If you've ever tried to lose a few pounds, you've probably been inundated with diet tips. But take them all with a grain of salt—some advice may sound legit but can actually derail your diet. Here are 10 tips you DO NOT want to follow:
BAD ADVICE: Choose fat-free or sugar-free foods
BETTER ADVICE: Don't believe the hype. "They usually use fat and sodium to replace sugar, and sugar to replace fat—or chemicals to replace both," says Denis Faye, Beachbody's nutrition expert. And Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and author of the upcoming book,The 1:1:1 Diet, adds, "Removing fat from a food makes it less satiating, so you ultimately may end up eating more." Stick with the original versions, and watch your portions or better yet, eat more unprocessed foods.
BAD ADVICE: No cheating ever!
BETTER ADVICE: Relax your diet rules, and you'll be more likely to stick it out long-term. "If 80% of your diet is tight, then 20% can be a party," Faye says. "It keeps you from getting stressed—and stress is a huge obstacle in weight loss." Just plan your splurges ahead of time so you're not giving in to every temptation that crosses your plate.
BAD ADVICE: Stop snacking.
BETTER ADVICE: Choose snacks that offer a balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats—like apples with peanut butter, or carrots with hummus. "A healthy snack can help maintain steady blood sugar levels, which keeps your appetite in check and your energy stable," Batayneh says. Skipping a snack can cause your blood sugar to dip, leaving you moody and famished—and more likely to overeat at mealtime.
BAD ADVICE: Don't eat fruit—it's full of sugar.
BETTER ADVICE: Let fruit satisfy your sweet tooth. "Yes, fresh produce is full of sugar and carbs," Faye says. "But sugar itself is not the enemy. Fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals; it's also rich in fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar. I've never met a human being who got fat because of bananas." When you're craving sugar, there's no debate that a handful of grapes is healthier than a hot fudge sundae.
BAD ADVICE: If it's organic, it's good for you.
BETTER ADVICE: According to the USDA, organic food is produced without antibiotics, growth hormones, conventional pesticides, and synthetic ingredients.1 The problem is that many people assume organic foods are all low in calories, too, which isn't necessarily true. Don't get us wrong—we'd rather eat food that doesn't resemble a science experiment. But, Faye cautions, "You need to use common sense. If it's bad for you with conventional ingredients, it's still bad for you when it's organic." A cookie is a cookie, no matter how all-natural it is.
BAD ADVICE: Calories in, calories out—it doesn't matter what you eat.
BETTER ADVICE: What you're eating matters. Compare a 100-calorie candy bar to 100 calories of avocado—the latter is packed with nutrients and has healthy fats and fiber to keep you full. Or compare 50 calories of spinach (about seven cups) to 50 calories of ice cream (about two tablespoons). To feel full when you're cutting calories, look for foods loaded with water and fiber, like veggies or broth-based soups. Plus, "Hormones have a huge impact on our health. Junk food can trigger bad hormonal responses that, over time, can lead to all kinds of problems, including weight gain," Faye says. Occasionally, someone will pop up in the news claiming they lost a ton of weight while eating nothing but Subway®, Starbucks®, or Snickers® bars—but don't put too much stock in those success stories. "When you go that route, you're not educating yourself," Faye says. "It's like the teach-a-man-to-fish adage. If you give someone a gimmicky diet, they might lose weight for now; but provide them with knowledge, and they can be healthy for life."
BAD ADVICE: Try XYZ Extreme Diet—it works for everyone!
BETTER ADVICE: Find a plan that works for you. Gender, age, genetics, metabolism, and lifestyle can all play a role in weight loss—so even if a fad diet has worked for others, that doesn't mean you'll get the same results. "There's no single diet that works for everyone; our biochemical needs are different," Faye says. Talk to a dietitian or nutrition consultant to find a long-term eating strategy that is tailor-fit to you.
BAD ADVICE: When in doubt, order the salad.
BETTER ADVICE: Choose your greens wisely. Leafy greens and vegetables may be virtuous, but not if they're slathered in creamy dressing and topped with bacon, candied nuts, croutons, deli meats, or cheese. "Fatty fixings can add hundreds of calories to your meal, and sometimes contain more calories than that juicy burger!" Batayneh says. Salad can be a healthy choice, but order dressing on the side and limit the add-ons.
BAD ADVICE: Don't exercise—it'll only make you hungrier.
BETTER ADVICE: Get moving—an hour-long workout isn't going to make you suck down calories like Michael Phelps. "Exercise isn't just for losing weight—it improves your cardiovascular health and strengthens your bones," Faye says. You might feel hungrier while recovering from a grueling workout, but that doesn't mean you're going to pack on pounds. "As long as you're eating clean, your body is amazing at self-regulating," Faye adds. "It should crave the calories you need to fuel your workouts, not to get fat."
BAD ADVICE: Treat yourself for a job well done!
BETTER ADVICE: Rethink your reward system. After an intense workout, you may feel like you've earned a cocktail or cupcake. But splurging after every workout can quickly undo all your hard work. If you've been good all week, go ahead and grab a guilt-free beer on Friday. But, Faye says, "Don't let every workout become a Pavlovian thing where you need to eat cake afterwards." After all, the best reward for a killer workout is getting one step closer to the body you want.