Fill half your plate with produce. Make sure every meal has a complex carb, lean protein, and healthy fat. Steer clear of foods made with unrecognizable ingredients.
There’s a lot of smart advice out there on how to eat healthy. But there are also a ton of misleading/confusing/outrageous tips that can make us feel crazy. What and who do we believe? We asked seven wellness experts to tell us the worst nutrition advice they’ve ever heard—and what they think you should be doing instead.
1. Eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's is the same as eating a bag of avocados.
A cardiologist told this to one of my clients: "You need to lose weight. I don't care what you eat. A calorie is a calorie. You can eat what I call the 'Ben & Jerry's diet' as long as you don't eat over the calories you need."
This is wrong—and scary! The quality of your food is just as important as the quantity, and if you don’t take both into consideration, both weight loss and maintenance are going to be hard. Just think about a bowl of sugary cereal with two pieces of white toast and butter, versus two eggs with sautéed greens, kimchi, and a bowl of fresh berries. Both breakfasts might have a similar number of calories. But nutritionally speaking, they couldn’t be more different.
—Sarah Ball, certified heath coach and owner of SCB Health Coaching
2. Eating after 7 p.m. can make you fat.
The body’s metabolism doesn’t clock out—it’s working 24/7. Weight changes don’t happen magically after a certain time in the evening. So if eating dinner later works best for you, it’s OK to do that.
Your best bet is to listen to your body. Honor and respect those hunger and fullness signals and experiment with what helps you feel your best. That might mean reconsidering late-night meals or planning a light snack before bed. It's not one size fits all.
Just be mindful of your choices, the same way you would be during other times of the day. People are often prone to making less healthy choices at night, especially if they tried to be “good” all day. Or they overeat because they skipped meals throughout the day.
—Adina Pearson, registered dietician and intuitive eating counselor
3. You can eat whatever you want, as long as you exercise.
A healthy lifestyle includes both a healthy eating plan and regular exercise—you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet. Think about it: If you burn 400 calories at Spin class and follow it up with maple French toast and mimosa(s) for brunch, you most likely consumed more calories than you burned. (And it’s not even noon.)
To reap the benefits of your workout, it's best to follow a balanced diet. Stick to whole foods 80 percent of the time, then the other 20 percent of the time, enjoy the less healthy stuff you just can’t live without.
—Erin Clifford, certified holistic health coach and owner of Erin Clifford Wellness Coaching
4. Skip the sugar and go for artificial sweeteners instead.
They might help you cut calories, but that doesn’t make them good for you. Research shows artificial sweeteners can interfere with your microbiome and increase the risk for obesity. Plus, they mess with your mind and your appetite. To the brain, sweet tastes are supposed to signal you’re consuming a source of energy-boosting carbs. But artificial sweeteners don’t deliver that energy. So you end up feeling less satisfied—and may be driven to eat more.
You’re better off sticking with small quantities of real sweeteners—such as honey or maple syrup—instead.
—Jan Patenaude, registered dietician
5. You don’t need a multivitamin if you’re overweight.
An overweight patient shared with me that her cardiologist told her she did not need a multivitamin because she was already "overfed" and did not need any added nutrition. Not only is this offensive, but as we know, not all calories are created equal (ahem, see No. 1). It’s very possible to eat a high-calorie diet that’s low in actual nutrients.
All individuals should focus on balancing each plate with a serving of fruit or vegetables, a lean protein, a whole grain, and a healthy fat. If you need to fill in the gaps, a daily multivitamin can help—regardless of your body weight.
—Erin Palinski-Wade, registered dietician, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies
6. If it works for your friend/coworker/favorite celebrity/dog, it will work for you.
People promote all kinds of bogus products, services, and diets. It doesn’t make them an expert, nor does it mean it will be good for you. Plus, we’re all different, and we have different genetic makeups that may require us to eat differently to be at our best. Just because your friend followed a Paleo diet or tried macro counting doesn’t mean you should too.
To eat the right way for your genetic makeup, you need to follow an individualized approach. Finding your own perfect way of eating helps ensure you can actually stick to it—and eat that way for the rest of your life.
—Julie Upton, registered dietician and cofounder of Appetite for Health
7. Juice cleanses “cleanse” your body.
I’m all for cleaning up one's diet and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. But juice cleanses tend to be very high in sugar from all the fruits. Without any protein or fat, you’ll likely feel fatigued and cranky.
Plus, you’ll likely lose muscle mass or water weight instead of fat. And the weight will come right back when you go back to your regular diet, since the body will work as hard as possible to rebuild the stores that have been depleted.
If you feel you need to cleanse or detox, have a green smoothie for breakfast followed by two plant-based meals that have a balance of protein, fats, and carbs.
-Eliza Savage, registered dietician with Middleberg Nutrition
Editor's note: The opinions presented in this article are the wellness experts' personal views and should not be treated as medical advice.