It’s easy to cling to an arbitrary list of rules when you’re trying to eat better. But your low-carb co-worker, Janet, is not actually a nutritionist, and your mom’s meal advice is hardly helpful (low-fat everything is a terrible call). Sigh.
It shouldn’t be so confusing and soul-sucking. We’ve teamed up with our friends at Chilly Cow (a new light ice cream that tastes delicious) to save you from a life of deprivation. Because according to the actual experts—i.e., dietitians—eating healthy doesn’t have to mean all kale and no dessert. Here are the top five things the pros want you to stop believing.
1. All calories are created equal.
Starving yourself all day for a dinner of cookies isn’t the best way to lose weight. The source of your calories counts for just as much as the number of calories you consume. Bodies absorb and derive energy differently depending on the type of food, so choosing foods based on what they can do for your body, rather than the calorie count on the label, is probably the smarter way to eat.
“Little advice out there can drive a dietitian as crazy as this erroneous gem,” says Candice Seti, Ph.D., The Weight Loss Therapist, a clinical psychologist, personal trainer, and registered dietitian. “The fact is that while numerical values may be the same, little else is the same when it comes to the calories in an avocado and the calories in a cookie. The combination of other nutrients plays a role in the reactions it triggers in the body. Sugary foods, highly processed foods, and the like—even those low in calories—trigger inflammatory reactions in the body, promote cravings, and deprive the body of much-needed macronutrients and micronutrients.”
2. Desserts are diet-killers.
Dessert gets a bad rap. Most ads for it are filled with words such as temptation and indulgence, insinuating that people who enjoy something sweet after a nutritious meal are somehow giving into a taboo longing. However, studies show that people who deny themselves foods they love—like chocolate—are actually more susceptible to overeating.
There are, of course, ways to eat dessert (even breakfast dessert!) mindfully. For example, Chilly Cow has less fat and sugar than regular ice cream and a lot more protein. It also uses ultra-filtered milk. And, more importantly, it actually tastes good, so you’ll feel satisfied by a few spoonfuls (or, let’s be honest, a half-pint). It’s eating to nourish the soul—and the kid in us who joined the clean plate club in order to get to the ice cream promised at the end of the meal.
3. It’s possible to make up for splurges on the elliptical.
We’ve all reached for a fourth slice of pizza in front of an eighth episode of Law & Order with a promise to atone for it the next day with an hour on the elliptical. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that.
“In reality, you can’t make up for what happens in the kitchen at the gym,” Seti says. “Nutritious foods can certainly fuel a good workout, but if you are looking to make up for what you’ve eaten, you would be in the gym hours upon hours each day to even come close burning those calories. Further, nothing you do at the gym can make junk food provide the nutrients that your body needs.”
Your workout shouldn’t be an excuse to overindulge; what you eat should help fuel your workout.
4. Fruit is a foe.
Some experts insist sugar is sugar and even the natural sugars in fruit could thwart an otherwise healthy diet. But according to new research, that might not be true. A recent study split dieters into a low-fat group, who were encouraged to replace fruit juice and white bread with alternatives such as fresh fruit and brown rice, and a low-carb group, who were told to replace them with salmon, nuts, and seeds. Both groups lost weight, suggesting it’s less about cutting out fruit than it is about eating a high-quality diet without added sugar, refined grains, and processed foods.
“One of the craziest myths I hear is that in order to lose weight, you shouldn’t eat fruit,” says Nora Minno, Daily Burn trainer and registered dietitian. “This typically comes from the low-carb approach to weight loss. While reducing carbohydrate intake can be a way to lose weight, by no means do you have to cut out fruit. Fruit is packed with fiber, which helps slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream and help you better utilize it as fuel. Fruit is also packed with nutrients that help fight inflammation and disease and can actually help keep your metabolism going.”
Minno says that a healthier approach is to focus on portion control and mindful eating. “Keep the fruit, but make sure you’re watching your portions and balancing it with other foods that contain proteins and fats,” she says.
5. Once a cheater always a cheater.
Cheat days can turn eating into a pass/fail test, which can lead to unhealthy ideas about food, Seti says. “The idea of ‘cheating’ on your diet is commonly spouted advice from a range of different health professionals,” Seti says. “But this philosophy makes your eating habits seem like a restricted, temporary diet rather than an optimal way of eating. Consider the way you eat as a lifestyle you follow to look and feel your best, rather than restrictions from which you are trying to break free on a regular basis.”
Embrace the idea of giving your body the nutrients it needs to thrive and stop feeling guilty about occasionally eating foods you love.
“Feel free to indulge in a treat now and then,” Seti says. “It will help keep you from feeling deprived. But don’t have a regularly scheduled day to cheat.”