So much bad advice, so little time.
We all want to be healthy, but something that seems so simple is overcomplicated by people who give out bad nutrition advice.
There’s no shortage of those people, either, and it all seems to be getting worse – as if there’s a pissing contest to see who can spout the worst malarkey, sell the most product, and get away with all of it.
I mean, if you’re going to call yourself a nutrition ‘expert,’ you should at least know the very basics of physiology. Still, if you say something on social media that sounds the least bit science-y, you’ll probably get people to believe it.
Here are some of the worst bits of advice I’ve seen people giving out on social media lately.
“You don’t need carbs.”
Right. It’s true that we don’t need carbs to EXIST, but in my life, I’d like to do more than just exist, thank you very much. And I hope you feel the same way.
Whoever says this has no concept of food beyond its role as fuel, and is just trying to sell you a really depressing diet. Don’t buy into it.
You probably already know that carbohydrate is the first-line fuel source for our brains and muscles. And while those things can utilize ketones from fat metabolism in the place of carbs, there’s no real benefit to doing so.
Some carbohydrates (the ones you should be eating most often, versus highly refined carbs) like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables have fibre, which keeps us fuller for longer, helps keep us regular, and feeds our gut bacteria.
Oddly, the same people who say we don’t need carbs often dispute the role of fibre in our diets, too.
It’s safe to say that if someone is telling you not to eat fruit or vegetables or that you don’t need fibre, they’re a total science-denying idiot.
Aside from the physical benefits of carbs, they also add enjoyment to our lives. Hello, birthday cake, freshly-baked bread, and pasta carbonara! Food is life, it’s community, it’s family, it’s love. Someone who uses guilt and shame to discourage you from seeing food in those ways is sad. Honestly, so sad.
There is nothing wrong with loving food and incorporating it into your life as something pleasurable and fun. So no, we don’t ‘need’ carbs, just like we don’t ‘need’ TV, our dogs, or mascara. But unlike just ‘surviving,’ the ‘wants’ add color to our lives. And many carbs have the extra benefit of being physically nourishing, too.
“Doing this/eating this way will increase your metabolism.”
I’ve said this before, and I’m going to say it again…this time, loud for the people in the back:
NO FOOD, DRINK, OR SUPPLEMENT burns fat or spikes the metabolism so much, for so long, that it will result in appreciable weight loss.
You’ve probably seen high-protein diets being sold as ‘fat burning.’ And while it’s true that protein has a higher TEF (thermic effect of food) than fat or carbohydrate, it’s not the magic bullet. The difference between calories utilized by metabolizing protein versus the other macronutrients isn’t going to be significant, unless you eat ONLY protein, which, please don’t do that.
And by the way, those fat burner supplements that promise to ‘torch calories’ by speeding up metabolism are total garbage – if they worked, the diet industry wouldn’t exist.
Fasting, keto, raw food, lemon water, ACV, whatever – none of these things increase your metabolic rate. If someone is telling you they do, run away.
“I’m going to get to the root cause of your health issues.”
This one is more insidious than the others, because instead of being a direct claim, it’s more of a suggestion that conventional medicine has no interest in making you well. That it just treats symptoms, not the cause of illness. That Big Pharma is out to keep you sick, in order to line their pockets. That whoever is making this promise to you, cares more about you than the medical system that you definitely shouldn’t trust.
None of that is true, of course, but people who haven’t gotten resolution for their medical issues from a regular doctor often find the ‘root cause’ promise very tempting. And I put it on this list because I want everyone to know that conventional medicine doesn’t just treat symptoms. Of course it tries to find the cause of what’s making you sick.
But sometimes, the answers aren’t easy to come by. And that’s where opportunistic providers step in, with their suggestions that you’ve been a victim of some conspiracy to keep you sick.
When I see the phrase ‘root cause,’ it’s an immediate red flag to me. It’s almost always coming from a person who has a vested interest in convincing others that they’ve been part of some crazy plan devised by Big Pharma.
Functional treatments can be great, and if something doesn’t hurt, then go ahead and try it! Just beware of people using conspiracy theories to push their own agenda.
“If you’re hungry, drink water.”
This one is a relic from the 1980s – I remember seeing it in magazines from that era. It’s a clusterf*ck of two untruths:
- You can’t trust your body to tell you when it’s hungry.
- Satisfying hunger with food is shameful and wrong.
Both of these are unacceptable.
When you’re hungry, your body is trying to tell you something:
IT NEEDS FOOD.
