“I don’t know what to believe.”
If you’ve ever read a fitness magazine or searched for any health-related information on the Internet, this is probably how you feel. Or maybe it’s more like, “WTF! Why does every piece of information contradict the other?”
First carbs are bad, and then they’re considered kinda rad (for athletes, at least). We say fats aren’t part of the plan, but what about Paleo, where bacon is the jam? I hear that intermittent fasting can eliminate fat… or is that only true if you’re a lab rat? It’s enough to make you want to throw your computer across the room—and not just because of the terrible rhymes.
This stuff (nutrition and fitness) is a business—one of misinformation, overreactions, and enough double-talk to make you think Paleo and Atkins are running against Mediterranean and Low-Sugar for the office of diet supremacy. Like any election, all candidates have their flaws, but that’s a major reason why I’m writing this column, Naked Truth: less confusion, more answers, and a place for you to turn when you’re sick of reading everything and just want to know what to believe.
I’m not here to break the news. I’m here to make sense of it all so you can live a healthy life without all the added stress and second-guessing. And while you can safely assume any plan that includes the words “cookie” or “miracle” is full of sh!t, trying to tackle every new diet trend would be an impossible task. Instead of naming names, here are three tips to help you figure out what actually works and what might work best for you.
1. Avoid any plan that points out one “enemy.”
So many new trends in the health and fitness world use smart marketing techniques to both scare you and promise quick results. Neither is usually valid, which is why it’s important to read this next part very carefully: Weight loss is a complex topic. It’s about calories, food quality, hormones, health history, genetics, exercise, body type, food sensitivity, age, and even your family history.
Does that mean you need to become a nutrition expert before trying any new eating plan? Hell no. But it does mean that if any diet suggests changing one element is the “key to success,” you should run. Fast.
It is a gross overstatement to say that avoiding any one of the following items is “all it takes”: carbs, fat, wheat, dairy, gluten, sugar, late-night eating, or processed and/or packaged foods. Can adjusting your diet around these things lead to weight loss? Of course. But it’s not the long-term solution. Why? Because it relies on unnecessary restriction of foods you might enjoy, which limits the likelihood that you’ll stick with it.
Yes, some people might actually need to avoid certain foods or ingredients due to food allergies (which is an entirely different, super-interesting topic), but the truth is most people are overreacting and cutting foods from their diet because they’ve been tricked into believing these “bad foods” are a health problem. They’re not.
For the most part, odds are you don’t have a food allergy—no matter how much the latest book might try to convince you otherwise. Case in point: Research found that 86 percent of people who thought they were gluten intolerant were not. And scientists estimate that only one to two percent of people in the world actually suffer from gluten intolerance. If you’re truly allergic to a food, then you’ll experience a reaction in your body when you eat it, similar to how pollen crushes my sinuses every summer.
If you’re trying to understand nutrition, it’s best to consider the words of Mike Israetel, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Temple University:
“Ultimately, successfully countering weight gain and obesity is a combination of many nutrition and behavioral principles that keep the fundamentals (like calorie balance) in mind. Catchphrase demonization of a single nutrient as a magic-bullet cure is unlikely to ever be the solution, and–in fact–more likely to create problems and confusion about how to fight obesity.”
2. Think of dieting like dating (hear me out).
Looking at what works for your friend, sister, coworker, or favorite Instagram star is a bad idea. And yet, that’s often how a lot of people get inspired to start a new diet. Instead, think of dieting like dating .
You wouldn’t choose to be in a relationship with someone who you despise from day one, so why would you do that with the foods you eat. Every. Single. Day. Anything that sounds like it might make your life miserable is going to be a problem. Your body might survive just fine, but your mind won’t. You will quit the plan, you will learn to hate healthy eating, and you’ll probably end up more frustrated and confused than when you started.