Health Disasters: Dieting Tips No Doctor Would Ever Follow

Dieting is an extremely popular approach to losing weight or just eating healthier. And popular diets advocate all kinds of approaches, many of which are defined just as much by what you can’t eat as what you can. Some people choose their diet to lose weight. Some people want to feel less bloated or more energetic. Others want better skin. And some people want a diet that just makes it easier to grocery shop and cook.

Everybody can find a diet that works for them. Just don’t succumb to the influence of non-reputable folks in internet world when deciding what route to take. You know your body and your goals. But what you may not know is that many popular dieting tips can actually do more harm than good. Read on to check out some of the dieting tips and approaches few doctors would actually recommend, let alone follow themselves.

1. Try a high-protein diet

Steak being seared on the stove

A high-protein diet might sound good in theory, but can actually increase your risk of heart disease. | iStock.com

Tons of celebrities have cited Atkins as their diet of choice. The diet makes carbohydrates (including grains, gluten, and high-carb veggies) the enemy and amps up the protein instead. But it turns out Atkins and other high-protein diets may not be as healthy as you think. WebMD reports many health experts have advised against high-protein diets. Why? People on such plans eat more cholesterol and saturated fat, and scientific evidence indicates this can increase your risk of heart disease, plus cause problems for your kidneys, liver, and bones.

The American Medical Association called Robert Atkins a fraud — which makes it clear that your doctor probably wouldn’t recommend a super low-carb, high-protein diet. 

2. Go back to the Paleolithic era

Raw fruits and vegetables

The Paleo diet has many devoted followers, but ultimately demonstrates that you shouldn’t base your dietary decision on what your ancestors were eating. | iStock.com

A related diet that Hamblin investigates in his piece for The Atlantic? The Paleo diet, which also takes a low-carb approach, but limits carbs by quality rather than quantity. Paleo (which has evolved into an entire lifestyle) prohibits beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, and other legumes. The reason why? According to Loren Cordain, who is a professor emeritus at Colorado State University and was characterized by Hamblin as the “ringleader of the Paleolithic diet,” kidney beans are “toxic poisons” and “legumes are inferior foods” because they have relatively low protein, zinc, and iron compared to meat.

Does that sound like a scientific assessment? It shouldn’t. The principle behind the Paleo plan is that humans shouldn’t eat foods that weren’t part of the human diet in the Paleolithic era. But as Carl Zimmer reports for The New York Times, biologists have argued the addition of carbohydrates to our ancestors’ diets is what fueled “the evolution of our oversize brains.” Brains that, today, use up as much as a quarter of the calories we burn.

In other words, carbohydrates were important to human evolution. This shows that while evolutionary biology can provide some fascinating insight, you may not want to choose your diet based on which foods your ancestors did or didn’t have access to in a specific period of human history. 

3. Pop vitamins and supplements

Women preparing dinner in the kitchen

Many bloggers and health gurus sing the praises of one supplement or another, but your doctor probably wouldn’t advise going along with it. |  iStock.com

Many Americans are convinced they need to take supplements — even when researchers have found vitamins increase the risk of cancer and heart disease, and aren’t a substitute for a healthy diet. Paul Offit reports for The Atlantic our fascination with vitamins and supplements can be traced back to a “man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world’s greatest quack.”

Linus Pauling, the man in question, revolutionized scientists’ understanding of chemical bonds, gave birth to the field of molecular biology, advanced our understanding of protein structure, and used hemoglobin to posit that humans had diverged from gorillas about 11 million years ago. Though Pauling is mostly remembered for championing the use of vitamin C to eradicate the common cold. But repeated studies have demonstrated vitamin C doesn’t seem to affect the duration of a cold, and that it doesn’t prevent a cold, either.

