Updated: Jan 22
DETHRONE THE DIET • January 2020
By Julia Laakso
As a clinical dietitian, I tend to be the bearer of bad news, having to tell people that their disease is winning and unfortunately now is the time to start following a restrictive diet to help offer their organs, medications, or treatments some leverage. Trust me, it’s not fun for anyone involved, and it breaks my heart to have to restrict people from their favorite foods because they may hurt their bodies. The joy of eating becomes stressful. Why would anyone want that?
But if you look around, eating is stressful for a lot of people these days, and outside of medical necessity, it’s often for no. damn. good. reason. We as a species tend to overcomplicate every little thing. Unless you have a faulty organs or a legit medical diagnosis, the need to severely restrict is almost always unnecessary.
You see, not only am I often the bearer of bad news in the clinical setting, but in the public setting, I’m often full of unpopular opinions. In the spirit of the New Year and the typical desire to improve health status, I come with a lot of unpopular opinions about the public’s idea of nutrition. Prepare to have your feathers ruffled, but try to keep an open mind and hear me out. A recent study examining social media influencers released that nearly 90% of nutrition advice posts are scientifically inaccurate. NINETY PERCENT, my friends, and this includes articles from CNN and Time. We are all guilty of hitting “share” after reading a click-bait headline, regardless of whether or not it’s #fakenews.
The evidence-based truth about nutrition may be viewed as “unpopular opinion” but nutrition is a science, not an opinion, so let’s take a look at some of the things that social media tells us about diet culture that we could all do without.
1. Eliminating entire food groups is extreme and unnecessary. “But Julia, wheat makes my joints hurt. It causes inflammation.” OK, I hear you loud and clear, but a single food or food group cannot be the sole contributor to wide-spread inflammation. (Quick side note: food, environment, stress, sleep quality, and hydration status all contribute to inflammation and that’s just a short list). All foods have the possibility to contribute to inflammation and are each individually rated on a scale with their pro-inflammatory (or anti-inflammatory) contribution. It’s important to consume a balance of all foods to ensure that you’re maximizing your macronutrient (fats, carbs, and protein) and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) intakes. Bonus: The pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory markers will also balance out when you eat a wide variety of foods. Eat all the foods. It’s a win-win.
2. Guys. Sit down. I’m going to just say it: Eating organic is a matter of preference, not necessity. A large meta-analysis reviewed years worth of research on the reduction in cancer occurrence for those that solely consumed organic and only accounted for a 0.6% reduction in cancer incidence. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a good home-grown tomato. Avoiding additional junk in our lives is never a bad thing, and if that’s your preference, go on with it! From a dietitian’s perspective, however, we look at the bigger picture: cost, accessibility, food stigma, calories, nutrient density, and safety. Eating organic is not the dire requirement for health we once believed it to be, and if you can’t afford it or don’t have access to it, that’s ok. If you love it and that’s all you care to buy for yourself and your family, that’s ok too. You do you, boo.
3. You have to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. PERIOD. Keto, Whole30, Paleo, counting macros, or simply eating on instinct and preference--pick your poison, none of it truly matters in the long run if you’re not in a calorie deficit. It’s just math, pals, and it’s literally as simple as that. Don’t overcomplicate it.
4. No food can increase your metabolism. Those charts on Facebook are cute but wildly inaccurate. No foods increase resting metabolic rate, unless you want to technically count capsaicin, the chemical in peppers that makes them spicy--it can raise metabolism by a meager 8% for a few minutes before returning to baseline. In conclusion, it does nothing. Want to increase your metabolism? Eat an adequate amount of calories throughout the day to help your body actually burn, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, and get some good sleep. It all works together to boost your energy expenditure.
5. Here’s another one you may need to sit down for: Detoxes are not only unnecessary, but can be harmful when used inappropriately. Very long story short, your body does this cool thing where it rids itself of “toxins” continuously. Yes, continuously. Your liver, kidneys, and lungs are constantly ridding the body of the things social media tells us to fear. I get it--it makes for some good marketing, but your body has it handled. If you were in liver failure, kidney failure, or respiratory failure, you would know it. I see it daily at work, and trust me, it’s not glamorous. Furthermore, some of those popular detoxes cause, shall we say, unpleasant bathroom experiences, and when that happens, good gut bacteria is wiped out in the process. Those little buggers are hard to build back up and never fully recover to their baseline amount. Detoxes are simply no bueno.
Now that I’ve offended the hell out of you and your beliefs, I’d like to challenge you with a loving heart and authentic stance: do you believe these things because of the undeniable research published in scholarly journals, or because your neighbor drank a lemon juice and cayenne pepper cleanse, lost 10 pounds in a week, and blabbed about it on Facebook? Cold, hard truth: your neighbor’s personal experience is not an evidence-based conclusion, it was simply diarrhea…..you get where I’m going with this?
Here’s the most unpopular of all the Unpopular Opinions I could give you: you’re making things so much harder than they need to be. Be gentle in your approach to food. Eat what you like. Enjoy the experience. Eat when you’re hungry, eat to satiety, and then stop when you’re full. Ignore social media nonsense that fills you with insecurities and forces such a heavy pressure to conform. No one else but you and you alone knows how to eat according to your instincts, so tune in and follow them as best you can. A simpler approach often makes the biggest impact.