We all know there’s no shortage of opinions about the best approach to weight loss. The debates seem endless: Less meat versus more protein, more whole grains versus low carb, frequent eating versus intermittent fasting…the list goes on and on. The truth is, in the world of nutrition, the science doesn’t abruptly shift 180 degrees as often as it evolves, grows and expands. While the media can get clickbait on us by making it seem like nutrition information swings on a pendulum of confusion and conflict, there is one tried and true way to help you sort through all the muck and get the answers you need: hire an expert.
Expert guidance from a qualified professional can take the vast amount of information about nutrition and its respective impact on health (which also draws on concepts from anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, psychology, sociology and more) and drill it down into actionable items for you to focus on to lose weight and feel great.
That being said, it’s critical to have your antennas up and use discernment to find the right coach. It’s normal to have nuances of opinion in the world of experts. But I cringe when I hear outdated or inaccurate information repeated as (false) nutrition dogma by the misinformed individuals that are seeking nutrition guidance for their own unique needs. Read on to discover some of the worst weight loss recommendations that are often repeated in failed effort to help.
A Multivitamin is Unnecessary
Supplementation has been a hotly debated topic in the health and wellness industry. On one hand, there are quacks promising cures for every disease under the sun by taking exotic and expensive supplements. And on the other hand, we have naysayers claiming that every supplement you take is a waste of money that only generates expensive urine. The reality lies somewhere in the middle.
When trying to lose weight, we are often exercising more (increasing our needs) and eating less than usual (decreasing our intake). It only makes sense that your nutrients need extra consideration. Your vitamin and mineral status, or micronutrient status, is a keystone of health. Without optimal levels of micronutrients, oxygen does not get from your lungs to your cells efficiently, and cells and mitochondria don’t function on all cylinders, which can negatively impact metabolism.
The discussion of whether or not to take a multivitamin hinges on your own personal definition of necessary. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) that many dietitians cite is defined as the “average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98%) healthy people.”1 There’s a difference of sufficiency (i.e., prevention of rickets, scurvy and other diagnoses of outright deficiency) and the optimization of nutrients needed to support a great, fat-burning metabolism. While you should avoid mega-dosing on specific nutrients unless there is a legitimate medical reason to do so, a quality multivitamin can and should support your weight loss journey. (Are you really eating 5+ cups of vegetables every day anyway?) One major word of caution: quality is everything. Your average over-the-counter tablet is not even comparable to a pharmaceutical grade multivitamin made with rigorous production standards and quality ingredients.
You Must Have 2-3 Servings of Dairy Every Day
We all know that dairy is a great source of protein and calcium. However, forcing dairy foods onto someone that does not feel well when consuming them isn’t doing anyone any weight loss favors. However, not every nutrition professional is hyper-perceptive to signs of potential food sensitivities. When someone is stuck with their weight, it’s worth doing a short-term elimination diet to pinpoint potential culprits, and it’s not uncommon for dairy to be on the list. Reactions to foods might often be subtle, (such as sinus issues, achiness or skin issues) and an elimination diet is one of the gold standard methods in helping determine how different foods impact you. In addition to potential personal reactions, some people may have other concerns about dairy processing and nutrition.
There are other great sources of calcium out there , namely leafy green veggies, seeds, broccoli and fish with bones (like sardines or canned salmon). Aiming for quality protein intake from healthy animals (such as pastured chicken, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef) and plant sources (beans, nuts, legumes) at each meal and snack can help you achieve your protein goals, even in the absence of dairy.
If you do tolerate dairy, make sure you choose the best sources that are organic with no added sugars, ideally from grass-fed cows. If you don’t tolerate dairy, find other ways to boost protein and calcium intake.
You Should Only be Concerned with Gluten if You Have Celiac Disease
Have you seen the viral video from a popular late night comedian asking pedestrians the question “what is gluten?” Several gluten-free dieters are confronted with the question…and are hilariously stumped. It seems like everyone knows about it, but no one really knows what is actually is.
Gluten refers to the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. Awareness of Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that results in physical damage to the small intestine upon gluten consumption, is on the rise, and so is the popularity of the gluten-free bandwagon. Unfortunately, the droves of people going gluten-free without understanding why, makes it easy for onlookers to think that “gluten-free” is just the next fad instead of a legitimate thing to consider.
