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6 Unpopular Opinions That I Have About Nutrition and Health as a Dietitian

April 26, 2023

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

Hey there, Katy here, and welcome back to Rebuilding Trust With Your Body, the podcast where we talk about learning to reconnect with your body, to listen to it, and to trust it. Because when we trust our bodies, we trust ourselves at a deeper level as human beings, and that’s a powerful thing.

I remember in the past when I felt like I couldn’t trust myself with certain foods – especially sweets – so I wouldn’t keep them in my house. And what’s funny now is that I have plenty of sweets in the house, and most days I could take them or leave them. They don’t call to me; they don’t have power over me; I’m not obsessed with them. And I also find that I can be satisfied by smaller amounts than I could when I was trying to avoid them. The deprivation made it so it would take a lot of dessert for me to feel satisfied, and I didn’t really have a threshold for sweetness. I’d hear people say something like, “That’s too sweet,” and it was like they were speaking a foreign language. Now I get it. 

The other day I stopped at Starbucks and I was in the mood for an iced coffee with cream. I didn’t want any flavoring added. I wanted coffee with half and half. As I was walking out the door I took my first sip of the coffee and it was sweetness overload. I wasn’t expecting it so it caught me really off guard, and I thought to myself, “This is too sweet.” I never would have said that before. And in the past I would have freaked out that they added calories to my drink that I wasn’t asking for. This time, I was in a hurry so I didn’t have time to go back and ask them to remake it, so I just drank as much of it as I cared for and I let the rest go. Kind of frustrating for an expensive iced coffee, but oh well.

My point here is 2 things: 1) now that I’m not depriving myself of sweets I do have a sweetness threshold where things do taste too sweet at times; and 2) I also have the flexibility to not freak out if somebody puts syrup I didn’t ask for in my coffee. No big deal. I’m not stuck in the diet mentality worrying about “drinking my calories” or anything like that. I trust myself and my body to let me know when I’ve had enough of any food or drink. That self-trust is key for letting go of the food obsession. 

And as you develop your own self-trust with your body and with food, you’ll find that you don’t look to external sources to tell you what to eat or not eat. You’ll find that you have more confidence in knowing what you want to eat and how much of it is satisfying. You won’t need the diet rules or the lists of foods you can and can’t have. 

It’s really cool when that self-trust kicks in and you know that you truly don’t have to listen to the diet culture B.S. anymore. 

Today what we’re going to talk about is unpopular opinions that I have as a dietitian. Some of these might surprise you, others probably won’t. I think the main lesson here is for us to all be more critical consumers of information in the health and wellness space and to question the things that we hear that we “should” do for ourselves. 

Before we dive into my unpopular beliefs, first we’ve got some Wellness Woo to talk about. Wellness Woo is the stuff that diet and wellness culture tells us we should do in the name of health, but it’s really based on pseudoscience, exaggerated claims, or just nonsense. 

6 unpopular opinions I have as a non-diet dietitian. I’m just going to dive right in.

1. Sugar is not toxic, unhealthy or addictive.

And we know this from science and a lot of research. A lot of people bristle when I say this, so before you throw your phone against the wall or rage at me on social media, hear me out.

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that tastes sweet. There are many types of sugar, including monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. These big weird words refer to the biochemical structure of the sugar. A monosaccharide is one molecule like glucose (which is the same thing as your blood sugar), sucrose, fructose, or galactose. A disaccharide is when 2 of the monosaccharides are linked together, and that’s where we get sucrose which is table sugar (the white stuff you bake with), maltose, and lactose (which is found in dairy products). The polysaccharides contain multiple molecules linked together.

In your body ALL sugars are broken down into monosaccharides, which are the simplest form of sugar. These single molecules are what’s absorbed through your small intestine into your body and taken to the liver where your body determines what to do with it.

Sugar is used for energy, it helps us have glucose in our bloodstream which we have to have or else we die, and it can be stored for later as either glycogen or fat. Sugar does NOT automatically turn into fat in your body, contrary to popular belief.

Sugar is simply a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are your body’s favorite source of energy, and your body needs carbs in order to function properly. Can we get carbs from other foods? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that we should be avoiding sugar. In fact, because sugar is in so many naturally occurring things it’s very difficult to avoid it even if you wanted to, and avoiding it usually creates the compulsion to over-consume it later on, which we’ll talk more about in a second.

