You might have all the best intentions when it comes to weight loss, but between confounding studies (chocolate is never going to be the key to shedding pounds!) and brands spending millions on marketing to convince you that their fat, calorie, and sugar filled products — which they've shrewdly labeled "skinny" or "natural" — are good for you, desired outcomes can be arduous to achieve. We spoke with experts who shared the biggest dieting misconceptions — and advice for healthier eating habits.
Don’t skip the carbs
“One of the biggest mistakes people make in their attempt to lose weight is that they cut out carbohydrates,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD and the founder of F-Factor. “Carbohydrates fuel our bodies and cutting them out leads to feeling tired, cranky, and weak which can trigger excess snacking and feeling deprived which is not consistent with weight loss.”
She does caution that while eating carbs is essential to functioning, doing so in excess does lead to weight gain. “The goal is to eat just the right amount of the right carbs,” she explains: carbs that are high in fiber, which has zero calories and adds bulk to food. Think chickpeas, lentils, and broccoli (yes, veggies are carbs). “When eaten, fiber swells in the stomach. Therefore, when you follow a diet rich in fiber you feel full after eating and you’ll generally eat less throughout the day.”
Breakfast really is for champions
We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and for good reason. “Breakfast jump starts your metabolism,” says Zuckerbrot. “Conversely skipping breakfast slows down your metabolism and leads to weight gain – so don’t skip meals thinking you’ll lose weight faster.”
Not convinced? Sumo wrestlers in Japan skip breakfast so that they will gain weight. Zuckerbrot suggests starting your day with a breakfast that combines high fiber carbohydrates (whole wheat toast, oatmeal) and lean protein (egg whites, Greek yogurt, or low-fat cheeses) because these nutrients will fill you up on the fewest calories.
Know when you’re hungry
“It’s estimated that 75 percent of us overeat not because we’re hungry, but rather in response to feelings,” says Keri Glassman, RD, CDN. “When our eating is spurred by emotions, we tend to consume mostly junk food so it’s important to pinpoint the exact ‘trigger’ that causes you to overeat." Shopping at the grocery store when you’re hungry, eating at the computer, picking off your kids’ plates, or waiting too long between meals could all contribute to stress eating.
Choose your healthy foods wisely
If you think salads are always a safe option, think again. “It’s important to remember to leave out the croutons, avoid fat-free dressings (they’re loaded with preservatives and sugar), skip the dried fruits and processed cheese, and stay away from too many grains and beans, which are healthy but in excess will lead to weight gain,” says Nikki Ostrower, nutritionist and founder of NAO Nutrition. “Make sure to enjoy a salad with mostly leafy greens and veggies.”
Same goes for smoothies. “While smoothies can be great if they’re mostly greens-based, many of the health benefits go out the window once you add in things like frozen yogurt, designer protein powder loaded with 20 ingredients you can't pronounce, sugar, and syrups,” says Ostrower. “Enjoy a smoothie with greens, nuts, fresh fruit or a date as a sweetener, and collagen protein and use soaked nuts and water (aka homemade nut milk) as your base instead of a boxed vegan milk.”