You wouldn’t ignore the urge to pee, which is simply another one of your body’s innate cues. So please, don’t ignore your hunger cues. Listen to your body when it’s trying to tell you something.
And leave the 80’s diet advice in the 80’s, where it belongs.
“Curb your cravings with this supplement.”
Almost every nutrition MLM I’ve reviewed has a supplement they claim ‘curbs cravings.’ These sorts of supplements usually contain chromium picolinate, which has never been proven to do anything of the sort. The supplement may also contain some sort of botanical that has been researched and sort of forgotten (because it’s not effective), but again – if we knew of anything that would help ‘curb cravings,’ it would be widely distributed.
In other words, there are no secrets out there…just companies trying to sell you trash.
The only way to help with food cravings is by:
Determining where they’re coming from – cravings are often emotional, not physiological.
Eating and balanced diet that satisfies you both physically and emotionally.
I want to make a special shout-out to those of you with PCOS, who may have strong carb cravings because of it. Eating more protein and fewer refined carbs, along with adjusting your medications, may help.
“Your hormones are ‘unbalanced.’”
That’s because hormones are never ‘balanced’; they’re always in flux. That doesn’t stop ‘hormone experts’ – and even some RDs – from selling hormone balancing diets that are totally ridiculous. Carrot salad, coconut oil, and tons of broccoli will not balance anything.
Hormones are very lucrative these days, but just because you have them, doesn’t make you an expert in them.
Suboptimal hormone levels do exist, and they cause very real symptoms. There are definitely ways to optimize your hormone levels (hormones like leptin and ghrelin, for example) – which include eating more protein, fibre, and not skipping meals. But not with a ‘hormone balancing diet’ that some unqualified person is promising will fix you right up.
And before you ask me about seed cycling, I’ll tell you this: the effects of dietary phytoestrogens, like those found in flax and soy, are variable. Research is inconclusive around whether you can stop your hot flashes by eating soy, but we do know that phytoestrogens do not truly mimic endogenous estrogen. So try it if you want, but don’t expect miracles!
“Your weight/sugar cravings/hormone issues/brain fog/chronic disease/inflammation are the result of gut dysbiosis.”
It’s interesting (and rather infuriating) to me how people will exploit emerging nutrition topics to their advantage. For example, we don’t know that much about the gut, really, which leaves a lot of grey area for charlatans to tell you alllllll of their theories about it (and make them sound factual).
Enter ‘dysbiosis,’ which is definitely a thing, but is often taken way out of context.
If you can’t diagnose something, you sure as heck can’t treat it – and gut dysbiosis is the perfect example of this.
There is no real consensus of what constitutes the ideal microbiome for each individual, so telling someone that they have dysbiosis or even ‘diagnosing’ them with it is a bit ridiculous.
I die a little inside every time I see anyone (especially other dietitians) talking about dysbiosis causing the above issues (and others) like it’s fact.
It isn’t. What it is, is a massive reach beyond what the research can tell us.
There has also been no research that establishes a direct link with the state of the microbiome and any diseases or conditions or symptoms. They can be associated with our microbiome, but we aren’t sure which comes first – the dysbiosis or the disease.
We have no idea what role the gut plays exactly in the above conditions. What we do know is that we need more research around them, and that when it comes to gut health, we still are just breaking the surface of that entire realm.
We know which gut bacteria seem to be beneficial and which ones aren’t. And we know that we need to feed our little gut bugs and keep them happy, but we don’t really know what that looks like for each one of us.
(Read my post: Should You Take Probiotics?)
“Eating carbs causes an insulin spike and will make you gain weight.”
Insulin is the new gluten. It’s complicated enough that most people don’t understand it all that well, and it’s a convenient scapegoat to all of our issues.
The whole carbohydrate insulin model hypothesizes that carbs increase fasting and post-prandial (after meal) insulin secretion, which then causes weight gain.
In other words, we gain weight because of insulin, and a low-carb diet decreases insulin levels and leads to greater weight loss than a high-carb diet. And naturally, any hypothesis that vilifies carbs is going to be a favorite of the low-carb/keto/IF followers.
But that hasn’t been proven – it’s actually been DISproven. Research suggests that high-carb and low-carb diets are comparable for weight loss. (and here)The DIETFITS study also found that insulin levels did not affect amount of weight lost.
Still, lots of diet ‘experts’ want to talk about how you shouldn’t eat carbs because of their effect on insulin.
Eat carbs. Be happy. Stop listening to people who call themselves experts and are just pushing another diet.