The world of weight loss is a confusing one. Day after day, we’re bombarded with conflicting messages from fad diets, wellness gurus and social media fitness personalities… and while it’s mostly well-meaning, a lot of it is nonsense.
To help you cut through the clutter, here are twenty popular diet rules and my opinion, as a dietitian, on whether or not you should actually stick to them.
Some are accurate, some are complete rubbish – and some have a grain of truth, but have been misconstrued along the grapevine.
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Rule #1: Don’t eat after dinner
Verdict: False. If you’re hungry, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of nourishment at night-time. The problem only arises when you’re eating mountains of discretionary food every single night.
Rule #2: No carbs at dinnertime
Verdict: False. Carbohydrates provide your body with energy and are an essential component of a balanced meal. A quarter of your plate should comprise of top-quality carbs at each and every meal.
Rule #3: Consistency is key
Verdict: True. Healthy living is not about perfection. Rather, it’s about eating well and moving your body as often as you can – but it’s okay if you have a few treats or skip your sweat sesh every now and then.
Rule #4: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Verdict: Somewhat true. A healthy breakfast is an opportunity for nourishment. If it provides good quality carbohydrates and lean protein, it’ll keep you feeling full and satisfied well into the morning.
Rule #5: Fill half of your plate with vegetables
Verdict: True. Everyone knows veggies are good for you – and if there’s only one diet rule you follow, this is the one to earmark. Not only are veggies oh-so nutritious, they’re also very low calorie, so you can eat a lot of them for little calorie cost.
Rule #6: You have to count your calories to lose weight
Verdict: False. Being mindful of the calorie content of food can be helpful when losing weight, but counting every single calorie you put into your mouth is far too restrictive. It is very easy to obsess over and could end up damaging your relationship with food.
Rule #7: Listen to your body.
Verdict: True. If you’re hungry – eat, and listen to your body’s cues as you start to fill up.
If you’re not hungry but feel like eating, explore non-food strategies to fill whatever gap it is you’re trying to plug with food. Food should not be a crutch.
Rule #8: You can’t eat bread or pasta
Verdict: False. Hooray! Bread and pasta are not off the menu if you’re trying to whittle your waistline. I’d suggest a wholegrain variety for a boost of nutrition, and stick to just two slices of bread or one cup of cooked pasta per meal to keep portion size in check.
Rule #9: Go for reduced-fat products
Verdict: Somewhat true. Reduced-fat dairy and lean proteins are a good way to avoid unnecessary calories, but low-fat products (think: salad dressings, processed meats and baked goods) don’t usually cut the mustard.
Rule #10: Focus on protein
Verdict: Somewhat true. Protein fills you up and keeps you feeling satisfied, but it’s not the only component of a healthy, balanced meal. Protein (think: meat, seafood, eggs, legumes, tofu) should make up a quarter of each and every main meal you consume.
Rule #11: You can’t eat chocolate. Or any other ‘treat’, for that matter
Verdict: False. No foods are off limits in a healthy diet. That’s right – all foods fit. When it comes to your favourite treats, occasionally and in small portions is a-okay by me. (Think: a few squares of chocolate throughout the week… not a block a day).
Rule #12: Slow and steady wins the race
Verdict: True. Losing weight fast is not recommended. If you lose too much weight too soon, you’ll likely lose muscle mass and slow down your metabolism. Just half to one kilogram a week is a healthier rate of weight loss.
Rule #13: Nuts are fattening
Verdict: False. Nuts do contain a lot of healthy fats, but research shows that people who eat nuts are actually less likely to be overweight or obese.
Rule #14: Include a cheat day
Verdict: False. Cheat days are one of my pet peeves. News flash: eating is not cheating! In my opinion, cheat days promote an unhealthy relationship with food. They also have the potential to out-do any calorie deficit created in the days leading up to it and can therefore be redundant for weight loss.
Rule #15: You can only drink water
Verdict: Somewhat true. Soft drink, juice, cordial, energy drinks, alcohol… they’re all liquid calories. Tea, coffee and milk, however, are perfectly fine to consume on a daily basis because they provide hydration, few calories and, in the case of milk, a boost of nutrition.
Rule #16: Shop at health food stores
Verdict: False. Eating healthy does not have to cost a bomb or involve fancy, exotic ingredients. You can get everything you need to eat well from the supermarket.
Rule #17: Cut down on processed foods
Verdict: Somewhat true. If we’re talking chips, lollies and biscuits, ‘processed’ foods should be minimised. Truth is, however, many healthy foods are classified as processed (think: bread, milk and even frozen vegetables!).
Rule #18: A calorie is a calorie
Verdict: False. One calorie from vegetables is very different to a calorie from hot chips. Food is so much more than the calories it provides.
Rule #19: Fruit has too much sugar, so should be avoided
Verdict: False. Fruit does contain natural sugar, but it is perfectly healthy and comes in a wholefood package along with stacks of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Enjoy two pieces of fruit a day and you’re doing a good thing for your body.
Rule #20: Nutrition is only half the story
Verdict: True. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just be healthy, exercise is equally important as what you put in your mouth. Not only does exercise burn calories, it also helps to build lean muscle, which in turn, speeds up your metabolism.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.