Five Phrases I Hate to Hear as a Future Nutritionist

First and foremost, I do not know everything there is to know about the body or health, because I am still a student struggling along in biochemistry. However, what I do know is in order to be healthy you have to form a relationship with food. Just like any good relationship, it takes work. TV diet plans and gym rats have tried to tell you what it means to have a good relationship with food. Yes, I have been guilty of pushing my personal eating habits on my friends. (Perks of knowing a nutrition student, right?!) I know you want to lose weight or just feel better about yourself, but some of the plans I hear make me want to cringe or simply do not sound enjoyable. Am I saying eating healthy has to be enjoyable? Absolutely yes. Read more to find out why! 

“I’m on a detox/cleanse”

*I am not referring to “clean eating,” but I’ll get to that one later.

Your body is resilient, and that means it can cleanse itself. Just like when you get sick, your body has an immune system to fend for itself. The liver, the kidneys, the skin, and even the lungs get the job done, so it is a waste of energy to drink juice all day or make sure to include lemon in all of your meals. However, in my opinion, the real problem with cleansing is the mindset: In order to be sexy, beautiful, or get a six pack, I have to starve myself and make sure I am eating foods that fit into the cleanse category. That is a sad way to view food, the stuff that makes your body function. This leads to feeling guilty when you aren’t cleansing, and you’ll end up yo-yo dieting. Okay, now here’s where the cleanse fails: What happens when you stop cleansing? Because most cleanses last a week to a month, right? Do you end up gaining weight or getting acne again? Then you go on another cleanse and have to work really hard again? That is stressful. You need to find a diet that is consistent. Yes, you can make green smoothies, but also learn how to properly eat 365 days of the year instead of relying on the occasional cleanse to get the job done.

“I’m on a low carb/fat diet”

If you are on either one of these diets, the reason that they are working is probably because you are eating better and less overall. Almost everything you eat has carbohydrates in it. Would you quit eating fruits and vegetables? Those are carbs! If you do any aerobic activity, your body needs carbs to make energy. Traditional food groups do not need to be demonized, because they have a role in your diet. What you should avoid eating is processed foods, that includes flour and granulated sugar. Here’s why: since they have been stripped of their nutrients, the body does not recognize them as "food" and has to use its own nutrient stores to break them down. Moreover, since they are lacking of fiber and nutrients, your body does not fill full after eating them, leading you to eat way more then you should have.

When the low-fat diet was created, it was because research had shown that saturated fat lead to heart disease. This has been disproven multiple times since then, but the government has yet to change its guidelines. Moreover, the focus on eating unsaturated fats like vegetable fats increases the amount of omega -6 fatty acids, which are good, but too many can lead to inflammation and actually increase your risk of heart disease as well. Saturated fat is more than necessary, and including it in your diet has shown to improve the lipid profile. LDL (low density lipoprotein) is supposedly the “bad” cholesterol, but it’s actually the size of the molecule that counts. They need to be mostly large, and saturated fat helps with that. Too much unsaturated fat makes them turn into the small and dense artery clogging molecules.


For all those low-fat milk drinkers there is evidence over turning that too.  

“In one paper, published by Swedish researchers in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, middle-aged men who consumed high-fat milk, butter and cream were significantly less likely to become obese over a period of 12 years compared with men who never or rarely ate high-fat dairy.”

Doctors and nutritionist explain that it could be because the full-fat milk makes you feel fuller, or there may be bioactive substances in milk fat that help your metabolism use the fat instead of absorbing it in your fat stores. Being inspired by Michael Pollan, I believe there is something intuitively beneficial about eating the whole food that science will probably never be able to find. We cannot reduce a whole food to separate nutrients, but all of them work together to make something good for your body.

With that being said, eat the full-fat products (saturated or unsaturated), just eat them as a part of a balanced diet. 

