If anyone should embody healthy eating goals, it’s nutritionists. Food is their career — being healthy and providing health advice is their job. They tell their clients their tips, tricks, and secrets to a healthy lifestyle using all the expertise they gathered from years of schooling and practice.
We imagined nutritionists were practitioners with the willpower of steel. But as it turns out, they’re a lot less strict than we thought. As one of the dietitians we interviewed, Adina Pearson, explained, “I aim for enjoyment more than perfection.”
The others seemed to be completely on board with this mindset. No one’s perfect — and the pursuit of a perfect diet is not only exhausting, but actually impossible. The strenuous task of eliminating food groups and accounting for every single bite is advocated against by every single nutritionist, dietitian, and doctor we interviewed.
Many dietitians explained that they view some of these “rules” as mere guidelines, and stray from them now and again. Life happens! Other rules were revealed as being totally misguided. These dietitians and nutritionists would never be caught dead following them. There are so many health rules out there — here are some that, for all kinds of reasons, even nutritionists break.
“Many of my colleagues would be horrified about this!” Valentina Olivadese exclaimed. She’s a holistic nutritionist, and she goes ham on the processed foods. “I eat pasta made with white flour and consume fortified orange juice and milk almost every day,” Olivadese confessed. She assures us that her reasons are nutritionally sound.
Ariane Resnick is a clinical nutritionist who snacks incessantly. But she doesn’t bother to control her portions. Why take the time to spoon hummus onto a separate plate when you can dunk a carrot right into the tub?
She admits to dipping crackers in her quart of Greek yogurt regularly. “Who wants to wash dishes if avoidable?” she said.
Often, people are advised to keep track of their intake of calories and macronutrients in order to keep tabs on their diet. There are whole industries of iPhone apps dedicated to the cause. The idea is that with this added regulation, dieters will become more aware of the foods they’re actually eating all day and will end up eating healthier.
However, dietitian Julieanna Heaver refuses. “I am a dietitian who refuses to count... count calories, count carbs, count servings,” she said. “Instead, I listen to my body's true hunger and satiety signals.” With this method, Heaver has maintained optimal health for over a decade.
She even tested it out — she ate intuitively, without restriction or regulation — and later ran her diet through software for analysis. On the un-tracked days, she didn’t struggle at all to stay on target nutritionally. Her results came back with flying colors. Her example serves as definitive proof that listening to your body is the best way to go.
This was another “rule” that got nutritionists fired up. Many of them recall abolishing this rule from their repertoire entirely.
She does understand that it’s hard to view it in this way, especially when we’ve been warned to avoid them for so long. Brooke Zigler, MPP, RD, LDR, a fellow carb lover, agrees. “There are many people who mistakenly believe that carbohydrates are ‘fattening’ and avoid them when they are attempting to lose weight,” she laments.
Mason’s advice? “Our bodies are scientifically designed to run on carbs, so I view mine as fuel instead of foe.” It’s a mindset shift that’s not easy to make, but that’s so worth it once you do.
“I always break the rule that you have to diet to be healthy,” says Rebecca Clyde MS, RN. “Dieting means restriction and misery for people. Instead of focusing on being miserable and not sustaining nourishing habits, instead I try to listen to my own body and preferences to tell me what I should eat.”
Clyde explains that dieting has no place in a truly healthy lifestyle — not even diets focused on moderation. They still end up making dieters feel ashamed when they slip up. “Guilt and shame have no place in a healthy lifestyle,” she told us.
Staying hydrated is so important, especially during the warmer months. That’s why so many dietitians, including Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., RD, FAND, tell their patients to make sure they’re sipping enough throughout the day. But Ayoob admits to having some trouble keeping accountable. “Fact is, I almost never feel thirsty,” he explained. “I have to treat it like medication — time to drink more water!”
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, loves fatty foods. He eats the whole bird, not just the chicken breast. He eats butter, coconut oil, avocados, and nuts with reckless abandon. His favorite fish is the fattiest: salmon. Low-fat foods are a dietary mishap that should remain buried in the misguided age of the past — we know better now. Fats are great, and we should all be eating them. “Without enough fat in our diets, we can quickly find ourselves feeling tired, moody, constantly hungry, and unable to kick cravings,” Axe explains.
“As a busy working mom,” she explained, “I repeatedly break my own health rule of mindful eating by eating meals standing up and leaning over my kitchen counter or in front of the TV.” The benefits of mindful eating are manifold. But sometimes, life just gets in the way!
It’s been hailed as a fix for overeating, a satiating solution to cravings, and the weight loss elixir for fitness gurus — eating six small meals a day, rather than three larger ones. But Adina Pearson, RD, has since realized the importance of consistent satisfying meals. It happened once she had kids and got much busier. “Who wants to stop to eat six times a day?”
