Several years ago, I tried the Whole30 diet. They say it’s not a diet; it’s a reset. I started it the week of my birthday, which meant no cake. I hated the food. I hated the lack of bread. I quit seven days later and ate lots of cake and ice cream. Readers, do not be like me.
One of the red flags I should have been aware of, but wasn’t, was the term “reset.” Another red flag: anything that makes your life not enjoyable anymore. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight, don’t fall for the bogus claims and red flags that so many internet diets tout.
Here’s what dietitians advised to watch out for ― the marketing buzzwords and red flags ― plus some advice on what a sustainable diet should look like.
Red flag #1: You’re always hungry on your eating plan
If you, like most people, associate dieting with being hungry, then you’ve already come across your first red flag. ”Hunger shouldn’t be a problem on any diet,” Amanda Frankeny, registered dietitian and program director of the Food Dignity Movement, told HuffPost. Plans should include a wide range of foods and sufficient calories, from carbs like whole grains to fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein and healthy fats to ensure most of the dieters’ vitamins and nutrients are eaten. Frankeny recommends that as a baseline, women should be eating around 2,000 calories a day and men 2,500, though this depends on age, weight, activity and other factors.
Red flag #2: Your new eating plan isn’t flexible
“There is no one-size-fits-all to food or nutrition,” registered dietitian Marissa Meshulam told HuffPost. “Finding a diet plan online is likely not going to stick or be successful because it is not going to take into account your personal needs, lifestyle and preferences.” If you hate tofu, then scrap a plan that has you eating it three times a day. Allowing for flexibility in your diet means you can create sustainable and incremental changes, the type that our dietitians say is the best way toward lasting weight loss.
Red flag #3: Plans that cut out entire food groups
Fad diets like the one that encouraged just cabbage soup or only consuming grapefruit may sound funny now, but they continue to crop up in different and nefarious forms today. “Be wary of any diet or person that advises you to cut out a whole food category from your diet,” Kim Rose Francis, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, told HuffPost. “For a long time, carbs have been touted as the ‘bad guy,’ and unfortunately, this notion is here to stay. The truth is that any claim that lists foods as ‘bad’ is a major red flag.”
Red flag #4: Your eating plan morally demonizes certain foods
Forget about moralizing food. “Skip products or diets that induce guilt,” Frankeny shared. “When we label foods as good or evil, it influences our perception and behaviors around them.” While sugar and white bread are often on the ‘bad’ list today, food is more than simple nourishment. We use it in celebrations, for pleasure, as part of our traditions, and so much more. Frankeny explained, “Listen to your body, and let it eat different foods at different times without judging these choices.”
Buzzy products to watch out for
The dietitians we spoke with cautioned readers to be wary of the following types of products:
Proprietary supplement blends: Our dietitians encouraged a careful reading of the label if you’re adding a supplement to your diet regimen. “Be careful if a product is not telling you exactly what is in it,” Meshulam said. “Supplements are not well regulated in the U.S., which can be sketchy. Look for third-party testing on supplements.”
Low-calorie products: “Any product marketed as ‘low calorie’ is a red flag to me,” Meshulam said. “Calories are energy. Food is meant to be energy. Do you want low energy food?”
Unregulated terms: We’ve all read about the immune-boosting benefits of certain foods ― I’m looking at you, orange juice. But nebulous terms like these don’t necessarily mean anything that can be measured in a lab. “Does a food or diet advertisement contain words like ‘miracle,’ ‘immune-boosting,’ ‘secret,’ ‘proprietary blend’ or ‘cure’?” Frankeny asked. “These words are used to appeal to your emotions and are not scientific or medical words.”
Superfood: Watch out for this unregulated term because “no one can claim that a superfood is capable of treating a disease or its symptoms,” according to Frankeny.
The food combining trend: “There is no evidence that combining certain foods or eating foods at specific times of day will help with weight loss,” Jerlyn Jones, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told HuffPost. “Eating the ‘wrong’ combinations of food doesn’t cause them to turn to fat immediately or to produce toxins in your intestines, as some plans claim.”
Detox: No tincture, tea, supplement or diet will help detox your body. Your organs naturally detox every day. “The imagined goal of a detox diet is to rid you of your toxins. Believe it or not, ‘nutritional detoxing’ isn’t really scientific in nature,” Frankeny said.
Don’t spend your money on claims not backed by science
Check out the credentials of any program or trainer you’re signing up with. “Is the product being sold by an uncredentialed health adviser or health coach? Research their professional credentials. Make sure these people are nationally accredited and recognized,” Frankeny said. Many health and fitness professions don’t have professional regulation, meaning that the standard can vary dramatically from self-taught to more traditional university or college training.
The same advice goes for pills and potions available at CVS or any supplement supplier across America. “Any herb, pill or food that is proclaimed to cure, heal, or solve a medical issue misleads vulnerable consumers,” Rose Francis said. “Medical conditions usually take time to be corrected and should be managed by a medical provider.”
According to Jones, avoid human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) weight-loss products. “The Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to avoid HCG weight-loss products,” she told HuffPost. “These products are typically sold in the form of oral drops, pellets and sprays, and can be found online, at weight loss clinics, and in some retail stores.” These supplements have been reported to have numerous side effects, including depression, edema, blood clots and increased risk of certain types of cancer.