“Everything in moderation”

I always talk to people about eating less processed foods and eating mostly a plant based diet, and sometimes I get the above response. It mostly leads to poor eating habits, because moderation is different for every eater. Is it a cookie a day, a cookie a week or a cookie a month? If you ask me and you ask my friend, we would probably have different responses. Eating in “moderation” is an excuse to go to your comfort foods a little more often than you should, because you tell yourself as a long as I only do this "sometimes," it's fine. However, the foods that you are craving are high in fat and carbs, and probably processed. (Craving high fat and high carb meals is natural, so that's not the problem, but give me a second to explain.)  If these are store bought goods, like a Twinkie, they are specifically designed to make you want more, and it is difficult to have the self-control to stop eating these foods.

Two things: If moderation meant eat all real food in moderation, it would be perfect --based on flexibility, variety, and not "good" or "bad" foods.  (Most people I know who eat in “moderation” eat a majority of meat, cheese, bread, with a little vegetable on the side, and that is not moderate.) We need everything in order to survive, and the more variety of the species of you eat, the more nutrients you will get. Also, no one is perfect, unless you are a Gwyneth Paltrow and can afford to eat from specialty bakeries when you want a treat. So if you want to eat your Twinkie in moderation, do not keep them in your house! If you really want one, you willingly go to the store to buy yourself a single Twinkie. If you don’t feel like driving to the store, then it’s not worth it. (If you want bonus points, just make yourself a mug cake instead.) That is moderation--once, twice, or maybe three times a week for those ultra-processed cravings. 

Note that I do not want to demonize sugar or sweets, because sweets have a place in our diet just as much as the carrot. However, when you make a dessert, there are options for more "natural" products that can benefit your health instead of harm it.

 “Just count your calories”

Counting your calories is one of the most effective ways to lose weight, but it poses three problems for me. 1) You cannot eat with your senses when you eat by numbers. Instead of using your senses, like your stomach being full or seeing the number of plates on the table, you know in your mind how many calories you have just eaten. Honestly, it is simpler to just eat with your senses when you train yourself to eat that way. 2) Calories are not nutrients, and when you still eat processed food calories, your senses never receive the signal that you have eaten enough, because they do not see processed foods as filling. 3) When you learn to count your calories, you never stop counting them! Take me as an example. Instead of learning to eat intuitively when I went on a diet in eighth grade, I started to count my calories. Now that I eat pretty healthy (or really healthy, depending on who you ask), I still count my calories, and I am a senior in college! On days that I do make dessert, in my mind I say oh man that’s going to be a lot of calories and proceed to eat it anyway. I’ll feel guilty about it later of course, because I know I have just eaten too many calories. It makes eating less fun, and eating should always be a joyous occasion! Bottom line: Learn to eat with your senses instead of by numbers.

“Eat clean”

After calorie counting stopped working for me (although I still counted them), I came to college, not really planning on losing weight. But I started learning more about the food system and the food chain, and if you want to put a label on it, I became a naturalist. I started eating clean, whuch has basically become the new “moderation.” It is so relative to each person. Even Panera Bread uses the phrase, and they serve white bread. It shows that when certain diets get trendy, people start marketing them to you to make money. Moreover, eating clean has become a word that is associated with snobbery, similar to what happened to the vegan diet. I do eat clean, but I don’t like to use those words anymore, because I can assume everything I eat is considered “clean.” (Unfortunately that is not the case for most foods sold at the supermarket.) I like to say that I am a good food lover, not a health nut, because I enjoy every single one of my meals. I eat (real) food. That’s much better than saying “I eat clean,” because food is not Windex.  

I don’t want people to think they have to be health nuts, nutrition majors, or rich to be able to eat a good diet. The plan is eat food, not too much, and mostly plants to the best of your ability and affordability. If you need proof of this diet plan, just think of the Mediterranean diet. (That sure doesn't mean you have eat Taziki and Falafel if you don't like it!) It’s a pretty simple plan to follow, but it takes practice. And did I say it was easy? Not always, because eating real food requires more work than a microwaveable meal and just a little more money. But it’s so much more enjoyable and satisfying. Whenever I eat, I already know it’s healthy, so all I have to worry about is making it taste good.



Nutrition Expert



Process Free America

Michael Pollan’s In the Defense of Food.  


Cover photo