Now that we know what sugar is (a type of carbohydrate), and that there are many different types of sugar and how your body utilizes sugar, let’s talk about the idea that it’s toxic. It’s not. If sugar were toxic we’d all be dead. Full stop. We also wouldn’t love the taste of something that’s toxic to our bodies. The taste receptors on your tongue help us to taste and get enjoyment out of sweetness that comes from sugar. Our bodies are designed to enjoy sugar, because it’s a good source of energy.

Have we as a society gone overboard with how much sugar we put in things? Maybe in some circumstances. But that doesn’t make sugar toxic or unhealthy on its own. It’s also problematic to put too much fiber in things. If you haven’t heard about the F-Factor Diet scandal go look it up. It’s about this diet company that was telling people to eat absurd amounts of fiber and it was making people quite ill. We can go overboard on anything – even water – and that doesn’t make the substance itself bad or toxic.

When I posted about this on Tik Tok a while back people said in the comments, “It’s obviously not literally toxic it’s just bad for you.”

Ok, now people who are being challenged on this are having to clarify what they are saying because the words they’ve been using are factually untrue and are misleading.  I want to point out that this fear mongering language that’s been used with sugar is extremely problematic. This is also where we get the rhetoric that “sugar is as addictive as cocaine.” Also false. Yes, sugar does light up the pleasure centers in your brain. So do puppies, hugs, laughter and anything you find pleasurable. That doesn’t mean the thing is addictive or toxic.

When it comes to the addiction piece, the problem here is the language. So if you or someone you know believes they are addicted to sugar, I’m not trying to invalidate your experience. I believe that you feel this addictive-like pull towards sweets. Here’s the important piece of this though. Sugar is not addictive in a literal chemical sense. A better word for this experience is “compulsion.” And I know this might sound like semantics, but it’s not. This is actually a really important distinction.

With an addiction, the best treatment model we have is abstinence. But there are 2 problems with this when it comes to sugar: 1) it’s almost impossible to abstain from sugar for long periods of time; 2) most people who avoid sugar are still consuming it in certain quantities because it’s in so many of our foods and if they were literally addicted then they’d be displaying addictive-like behaviors towards those foods too; 3) research shows that abstinence, avoidance and deprivation of sugar is what creates the increased drive and compulsion towards it.

So the problem here is that trying to limit or avoid sugar is actually what’s making you want it in compulsive ways. This is a bind, right? Because if the solution is to not avoid sugar, then you might find yourself eating it compulsively. The good news is that we can help you with this. I have worked with tons of people who thought they were addicted to food or sugar, and with the right treatment strategies we can help you make peace with these foods. I know this sounds bonkers, but if you are open to trying a different way please consider it.

There’s of course way more nuance to this discussion around sugar, but I stand by my professional opinion that sugar is not toxic, unhealthy or addictive – that this narrative is creating more and more problems for people in their relationship with food.

2. Processed food is a wonderful thing.

That’s right, not only am I defending sugar, I’m also defending processed food. Am I saying that you should ONLY eat sugar and processed food? No, of course not. I’m saying that these foods in and of themselves are not inherently bad or unhealthy. You see, nutrition is more than any single food or type of food we eat. It’s about the overall pattern of how we are eating, and nutrition isn’t the only variable that impacts our health. I think sometimes too much emphasis is being placed on nutrition, and we need to remind ourselves that health is about more than just the food we eat or the number on the scale.

When it comes to processed food, I’m really grateful for it. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without processed food. We wouldn’t be able to feed the human population without it. In fact, there are a lot of people on the planet who still live without sufficient access to food, and processed food is often the way that we can get them fed.

There are some people who simply don’t have access to fresh food – whether it be because of where they live, what they can afford, mental health challenges, or a number of other things. Are we really going to say that processed foods don’t give these people nourishment and energy?

At the end of the day ALL food on the entire plant is broken down into 3 macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat. And it’s the individual molecules of these nutrients that are absorbed into your body. By that point your body neither knows nor cares where that carb molecule originated from.

Processed food also allows us to have food that is shelf-stable. I don’t have time, energy or desire to bake or buy my own fresh bread every couple of days. I’m glad that my loaf of bread doesn’t get moldy while it’s waiting for me to make a turkey sandwich. 

I also think it’s pretty cool that we have been able to use processed foods like golden rice to prevent vitamin A deficiency in kids in 3rd world countries, which was one of the leading causes of in kids under 5 years old in those countries. By fortifying the rice with beta-carotene it literally saves millions of lives.

