Few things feel as good as the high that comes with finding the perfect balance between eating well, working out, and treating yourself. Even as someone whose taste buds generally prefer indulgence to moderation and who is in a serious LTR relationship with her bed, I have to admit that getting into a healthy routine is pretty damn satisfying.
The only annoying part is realizing that some of those “healthy” rules I’ve heard my entire life are anything but. I’ve shaken my fist at the sky (at least mentally) upon discovering that pre-made smoothies aren’t great for me, or that eating all those egg-white omelets was basically for naught. Save yourself from these mistakes—here, 15 registered dietitians explain the “healthy” habits you can forget about.
1. Going gluten-free if you don’t need to
“Following a gluten-free diet has become a trend, but the only people who need to adhere to a gluten-free diet are those with a serious medical condition, like celiac disease or Crohn’s. Many gluten-free products actually have more calories, so they don’t necessary equate with health or weight-loss benefits.”
—Chelsea Elkin, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.
2. Thinking all calories are created equal
“All calories have the same amount of energy, but calories from different foods have vastly different effects on hunger, hormones, and metabolic health. The body uses calories from carbohydrates as a major source of energy. Protein helps maintain and repair muscles, organs and tissues, and fats both help protect organs and help with the absorption of important vitamins. All three nutrients are essential, but the body metabolizes them differently. For example, 100 calories of a banana, which contains several essential nutrients, antioxidants, and a fair amount of fiber, are metabolized much differently than 100 calories of a candy bar, which is loaded with simple sugar.”
—Lauren Blake, R.D., The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
3. Adopting a super low-carb diet
“Carbs are a major source fuel for your body. People often believe going low-carb will help them lose weight, but a low-carb diet can lead to a cycle of unhealthy habits and binge eating. Eliminating carbohydrates will only make you deficient in important nutrients such as the B vitamins, folate, dietary fiber, and more.”
—Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, M.S., R.D., C.P.T.
4. Thinking all smoothies are automatically healthy
“A smoothie with only fruits and fruit juice is essentially dessert! For a healthy smoothie, make it at home so you know what’s going into it, ensure that for every cup of fruit there are 2 cups of veggies, opt for plain Greek yogurts instead of flavored ones, and add in milk, coconut water, or even just plain water instead of fruit juice. Don’t be afraid to experiment; avocados can replace bananas to add a creamy texture, and beets and carrots add natural sweetness.”
—Rebecca Lewis, in-house R.D. at HelloFresh
5. Eschewing fruit because of its high sugar content
“Although fruit contains the sugar fructose, it is hard to eat so much fruit so that it will cause weight gain. Fruit contains fiber, water, vitamins and minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants. Choosing not to eat it means someone may be replacing fruit with another higher calorie food, which is much more likely to cause weight gain.”
—Gisela Bouvier, M.B.A., R.D.N., L.D.N., owner of B Nutrition and Wellness, LLC
6. Reaching for packaged low-fat and low-calorie foods
“These items do not leave you satisfied or keep you feeling full for very long. It is better to eat a snack that is whole-foods based and includes protein or fat. An example would be pairing an apple with some nut butter or eating a small handful of almonds. Protein and fat keep you full longer and are more satisfying than simple carbs.”
—Jill Merkel, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., health and fitness blogger at RunEatSnap.com
7. Not snacking
“Portioned out, healthy snacks can actually make it easier to stay on track and reach your goals. When you go too long in between meals without eating, it is difficult to go into your next meal in control and avoid overeating.”
—Julia Levine Axelbaum, R.D., L.D., Bariatric Dietitian at NewStart Clinic
8. Avoiding every single ingredient you can’t pronounce
“Although I understand the rationale of this rule, I think it’s a little misleading. For example, methylcobalamin is an ingredient that may be hard to pronounce for some people, but it’s just the active form of vitamin B12. Brominated vegetable oil, which is commonly found in citrus-flavored beverages, is easy to say, but that doesn’t mean you should eat it. Bromine displaces iodine, which can cause thyroid issues and other problems when consumed in excess. I am a proponent of eating foods that are minimally processed, but this rule is just silly.”
—Ryan Whitcomb, R.D., C.D.N., C.L.T.
9. Dieting because it seems necessary to be healthy and lose weight
“Dieting sucks! It means depriving yourself of your favorite foods. Not only that, but it doesn’t work. Research shows us over and over that following a diet leads to weight gain after the fact, bingeing, and in my mind, an unhealthy relationship with food.”
—Rebecca Clyde, M.S., R.D.N., C.D., blogger at Nourish Nutrition
10. Not eating after a certain hour
“It’s about calories eaten throughout the day, not what time you eat. Late-night snacking typically involves chips, cookies, and other junk-type foods that add tons of calories. If you choose to eat at night, think about which healthful foods you haven’t eaten enough of throughout the day and include them.” —Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More than 130 delicious, healthy recipes for every meal of the day
11. Going vegetarian or vegan just for weight-loss purposes
“Many people assume that switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet means they will automatically lose weight. But there are plenty of vegan junk foods (Oreos, potato chips, and Cracker Jacks to name a few). Also, many vegan and vegetarian foods and diets can be very high in calories thanks to their reliance on high-calorie ingredients like nuts and seeds.”
—Tory Tedrow, R.D. from SugarChecked
12. Never letting an egg yolk pass your lips
“If I see egg whites on the ‘healthy’ menu or hear them called ‘the best option’ one more time…The whole egg is perfectly fine to eat and always has been. When you ditch the egg yolk, you get rid of half the protein and satisfying fats. You also miss out on amazing nutrients like choline, iron, and vitamins A and D.”
13. Turning your nose up at frozen and canned fruits and vegetables
“Frozen fruits and vegetables can be a great alternative. They’re frozen right at their nutritional peak, so they can actually be a healthier option when the fruit or vegetable is out of season. Similarly, canned vegetables or fruit canned in its own juice can be a healthy choice to keep on hand when you are between grocery shopping trips—just make sure you rinse the vegetables first to lower their salt content.”
—Cassandra Suarez, M.S., R.D.N., C.P.T.
14. Trying a juice cleanse or detox for any reason at all
“You are equipped with your own ‘detox’ system: your liver and kidneys. Your body naturally rids itself of toxins through urine, feces, and sweat. Depending on the length of the detox, your body can come deficient in valuable nutrients, and you can actually disrupt your metabolism. A better solution is to eat whole, nutritious foods, drink water, and cut out processed food and added sugars.”
—Sarah Pflugradt, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N.
15. Trying to follow all healthy rules even if they’re not right for you
“Take ‘everything in moderation’ as an example. Perhaps you have trigger foods that consistently send you on a weeks-or-months long spiral of poor eating. It’s not about living a life devoid of brownies, chips, or cookies. It’s about doing an honest self-assessment of your health, habits, and weight history to make an objective decision as to whether or not moderation is working for you. Some clients find that a firm ‘no,’ particularly with added sugars, soda pop, or fast foods, has reaped them impressive health rewards in the long run.”