We all want to be healthier these days, which is awesome — but when everyone and their Aunt Doris has an opinion on how exactly to do that, things can get a teensy bit confusing.
Healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated and a little common sense goes a long way. Eat real food, shake your body in a way that feels great — simple, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to separate the wheat from the chaff (or the gluten from the spelt, as the case may be) when it comes to health advice. Next time you find yourself reading an article or having a conversation with a well-meaning friend, watch out for these common refrains that aren’t so helpful (or healthful) after all.
1. “Cut fat to lose weight.”
Fat is not the enemy (and no, it won’t make you fat). It fuels our nervous systems and nourishes our brains. We need fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, like the ultra-important vitamin D (which is essential for absorbing calcium, keeping our moods in the happy zone and reducing cancer risk), vitamin E (a potent antioxidant), vitamin A (vital for our vision) and vitamin K, a nutrient we don’t think about often, but without it, our teeth would rot out.
One of the reasons fat has such a bad reputation is because it contains more calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins (fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and proteins have 4 calories per gram each). But here’s the thing — fat actually fills you up. How? It reduces glycemic responses in the body (i.e. blood sugar spikes and crashes), which lowers the likelihood of your feeling like you’re starving again shortly after eating. A fuller you is a happier you — one who is less likely to chow down on an entire bag of potato chips after dinner.
We followed a low-fat plan for the last 20 years, and where did it get us? Yep. It made us fat.
2. “No pain, no gain.”
If you want to get healthier, you need to push yourself. Feeling tired? Work out. Feeling hungry? Work out. Feeling like your muscles are going to explode? Keep working out!
Just kidding, friends. Exercise is important, but ignoring your body’s signals is a recipe for disaster — you’re unlikely to keep up that sort of punishment for very long before you get injured and have to stop moving and shaking all together. If you love those intense one- to two-hour workouts, keep at them, but mix in some gentle exercise too. Just because you’re not panting, drenched in sweat and feeling like puking, doesn’t mean you’re not benefiting your physical and emotional fitness levels.
Balance is the healthiest option. Go for a long walk, attend a yoga class, take up hula hooping, rock climbing, cycling or CrossFit. The key is to find an activity you love that feels good and makes you happy, and do it consistently. The gain doesn’t require pain, but it does require dedication.
3. “How many calories is in that?”
Sorry, proponents of “calories in, calories out” — healthy eating is simple, but it’s not that simple. A 200-calorie pack of cookies or nacho chips is going to affect your body differently than 200 calories worth of avocado or broccoli.
When you eat a lot of sugary, empty-calorie foods, you’ll end up with an excess of calories and a deficiency of nutrition. That means more cravings — and the cycle continues. We want nutrient density. When we have that, the calorie issue goes out the window along with that math equation that we’ve turned our meals into.
4. "Carefully read nutrition labels.”
This one seems like a no-brainer, right? Of course you should read nutrition labels! Except for the fact that if you’re truly eating healthy, most of the foods you eat shouldn’t come with a nutrition label. You don’t need a label on your broccoli to tell you it’s good for you. It just is.
Sure — if you’re buying a once-in-a-blue-moon pre-prepared organic meal, check out the label to see what’s going on under the hood (although I’d be more concerned about the ingredients than about the calories from fat and daily value of nutrients.) But if most of the food you’re eating doesn’t come with a label at all, I’d say you’re doing A-OK.
5. “Everything in moderation.”
Some things are for never ever. Tartrazine is a common food dye used in processed food that’s been proven to damage learning and memory functions in rats and mice. So is it OK to eat, as long as you only do so occasionally? Not in my books.
That isn’t to say that you need to be perfect all the time. If you’ve read my book, you know that isn’t my stance. But once you’re informed about what’s good for you and the planet and what isn’t, why give yourself the excuse to ignore all that?
The truth is that every choice you make counts, and eating four salads does not cancel out a trip to the drive-thru.
Ultimately, you will always be your very own best health expert. Go with your gut (often literally), keep it simple, and do what makes you feel awesome. Food and nutrition trends are going to continue to come and go. The best thing you can do is adapt your own healthy habits to what your body needs and no one else can decide that for you.