Celebrity dietitian, MS, RD and founder of F-Factor Tanya Zuckerbrot has built an empire helping high-powered New Yorkers (who shell out $10,000-plus) shed major pounds. But she also recognizes that there’s such a thing as too healthy. “It’s always possible to have too much of a good thing, even when it comes to your health,” Zuckerbrot explains. “The term for focusing excessively on healthy eating is orthorexia nervosa, and while not clinically recognized as a diagnosis, it is enough of a widespread issue to warrant a name. The problem manifests in a variety of ways depending on the main focus of an individual’s diet.”
Now that doesn’t mean you should finish off a day of clean eating with a box of Oreos (at least not every night…), but it does mean that you should think twice before eliminating an entire food group from your diet. Not only are you putting yourself at risk for missing out on essential nutrients, but your body may actually respond favorably to the foods you’ve cut out. With that in mind, we asked Zuckerbrot to highlight mistakes that she finds people commonly make when trying to be healthy and why, in actuality, they’re anything but.
The top reason dieters fail is that the diet they’re on is not sustainable as a way of life. Extreme calorie-cutting leads to hunger and feelings of deprivation that create physical and emotional fatigue. Calorie-cutters are often yo-yo dieters, who fluctuate between under-eating and high-calorie binge eating that puts on pounds. What most people don’t realize is that the secret to fast, healthy and sustainable weight loss is eating more of the right foods that are delicious, filling, nutritious and low in calories. Foods rich in fiber and lean protein are especially good for weight loss and for maintaining a healthy weight. Most Americans do not eat nearly enough fiber in their diet, which is why so many people walk around hungry and overeat at and between meals.
Also, when you cut calories excessively, the body goes into starvation mode as the metabolism slows to preserve its existing fat stores. Instead of burning fat for energy, the body burns lean muscle tissue — our body’s calorie-burning machine. Hence, under-eating is a poor and counterproductive strategy for weight loss.
I find that a common weight loss tactic for dieters is to cut calories by skipping meals, particularly breakfast. This doesn’t work for very long because soon hunger trumps self-control and sets us up to overeat — including foods that are not at all diet-friendly. Breakfast is important for dieters because the right meal will jump-start the metabolism and set the course for healthy eating for the rest of the day. Skipping breakfast sets you up for hunger and overeating.
Completely cutting out carbohydrates from your diet can leave you physically and mentally exhausted. Carbohydrates are the brain’s main fuel source, so cutting carbs can be detrimental for proper brain function. Many carbohydrates contain essential nutrients that cannot be adequately replaced by supplements or other foods. Carbs won’t make you fat if you know which to choose…and which to avoid — particularly processed snack foods and fast foods that are nutritionally lacking and contain little to no fiber.
The best carbohydrates for weight loss and overall good health are found among whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fiber has zero calories and adds bulk to food, which is why a high-fiber diet is filling, low in calories and ideal for weight loss and maintenance.
Cutting Food Groups
Eating healthfully for weight loss or maintenance does not have to cramp your lifestyle. However, when you cut entire food groups from your diet you wind up constantly navigating around so-called “forbidden foods,” which creates an unnecessary burden that can be exasperating and really impact your quality of life.
Further, eliminating essential food groups from your diet to lose weight can result in significant nutritional deficiencies. For example, eliminating dairy can leave you deficient in calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein. Eliminating grains will cause fiber, B vitamin and iron insufficiencies. Avoiding protein sources, such as meat, poultry and fish can leave you deficient in B12, calcium, iron and zinc. Juicing (in place of eating whole foods) can create deficiencies in fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins and vitamin A.
The key to healthy and lasting weight control, and for optimal health and disease prevention, is eating a varied and balanced diet inclusive of protein, whole grains, healthy fats and colorful fruits and vegetables.
Cyclical (Yo-Yo) Dieting
Perpetual dieters often get locked into an unhealthy cycle of weight gain, weight loss and eventual weight regain. They may seem like masters at crash diets that produce fast weight loss, but such quick-fixes aren’t healthy, nor are they effective or sustainable in the long run.
Extreme yo-yo dieting can slow and even permanently damage the metabolism in ways that make losing weight even harder. It can also leave you nutritionally lacking and increase your risk for preventable diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. The solution for lasting weight control isn’t a restrictive diet; rather, it’s eating a balanced diet of healthy, whole foods, and keeping processed and fast foods to a minimum.