As a nutritionist, I’m pretty much the ideal audience for people who want to talk about how they eat – or at least that’s what everyone thinks. It’s sort of like when you meet a dentist at a party and you can’t help but ask for his or her advice on how to treat your toothache. Or, when you come across a makeup artist and you must ask about her favorite mascara and under eye concealer. (OK, maybe that’s only me.)
But while I do love talking nutrition, I don’t love so many of the things I hear people say about it. Often, I do my best to just smile and then gradually change the subject. However, I also sometimes can’t resist throwing in my two cents – after all, I feel like it’s my civic duty to set the record straight. (Or, more likely, I’m just very opinionated.)
So if you meet me at a dinner party or yoga studio and want to say one of these eight phrases, please bite your tongue. Here’s why:
- ‘I don’t eat carbs.’
Too many people think it’s cool to say they don’t eat carbs when they don’t even know what foods actually contain carbohydrates. You don’t eat fruit or veggies? Those are carbs. And, in case you forgot, dairy has lactose, which is a carbohydrate. If you are limiting non-nutritious carbs such as candy, cookies and cake, then just say that; it’s cool. If you are limiting pasta, bread and potatoes, say it like it is, too. Just be forewarned: That comment might open up another disagreement between us as well.
- ‘I’m starting a detox.’
Usually, when I hear this one, I first roll my eyes, then I ask, “Why?” If you eat crappy foods day in and day out and then eliminate them, of course you will feel better. So, instead of spending money on fancy juices, buy lots of whole fruit, veggies and whole grains. They are packed with fiber, which will naturally help to detoxify your body. Better yet? Learn to eat healthy year-round and you won’t even feel like you need to detox in the first place.
- ‘I avoid gluten.’
The only time I am OK with this comment – and I repeat, OK – is if it comes from a person with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. Otherwise, I just want to scream. Eliminating gluten from your diet is not a guarantee you will lose any weight or feel better. Gluten is not the enemy, but poor judgment can be. Instead of putting unnecessary restrictions on your diet, learn portion control instead.
- ‘I follow a paleo diet.’
Do you also get your coffee from Starbucks? Thought so. Eating lots of fruits, veggies and fish is great, but claiming that you’re eating like our cavemen ancestors did is really far-fetched. When you actually start hunting and gathering your own food, let’s talk. In the meantime, just be honest and admit you’re eating another version of Atkins.
- ‘I never eat processed foods.’
Well this is just plain silly. Almonds, quinoa and Greek yogurt are all processed. Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat, so almost everything we eat is actually processed. So, unless you’re grabbing an apple straight from the tree or a tomato from the vine, you might not want to use this term. It would be more accurate to say, “I avoid overly-processed, packaged foods whose original sources are hard to recognize.”
- ‘I’m starting my diet tomorrow.’
I hate to tell you this, but “diet” is a four-letter word that really shouldn’t be part of your vocabulary. “Starting a diet” is almost synonymous with “going off a diet.” It always seems to be a vicious cycle. I would so much rather hear people say they’re going to start changing their behaviors and adopting a healthier lifestyle. If you acknowledge that this process will take time and patience, you’ll really be on my good side.
- ‘I eat a clean diet.’
Well, aren’t we trendy! This is a rather new term that actually has no formal definition. What does “clean diet” even mean? Is it the opposite of a “dirty diet?” While I can kind of appreciate where people are coming from when they say this – maybe they think they are saying they eat a “wholesome diet” – why must we label the way we eat as a “diet,” anyway? Can’t we just name the foods we love to eat more of and leave it as that?
- ‘I never eat [fill in the blank] – it’s bad for you!’
Ouch, that’s severe. Never? When someone says this, it’s usually related to pizza, French fries, burgers, you know – many of our favorite foods. So, I want to set the record straight: There are no good or bad foods, just foods that might be better for us than others and that we should eat more of, such as fruits and veggies. Healthy eating is not about perfection, but rather what you eat the majority of the time. I refer to it as the 80/20 rule: Eighty percent of your diet includes foods that have a ton of nutritional benefits, while 20 percent is left for the rest.