Or how about the kids who show up at school and don’t have enough food to eat at home. Are we going to say that the processed food in the school lunch is “bad” for them? When you don’t have enough to eat, ANY food is better than no food.

You see, with nutrition, context matters.

You might be thinking, “Ok, Katy, but for people who aren’t in poverty then processed food probably still isn’t the healthiest thing for them to eat.”

Let’s go a step further with this. I’m going to give you some more examples of processed food: beans, canned fruits and veggies, frozen fruits and veggies, canned tuna, oatmeal, protein bars, greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, tofu, milk, salad kits, edamame, pre-cut produce, dried fruit, pasta, salsa, guacamole. You see, there’s a wide variety of nutrition in the foods I just listed. They’re all processed.

Is is also great to eat fresh foods that are less processed? Sure. There’s room for all of it. And so much of what our nutrition looks like depends on our life circumstances. It’s possible to be well-nourished using a lot of different foods, and processed foods are a wonderful thing. I’m just not down for the processed food shaming or calling it junk or crap or anything like that. Labeling your food this way just makes you feel guilty about eating it, which leads to all sorts of other problems with our eating.

3. Medication doesn’t represent failure.

Here’s what I mean by that: Taking a medication such as a blood pressure pill, or meds for diabetes, or a statin for cholesterol, or an antidepressant or an antipsychotic doesn’t mean you have failed or done anything wrong. So many people feel like taking meds means they didn’t try hard enough and that they are admitting defeat.

That’s not true at all!

Medications are a wonderful tool to help us with our physical and mental health. Many medications are life-saving (such as medications for heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and antidepressants), and many improve our quality of life (e.g. painkillers, or Adderall). I could go on and on with examples of how medications benefit us.

And I’m not some pill pusher and I have no ties to “big pharma” which our culture has gotten so paranoid about. I’m simply saying that science and medicine have come so far, and it’s incredible what some of these medications can do for us that wasn’t possible even 20 or 30 years ago, let alone 50 or 100 years ago.

I find that people have the most shame or ambivalence about 2 types of medication: 1. Medications related to conditions that are usually blamed on “lifestyle,” and 2. Medications for mental health. We have so much shame around these things as if it’s our fault if we struggle with depression, or that it’s our fault if we develop a health issue like diabetes. And it’s not a matter of personal failing. These issues are so much more complicated than that. Are there things we can do to help ourselves and to take care of ourselves when we struggle with these things? Yes, absolutely. And frankly, medications are one of the most helpful and powerful tools we have in those instances. That’s not to say that lifestyle changes don’t help – they sometimes do (but not always), and it doesn’t have to be either/or or all-or-none. It can be both/and – both the medication AND the lifestyle changes.

I also want to take a moment here to briefly point out that food isn’t medicine. That’s such a toxic narrative. Food is food. Medicine is medicine. Both are important. And they are fundamentally different. Saying food is medicine just fuels the shame that people have about taking actual medications. Let’s say that you have high blood pressure and you don’t want to take blood pressure medication because it feels like it means you let yourself go and that you didn’t try hard enough to be healthy. So instead you focus on diet and exercise and you try to lose weight. You might see some improvements at first with these things, but if and when you fall off the bandwagon, or something big and stressful happens in your life and you can’t keep up with your regimen, then your blood pressure goes right back up. And as all of this is happening damage is gradually happening in your body from your blood pressure running high, and your risk of having a stroke keeps getting higher. What if, while you were working on some supportive lifestyle changes, you took a blood pressure medication to keep your BP in a safe range? You can always come off the medication if there comes a day that you don’t need it anymore. But delaying taking it when you really do need it can be dangerous.

That’s why I think this narrative around meds needs to change. The reality is that most of us will need medication at some point in our lives. That’s what happens as our bodies get older and the things we’re genetically predisposed to start to pop up, and the wear and tear of life happens – our bodies eventually need some additional support. Our ancestors that didn’t have access to these wonderful medication options didn’t live as long. Many of them died really young from things that could have been treated or prevented. So let’s accept that part of the reason that we end up needing medications is just a normal part of aging, and that’s ok. I certainly am not advocating for anyone to be overmedicated. I just don’t want you to feel shame for taking something that genuinely supports your health.

4. It’s not your life’s work to become thin.

Our society acts like this is the most important endeavor that we could embark on. And that if we don’t continually work on this we must not care about ourselves. That’s ridiculous. Thinness is not an achievement, and fatness is not failure. That’s a really flawed and dangerous assumption that we have been indoctrinated into.

