When it comes to dieting, it seems like everyone from your mom to your friends—even celebrities and fad-diet book authors—have an opinion on how to do it right. It’s one of the most crowded self-help spaces, and can be difficult to suss out the good advice from the just plain wrong. Of course you’ve heard that you should eat lots of fruits and veggies and whole foods, and not overdo it on caffeine, sugar, refined carbs, and alcohol. That stuff is basic. What I wanted to know are the top diet myths that are still out there that experts wish more people knew the truth about.
I talked to nutritionists, doctors, healthy cooking experts, and even a personal trainer, who let me in on some of the worst diet advice out there—the tips that, if you take them to heart, could actually harm you more than help you. Below, find out five bad diet tips that you should disregard ASAP, and tell all your friends to ignore, too.
Juice Cleanses Are Good For You.
As a veteran of failed juice cleanses, I can’t pretend I was totally disappointed to hear that it’s not the best idea to restrict your diet to liquids to detox. “Sipping green juice five times a day and ducking out on all other foods sounds like a great idea to lose weight and improve your health—for about one hot second,” says celebrity nutritionist Keri Glassman. “When you juice-to-lose, you’re missing out on the fiber in the vegetables you’re drinking, which can cause constipation and disrupt your gut flora. You’re also likely missing out on calories. All this, plus the lack of chewing, can lead to irritability, fatigue, yo-yo-dieting, and mental distress. The end of a juice cleanse can be synonymous with a big ole junk food binge, leading to weight gain. So if you want to get your green juice in, make it a part of your diet, not your whole diet.”
Heather Marr, a Manhattan-based personal trainer, says that the number-one thing she tells model and celebrity clients who are trying to lose weight is not to juice. “When you eat fruits or vegetables, the body has to work to break the food down, which burns calories and keeps you full,” she says. “When you juice, the fruit or vegetable is already broken down for us, so the calories we use to digest is lower, and leaves us feeling hungrier and more likely to eat more food and calories. Instead of juicing an apple or carrot, just enjoy the food whole.”
Eat Everything in Moderation.
While this old adage might be comforting when you decide to indulge in a little chocolate at the end of a long day, it’s an excuse that prevents us from losing weight, says holistic nutritionist Esther Blum. “Thinking we can eat everything as long as it’s in moderation is what has made 66 percent of Americans obese,” she says. “We can no longer afford to write checks our bodies cannot cash. Moderation can either mean a little bit every day, or once per week—but it should really mean once every two weeks to once per month. For instance, eating a scoop of ice cream every day can bring in an extra 875 calories per week, or 3,500 calories per month, of mostly fat and sugar—the equivalent of one pound of weight gain per month that will likely hit your midsection. Small habits still make a BIG difference in the long run.” Sigh.
Don’t Drink While You Eat.
Some food gurus claim that it’s a bad idea to sip water between bites of your meal because it can dilute your natural digestive enzymes, making it harder for your body to break down food. Don’t buy it. “This is awful advice that makes no sense to me,” says Ilana Muhlstein, nutritionist for Explore Cuisine. “All the foods we eat are made up of water. Some fruits and vegetables contain up to 96 percent water. Cheese contains up to 37 percent water, beef contains up to 70 percent water, and even butter contains 15 percent. Therefore, as you’re eating these foods, you’re literally taking in ounces of water with every bite—and water actually helps prevent overeating and can help digestion. As long as you don’t have an issue with gastric emptying, you should take sips of water throughout a meal for optimal weight and portion control.”
Eat Lots of Small Meals Throughout the Day.
Some conventional wisdom dictates that you should graze on a series of five to six small meals during the day to keep yourself full and prevent overeating out of hunger—but that’s not necessarily the case, says Blum. “Recent research has shown that eating six meals per day has no metabolic advantage over eating three meals per day,” she says. “What you eat can have a much bigger metabolic impact than how often you eat. A great way to lose weight is to focus on protein, veggies, healthy fats, and fruits during the day to keep your blood sugar stable, and then have a higher carb meal at dinner to help you sleep well that night.” So much for the myth about not eating carbs passed 4 p.m.
It’s Smart to Cut Fat Out of Your Diet.
This myth, at least, has been starting to get more attention and is being busted more often these days, kind of like the myth that you shouldn’t eat any carbs. (Quick refresher: It’s about eating the right kind of carbs, meaning nutrient-rich complex carbs like quinoa, potatoes, beans, or squash, rather than bread, crackers, cookies, or cereals.) Similarly, cutting out fat entirely is not the wisest way to slim down, says Glassman. “One of my favorite things to tell my clients is, ‘fat is your friend!’ On the flip side, low- or fat-free foods can be your love handles’ worst nightmare. When fat is removed from food, it’s often replaced with sugar for flavor and additional chemicals—such as thickeners and additives—to retain the fatty texture. You end up with a product that’s higher in calories and sugar, and packed with chemicals. Ditch the extra sugar, and go for the less processed version even if it’s higher in fat.” Here are a few reminders of which kinds of foods contain good-for-you fats, and all the benefits they have, from better skin and losing weight to helping keep you full (a pro for any dieter).