Don't Waste Your Time With These Terrible Diet Tips

Photo:  Viacheslav Nikolaenko (Shutterstock)
Photo: Viacheslav Nikolaenko (Shutterstock)

It’s the new year and everybody’s on a diet—I mean, a wellness journey. Whether you want to lose weight or not is none of my business, but I do beg you to please, please let all the following silly weight loss “hacks” die. Many of them verge on disordered eating behaviors, while others are just ways to make yourself miserable for no reason.

(By the way, if you feel like your relationship with food is out of control, the National Eating Disorders Association has a screening tool, helpline, and more resources here.)

Smaller plates don’t make us eat less

This one is a classic: Serving yourself on a smaller plate is supposed to make a small amount of food look bigger. Therefore, you’ll eat less food overall, and eventually lose weight.

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But our brains and bodies are too smart to actually be tricked by that. The idea that smaller plates promote smaller portions came from a lab that was later found to be engaging in sketchy research practices. Other labs ran their own plate size experiments and found that people usually don’t eat less when given smaller plates. What’s more, we get better at estimating portion sizes when we’re hungry. The small plate hack wasn’t fooling us after all.

Drinking a glass of water isn’t going to satisfy your hunger

There’s a common healthy eating tip that says if you’re hungry, you should have a big glass of water, because sometimes our bodies can’t tell hunger and thirst cues apart.

But there’s no evidence that this is true, or that drinking a glass of water will help. One of the oft-cited papers on hunger, thirst, eating, and drinking found that we actually get a little hungrier after drinking—so even if it were true that our bodies mix up the signals, the proposed solution isn’t likely to help.

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with drinking a glass of water if you think you might like one, whether you’re hungry or not. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that hunger pangs are your body telling you that you’re thirsty. Your body knows the difference between food and water, okay? That’s why you haven’t starved or dehydrated to death yet.

It’s not necessarily a good idea to eat like a bodybuilder

There’s a stereotype about bodybuilders eating nothing but chicken breast, brown rice, and broccoli out of little plastic containers. They eat with discipline and end up shredded, so this must be a healthy meal choice, right?

While it can be a fine meal if you enjoy it, this combination is not the best or only way to meal prep—especially if you aren’t a fan of the individual components. Chicken breast and rice are both notoriously unforgiving when it comes to meal prep, anyway. They tend to dry out, especially if you prepare them without marinades or sauces.

So ditch your idea of what healthy food looks like, and make a plan that involves foods you actually enjoy. Upgrade to chicken thighs, learn to use a good marinade, throw that dry rice in a waffle maker, or just make an entirely different recipe. It’s okay for food to taste good.

Oh, and while we’re discussing bodybuilder habits: no, eating many small meals does not “boost” your metabolism.

It’s a diet, not a lifestyle change

This last one isn’t so much a hack as an oft-repeated platitude: “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change.” If you’re trying to lose weight, please do not make this a lifelong process. Dieting is the act of deliberately undernourishing yourself. If you want or need to do it for a short time, then own that choice, and do it in the healthiest manner you’re able. But once you’ve lost some weight, get back to fully nourishing your body again.

After all, it would not be healthy or smart to lose weight forever. Since the way we lose weight is by eating fewer calories than we burn, the exact meals and habits that help us lose weight are not going to be the ones that help us maintain our ideal weight once we get there. At the very least, you’ll have to increase your portions.

So if you feel like your current diet or habits need to change, make sure to separate out what should change in general (example: cook at home more often) and what should change temporarily (example: smaller portions). Healthy eating and undereating are not at all the same thing.

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