You want to improve your diet and eat healthy but what does that exactly mean? With so many different diet and eating trends available, it’s easy to become confused over which ones are great and which ones aren’t? Is no carb the way to go? What about cutting calories? Or the ever-popular keto diet?
We reached out to a number of nutritionists and it turns out — many of these trendy diets and eating trends aren’t exactly great for your health or for losing weight. In fact, many nutritionists hate anything and everything that’s known as a “diet.”
“Diets are dangerous and false advertising for weight loss that doesn’t last long,” says Erin Treloar, health coach and founder of Raw Beauty Reset. “Statistics show that 80 percent of diets fail within the first 12 months and many studies indicate that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain. What’s tricky about the diet industry, is that it is so deeply intertwined with the world of health and wellness that often people dieting believe they are taking healthy steps to improve their wellbeing. Fast forward and they find themselves in a place where their life revolves around food, what they weigh and unsuccessfully trying to maintain any results they do get.”
Here’s what nutritionists had to say about some of the most common diet and eating trends popping up on your social feed.
The Zero-Carb diet
“The zero-card trend creates an irrational fear of all carbs and isn’t ideal for women’s health,” Maritza Worthington, a functional nutritionist and hormonal specialist, tells SheKnows. “Carb-restriction is an unhealthy approach for women’s health because low-carb dieting can backfire and impact hormones over time.”
The body’s preferred energy source comes from glucose, which you can only get from carbohydrates, says Worthington, which means when you aren’t getting enough glucose from complex carbohydrates, your cortisol levels increase, leading to weight gain and even affect fertility. When the stress hormone, cortisol, is elevated this can suppress the thyroid, elevate estrogen, and slow down metabolism as the body perceives it’s in danger. Your body is then also forced to compensate by converting proteins into glucose as a survival mechanism, which is a less efficient energy source.
“Low-carb dieting can also significantly reduce fiber and prebiotic intake, which is essential for gut and hormone harmony,” she says. “ Many crucial nutrients and minerals also come from carbohydrate sources, so not getting enough starchy carbs can create deficiencies and imbalances over time.” In order to avoid this, Worthington recommends aiming to include a cup of whole food carbohydrate sources (such as sweet potatoes, plantains, vegetables, and sprouted grains) on your plate. “Complex carbs are not the enemy!”
“The true keto diet was originally designed for people with epilepsy and actually contains much more fat than the diet people are following these days,” Brittany Lubeck, MS, RD and nutritional consultant at Oh So Spotles. “So, really, people following the keto diet for weight loss are not following the true diet.”
The current keto diet, says Lubeck, is very low carb, high fat, and high protein. There are many problems with the keto diet, she says, but the most prevalent in her opinion is the distribution of macronutrients. “Carbohydrates are our body’s number one choice for fuel. Carbs are the macronutrient most readily and easily converted to energy,” she says. “Plus, our brains thrive off carbs. Carbs like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide a wide variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, so not eating these foods can lead to deficiencies.”
Another problem with the keto diet, according to Lubeck, is the potential stress on the kidneys. “This is because people on the diet typically increase their intake of high fat and high protein animal foods, which are harder for our kidneys to process and filter, potentially leading to kidney stones or declined kidney function. This diet is so popular because it leads to quick weight loss (which is not healthy) but staying on the keto diet long-term has actually been linked to an increased risk of health issues like heart disease and kidney disease.”
Her suggestion for the best approach to eating (without the diet culture nonsense)? Including all foods and all nutrients.
“This means carbs, fat, and protein in more proportional amounts than the keto diet allows.”
Worthington isn’t a fan of calorie counting either. “Calorie counting is the ultimate trap since it reduces nutrition to quantity over quality. Just like you shouldn’t obsess about the number on the scale, the same is true for calories,” she says. “Calorie counting is misleading because not all calories are created equal. For instance, three cups of broccoli contain 122 calories, which is about the same as a peppermint patty candy bar. However, it’s not just about calories in and out, it’s really about nutrient density and avoiding processed foods altogether.”
As Worthington points out cruciferous whole foods like broccoli contain nutrients like sulforaphane that actually assist in helping the liver clear excess hormones like estrogen more efficiently, which can lead to weight loss and a healthy metabolism. “As a society, we need to start thinking about food for its nutritional value, rather than taking a reductionist approach to nutrition with calorie counting.”
“Cleanses are completely unnecessary, no matter how soon your beach vacation is,” says Lubeck. “Two major organs, the liver and the kidneys, detox and cleanse our bodies every day at all times.” Detoxes and cleanses that typically ask people to only drink some sort of concoction for a number of days, says Lubeck, often leads to diarrhea and rapid water weight loss, “which gives people a false sense of success. However, as soon as you stop a cleanse and start eating and drinking regularly again, any weight you lost will come right back because it was not true weight loss.”
Alternatively, she says if you stick to eating nutritious food while on vacation, “I promise you do not need to go on a cleanse when you get home. The best thing to do is just enjoy yourself on vacation and realize that a day or two (or more) of indulging is not going to cause rapid weight gain or a total shift in your health. When you get home, just get back to your normal eating routine and you will feel like yourself again in no time.”
While intermittent fasting might be all the rage, Worthington says it might also be doing your hormones more harm than good. “From a hormone perspective, fasting increases cortisol which creates inflammation and imbalance in the long-term.” While she admits that intermittent fasting can provide results in the short-term, Worthington says it’s really not meant to be a long-term solution because high cortisol levels for a long period of time can put the body into a catabolic state of breakdown. “For instance, fasting stress can increase cortisol and eventually lead to blood sugar deregulation, which creates insulin resistance and affects hormones. This can look like waking up in the middle of the night, or not having enough energy throughout the day. It’s important to realize that skipping meals is an added stressor to the body, and intermittent fasting can increase that stress load in an already stressed and depleted body.”
A better approach she says would be to have a cut off time for dinner (i.e. no later than six or seven at night) and to eat a protein-packed breakfast within the first hour of waking.
What to consider instead
“Diets come with rules for eating and exercising that can lead to the development of harmful disordered eating habits,” says Lubeck. “Disordered eating can eventually lead to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and more. The diet industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, which should tell people something about just how influential it can be.”
Treloar says she felt tired of being stuck in this cycle of negative body image and dieting but didn’t know what alternative option was available that was more self-affirming and healthy, which is why she created the Raw Beauty Reset with Dr. Hillary McBride and Registered Dietician, Ali Eberhard. The program focuses on nourishment, movement, mindset and self love to support long-term holistic health.
“As we begin to understand the toll diet culture has had on us one question always pops up. If my relationship with food feels out of control and I’m not happy with my body what can I do to improve my overall wellbeing?” says Treloar. “Sixty-five percent of women struggle with disordered eating and another 10% have eating disorders which can greatly impact their mental health and ability to focus on things we know build true wellness like relationships, purpose and inner connection.”
Some food for thought when it comes to aspects of our lives that bring more meaning and fulfillment than counting calories and carbs ever could.
Before you go, check out some of our favorite quotes to inspire positive attitudes about food and bodies:
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