The most common questions dietitians are asked

From carbs to cheat days, nutrition experts frequently field these questions about diets, food choices and healthy eating.

Dietitians Rachel Hawkins and Rebecca Levi share the questions they’re asked most often about what, when and how to eat.

Should I have a cheat day?

The thought of “breaking” healthy habits for a day can be tempting – but cheat days can have negative health implications for some people, says Rachel.

“Cheat days force us to view food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and in many ways attach a moral value to food,” she says.

“Cheating with ‘bad’ foods because you have been ‘good’ all week only perpetuates the whole good food/bad food concept, encouraging an ‘all or nothing’ approach to food which can lead to people overeating or binging.”

Are carbs bad for you?

“Carbohydrates have a reputation in diet culture for being ‘bad’, which is such a shame,” says Rebecca.

Carbohydrates are digested into sugars, which our organs use to keep us alive and healthy.

“Carbohydrates, particularly in the form of wholegrains and cereals, are a rich source of micronutrients, such as B vitamins, magnesium, folate and iron,” she says.

Carbs also contain a range of fibres that can support healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

“(They also) act as prebiotics, which feed those microbes in our large intestine that improve our ability to absorb nutrients and maintain healthy immune and cardiovascular systems,” Rebecca says.

What are the top foods I should avoid eating?

Unless you have an allergy or medical reason for eliminating a particular food, putting certain foods on a forbidden list is unhelpful and unnecessary, says Rebecca.

“Placing a moral value on food can create a toxic relationship with food and our self-worth,” she says.

“It is very common for adults and children to find themselves feeling out of control around those foods that they have decided they are never allowed to eat or have around the house.

“This is what is known as the ‘forbidden fruit effect’ – the more we tell ourselves we can’t have a food, the more we crave it.”

‘Is this good for me?’

Context is everything when it comes to nutrition, says Rachel.

“We have different genetics, goals, lifestyles, physical activity levels … so what may be a ‘good’ nutrition choice for one person, may not necessarily be a great choice for another,” she says.

Similarly, the amount and timing of food intake matters.

Would it be ‘good’ to eat a whole block of chocolate every night after dinner? Probably not.

“But eating a few squares of chocolate after dinner every now and then is not going to damage a person’s health if you consider the whole context of their diet,” says Rachel.

“People must remember that no one food will make them healthy or unhealthy, thin or overweight. It is what they eat (and do) repeatedly over time that matters most.”

What are the best diets to follow?

​There is no such thing as a perfect diet, says Rebecca.

“Only you can really appreciate if your food and lifestyle habits are serving you,” she says.

If following a particular diet, ask yourself:

  • How is the way I’m eating impacting my social and emotional health?
  • Do my meals feel satisfying?
  • Where are my food beliefs and rules coming from?

Intentional efforts to lose weight such as dieting may appear “successful” in the first six to 12 months as weight loss is achieved, says Rebecca.

But she says after that initial period, at least 95 per cent of regain the lost weight – regardless of whether or not they continue to follow the diet.

“Such an act of rigid dieting in the name of ‘health’, especially for people who are chronic dieters, can often spiral into a range of health problems including slowed metabolism, low energy levels, nutrient deficiencies, gut health concerns, risk of osteoporosis, and increased risk of heart disease to name a few,” she says.

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Written by Tania Gomez.