From January first through the middle of February, social media news feeds flood with posts about, and ads for, a range of “cleansing” meal plans, juice fasts, and “fat-burning” food lists, offered at a range of prices, from free to shockingly expensive, all with promises along the lines of making you skinnier / happier / better than ever. I could write a book about my exasperation with cleanses and shady tactics used to sell them, but I am going to do my best to keep this post positive. The influx of January juice pictures and the New Year pressure to “clean up” my diet has me thinking generally about the media madness surrounding so-called pure eating and what a supreme waste of emotional energy it encourages.

Registered dietitians and other health professionals now all deal with the demise of respect for their expertise. The internet, for better or worse, allows anyone who can string a sentence together to fancy themselves a nutrition authority, regardless of schooling or credentials. There are two questions I always encourage my readers and students to ask about any diet plan, new “superfood,” or funky fitness routine:

1. Does it sound too good to be true?2. Where is the funding coming from? (a.k.a. FOLLOW THE MONEY)

If the answer to the first questions is yes, I recommend you pass quickly on whatever is on offer. The answer to the second can be tricky. But know this: medical practitioners, including registered dietitians, doctors, mental health specialists, etc., all have pretty darn strict ethical guidelines. Fabricating or stretching the truth by cherry-picking findings from one-sided studies or making huge financial gains from a false promise product is not something any self-respecting, ethical-guideline-following, health professional would or should do. In short, if something is making one person, or one company very rich, very fast (unless whatever they are selling is the next iPhone), it is probably not too far a cry from snake oil.

In my opinion, foods or lifestyle practices that are true and good should sell themselves. Cute marketing doesn’t hurt of course (and I am thrilled that healthy food advertisers are finally getting the budgets they deserve), but let’s leave it at that. If a food is crafted from as close-to-the-way-it-grew ingredients as possible, cooked in your own home, or at least a real kitchen rather than a factory, and is consumed as part of a balanced diet, it is a good choice. No need to claim it cures all the diseases ever or results in world peace.

Diets and food plans get trickier, but the same two questions apply. Are the promised results too and/or good to be true? And, who profits from it and by how much? Weight loss, the lasting, life-changing-for-good kind, takes more than a week of lemonade with cayenne pepper. It takes behavior modification, accomplished through a series of healthy habit changes. Oh and by the way, weight is just one of many indicators of healthfulness (another topic on which I could write a whole book).

Bottom line: Be the smart consumer that you are. It can be exhausting to dig deeper on every new food and new diet that comes down the road. That’s why I suggest side-stepping it all completely. You know in your heart and brain what needs to happen for you to be healthier and happier, so instead of trying the latest, quickest “fix,” focus your energy on knocking down the barriers blocking your path, one at a time. Know it won’t be easy, or particularly fast. But guess what? The best stuff in life, that which is true and good, usually takes work. That is why the best stuff feels, and tastes, so sweet.

That is why it is the best.

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