4 Big Diet Mistakes I Used to Make Before I Became a Nutritionist
I oversimplified “healthy.” Before I became a nutritionist, I was susceptible to the “trend of the moment.” When I was in college, fat was public enemy #1. It was the first thing people looked at on a food label and the fat content of a food defined its value. High fat foods were “bad” or “fattening” and fat free or low fat foods were “good.” In college, I fell into the trap. I remember eating dense bagels with fat free cream cheese for breakfast and snacking on fat free candy like licorice or jellybeans. It wasn’t until I finished college and became a registered dietitian that I really understood why those choices were diet mistakes. Nutrition is like a puzzle with many pieces and they’re all equally important. Zeroing in on one nutrient like fat (or carbs or sugar) causes you to lose sight of the big picture of nutrients and balance – both of which are the real keys to healthy weight control.
America’s fat phobic phase caused people to think of highly processed foods as “healthy” choices, overeat carbs and sugar and miss out on important nutrients, including “good” fat, as well as the vitamins and antioxidants that fat helps to absorb. Now when I look at a food or a meal, I evaluate it in a comprehensive way that takes into account all of the factors that influence how the complex human body really works. One trend that concerns me right now is an overemphasis on calories. It’s true that in many cases, it’s ultimately calories that control body weight, but it’s not that simple. Eating a low calorie diet filled with empty calorie foods (calories that aren’t bundled with nutrients) can cause you to miss out on some of the key nutrients that play a big role in weight control, including fiber, protein and vitamin D. I’ve seen many people overcome weight loss plateaus and get completely different results by changing the quality of their diet - even at the exact same calorie level.
I overestimated by body’s needs. When I was in college, I was always busy. I worked in addition to going to school and never got enough sleep. Because I felt like I was always on the go, I assumed my body needed more food than it really did. After learning more about physiology, metabolism and nutrition science, I finally “got” that my mind was doing a lot more work than my body. Even though it felt exhausting, I recognized that researching and typing a science paper burned about four times fewer calories per hour than riding my bike to class.
I ate at the wrong times. Probably one of my biggest food faux pas was not understanding that one of the main goals of a meal is to fuel the hours to come. Sometimes I’d be so busy, I’d delay eating and then chow down, thinking I had “earned” the meal. In reality, that’s completely backwards, because our bodies can’t burn calories retroactively. After you eat, the fate of the meal is based on what your body is doing in the hours after you digest and absorb it, not what took place earlier in the day.
I trusted the wrong sources. Earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition taught me just how complicated nutrition really is and how much there is to know. I used to listen to just about anyone who seemed to make sense without really questioning their info, but then one day it dawned on me – nutrition is just as specialized as architecture or engineering – you need a lot of education and training to really know what you’re doing.
I’m so glad I became a nutritionist and registered dietitian - I feel like I have the best job on earth and I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living. One of the most rewarding parts is helping other people fix some of the same diet mistakes I used to make, so they can look, feel and perform better and get the results they seek. If you’re unsure about some of your own strategies, send me a message or leave a comment!