She remembers a time when she did adhere to the rule, and how unsatisfied she always felt by her food, describing the sensation as “just always on neutral.” Now, Pearson says, “I enjoy a full meal and being able to move on to other things without constant mild hunger that I need to tend to.” That sounds like a much happier existence.
But she’s not always great at following her own advice. “To be honest, on weekends I often miss out on my dose of green!” she laughed. “Sometimes it is such a go, go, go day or I am eating out and it simply doesn't happen.”
Even RDs go some days without vegetables!
Registered dietitian and certified yoga instructor Keri Gans always recommends that her clients eat a healthy snack before going out for dinner. “It is much easier to choose a healthy entrée and resist the bread basket if you aren’t starving when you walk into a restaurant,” she elaborated for The Daily Meal.
“If I am going out for a burger and fries I will deliberately skip the snack,” she confesses. “I don’t want to waste the calories on a snack beforehand.”
We’ve been trained to fear salt, warned that it’s the culprit for lofty cholesterol numbers and blood pressure. However, Sharon Brown, a clinical nutritionist, is out to debunk our fear of sodium. “Contrary to belief, sodium chloride (salt), which occurs naturally in many foods, is actually good for you,” she explains. That’s why she uses it all the time. Plus, who can deny how much better salty food tastes?
Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, the brain behind the CitNutritionally blog, emphasizes the importance of self-care to her patients all the time. “I 100 percent see a correlation between my stress level, the amount I sleep, and the quality of food my body craves,” she explains. But she even finds it hard to remember to stick to her rule of making time to fit self-care in.
“I try to remedy this by scheduling relaxation time or ‘me’ time (hello manicure!), but it's not always easy with such a busy schedule!” she exclaimed.
Kristie LeBeau, MPH, RN, RDN confesses that even she eats fast food sometimes. “Sometimes you don't have a lot of options,” she said — so relatable. Though she doesn’t claim to always order them, she does take comfort in the fact that fast-food restaurants are getting better at devising healthy choices.
Jennifer Bowers, Ph.D., an Arizona-based registered dietitian, totally agrees — but instead of fast food, her go-to indulgence is pizza. “Pair that with a cold amber beer, and it’s kind of heaven for me,” she admits. “The tangy tomato sauce, salty cheese, and satisfying crust is quite possibly the most divine combo ever.”
This common guideline comes from the belief that munching before bedtime is worse for you than eating throughout the day. This was a big one for nutrition experts — loads of our interviewees reported indulging in bedtime snacks regularly, even advocating for sugary foods before you turn out the lights.
Two top registered dietitians, Mitzi Dulan and Sammi Haber (both of whom you should totally follow on social media) admitted to grabbing a bite before bed. “Sometimes, if I stay up late working I might eat a protein ball or a piece of fruit,” said Dulan.
Haber takes an even stronger view. “There's literally no scientific basis to this rule,” she told us. “If I'm hungry at night, I'll eat!” We totally agree, and even have a few favorite bedtime snacks of our own.
Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. It seems so simple. But in actual, real life it’s not that simple. There are a million reasons to eat that have nothing to do with biological hunger — and it’s okay to act on them.
“I eat when I'm tired. I eat when I'm bored. I eat when my friends are eating,” confesses Jennifer Markowitz, RD. She says an alternative could be to grab water or chew some gum, but it’s easier said than done! Sometimes, the experience is more important than avoiding the extra calories.
The way we’re warned about added sugar, you’d think just one bite would cause an explosion (or something else that’s actually, you know, dangerous). But that doesn’t happen — which is exactly why Catherine Crow, nutritional therapy practitioner, doesn’t worry too much about it. “First,” she attacked the rule, “I always listen to and obey my cravings. And two, I don't think it's healthy to blacklist anything from your diet and label it as evil.” Amen.
Those buttery, fluffy carbs are just too irresistible — even dietitians can’t keep their hands off them! Healthy restaurant eating can be tricky, but near everyone can agree that the bread and butter before the meal adds extra before your meal has even started.
But like Jennifer Markowitz, a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian, expressed, “When it's good I can't stay away!” Us, too, Jennifer. Us, too. “Quality bread and butter is such a treat, so I'm happy to indulge.”
“Yesterday I had a bagel, bread before dinner, and pasta for my entrée,” she recalled. “Sometimes rules are meant to be broken!”
Often, people are advised to stick to a consistent exercise regimen to lose weight and keep themselves accountable. Casey Luber, a registered dietitian in New York City, tells us that she nixed that rule. “Exercise usually provides me with a good amount of stress relief, but sometimes I am so worn down that lacing up my running shoes is the last thing my body and mind needs,” she said. And she’s done her research.
“One study in Circulation from October 2016 showed that engaging in strenuous exercise when angry or emotionally upset was linked to more than twice the risk of having heart attack symptoms.” Yeah, we’d say that justifies a day off here and there. “Taking a day off from exercise may actually put me in a more motivated mindset for the next day’s run,” she insisted. Or, if you hate running, you could always take the day to try something else a little more fun.