As a dietitian, I’ve heard it all. But if I could pick a few things that I wish people would never say again it would be these seven diet words.
Every time I turn around there is another article, blog or Facebook post touting a “full body detox,” “clean eating plan” or “low-carb cleanse”. These words have become so ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget that there is nothing to formally define what any of them mean. The terms are now so widely adopted that even dietitians and nutritionists, myself included, are often guilty of using them. Casual though they may be, words matter. Every time we use them, they acquire an influence over us. While it may seem like a no big deal at the time, the more we hear and use words like “diet”, “detox”, or “clean eating”, the more we start to believe that our self-worth is defined by our food choices. These labels make it harder to listen to our bodies, and we begin to focus on external cues rather than internal cues when it comes to making choices about what to eat.
Instead of the labels, we need to focus on making food decisions based on what works for each of us individually. As a start, here are seven diet words that I want you to stop using.
How many times have you said “tomorrow I’m going to go on a diet” or “I can’t eat that, I’m on a diet.” Anything you are going on, you will eventually off. By using the word diet, you limit yourself to thinking in black and white: you’re on a diet, or you’re off of it. But this isn’t how it works in real life.
Using the word “clean” assigns a moral value to your food, where none exists. It implies that other foods are “dirty”, destroying your health, shortening your life, making you fat. The reality: clean eating doesn’t exist. There is no objective definition; everyone believes different foods are “unclean.”
“Good” foods and “Bad” foods.
Using these labels puts unnecessary negative connotations on them, causing us to feel guilty if you eat something that is “bad.” Eating and enjoying food shouldn’t be done with guilt or shame. Taking pleasure and joy from the foods you eat can allow you to feel more satisfied with less food.
Despite all the hype and popularity, there is no proof that “detoxing” will remove toxins or make you healthier. Our liver and kidneys do a great job of cleaning our system on their own, especially if you consume a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fat.
The promises of weight loss, shiny hair, better skin – it all sounds wonderful. The problem is, cleanses are usually low in calories, protein, and fiber – essential nutrients that our bodies need to function. These plans leave you feeling hungry and cranky, causing a rebound food binge once you stop the detox. Plus they reinforce bad habits of overeating or binging, followed by restrictive eating. This doesn’t help to teach you how to eat healthy in the long run.
As a dietitian, I regularly find myself explaining that carbohydrates are found in multiple food groups – not just bread and pasta. Vegetables, yogurt, milk – all have carbohydrates. Just because something is “low carb” does not mean it is healthy. Focus instead on the type of carbohydrate you are eating. Choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, milk or yogurt most often, and have smaller amounts of refined grains. Our bodies need carbohydrates for fuel; there is no reason we need to shun them.
Labeling food as a “cheat” sets you up for enjoying a meal as something that is forbidden. Similar to labeling food as “bad”, this associates eating with guilt and shame. Restricting yourself all week and then binging on large portions of high sugar, high fat, highly processed foods is an unhealthy habit, with a fine-line between a “cheat day” turning into multiple days of binging.
In the end, it comes down to balance: any food can cause issues if you regularly eat it in excess. On the other hand, eating some foods that are less nutritious than others will not make you automatically gain weight. To develop a sustainable, healthy eating pattern, follow the 80/20 food strategy: make smart food choices 80% of the time, and cut yourself some slack for the balance.
This post was originally published on the Luvo blog.