It is possible to have a negative to reaction to gluten that, yes, can inhibit weight loss in the absence of a diagnosis for Celiac disease.2 Research suggests potential links to blood sugar control, gut health, inflammation, and more, all of which can impact how effectively you lose weight. Similar to the point made about dairy, you really don’t know how it impacts you without doing a short-term elimination and reintroduction. As a reminder, however, switching from processed foods to gluten-free processed foods will likely do little more than raise your grocery bill. Aim for a real-foods diet, and your gluten consumption will naturally drop. Isn’t that alone an interesting observation?
Use an Online Calculator to Determine Calorie Needs
There are several different methods you can use to calculate your energy needs based on height, weight, age, etc. However, using these to determine how much food you are going to consume on a day-to-day basis is unwise at best and harmful at worst. Their utility for building individual and successful nutrition programs is quite limited.3
The calories your body burns is impacted by so much more that the metrics used in these calculations. I have personally seen variances of more than 600-700 calories between the results of these equations and actual resting metabolic rate testing. Things like thyroid hormones, cortisol levels, and insufficient recovery and sleep all must be taken into consideration.
Applied to a nutrition plan over time, this potential over-or-under-eating from the results of these equations can create significant metabolic disruption, weight loss and gain roller coasters and tanked energy levels.
Connect with someone who considers calorie needs, but doesn’t use a calculation as the singular guidepost to guiding your intake. Over time, your journey should involve learning to eat intuitively, with streamlined dietary habits that result in the calories taking care of themselves. No counting or calculations necessary in the long-term.
Have Everything in Moderation
Consider the following: ice cream, pizza, chips, nachos, cookies, brownies and pretzels. And chocolate. And chocolate-covered pretzels. (I could go on.) What do these all have in common? They are all processed foods that are frequent, hyper-palatable triggers for over-eating. You may have that one food that comes to mind that makes it impossible to stop at just one. This over-eating may manifest as a late night binge, or it might be a trigger that spirals you off of your healthy nutrition plan for the next several weeks or months.
Now, I fully understand that giving up your favorite foods forever is not realistic. However, lying to yourself will not translate to real, lasting weight loss results either. If you struggle with emotional eating or can pinpoint times that a disciplined, portion-controlled treat turned into a loss of control, you’re not alone. This is a common struggle that can absolutely sabotage your weight loss efforts. And it’s important to consider whether or not a real break from your personal, unhealthy trigger foods (full commitment to elimination, not failed, attempted moderation) for several weeks or months is a better approach to help you reset.
Follow a Strict Meal Plan to Achieve Success
“Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.” If I got paid a dollar for every time I’ve heard that as a dietitian, I could comfortably retire. We all want the simple, straightforward answer to weight loss. The fact that long term weight loss success is in fact a journey, with its own ups and downs, isn’t something we like to hear. But how often have we vivaciously started off a Monday with a strict nutrition plan, only for it to be a thing of the past the next month or two?
Meal plans have an allure of simplicity. But are they really teaching you how to eat for results in real life? Counting almonds and weighing and measuring every single morsel of food that goes into your mouth is not only unsustainable, but can result in an unhealthy relationship with food. Additionally, it’s likely you’ll get sick of it, reach your breaking point and slingshot back into old habits with a vengeance. You’ll likely experience unnecessary feelings of shame for not sticking to a plan that wasn’t setting you up for success in the first place.
Learning how to plan your meals instead of following a strict, portion-controlled, specific meal plan is a game changer. There’s a big difference! And there are great dietitians out there determined to help you do just that.
Want to Know the Hallmark Sign of a Great Dietitian?
Simple. He or she offers practical, science-based recommendations, guides you into a nutrition plan based on real, whole, unprocessed foods, is dead set on personalizing your approach based on your unique history, readiness to change, and lab work, and knows that, in the world of nutrition, he or she will be a lifelong student that never knows all the answers. The literature reveals more about nutrition and metabolism every day, and you deserve to work with a fitness and nutrition professional that guides you through and beyond your goals with success.
Thanks for reading everyone! If you’re ready to partner with a nutrition coach to walk the weight loss journey with you, reach out to us at Weightloss@lifetimefitness.com
In health, Samantha McKinney (Bielawski), Registered Dietitian, Program Manager - Life Time Lab Testing
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.