4. Avoid gluten

young man cutting vegetables in kitchen

Think gluten-free is the healthiest diet out there? Think again. | iStock.com

Tons of people are going gluten-free these days — and not because they have a medically sound reason to do so. The Science of Us reporter Alan Levinovitz says David Perlmutter, who claims gluten is a “silent germ” and posits that declining brain health can be blamed on gluten-containing grains, hasn’t actually conducted much research. And, as Levinovitz notes, “The basic premise of Grain Brain doesn’t fit with the current neurological literature: The latest reviews of evidence-based dietary approaches to preventing Alzheimer’s support a Mediterranean-style diet, complete with whole grains.” In other words? All of the evidence indicates whole grains don’t make you stupid.

5. Stop snacking

Snacks on a plate

Plenty of diets position snacks as the enemy, but healthy snacks are actually a great addition to your daily intake. | iStock.com

Many diets and meal plans advocate for nixing snacks if you’re trying to lose weight or eat better. That’s good advice if “snack” means a candy bar or a bag of nacho cheese tortilla chips. But your doctor probably wouldn’t stand by that often-repeated dieting tip if you’re open to snacking on something a little healthier.

Mayo Clinic staff reports well-planned, healthy snacks can complement your weight-loss plan. The story says, “The key is to eat healthy snacks that satisfy your hunger and keep the calorie count low.” The best snacks will fill you up quickly and won’t add a lot of calories to your diet. Fruits and vegetables are ideal snacks, since most have few calories and little fat, but are packed with water, fiber, and nutrients.

6. Count calories

Man cooking in kitchen

One of the biggest misconceptions about dieting is that you should be counting calories. | iStock.com

When discussing snacking, the topic of low-calorie foods often comes up. So, when bloggers and fellow dieters advise counting calories, that makes sense, right? Your doctor doesn’t think so. Time says calorie counting has fallen out of favor with food experts, in no small part because it can’t be done accurately. In fact, the FDA only considers a calorie value on a packaged food out of compliance if the actual calorie count is 20% higher than what’s on the label.

But even if you could depend on nutrition labels, researchers say you shouldn’t count calories anyway because it assumes all calories are weighed equally. But different foods are metabolized, absorbed, and used by the body in distinct ways. They also raise or lower your risk for disease differently. The story says “dieters have been preoccupied with quantity when we should have been focused on quality,” especially if the goal is weight loss. It’s more important to choose foods that mellow the body’s insulin response and counteract weight gain than to obsess over calories. 

7. Avoid cholesterol

Man grilling for family in background

Some diets still advocate for avoiding cholesterol, even though there’s no research that links dietary cholesterol with blood cholesterol. | Thinkstock

One of the many things nutrition-conscious Americans have been avoiding for decades is cholesterol, which is famously found in egg yolks, liver, and shellfish. But as Nina Teicholz reports for The New York Times, we’ve been watching our consumption of eggs and animal products because of “the government’s bad diet advice.” Policy makers told two generations of Americans that cholesterol (and fat) were bad for their health, but that dogma has been debunked by researchers who have found there’s “no appreciable relationship” between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol.

Teicholz writes nutrition policy has “long relied on a very weak kind of science: epidemiological, or ‘observational,’ studies in which researchers follow large groups of people over many years.” Even the most rigorous of such studies can show only association, not causation. And the possible result of this jumping to conclusions is Americans have worsened their health by tipping the balance too far toward a diet rich in sugar and refined grains. 

8. Detox your body

Green Organic Wheat Grass Juice

Your body doesn’t need a cleansing diet or a juice cleanse to detox. | iStock.com/maramicado

Many bloggers and health gurus advocate for detoxing your body at least occasionally (usually via a cleansing diet or a regimen of juices). The idea is that by limiting your intake to raw, pure foods, you can get your body to more efficiently get rid of toxins. But as Eliza Barclay reports for NPR, medical experts say this detoxification myth is just that — a myth. The liver and the kidneys take care of eliminating such waste.

Your body is constantly filtering out the toxins in alcohol, food, and medicines. It simply doesn’t store them up, waiting for a cleanse or a clean eating program to provide the chance to detox. Ultimately, these restrictive eating plans offer no more tangible benefits than other extreme diets.