmful and contribute to diet culture." Instead, Denison recommends simply including more water and produce in your diet to boost your body's own ability to remove toxins naturally. Another reason to focus on adding more foods into your diet rather than restricting yourself to juice alone? "It's important to eat enough calories to support your body's basic processes," says Jinan Banna, PhD, RD, "and not to limit your diet to one particular item or food group to be sure you are getting all of the essential nutrients."
Myth: Always avoid sugar.
The idea that sugar leads to weight gain is a "pervasive myth in diet culture that I get questions about from almost any new client that I work with," says Marissa Kai Miluk, MS, RDN. "Besides the fact that the use of fatness to evoke fear is inherently fat-phobic, sugar consumption does not cause weight gain." Miluk explains that there is not a single food or food group that can cause weight gain on its own—rather, weight fluctuates throughout our lives for many different reasons. "Any weight gain from [consuming sugar] would be no different than if you over consume fat or protein. This is why it's important to ditch the external rules and instead use the very smart signals from your body to guide your decision on when to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat to feel your best."