Carol Munter and Jane Hirschman wrote a book called Overcoming Overeating, and in it they say, “No one has ever tried more diligently to solve a problem than the chronic dieter…The way you’ve been told to deal with your problem – through control – puts you face-to-face with an impossible dilemma. You have been told not to do exactly what you need to do,”

What does that mean? It means that if you have tried over and over again to control your food and to lose weight and to keep it off but you keep finding yourself obsessed or out of control with your eating then what needs to happen is you need to stop trying to be so controlling. You need to give yourself MORE permission to eat, not less. And I know that sounds terrifying. But if dieting, restricting and controlling your food was going to work then you wouldn’t be listening to this podcast.

And if you aren’t at your dream weight or your desired weight, that doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong. I’m guessing that you have probably tried to get there and it didn’t work – or it worked but only temporarily. A lot of of the clients and students I have worked with talk about the 5, 10, 20, 50 or 100 or more pounds that they have lost and regained multiple times in their life.

Inside my course Non-Diet Academy one of the activities we do is looking at your dieting history, and this is a hard thing for people to have to put into writing. Recognizing the number of diets, or attempts at healthy eating, or exercise programs, or other things that they have done to lose weight or get healthier can be pretty sobering. Realizing how much time, money, energy and effort went into trying to control your food and weight will open your eyes to the fact that you could easily spend your entire life trying to control your weight.

But this is not your life’s purpose. I can promise that you have more important things to do. And that you are the exact same wonderful person regardless of what you weigh.

Some of you might be listening to this and be thinking, “But Katy, I HAVE TO lose weight. I’m not healthy at this weight, my joints hurt and I’m physically uncomfortable. My life would be better if I lost weight.” I hear you. And I believe you. These things might be true. AND it doesn’t change the fact that dieting produces weight cycling, inflammation and weight GAIN over time. So if your goal is to improve your health, your mobility and reduce your pain so that you can live life more fully – GREAT. There are a LOT of things that you could do to address these things. But I also want you to remember that this doesn’t have to be the sole focus in your life. You also deserve to have hobbies, passions, interests, relationships, and other things that take up space in your life. Even if you feel a sense of urgency to address your health or physical challenges, there are still other important things in your life and you are worthy of love and belonging no matter what you weigh, or what health issues you have. Your body deserves kindness and respect no matter what. And the funny thing is, we tend to take better care of our bodies when we are relating to them with kindness and respect, rather than trying to control and punish ourselves.

If you want to explore ways to be more kind towards your body I have these awesome journal pages that you can use to start each day with the intention of body kindness. It’s a 5-minute morning journaling practice that allows you to connect with what your body needs from you that day. It will change the way you relate to your body if you commit to doing this consistently for a while. You can grab the journal pages along with a guide for how to use them at nondietacademy.com/bodykindness. They’re totally free so go grab them and enjoy. I also have an episode of this podcast where I explain the science behind this journaling exercise and why it’s such a powerful shift in how you approach your body, so go listen to that if you haven’t already. It’s episode 58. And again the journal pages are at nondietacademy.com/bodykindness.

5. Supplements are a waste of money most of the time.

A lot of people who consider themselves to be health gurus love to recommend supplements. I see this a lot with chiropractors, naturopaths, nutritionists, personal trainers, and other people who want to flex their knowledge and recommend things that sound scientific and like the best-kept secret. I even see dietitians do this sometimes. But you know what? I think a lot of times the reason these people are pushing supplements is because they aren’t licensed or qualified to prescribe actual medications, so “prescribing” a supplement makes them feel like they have some sort of authority or power (it’s an ego thing), AND/OR they are making money off selling you supplements. Now, I get that a lot of these practitioners genuinely believe that these supplements are helpful. But the fact that they are recommending so many nonsense things shows that they have a pretty limited understanding of how these things work in the human body. It’s easy to recommend something when you only have a surface level understanding of how it works. Which is why when you ask a dietitian about these things a lot of times you’ll get the answer, “It depends…” and they’ll have a lot of follow up questions.

The supplement industry is big money. According to an article from the Washington Post, the supplement industry makes over $35 billion per year – despite the fact that most supplements don’t actually do anything for you. That’s a LOT of money that we are wasting.

And the tricky thing is that sometimes supplements are helpful. Which sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but I’m not. What I am saying is that there absolutely are instances where supplements are useful – but those instances are much more rare than you would think.

