For most of us, the main issues with eating reasonably healthy and nourishing foods are less about the knowledge of “what to eat” and more about “how.” Most of my clients struggle with behavioral problems related to time management, difficulty planning and preparing healthy meals, and emotional overeating. They’re desperate for some boundaries, and diets always make a promise that sounds good. It may seem like the structure of dieting rules keeps you in line, but the reality is they don’t play into your long-term health and happiness. Mostly, this is because the rules work against your body (not with it), and they just don’t fit the real world. Regardless, the dieting drama permeates our lives. Here are four of my favorite diet rules I love to hate, as well as the truth that should help you ditch your diet mind once and for all.
Rule: Don’t eat late at night. Don’t let the clock dictate your hunger. The truth is there’s no magical switch that turns on after the clock strikes a certain hour that automatically makes our bodies store food as fat. We all operate on different schedules; therefore, the timing of when we eat is also different. As long as we’re hungry and eating a balanced plate, it’s no worse to eat at 5 p.m. than it is at 9 p.m. The key to maintaining a healthy weight is to avoid eating when you’re not hungry. Watch my recent appearance on the Oprah.com web series #OWNShow discussing the myths of late-night eating and healthy ways to manage your food intake.
Rule: If you’re hungry, drink water first. While you may be filling up your stomach with volume, drinking away your hunger doesn’t work. Look for telltale signs of hunger. Make sure it’s not an emotional craving, which strikes suddenly and is often for a specific food or brand. Physical hunger is felt below the neck, often signaled by a growling belly and isn’t accompanied by a sense of compulsion. True hunger gradually builds over time, occurring three to five hours after a meal. Physical hunger also goes away when we feel full and often results in a feeling of satisfaction after eating. Honor your hunger by keeping healthy snacks, such as whole fruits and nuts, nearby for those moments when you feel hunger coming on.
Rule: Cut out ____ from your diet. Unless you have a food allergy or food-related medical condition, there’s no reason why any of us should be following restrictive food rules, turning one food or food group into a villain. Whether it’s dairy, gluten, carbs or fat, all these food groups provide us with vital nutrients needed to live a healthy and vibrant life. Instead of eliminating the foods you love, focus on moderation and set healthy boundaries around these foods. This will help prevent you from overeating things you’re not allowed to have as soon as you open the door to have them or you can overeat. The key is to focus on balance, and make sure you enjoy the food you’re eating.
[Read: Juice Cleanses: Health Hocus Pocus .]
Rule: Get a “jump start” for fast results. There are no shortcuts when it comes to your health. You’ll blame yourself for losing weight and then not being able to maintain it. But it’s not you, it’s the short-term diet plan where you likely lost only water weight and depleted your energy stores of glycogen in order to make up for your low-calorie, restrictive diet. When we engage in these “quick fix” weight loss behaviors it damages our metabolism, making weight loss more difficult with each attempt. Weight cycling is far worse for your health than slow and steady weight loss, which happens with positive behavior changes, not pills or cleanses.
[Read: ‘Healthy’ Foods You Shouldn’t Be Eating .]
Now it’s your turn. What’s on your list of diet myths you’d love to banish?
Rebecca Scritchfield MA, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, is the founder of Capitol Nutrition Group, a Washington, D.C,. private practice committed to helping people live healthy on their own terms. Rebecca is a passionate advocate for self-care as the foundation for a healthy lifestyle and has been seen and heard internationally on TV, print and online media. Follow her 30-day challenges on Twitter at #SelfCareChallenge.