Misconceptions About What You Might Think is Healthy Eating

Health, by definition, is a state of complete emotional and physical well-being. Is that what you think of when you hear the word health?

Nowadays, health is thought of as something you can see. How often do you hear, oh they look so fit and healthy? Health is not something we can see, but it is all the things happening inside the body that we cannot see.

Optimal functioning of the body includes repairing our relationships with food and our bodies. This means starting the next fad diet or restricting our bodies is not the answer to “healthy” eating.

eating healthy food

A Dutch survey identified that 28% of consumers turn to friends or relatives for healthy eating advice and 45% look to the internet for information [1]. Diet culture is bombarding and confusing, to say the least, often leading to misconceptions of what healthy eating truly is.

Misconception #1: If This Diet Didn’t Work the Next Surely Will

In America, it is estimated that about 13-44% of men and about 25-65% of women diet, and about 45% of adolescent girls call themselves dieters [1].

How many diets have you tried and been able to maintain long-term? Did you know that 90-95% of diets fail [4]? After a diet fails do you blame the diet or yourself? Most, end up blaming themselves turning to the next fad or trend as the answer to being better and eating healthier.

A major component of diet failure is that dieters have an increased response to external food cues, such as the sight or smell of foods. This is due to trying to control food eaten by following diet rules rather than tuning into hunger cues [1]. This leads to a never-ending cycle of yo-yo dieting.

Diets themselves set us up to fail due to their foundation being built on denying our desires. Healthy eating should allow for flexibility to honor desires as a part of our well-being.

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Misconception #2: Carbohydrates are the Enemy

Our bodies need all nutrients including fats, proteins, and you heard right carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are not the enemy in this story, but the hero here to provide energy, fiber, and nutrients.

What happens when we remove carbohydrates from our diet? Our body has difficulty maintaining blood sugar levels and calls for energy in the form of carbohydrates. This can feel out of control and often leads individuals to feeling they failed their diet and are going against food/diet rules.

Eighty-three countries have implemented dietary guidelines all centered around a variety of foods and prompting balance [1]. For optimal functioning of the body, we need 45-65% of our energy to come from carbohydrates.

Introducing a variety of carbohydrates is key to providing the body with energy, fiber, and nutrients. So, rather than taking these foods away look at how you can add variety and explore flavor:

  • Try different kinds of rice (jasmine, wild, brown, and basmati rice to name a few)
  • Try different kinds of bread, bagels, English muffins (sourdough, whole grain, honey wheat)
  • Try to add different vegetables, fruits, and colors to your next meal or snack
  • Don’t forget to add variety with pleasurable foods as well (cookies, ice cream, brownies, etc.)

Allowing flexibility will support healthy eating and prevent falling into the deprivation trap.

lunch time

Misconception #3: There are Good and Bad Foods

If I only had willpower, I’d be able to stay away from ________ (fill in the blank)! It isn’t a matter of willpower but breaking the constant cycle of deprivation. People make about 100 food decisions daily, with about one-third of those decisions being food desires [1].

Many foods catch on in the media to either be superfoods or evil foods. The truth is no one food can make us healthy or unhealthy. Can we all explore more variety, spicing up our plates with a little color, of course, but beware of diet trends that promote good vs bad foods or in other words promoting guilt and shame.

We need all food groups for many different reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Dairy for calcium and vitamin D to promote bone health
  • Eggs as an easily digested and utilized source of protein
  • Red meat for iron to support oxygenation

The reasons to have variety in food choices are endless which also includes emotional rationale as well:

  • Restricting foods and entire food groups may lead to overeating or binge eating
  • Eating “bad” foods plants the idea that you are bad for eating that food promoting guilt and shame
  • Punishment for eating “bad” foods take away from the enjoyment of foods, friends, family, social gatherings, etc.

Misconception #4: It’s All About Calories

Watching, monitoring, counting calories or staying in a calorie range doesn’t equate to eating healthy. What if you are hungry, but if you eat, you’ll go over your allotted calories? This is depriving the body of what it’s signaling it needs.

Day to day each of us may have different energy or calorie needs that only our body can communicate. When we eat based on number, we fall into a restrictive eating cycle based on food rules and rigidity [3].

For many people this way of eating distracts from meeting their true needs and living a fulfilling life [3]. At the end of the day, it’s important to ask yourself “Am I listening to my body or trying to control my body?”

Diet and Exercise

Misconception #5: Eating Healthy Means I Need to Change My Body

Health at Every Size (HAES) is real. Each of us has a weight at which our bodies thrive at. The more we fight our bodies the more emotional and physical stress increases.

The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) affirms a holistic definition of health stating that health exists on a continuum that changes for each person depending on time and circumstance [2].

With this definition the association advocates for health not to be used to judge, oppress, or place value on people [2]. It is time to challenge the belief that health is determined by our weight, size, or BMI. Rather than focusing on changing our weight, we should focus on these main aspects when talking about health [2]:

  • Weight Inclusivity – accept and respect the diversity of body shapes and sizes
  • Health Enhancement – support personal practices that improve human well-being, drawing attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional and other needs.
  • Eating for Well-Being – promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure.
  • Respectful Care – as health care workers, family, friends, etc. acknowledge our biases and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias.
  • Life-Enhancing Movement – support physical activity that allows individuals of all sizes, abilities, and interests to take part in the enjoyable movement.

What is Healthy Eating?

Healthy eating includes honoring your body through including foods that nourish hunger, body functions, desires, and cravings. There is a saying “too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing.” This is true if only listening to desires or if only listening to the food police.

Remember the definition of health, a state of complete emotional and physical well-being. We’re talking here about being able to have your cake and eat it too. Healthy eating is not a trend, but a life where all foods fit.


[1] de Ridder, D., Kroese, F., Evers, C., Adriaanse, M., & Gillebaart, M. (2017). Healthy diet: Health impact, prevalence, correlates, and interventions. Psychology & Health, 32(8), 907–941. https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2017.1316849

[2] The Health at Every Size® (HAES®) Approach. (2021, May 2). ASDAH. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://asdah.org/health-at-every-size-haes-approach/

[3] May, M., MD. (2020). Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle (Updated 2020 ed.). Am I Hungry? Publishing.

[4] Tribole, M. E. S., & Resch, M. E. S. (2020). Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach (4th ed.). St. Martin’s Essentials.

Author: Raylene Hungate, RDN,LD/N

Page Last Reviewed and Approved By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC / 12.6.21