Best case scenario, a supplement is giving a person genuine health benefits. Worst case scenario, a supplement is causing actual harm. A good example of this is the cases of liver damage that we’ve seen from things like green tea supplements. Or times that supplements are interacting with actual medications people are taking. These things can be dangerous. Not to mention the fact that the supplement industry isn’t regulated by any governing body, so what it says is in that bottle may or may not be true. And it may or may not be in the dosage listed. And it could be contaminated with other things they aren’t telling you about. It’s kind of unnerving.  The FDA oversees prescription medications in the US and even that is an imperfect process. There’s nobody overseeing the supplement industry.

I do want to share a couple of resources that you can look into if you want to research supplements you’re taking or that you’re thinking about taking. One is the Office of Dietary Supplements (the ODS) which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Their website has tons of information about research on supplements, fact sheets you can download, answers to FAQ’s, a section on consumer awareness and protection, and all sorts of helpful information. Their website is https://ods.od.nih.gov/.

The other resource is a website called Consumer Lab which conducts independent tests and reviews of supplements. It is a paid website, so it does cost money to access the information. Their website is https://www.consumerlab.com/.

6. Holistic and naturopathic medicine are based on a lot of pseudoscience and quackery.

The number of people I’ve worked with that have been told to do really whacky things by holistic and naturopathic providers is disturbing. It tends to fuel disordered thoughts and behaviors, and often promotes things that are basically snake oil.

That’s not to say that everything these practitioners are saying is false. But a lot of what they are is misleading, misguided or pseudoscientific nonsense.

The field of homeopathy has been largely criticized for lack of scientific evidence behind it. One former naturopath has spoken out about the concerning practices that she saw happening in that field. She said, “They want to be able to do everything an MD wants to do – but they also want to practice essentially witchcraft.”

This is where we frequently see people being put on questionable supplement regimens, getting IV’s of nutrients like Gwyneth Paltrow, doing detoxes and cleanses that don’t actually work, cutting out food groups, being put on weird dietary regimens, and all sorts of other Wellness Woo that I talk about all the time on this show. And as nonsensical as a lot of this stuff is, there’s also a really sketchy side to holistic medicine. There are some of these “doctors” who are doing things like providing non-FDA-approved treatments to cancer patients. It’s really sad and scary.

In my experience, a lot of people who end up seeking out and buying into holistic and naturopathic medicine have been invalidated or not listened to by traditional doctors. They get frustrated with our healthcare system (understandably so) and seek out people who will listen and offer them solutions – even if those solutions are pseudoscientific quackery.

I have so much empathy and compassion for people who need answers, and comfort and care. I just want them to get effective treatment options. And I’m not saying there’s no validity in any element of alternative medicine practices. What I am saying is that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction, and with so many pseudoscientific things being done we need to scrutinize all of it more carefully.

Sometimes existing in diet and wellness culture feels like living in the twilight zone. And it’s so sad that it feels counter-cultural to be telling people not to do all this bizarre health stuff. There are days it feels like it would be easier for me to tell people they had to eat all their meals while standing in the corner on their head and to pretend it has special health benefits to do this. If I said crap like that and promised weight loss people would do it.

I hope that this gives you permission to be more skeptical about the things you hear from the health and wellness industry, especially the naturopathic and homeopathic side of it. 

So there you have it, 6 of my unpopular opinions as a dietitian. Let me recap them for you:

  1. Sugar is not toxic, unhealthy or addictive
  2. Processed food is a wonderful thing
  3. Medication doesn’t represent failure
  4. It’s not your life’s work to become thin
  5. Supplements are often a waste of your money
  6. Holistic and naturopathic medicine are based on a lot of pseudoscience and quackery

I had a bunch more that I didn’t have time to cover today, so maybe I’ll do a part 2. Let me know if you liked this episode and if you’d want part 2. I’d also love to hear what you would add to this list. What are some of your unpopular opinions? It doesn’t have to be about health/wellness…DM me with your unpopular opinions about anything random in life. I’m here for it.

Don’t forget to go grab those body kindness journal pages at nondietacademy.com/bodykindness. Starting off your day with a game plan for how you are going to be kind to your body will help you shift out of being self-loathing and into more self-acceptance and compassion. And that’s how you heal your body image over time. It’s not about changing your body – it’s about changing how you relate to your body. 

That’s all for today. If you haven’t already subscribed to the podcast make sure you hit that follow button and I’ll be back next week for another episode.

Links mentioned: 

Body Kindness Journal Pages

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