Everywhere we look these days, someone new is touting the best way to get fit, lose weight, and feel your best. Whether it’s only eating at certain times, eating little meals all the time, cutting out a certain food group, or ONLY eating a certain food, it’s honestly really hard to keep up with all these new trends and fads clouding up the nutrition and wellness space.
Certified Nutritionist Cara Clark has something to say about all of this. As a professional nutritionist who has treated celebrities, moms, athletes, Olympians, and more, she’s seen her fair share of fad diets gone wrong. Here, she’s sharing her opinions on all the crazy (and not-so-crazy) “diets” out there today — including the best and worst parts of them (AND the nutrition advice she gives to every single one of her clients). For the food advice you actually can (and should) follow, read on.
Different diet fads are SO trendy, and it feels like there are ALWAYS new ones coming out. Why do you think that is?
I think the general nature of people is we like “new stuff” and “quick stuff.” So the trends are always promising quick results and new information. It’s literally human nature to draw into what’s new and popular. We have a hard time sticking to lifestyle changes, so we’re always on the hunt for something to get us refocused.
Tell us how you feel about trendy diets in general — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good is that it gets people to refocus on health. Whether they try it or not, they’re generally going to look into it and maybe even add more veggies. The only thing all the trends and lifestyles alike agree on is veggies.
The bad is many of the current trends are causing more harm than good. They are creating aversions to normal bodily functions and shifting some of our hormone panels. One way we always gauge how quickly someone will start to see results from our program is how many diets they’ve done. If they’re a regular yoyo-er, it’s definitely going to take longer to shift their metabolic function.
The ugly is that it can be really hard to bounce back from the yoyo effect of these diets. For instance, when you remove carbs, you remove a LOT of water weight. Chances are, at some point, you’re going to add carbs back in. You’re going to need to create more space for the water they carry to properly carry out their many functions in the body. Removing and adding carbs frequently can also mess with your insulin production, potentially causing insulin resistance, potentially leading to pre-diabetes and more.
We have a hard time sticking to lifestyle changes, so we’re always on the hunt for something to get us refocused.
As a professional nutritionist, you probably see your fair share of people who have seen negative side effects from unhealthy dieting. What are some common things you see people doing wrong in their eating habits?
In 2019, many people are avoiding carbs, even in the form of fruit and starchy vegetables. These foods carry some of the largest amounts of antioxidants of any other food. They’re a wonderful choice when pairing them with fat and protein.
Since the beginning of diets, I have always seen people under-eating on a caloric level. When people are super health-conscious, they generally come to us because they’re “missing a piece to the puzzle.” It’s a misconception that you have to eat less to weight less, especially if you’re hoping to target trouble areas.
What is one thing you wish people would stop eating or believing when it comes to fad diets?
I wish people would stop overthinking. We need to eat more plants and stop counting calories, macros, and everything between. I want to see a shift in enjoying food and counting on our own mindfulness and intuition to guide us. I don’t think anything should be completely “off limits,” but we should strive to make choices that are serving us 80-90 percent of the time. That way, when life happens or you go to a party or you have hormonal cravings, there’s no sweat. Often, we’re punishing ourselves for making poor choices instead of moving on and making a great decision next meal. I would love to see this change.
All that being said, not all “diets” are bad. What are some lifestyle changes you, as a professional nutritionist, agree with (in general — I know not all diets work for everyone!)?
We teach from the same perspective as many people in our field.
1. Eat within an hour of waking up to wake up your metabolism and start burning fat for fuel.
2. Eat every four hours after that.
3. Keep meal sizes consistent.
4. Eat all three macros every meal (carbs, fat, and protein together) to stabilize blood sugar and continue to burn fat for fuel.
5. Eat five colors of fruit and vegetables a day.
6. Drink 80 or more ounces of water a day.
7. Exercise for at least 30 minutes at least four times a week.
What makes these tenets stand apart from the many bad ones?
The “diet,” or lifestyle, that we teach stands apart because it targets our trouble areas as we burn fat that we’re using for our energy. Not only that, but because we try to limit the “restricted” foods, people see it as sustainable. I always say, if you don’t see yourself following this long term, don’t start it. Find something that you can sustain or kickstart your healthy eating habits.
When looking to eat healthier, what’s the best place for someone to begin? Is it best to work up to a new routine, or go all in at once?
This depends on their personality type and current lifestyle. Like for moms of four kids, like myself, I suggest they repeat the same meals for a few days to get the hang of it and avoid too much meal prep and time in the kitchen. For type A personalities, it’s a great idea to dive in 100 percent, but for other personality types, you make need to make slower changes. Little by little, a little becomes a lot!
What’s one piece of advice you give to all your clients? What’s one thing we should ALL know about eating more nutritiously?
Lately, the advice I’m trying to get across to my clients is making good choices comes to us one meal at a time. We try to see too much into the future at the end results, and it’s overwhelming and frustrating. We want you to focus on how you feel rather than any number on a scale. If you feel good, you’ll keep going — and before you know it, it will all fall into place.