Updated: Aug 30, 2021
Book smarts meet street smarts -- just in time for back to school! Learn a lot with these quick nutrition tips on the truth behind healthy habits, including "healthy" habits that aren't so healthy.
Did you ever dive into “clean eating” thinking it was the answer, only to find it caused more problems than solutions? Truly balanced eating is much more than a quick fix. So, what are some misleading “healthy eating” myths that may mislead you?
Most healthy eating myths include extreme statements -- look for the words "only", "always", "never", etc. to weed out the truth from the lies. They also may advise you to cut out entire food groups. This article explores some common healthy eating myths and exposes the real truth behind balanced eating.
Read on for six common “health” habits that aren’t so healthy.
“Eat Less, Exercise More” (The Calorie Deficit)
Eating less food and excessively exercising can actually do your body more harm than good. A dietitian can help you eat enough calories without exceeding the recommended level for your individual needs. Fueling correctly for exercise is also important, whether you are an athlete or not.
Eating enough is actually the key to eating less in many cases. When someone eats restrictively, it’s easier to binge later on or end up overeating. Instead, eating enough calories and a nutrient-dense and -diverse diet can support long-term health goals.
Add Movement To Your Day
Instead of overdoing it in terms of exercise, focus on moving your body each day intentionally. For example, I used to obsess about getting "exercise" in each day and it was really unhealthy for me -- I was underweight and not getting enough nutrients.
Now, I try to listen to my body and notice symptoms. Sometimes stretching, Pilates, yoga, or a short walk do me more benefit than hopping on our stationary bike at home. With time and practice, you'll make progress and know what is right for you!
“Just cut out carbs/sugar”
I hate to break it to those who don’t know, but if you actually cut out carbohydrates (carbs) or sugar, your body would not be doing well. What people usually mean when they say this is that they’ve stopped eating refined carbohydrates and sugar.
While refined foods like these often offer less nutritional value, the idea of cutting an entire food group out is a dangerous one.
Try Nutrient-Dense Carbohydrates
Nutrient-dense carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains, also offer fiber. Fiber is helpful for health and digestion. According to the latest dietary guidelines, many Americans are lacking fiber in their diet, making intake of nutrient-rich carbohydrates even more important.
Measure Success with Non-Scale Victories
The number on the scale isn't the only way to measure progress. Try using non-scale victories as a method of achieving your health goals. These types of achievements can help you measure how you are doing in terms of your wellness journey -- and they have nothing to do with the number on the scale!
“I only eat plants”
Plant-based foods are great, but it’s important to know where you are getting your nutrients from. “Plant-based” is not a term regulated by the FDA other than that the label must be truthful and not misleading. There’s a lot of gray area there.
Plant-Based & Health-Conscious
Instead of avoiding anything that isn’t plant-based like the plague, try fortifying your diet with adequate vitamins. For example, vegetarians and vegans can eat a balanced diet by making sure they get enough plant or supplement sources of nutrients they are more likely to be deficient in, like vitamin B12 and iron.
Some nutrients need other nutrients to be best absorbed. For example, vitamin C can help increase iron absorption. Since iron is a mineral that plant-based eaters may be prone to a deficiency in. Knowing how to increase iron absorption can be a key part of eating well.
Eating certain vitamins with healthy fats can also increase their absorption. These vitamins are called fat-soluble vitamins, and you can read more about fat- and water-soluble vitamins by reading “Vitamins: What do fat and water soluble mean?”
“I’m going on a juice cleanse”
Juice cleanses, or really detox diets of any kind, defeat the purpose. The body has organs and systems built-in with the purpose of keeping the body free of toxins. Any “clean” diet that requires restriction is highly suspect.
Support Your Body’s Natural Needs
Eating enough and eating well will help to encourage your body to flush toxins on its own. The liver and kidneys do all the detoxing for you!
Juice is great, and you can drink it in moderation. However, there is no need for “special” juices, teas, diets, or powders to detox the body.
“Immune Issues? Just Take Vitamin C”
Our immune systems are too complex to survive on just one vitamin. In fact, vitamin C won’t do anything for you while you have an active cold. It’s preventative in nature -- meaning you’ve got to be eating it as part of a balanced meal before the cold strikes if you want it to work its magic.
Eat Nutrient-Dense Dishes
All the vitamins are important -- that’s why “vital” and “vitamin” share the same root! Try eating a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead. You can certainly include a glass of orange juice as part of a healthy eating plan to fortify your immune system.
“I drink a glass/take a shot of _______ every morning”
It’s always something new -- a glass of lemon water when you wake, a cup of bone broth, a shot of apple cider vinegar. If your overall health hinges on one magic habit that you must do each day, it's time to re-evaluate.
Incorporate Or Substitute Into a Balanced Diet Plan
Bone broth is awesome, but it isn’t a cure-all. I could say the same of lemon water and apple cider vinegar.
These three foods (and whatever the newest “superfood” ingredient is) are likely great ingredients and things to have around the kitchen. However, don’t let them overshadow other meals or foods. Getting variety in your diet is key against avoiding a deficiency.
Instead of lemon water each morning, infuse your water with fruit no matter the time of day! Different fruits and vegetables offer a range of flavors and nutrients. It’s a great way to make your hydration less boring.
Instead of a shot of apple cider vinegar each day, try substituting apple cider vinegar for other types of vinegar in recipes.
Instead of drinking bone broth (unless you truly want to), add it in place of water to rice, casseroles, instant pot recipes, and more! It will give your dish a little flavor and can contain many vitamins and minerals to enrich your diet.
The Bottom Line
Not every health habit you hear about will apply to you. Especially in the case of nutrition, it is important to find an individualized plan that works. In most cases, eating a wide variety of foods and avoiding restrictive practices is the healthiest path to wellness.
Blumberg P. 26 “Healthy” Habits That Are Actually Really Bad For You. Womansday.com. Published December 27, 2016.
Cooper S. The 16 “Healthy” Habits That Aren’t Actually Healthy. Spoonuniversity.com. Accessed August 2021.
Drayer L. How your ‘healthy’ lifestyle can be making you tired. Cnn.com. Published August 15, 2021.
Praderio C. 17 ‘healthy’ habits that aren’t doing you any good. Insider.com. Published November 29, 2017.
Steinbach S. Regulatory Update on Plant-Based Food Alternatives. Retaildietitians.com. Published March 11, 2020.