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Food fads and myths I believed before I started studying nutrition and dietetics

In Eat well, Non-diet approach, Nutrition education by RebeccaLeave a Comment

This is a pretty difficult blog post to write. It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong – when you fell for clever marketing, for pseudo-science or the anecdotal ‘evidence’ of friends-of-friends.

So why write about it? I want to show that yes, I’ve been there, done that – I tried all sorts of strange diets and believed a bit of woo in my time. And as much as it makes me cringe now to think about the times I shared misinformation with family and friends, I’m excited to be able to use this platform to communicate the trustworthy, evidence-based information I’m learning through my accredited dietetics degree.

Knowledge is power

Through my studies I’ve learned that our food and health beliefs have a huge range of influences – our emotions, our social circles, our physical environment… our desire to discover the ‘secret’ to living a healthier life.

Yes, revealing these deep dark food secrets of mine is daunting. But I hope it helps to show that food beliefs are complex things, and that by looking to expert sources for advice and information, we can avoid the pitfalls and broken dreams of food fads and myths.

My former fads

Fad 1: Extreme regimes

I was young, I was living on campus at university, and I had overindulged at the college buffet in my first year. Although I was a healthy weight and exercised regularly, I decided I was ‘unfit’ and that the best way to ‘get in shape’ in my second year was to eat lots of healthy whole foods and exercise… Except that I ended up eating fruit and yoghurt for almost every meal, and hit the gym at least once a day. Yes, this is a disordered view of health. I didn’t read about a special fruit and exercise diet, I just dreamed this one up myself. I only kept it up for a month or so because it was ridiculous and ineffective.

Moral of the story: extreme approaches never work. You might feel good/healthy/in control in the short-term, but it won’t last.

Fad 2: Superfoods

Many years ago when I first heard about superfoods, they sounded brilliant. Fancy having a shortlist of foods I could incorporate into my diet that ensure I get super doses of… I’m not sure what, but it must be good for me! I drove my poor housemate mad (sorry Sarah) with announcements of the latest superfood I’d discovered. I think what’s most surprising about this one is the fact that I worked in marketing at the time. Why didn’t I see through it?

The truth is that there’s no such thing a superfood. It’s 100% a creation of marketing companies looking for new ways to sell their goods. If you’re looking for super doses of things that are good for you, here they are in pictorial form. Kale is no more transformative than a potato.

Moral of the story: marketing is a powerful beast. Question health claims that sound too good to be true because they probably are. Get your information from expert sources.

Fad 3: Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar by the spoonful

I went through a period of time in my life where I explored all sorts of ‘alternative’ health-based therapies. I won’t go into detail, suffice to say that adding reasonably large quantities of coconut oil and apple cider vinegar to my diet seemed like a legit thing to do.

Neither are miracle ingredients that will perform magic tricks in your body. Both apple cider vinegar and coconut oil may have health benefits when they’re a part of a balanced diet, but greater research is needed to support many health claims. Let’s remember that moderation is key and marketing is all-powerful (see Fad 2). Use them in cooking because they taste good, they suit the dish, and you enjoy them.

Moral of the story: Our social circles can have a huge influence on our food beliefs and behaviours. But unless your social circle includes health professionals with actual qualifications, take their recommendations with a grain of sceptical salt. And if David Avocado Wolfe endorses it, really really question it’s legitimacy.

Fad 4: ‘Cutting carbs’ to lose weight

I expect I took this anti-carb message on board because of the omnipresent messages out in society that carbs are bad bad not good. I’d cut my carbs (no bread, pasta, lollies etc – sad face) and lo and behold, I’d lose weight! But I also had low energy, was grumpy, and was also pretty antisocial when it came to dining out with friends.

In simple terms, carbs are not the devil. They do not convert straight to fat in your body. Carbohydrates are essential for energy and long-term health and happiness.

Simplifying things dramatically, if you consume more energy than you’re using up over a period of time, you are more likely to gain weight. The reason I’d lose weight while ‘cutting carbs’ was because I had an overall energy deficit and was more keenly focussed on what I was eating. If you are consuming a balanced diet and eating intuitively, can enjoy all the foods AND be healthy.

Moral of the story: there is a long standing need in society to demonise a food group or nutrient and idolise another. Fats were bad, carbs were good. Now carbs are bad, and fats are good. It’s a load of rubbish. Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are all good. For better health we can try to reduce our intake of refined sugars, highly processed foods, and added salt when possible.

Sharing is caring

I hope my ‘Dear Diary’ about food fads has helped answer some of your questions about common food myths, and perhaps helped you to reflect on your own food beliefs. If you’d like to contribute to sharing more evidence-based food information, check out the bloggers featured on Storehouse (yep, I’m on there!). There are heaps of great experts in social media land who are sharing trustworthy, evidence-based, and interesting food info.

Need help?

If you or someone you know needs support with disordered eating behaviours, please speak to a health professional or visit The Butterfly Foundation or ReachOut for more information.

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