Look, you might feel like you’re making a positive health choice by vowing to eat cleaner and forgo guilty pleasures in 2018. But these dietitians have heard it all before, and they want to set the record straight—those trendy nutrition terms don’t really mean anything, and focusing on them is setting you up for failure with your goal to get fitter, stronger, and healthier. Here are six terms RDs really, really wish we’d all stop using.
Ask any group of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) to name a phrase that makes them cringe and the overwhelming top response will be “clean eating.” Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN clearly explains that “The opposite of clean is dirty. Food is not dirty, except for unwashed produce.” Implying that some foods are clean and others are unclean, induces fear of foods. Harris-Pincus has clients who are afraid to eat in restaurants because they are not able to read the labels of menu items. “Life needs balance and while I applaud those who want to include more organic and minimally processed foods, and cook more at home, fear of food is not beneficial to anyone,” advises Harris-Pincus.
Similarly, Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN states, “I think morally objectifying foods can be hazardous in the long run, and lead to provoking guilt and shame of eating a food that isn't deemed ‘clean.’ I think the better way to view these foods, and what I advise clients is to choose foods closer to the earth for the majority of the time.”
Cara Harbstreet, MS, RDN sums it up well, “I also think ‘clean eating’ implies there’s a free pass to overindulge because the ingredients are somehow healthier—just look up some clean eating dessert recipes! A chocolate cake is still a chocolate cake, and a salad is still a salad, no matter how ‘clean’ or conventional the ingredients are.”
This carrot, ginger, and turmeric soup makes a hearty and healthy meal any day of the week:
Another pet peeve amongst RDNs is the term “cheat day.” This phrase refers to the popular plan of sticking to a diet for six days, and eating anything you want on the seventh day. Face it, no one follows a diet perfectly, 100 percent of the time. If your daily diet is so miserable that you have to create an entire day to flee from the restrictiveness, you’re doing something wrong. Eating is fuel. Eating is flavorful and enjoyable. ‘Cheating’ implies that you’ve gone rogue and splurged on massive amounts of foods that you’d normally avoid. And, how is a one-day crazy splurge contributing to a healthy lifestyle? Drop the emotional baggage associated with this term and embrace mindful eating again.
Fun fact—your liver and kidneys detox your body every single day! Still, “detoxing” and “cleanses” are all the rage, available in every health food store and from umpteen websites. Andrea Mathis, MA, RDN shares, “I am tired of hearing the term, Detox Diet! This ‘diet’ typically requires very restricted calories or food groups as a way of ‘cleansing’ the body and losing weight.”
Further, many times these detox-cleanse plans include expensive and unproven supplements, truly not needed for a healthy lifestyle. (Here’s how to detox your body safely and naturally.) According to Mathis (and science), “This method is not very effective because it does not teach healthier eating habits for long term maintenance, nor does it promote a balanced diet of wholesome foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. If you want to start a weight loss journey, there is no magic pill or quick fix diet. The best way is to make better food choices, be mindful of proper portion sizes, and increase your physical activity.”
Are we over this yet? Carbs are not the enemy. In fact, they are the body’s preferred energy source, vitally necessary for normal healthy bodily functions. The energy from carbs fuels muscle movement, thought processes and brain function, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular function, and much more. (That’s why we think your New Year’s resolution should be to bake and eat more bread!)
It’s true that highly processed carbohydrates—refined white grains and cereals, sugary treats and beverages, and snack chips or crackers—possess excess calories with less satiety, so they’re linked with weight gain and health risks. Sharon Palmer, MS, RDN offers this advice, “Focus on mostly whole carbohydrate sources—whole grains (like quinoa, brown rice, farro), vegetables, fruits, legumes or pulses—you gain fiber and nutrients with the carbs, and you feel full for longer. They do not have the impact on the blood sugar that refined carbs have.” Stop fearing carbs and include the healthier options in your diet every day.
According to Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, the term “belly fat” needs to disappear. “Articles that promise to ‘incinerate’ or ‘melt away’ belly fat are quite misleading. Wouldn't it just be so easy if we could just choose where the fat comes off?” Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. The body sheds weight from all areas proportionally.
Look at some hard facts. Fact: Men have higher amounts of abdominal fat tissue than women. Fact: Abdominal fat increases with age. Fact: Postmenopausal women typically possess more abdominal fat. Believing that certain foods or supplements melt away belly fat will end in disappointment. Focusing on an overall healthy lifestyle and body positivity, and eliminating body shaming form a healthier outlook for 2018.
We’ve all heard folks state, “Oh, cheesecake is my guilty pleasure.” Completely eliminating your favorite not-so-healthy foods (chocolate, pizza, potato chips), associates these foods with remorse when eaten.
“The term ‘guilty pleasures’ equates eating with shame, a negative emotion that never improved anyone's life. Eating is not cheating, no matter what the food. I prefer a more moderate approach, one that plans for and includes small portions of people's favorite foods—chocolate for me—on a regular basis,” says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD. Free yourself to enjoy and savor those favorites occasionally, without the “guilt” connection.