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Ditch the diet trends for a healthier relationship with food

Amid the myriad of diet trends populating our online landscapes and social media feeds, a flexible approach to nutrition may be a much better strategy. This is the conclusion of Joyce Patterson, a distinguished dietitian and diabetes care specialist at Michigan Medicine.

Patterson points to a balanced dietary approach as the most sustainable choice, according to scientific evidence.

“We live in a world full of messages to restrict, eliminate, and fast, and misconceptions related to diet trends are common, such as macronutrient or supplement needs,” says Patterson. 

“For example, the war wages on over fats versus carbs, or eggs come in and out of favor every couple of years, and the media and food manufacturers exploit such information to drive what people think about nutrition to increase sales.”

Minimal and misleading information 

“The sheer number of products and programs claiming to ‘reset your metabolism’ or ‘cleanse’ your system indicates that many people are indeed interested in science. But few receive comprehensive and reliable nutrition education and are unable to discern between marketing ploys and good science,” says Patterson.

“They are making food choices and purchase decisions based on minimal or misleading information.”

An altered relationship with food

Her latest book, Think Like A Dietitian delves into the reality behind various diet trends, exposing the myths and identifying where they fall short. Patterson reflects on how diet culture has deeply influenced individuals’ relationship with food, from childhood through to the pervasive reach of today’s social media. 

In her opinion, despite the minimal scientific backing for many popular diets, “for many, diet culture has shaped their relationship with food throughout their lives. From the parental influences of their childhood to the virality of social media today, these beliefs can be deeply ingrained.”

For instance, Patterson acknowledges that while the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting have attracted significant research interest, their long-term efficacy and safety remain under scrutiny. 

Although a substantial amount of research cited in the book has shown that the ketogenic diet offers short term benefits in rapid weight loss and lowering the risk of metabolic disorders including diabetes, there are not enough long‑term studies to assess the long‑term safety of the regimen.

Moreover, Patterson criticizes the quick-fix mentality often seen with restrictive diets, which, despite initial success, frequently prove unsustainable. 

“When certain diets show promising findings in research, many well‑meaning, non‑nutrition clinicians will be quick to recommend these approaches.”

“From low fat to low carb to fasting, the most popular diets are ironically the most restrictive. It is no wonder they tend to be the most unsustainable.”

The dietitian also points out the dangers of partial adherence to diet trends without understanding the comprehensive dietary patterns researched. 

“A common practice is that people will apply certain features of a diet, instead of the actual dietary pattern that was researched. Without proper guidance, people may end up practicing unhealthy behaviors that put their health at risk,” she warns.

Unhealthy extremes

Patterson argues against the binary thinking that pervades diet culture, noting how it often leads to unhealthy extremes. “Not all people push nutrition down the priority list,” she says, pointing out the detrimental effects of viewing food as an enemy rather than a source of nourishment and strength.

She further criticizes the ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset, which, while initially effective for weight loss, often collapses under the weight of real-life challenges. 

“Life happens. And it will happen again and again. These are perhaps the most impactful challenges that people encounter because they are recurring and inevitable,” says Patterson, explaining how such setbacks can spiral into feelings of guilt and failure, derailing dietary efforts.

A more forgiving approach 

Instead of succumbing to the rigidity of diet trends, Patterson proposes a more forgiving ’80/20′ rule as a sustainable path to healthy eating. 

“Specifically, this rule of thumb suggests that people follow dietary recommendations 80% of the time, and not to worry about the other 20%, factoring in convenience, enjoyment, and social interactions,” she recommends, advocating for balance and moderation over perfection.

A healthy relationship with food 

Patterson’s approach encourages a healthy relationship with food, where dietary flexibility and mindfulness pave the way for long-term wellness, challenging the unsustainable norms of contemporary diet culture.

“One of the most important experiences that a dietitian can share is that perfection is not only unattainable but also unnecessary. Even centenarians often admit to some lifelong indulgences.”

“A healthy diet does not have to be all-or-nothing. The occasional treat is not harmful. However poor choices in excess can increase risk for nutrition-related disease,” concludes Patterson.


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