We live in a society where many people tend to gravitate toward “black and white thinking” and extremes. The health and wellness industries are fraught with examples of extremism in many forms. Everyday a new headline pronounces a certain food as “bad and ruining our health,” while exalting another food and praising it’s “amazing benefits.”
These lists of proclaimed “superfoods” and “harmful foods” seem to change on a weekly basis- leading many people to be confused as to the mixed messages they are receiving. Each year, new studies in nutrition science come out, many of which dispute earlier findings. Additionally, we are sold the lie that if we eat the “correct foods” and follow a set of rigid rules, that we will discover health and happiness.
In light of all of the misinformation out there, the following are some of the biggest nutrition myths, debunked by experts.
MYTH 1: Food is just fuel.
You may have seen some of the popular memes floating around which proclaim that “food is just fuel.” According to Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN and author of the upcoming book, Body Kindness, this is a half-truth, “Yes it is. But it is also joy, pleasure, and fun! Healthy eating is a pattern not a rule.”
Food is a part of so many social and bonding experiences. Food does give your body energy (a calorie is a unit of energy, not something to be feared!). However, you also deserve to be able to enjoy and savor your food.
MYTH 2: Your nutrition is a reflection of your goodness.
We’ve all heard someone gripe, “I ate a brownie. I was so bad today.”
Maria Paredes PhD, Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor & Certified Eating Disorders Specialist, explains that one big myth that she sees in her practice is when someone feels that what they eat determines whether they are a “good” or “bad” person. For instance, someone might also say, “I am a good parent if I feed my child this.”
However, food isn’t “good” or “bad.” The reality is that all foods in moderation can fit into a healthy diet. Further, what you choose to eat does not determine your inherent value or worth as a human being. The only reason to feel guilty for eating a brownie is if you stole it from the store.
MYTH 3: You shouldn’t eat after 7 pm.
The idea that you shouldn’t eat later in the evening is a pretty pervasive nutrition myth.
Marci Evans, MS, RD, Nutrition Therapist, debunks this when she explains; “Our metabolism keeps running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Arbitrary rules (like telling yourself when to stop eating) create fear and a sense that you cannot be trusted with food. Consistently fueling your body every few hours-and especially when hungry-will allow you to feel your best and keep you from needing rules like this one! So when your tummy grumbles before heading to bed, eat some cheese and crackers then rest easy.”
MYTH 4: Chocolates/cookies are bad for your health.
We’ve all seen those “foods you should avoid at all costs” lists floating around the Internet. Desserts like chocolates or cookies are often considered to be “off-limits” by dieters or people who want to be “healthy.” However, the idea that you have to avoid desserts and sweets to be “healthy” is another pervasive myth.
Josée Sovinsky, a Registered Non-Diet Dietitian explains, “There is no single food that will improve or worsen your health (unless were talking rotten foods - definitely stay away from that). All foods provide a different nutrient profile and serve a different purpose. There are foods which feed the body, and some which feed the soul-and many which feed both!”
Further, mental health is an important part of one’s overall health. I think we can all agree that being terrified to eat a cookie is not mentally healthy. Rather then focusing on extremes and “food rules,” aim for balance, variety, and flexibility.
MYTH 5: You don’t need to diet you just need to eat clean.
There are some people who agree that diets can be harmful (and don’t result in sustainable weight loss for the vast majority of people), but who promote the idea of “clean eating” as the answer to health and happiness.
Amanda Field, Registered Dietitian, debunks this myth when she says, “Eating clean is a diet, as is any other plan where you cut out food groups, limit foods that you love, or follow any other strict rules. Labeling foods as good (clean) and bad is not helpful and can end up causing harm when we impose these food judgments on ourselves i.e. I am good because I am eating good vs. I am bad because I am eating bad.”
MYTH 6: Cleanses and detoxes are healthy.
Lauren Gasparo Anton, a Registered Dietitian, says that this is one of the myths that really bugs her. Anton explains, “When people STILL believe in cleanses. Really??? It’s called the liver and the kidneys, folks. When people go on those, they are usually trying to restrict after dis-inhibiting around “forbidden” foods (ex: all the cleanses after the holidays). It’s simply another diet that won’t work long-term.”
There is simply no need for “detoxes” or “cleanses,” as the only thing that they effectively get rid of is cash from your wallet.
At this point you might be feeling confused as to how you can work towards feeling great in your body and satisfied/nourished by your food choices. If you are struggling with chronic dieting and food fear, I would recommend that you work to ditch the food rules and reconnect with your body’s innate wisdom. If you are having trouble doing this on your own, it might be helpful to reach out to a registered dietitian (especially one who is knowledgeable about intuitive eating and health at every size).
I am certified in a practice called intuitive eating, which helps you to ditch food rules and learn how to tune into your sense of hunger and fullness, enjoyment around food, and your body’s individualized needs. By reconnecting with your body and ignoring the noise of diet-culture and the nutrition myths that are propagated by the media, you will be on the path towards making peace with food.
After all, life is just too short for food rules, chronic dieting, and self-hate.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer has a private practice specializing in working with adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders (including binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and OSFED), body image issues, anxiety, and survivors of trauma. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD. Jennifer offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website at www.jenniferrollin.com