How to Spot a Dieting Red Flag


While many consumers at some point wonder which diet is best for them, too many people don’t give much thought to the potential downsides of different diets, says Lisa D. Ellis, registered dietitian in private practice in Manhattan and White Plains, New York. She is also a Registered Dietitian for Eating Disorders and a Registered Clinical Social Worker.

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“Diets are such a mundane part of our culture that many people tend not to think too much about the downsides of a potential diet,” she says. “Diets may be less aware of potential red flags as they are intrigued by the hopeful claims of proponents of some diets. As a nutritionist and nutrition therapist, my priority is for people to eat a balanced diet and have a healthy relationship with food.

What does the red flag mean?

In the context of diets, a red flag is an aspect of the meal plan that signals you need to steer clear of it for a number of reasons – whether it’s unhealthy, lacks proper nutrition, either unlikely to be sustainable in the long term or harm your health. health in some way.

Some people don’t recognize diet red flags because no one talks about them, says Amanda Sauceda, a registered dietitian in Long Beach, Calif. “I think now we’re starting to see a shift in the conversation around food and diet,” she says. “It makes it easier for people to have the information they need to make more informed decisions about their health. People are starting to see that there is no one eating style that will work for every person.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, avoid or manage diabetes, improve your cardiovascular health, or a combination of these, it’s important to be aware of potential diet red flags.

Major Diet Red Flags

When choosing a diet that fits your lifestyle, here are 13 diet red flags you should look for:


Diet meal plans are generally designed to work for a wide variety of people, without promising any specific result. “If a meal plan promises a specific result like losing 30 pounds in 30 days, you should run,” Sauceda says. “You can’t guarantee that your body will look or even feel different (after dieting for a set amount of time). Everyone’s body is different.


“Meal plans that encourage drastic calorie reductions or prolonged periods of starvation could aid weight loss, if that’s your goal,” says Sandra Arevalo, registered dietitian who serves as health and wellness director. communities at Montefiore Nyack Hospital in Nyack, New York. “However, they are not healthy because they can cause fatigue, dizziness, malnutrition and/or nutrient deficiencies, among many other symptoms.”


If a meal plan makes you feel bad about yourself, “that’s a big red flag,” Sauceda says. “If a meal plan focuses on all the ‘bad’ things you normally eat to make their plan stand out, ditch that meal plan. It’s a double red flag if the meal plan is also very low in calories. Food isn’t good or bad, it just is, and your relationship with food matters.Meal plans should be a tool to help you make healthy changes.


When it comes to losing weight, there’s no magic bullet, says Anthony DiMarino, registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition. “Not a single product or plan is going to provide quick weight loss or a quick fix,” he says. “Weight status is influenced by many factors and there is nothing simple about it. Any kind of quick fix tends to be unsustainable over time. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. lasting weight loss will occur slowly over a long period of time.


Researching diets and weight-loss products takes years, DiMarino says. “Scientific breakthroughs are quite rare. Also, products and regimens that show promising results may get some publicity before they hit the shelves,” he says. “Therefore, ‘scientific breakthroughs’ tends to be a misnomer. Most diet plans use these claims to get your attention and usually because no formal research backs them up.


Healthy diets should be able to cover all your nutritional needs without having to buy supplements, cleansers, drops or pills.

“Food is the main source of all the nutrients, dietary fiber and water we need,” says Arevalo. “When you follow a well-balanced meal plan, you can only cleanse, hydrate, and reach your weight goals with food.”


“Each food or food group provides a range of nutrients essential to our health,” says Arevalo. “If you eat too much of a food or a group of foods, you will eat too much of the same nutrients and will miss others. A well-balanced diet is able to provide all the necessary nutrients and for this we must eat foods of all food groups.

For example, “There are meal plans that call for avoiding carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the main source of calories for our diet. If we don’t eat carbohydrates, our bodies will have to use other nutrients to produce energy. energy, which is not ideal and could cause health problems like kidney disease.


If a meal plan focuses on rotating just a handful of foods, that’s a red flag. “This applies even when the foods are ‘healthy,’ because one of the cornerstones of solid eating is variety,” Sauceda says. “Variety is important because no one food will give you all the nutrition your body needs. You want to make sure it includes all food groups and has a variety of foods in each food group, plus variety promotes a healthy gut microbiome as well as overall health.


Some famous people stay in the news because they always seem mired in one controversy or another, DiMarino says. “They become and remain popular because they create a sensation. Weight loss companies leverage this concept,” he says. “They know that customers will flock to their sites if a popular celebrity endorses their product. Unfortunately, many celebrities have no training or credibility to endorse such products or plans. has no expertise, I would recommend looking elsewhere.


If a diet requires you to buy all of your food, shakes and snacks from the company that markets the meal plan, that’s a red flag, says New York-based registered dietitian Lara Metz. “What if you don’t have access to their products? What if you don’t care about the taste or they don’t agree with you? »


Food is for fuel and pleasure. “Where’s the fun if you always eat differently from your family or your friends?” Metz says. “Diets so restrictive where you feel limited and unable to participate in potlucks, celebrations or something as simple as a family dinner a red flag.


Diets that are extremely restrictive and require very specific ingredients and preparation to the point of causing anxiety about eating out at a restaurant are a red flag. “This anxiety and restrictive behavior can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and won’t lead to long-term success,” says Metz.


Some diets instruct members to eat only certain foods and restrict others for a set number of days, then switch to a different set of restrictions for another number of days, Ellis says. “Restrictive diets are red flags,” says Ellis. “Time-limited diets are red flags and specific (dietary) diets are red flags. Three red flags in one type of diet is impressive.

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