by Lauren Dorman, RD CDE
Our society is overflowing with food myths that interfere with healthy eating. Half-truths and outright misinformation about nutrition and health are everywhere. Too many of us believe in myths—faulty, inaccurate, and downright untrue things about the food we eat.
When working with families, I want them to understand that I am not going to “fix” a body or track a scale number as progress. It is studied and proven that this way of thinking will likely lead to disordered eating and poor health outcomes. In fact, restriction and weight-based care is most likely to create a poor relationship with food in which you feel addicted or obsessed to foods and yo-yo dieting. Things go much better when I help children and their families understand what a healthy relationship with food means and that all bodies are good bodies.
This is a different concept for many as the world we live in focuses more on the “thin ideal” and “less guilt” food choices. Have you taken a look at magazine covers lately? They are filled with the $70 billion diet culture messaging.
I teach all the families I work with to know that all of this is harmful and poor advice. I help them unlearn many false beliefs about nutrition and they begin to approach health as an entirely different, sustainable way of living.
Diets are dangerous
A 2016 study of 181 mother-daughter pairs found that girls whose mothers were on diets were more likely to start dieting themselves before age 11. And that dieting was associated with overeating, weight gain and chronic health issues.
Studies and research such as these are the reasons most Registered Dietitians educate on a “food neutral” approach. This means that instead of focusing on healthy foods, ask your child “how does the food make you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally?”
Pressuring your kids to eat their vegetables backfires most of the time, and in many different ways. Parents can have different discussions about the foods which can make mealtimes less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone!
A focus on health-promoting and intuitive eating for kids has shown so many positive benefits, including improved body satisfaction, lower rates of emotional eating, higher self-esteem, weight stabilization, improved cholesterol levels and reduced stress levels. If we have a neutral approach to food we can find this whole nutrition thing a whole lot simpler!
As a Registered Dietitian who doesn’t promote or engage in dieting, one of the first things I do with clients is figure out which of these myths they believe. Then I tell them the truth.
Here are four of the most common food myths that get in the way of healthy eating:
Myth 1: There are good foods and bad foods
That’s simply not true. A few readers may find that shocking, but the reality is this: Food does not have a moral value. Some foods have fewer nutrients and others have more—but all food is just food, neither good nor bad. Unless you are allergic to something, there is no reason not to eat it. If you avoid certain foods and feel you shouldn’t have them, you will typically crave them more. Give yourself permission to eat all food and your craving for ‘forbidden foods’ will diminish. By eating widely and thoughtfully, you will end up eating a balanced variety of foods.
Myth 2: Healthy people don’t eat carbohydrates
This is dangerous and potentially harmful. In fact, scientific research confirms that all human bodies, in order to function properly, need carbohydrates. I have reviewed many food diaries where people eat only eggs in the morning, a salad at lunch, and broccoli and chicken at dinner. For all of these clients, I recommend adding a source of carbohydrates to each of these meals to meet their energy and health goals. Almost everyone feels better and more satisfied when eating a balanced meal.
Myth 3: Don’t eat after 7pm
I can assure you that what you eat in the evening will not magically cause harm or weight gain. One client told me that a teacher advised him to adopt this rule a few years ago, and that ever since he feels shame if he eats a late meal. If you are hungry, your body is asking you for food; it does not matter what time it is. Enjoy and nourish yourself.
Myth 4: Skinny people are the healthiest
Health is not determined by weight. Our society’s relentless focus on what the scale says damages countless people and doesn’t make anyone healthier. Too many people disrupt their physical and mental health by allowing a number on the scale to determine their self-worth. So many other actions that determine your health don’t rely on numbers like pounds or body-mass index (BMI). From my point of view, tossing the scale is a good way to improve your physical and mental health. We all accept that people come in different heights and shoe sizes. Why is it so hard to accept that bodies, too, come in different sizes?
Raising a healthy family
It’s possible to raise healthy kids by ignoring the four food myths that get in the way of eating. First, don’t label foods as good or bad. All foods can fit in a healthy diet. Next, eat carbohydrates. The human body needs and thrives on carbohydrates, and they can be enjoyed at every meal. Also, you can eat after 7 p.m. or any other arbitrary time diet culture has set. Bodies can digest food 24×7. Finally, remember that weight does not determine health. Get rid of the scale and focus on habits that truly promote health and wellness.
Lauren Dorman, RD, CDE specializes in helping families, chronic dieters, and people with diabetes through her virtual private practice. She also provides a workshop “Imperfectly Healthy”. To learn more, follow her on Instagram @dont_diet_dietitian_ or email email@example.com