6 So-Called Diet Rules to Break If You Want to Lose Weight


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If you've ever tried to lose weight, you've probably encountered mixed messages about the best way to achieve your goals. Weight loss myths and diet rules perpetuated by diet culture have been around for years.

Along with misguided rules that come and go, there is no shortage of confusing advice to over-complicate the science of weight loss and healthy eating. Rather than being led astray by some unfounded dogma, stick with the facts for sustainable weight management long term and feel free to break the "rules."

Diet Rule #1: Eat More Often to Avoid Starvation Mode

Reality: There is nothing wrong with eating small, frequent meals to quell the urge to overeat during mealtimes. But that is not always the best fit for everyone. Small, frequent meals may work for some, but may not work for others. A sustainable plan will be one that takes into consideration a person's lifestyle.

While you never want to feel like you're starving yourself, eating more often isn't necessarily the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Instead, be mindful of your internal hunger cues to guide your eating pattern and reduce mindless snacking or emotional eating. An individualized approach to meal planning will be one that takes into consideration the whole person.

Diet Rule #2: Avoid All Carbs

Reality: Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of fuel and give us energy. Some very nutritious foods contain carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, and legumes, to name a few.

Carbohydrates alone don't cause weight gain. When you don't balance out a higher calorie intake with enough physical activity, your weight can creep up over time. Choosing a balanced diet with enough protein, healthy fats, and high-fiber carbohydrates will help you feel full for longer and calm your appetite.

Diet Rule #3: Stick to Low-Fat Foods

Reality: Many foods that are naturally low in fat, like most fruits and vegetables, are nutritious choices. But processed foods that have been altered to remove the fat (like fat-free salad dressings) often contain added sugar to compensate for the loss in flavor, and may not help you reach your goal.

It's also important to note that not all fats are created equal. Although high in dietary fat, avocados, nuts, olives, and egg yolks are actually very nutritious. Natural fats satisfy your hunger, which can support weight loss overall.

Diet Rule #4: High-Intensity Workouts Are the Way to Go

Reality: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become a big trend in the fitness industry. A high-intensity session can burn mega calories in a short period of time and can be great for weight loss. However, depending on your fitness starting point, HIIT isn't always the best way to go.

In some cases, doing a hard workout may cause more harm than good. Rather than challenging yourself to an injury, build on your progress gradually and allow enough time for recovery between workouts so you can stay consistent.

Diet Rule #5: Eat Only Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten-Free Foods

Reality: While there are some notable benefits in choosing organic, gluten-free, or non-GMO foods, many food products with these labels still contain added sugar, sodium, or preservatives. For example, an organic cookie is still a cookie.

Organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free food labels may be used as a marketing ploy in some cases, rather than a reliable nutritious-eating guideline. Instead of accepting label claims at face value, be discerning. Reach for nutrient-dense, whole foods, rather than highly-processed foods that have a health halo.

Diet Rule #6: Use Cheat Days to Help Stick to Your Diet

Reality: Cheat days may seem like a welcome respite from an overly restrictive weight loss program, however, rather than viewing food as "good" or "bad," focusing your weight loss around making sustainable, nutritious choices will only benefit you in the long run.

Can treats sometimes fit into a nutritious, balanced diet? Absolutely! But, purposefully overdoing it to give yourself a "break" from a restrictive weight loss plan may sabotage your ability to develop a healthy attitude regarding food. A more moderate approach to eating and exercise will keep you off the destructive roller-coaster ride of yo-yo dieting.

A Word From Verywell

Evidence-based nutrition is always evolving and while one nutrition strategy may work for a certain population of people, it doesn't mean it will work for you. The best way to break the "diet rules" is to focus on behavior modifications and establish a healthy relationship with food that allows you to maintain the pleasure of eating while reaching your health goals.

Try looking at your eating and exercise habits holistically, rather than cutting out major food groups or resorting to extreme measures. Simple changes like getting a better handle on emotional eating or learning to cook vegetables that you enjoy may be all that's required to help you find peace at a healthier weight.

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vannice G, Rasmussen H. Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: dietary fatty acids for healthy adultsJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(1):136-153. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.11.001

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.