Forget Diets and Weight Loss Scams: You Already Know How to Eat Right

How much do you know about nutrition? More than you realize, it turns out. The problem is, faulty nutrition advice, diets, and weight loss scams pop up everywhere you turn. It doesn’t help that news outlets can’t seem to get enough of drawing generalized conclusions from studies performed on rats and mice. Is red wine good, or bad? What about bread? Is butter a carb? You know what’s healthy and what isn’t. Science is just confusing — and its coverage makes you second-guess yourself, even though you shouldn’t.

For starters, nutrition research is hard to interpret

A heart healthy selection of grains, fruits, and nuts.

It turns out your body already knows what to reach for. | Udra/iStock/Getty Images

If you’ve ever tried to read through a research study — the actual paper, not just the abstract — you already know studies in general aren’t easy for non-scientists to understand. But the complexity of nutrition studies goes beyond jargon. Washington Post writer Jenna Galagos also explains that studies aren’t always designed to answer questions the public wants them to. One study is never enough — but too many authority figures are trying to convince you otherwise.

Deep down, you know if what you’re eating is good for you — you don’t need self-reported results from strangers to figure that out.

The good news is, there are guidelines — sort of

Carbs on a wooden surface.

You already have all the healthy essentials you need. | Bit245/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t know how to eat right? That’s a terrible excuse — there are written guidelines telling you exactly what to do. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans supply a rough outline for aspiring healthy eaters to follow. Here’s a rundown of what they say:

  • Eat grains, but make them whole grains
  • Eat vegetables
  • Also eat fruit
  • Protein is important
  • Dairy is nutritious
  • Limit saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.

See? You already knew this stuff. Contradictory information just gets thrown at you every other day when another study hits the news cycle. Remember, nutrition research is complicated. It usually doesn’t mean what you think. Here’s the advice you should listen to instead.

Yes, ‘in moderation’ does work

Macaroni on a table along with a pink cloth.

We tend to overeat foods like pasta. | Gaus-nataliya/iStock/Getty Images

We’re really bad at estimating and controlling our portions, says Marion Nestle, writer for The Atlantic. Which is where everyone’s favorite (or least favorite) nutrition advice comes from: everything in moderation! This concept doesn’t work for everyone. But portion control does. Restaurants and other fast food entrees aren’t your best teaching tools. You really can enjoy the foods you like. You just have to learn to eat less each time you indulge. This goes for healthy foods too. Even too much of a good thing is terrible.

Stop dieting and start living

A couple hangs out in a kitchen while cooking and eating.

Focus on the other aspects of your eating experience — like spending time with your loved ones. | SolisImages/iStock/Getty Images

Most diets don’t work. There are plenty of programs that help people lose weight and mark important milestones as they slim down. Unfortunately, these initiatives don’t help people learn to lose weight slowly, establish self-control, and keep their weight stable. Some diets are unrealistic — difficult to implement into everyday life in the long-term.

It’s the people who learn to cook healthy foods at home, focus on health instead of quick weight loss, and allow themselves to enjoy eating that succeed in making positive lifestyle changes that last forever.

You can’t sugar-coat junk food

Marshmallow Cereal in a blue bowl.

Are you really getting those whole grain benefits out of sugary cereals? | Jenniveve84/iStock/Getty Images

Well, you can. Figuratively speaking, though, you can’t call a box of cereal healthy because it’s sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, low-sodium, and all-natural. Junk food is still junk food, no matter what the front of the box says. “Diet” foods are some of the most destructive products on the market, making you believe you’re being “good” when you’re not. You know it’s junk — call it what it is. Then do what you can to try to replace it with something healthier. Believe it or not, you can survive without Cinnamon Toast Crunch (we promise).

Don’t shun dairy and grains

Family chooses dairy products in supermarket.

You can still stock up on some dairy staples. | Sergeyryzhov/Getty images

Paleo followers cut grains and dairy out of their lives without stopping to think about how beneficial these food groups actually are. Whole, minimally processed grains provide essential carbohydrates that fuel your body, says The Guardian. Dairy, for those who can tolerate it, provides essential protein and minimal amounts of fat when you look at each product as a whole. Cutting out food groups doesn’t work, unless you enjoy swallowing supplements to fend off malnutrition.

Healthy eating is about replacing bad food with better food

Quinoa tofu Bowl with roasted vegetables.

You can always find yummy alternatives to your favorite comfort foods. | Bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images

Let’s set the record straight: Coconut oil is neither your best friend nor your worst enemy, says Harvard Health Publishing. However, it’s the perfect example of what happens when people take the word “healthy” too far. Replacing vegetable oil with coconut oil in cooking can have certain benefits. What doesn’t benefit you? Putting coconut oil into everything you eat just because it’s healthier than vegetable oil. Replacing an iffy food with a healthier one makes sense. You can’t force a good food into your eating regimen without taking a questionable food away. That’s how healthier eating happens — gradually, one food at a time.