Do as I say, not as I do?
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Turns out, this adage applies to nutrition and diet advice as much as anything else, according to the experts we interviewed for this story. Even nutritionists can’t estimate calories correctly, explains NYU professor Marion Nestle, PhD, in her book Why Calories Count. In one experiment, nutritionist Lisa Young found that when dietitians were asked to estimate the number of calories in several fast-food meals during a meeting of the American Dietetic Association, they underestimated the amount by about 30 percent. What’s more, even the most well-meaning health experts may give outdated advice. Read on to learn the biggest pitfalls—and how to outsmart them.
Mistake: Cutting too many calories
“Cut calories, lose weight” is the most basic weight-loss advice out there, but eating too little can actually slow your metabolism, causing the pounds to creep back on. “Even if you’re restricting calories healthfully, it’s hard to meet all your nutritional needs when you go too low,” says Samantha Heller, RD, author of Get Smart: Samantha Heller’s Nutrition Prescription for Boosting Brain Power and Optimizing Total Body Health. It’s a trap she’s seen experts fall into, thinking that an extreme weight-loss program may help “get me kickstarted.”
Lose-it lesson: Don’t fall for big gimmicks. Depending on your size, activity level, and other factors, dipping below 1,200 calories a day isn’t a good idea for long-term weight loss. Follow the 7 rules of counting calories to make sure you’re losing weight the healthy way.
Mistake: Falling for “health halos”
So-called “healthy foods” such as green juices, whole-grain pretzels, or organic-labeled anything may coax you into eating more than you usually would. “Last night, someone brought these coconut vegan donuts to a party I was hosting,” shares Brooke Alpert, RD, founder of B Nutritious, a private practice in New York City. “And this morning I couldn’t help but eat one after I dropped my daughter off at school, even though I would otherwise never eat dessert at 10 in the morning. I’m proof that even professionals fall for health halos!”
It’s a common pitfall, research shows. In one study, Cornell scientists gave study participants chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt, and potato chips; some were labeled organic and some weren’t. Even though all the foods were exactly the same—all organic—the tasters rated the ones labeled organic to be healthier (lower in fat, higher in fiber, and lower in calories) than the “conventional” foods.
Lose-it lesson: Read nutrition labels, and be mindful about your choices. Ask yourself, “Am I really hungry right now? Do I need to be eating this?” and try sipping a glass of water first to see if those pangs go away.