5 Diet Cliches Nutritionists Can't Stand


I came across a hilarious video from a UK food company that spoofs diet commercials, and it really got me thinking. When my colleagues and I get together, these are exactly the type of clichés we also find cringe-worthy. Here are five that personally drive me bonkers, and why they absolutely don’t ring true:

Eating diet food is the answer

I detest “diet” foods. As a nutritionist, I believe in eating whole, natural foods, so processed products made with artificial ingredients will never get my OK. And let’s face it, diet foods aren’t very satisfying. Most of my private practice clients have a dieting history, and many have recounted downing diet meals that left them with lingering cravings. As a result, they wound up either eating what they really wanted anyway (on top of the diet meal), or bingeing on diet foods, and feeling stuffed, but still unsatisfied. Those who are reluctant to give up diet drinks, bars, and meals, for fear of weight gain, typically find just the opposite to be true. In fact, I’ve had clients eat more calories and lose weight by swapping processed products for fresh, whole foods. This is likely due to several factors, including emerging research about how aroma, texture and antioxidants affect satiety, and how whole foods impact metabolism compared to their processed counterparts.  Bottom line: the notion that weight loss is simply about calories in versus calories out is outdated. Quality is the real king.

Healthy foods don't taste good

Over the years, I’ve heard grumblings like, “Everything that’s good for you tastes like cardboard,” or “I don’t want to have to eat rabbit food.” I feel awful for people who have been introduced to so-called healthy food in ways that left a bad taste in their mouth–figuratively or literally. That’s why one of my favorite aspects of my job is helping people learn to fall in love with healthy eating, and showing them that good-for-you meals can be mouth watering and satisfying. Often the trick is in the preparation. For example, roasting veggies brings out their natural sweetness, and steaming brown rice with herb-infused water transforms its taste. Flavor is key, which is why it’s one of the themes in my newest book, S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim. In every recipe, I use one or more of five categories of natural seasonings: herbs and spices; citrus juice and zest; vinegar; tea; and hot peppers. Each adds an antioxidant boost to every meal, in addition to aroma and excitement (without adding salt or sugar). The results include Strawberry Avocado Tacos drizzled with balsamic vinegar and Cilantro Jalapeno Guacamole, a far cry from plain steamed veggies and bland boiled chicken. Nobody, including nutritionists, wants to eat meals they don’t look forward to, but the good news is, nobody has to, even if you’re trying to lose weight.

Nutritionists are the food police

I’ve run into people I know at the grocery store, who upon seeing me, subtly moved items around in their cart, or half jokingly implored, “Please don’t judge me!” But anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a food coach, not a food cop. I’ve never personally responded well to experts who made me feel judged, so I’ve always been in the ‘you catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ camp. And I firmly believe that scaring or guilting people into changing ultimately backfires. It’s true that sometimes I have to be the bearer of bad news, but my preference is to focus on the positive, and talk about what to eat rather than what to avoid. Ultimately, my job is to empower people to make healthier choices, and offer tips and tools that make doing so easy. So if you’re thinking about meeting with a nutritionist, but you’re afraid that he or she will make you feel scolded and ashamed, know that’s not the standard protocol. I think most health professionals worth their salt want their clients and patients to embrace the advice they offer, not dread it.

Losing weight is all about willpower
In my 15+ years working with clients, I’ve never seen someone successfully will away excess pounds or will themselves into better health. Willpower implies that you just have to want it bad enough, but it’s never quite that simple. Numerous potential clients have said to me, “I know what I need to do, I just can’t seem to do it.” The reality is, we all know what we “should” do – wear sunscreen, get more sleep, exercise, floss, eat healthfully… but things get in the way, like emotions, time constraints, social pressures, and habits ingrained since childhood. A big part of my work involves helping clients address these barriers, and navigate the everyday challenges that interfere with following through, from food-pushing friends, to the desire to turn to ice cream for comfort. Working through these obstacles, rather than just focusing what to eat, is often what lays the foundation for real and lasting change. In other words, losing weight and keeping it off requires developing skills, just like learning to play a musical instrument or speak a new language. And you can’t will skill.

Losing weight will magically change your life
Losing weight healthfully can transform your well being, as well as your energy, mood, and confidence. But if you’re unhappy with key aspects of your life, like relationships and work, hitting your weight goal won’t miraculously solve these issues. I’ve seen clients trade emotional eating for other unhealthy coping mechanisms, like compulsive shopping. Others have experienced a huge letdown once they realize that reaching their target didn’t suddenly make them happy. If you’re on a weight loss path, stay positive and celebrate every small success, but be sure to remain realistic about how your new body will – or won’t – affect your overall life.

What’s your take on this topic? Please tweet your thoughts to @CynthiaSass and @goodhealth

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest

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