Debunking 3 standard “Healthy Eating Rules”

Ilona Madden - RightFood4U - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin

Written by Ilona Madden

October 3, 2022

The Diet Industry is keeping most people trapped in a cycle of “being on a diet” and “falling off the track” and cycles of feeling guilty and “I’m just not good enough” or “I am just not able to stick to any plans”

In this article, I am going to de-bunk 3 rules that we keep hearing over and over again and why these are not the solution!

If you want to follow a healthy diet, don’t…

  1. …substitute your high-sugar treat/chocolate with a healthy one

  2. …eat a low-fat diet and count calories to lose weight

  3. …you don’t have to increase your exercise


  1. “Don’t substitute your favourite treat with something healthy”

What? You might be saying, “that isn’t what I’m supposed to do?? I am no longer eating crisps in the evening and have substituted these with rice cakes, and now you’re telling me that’s not good?”

Of course, this is advisable and there are always better options to high sugar/high fat, highly processed foods. However, how often have you had lots of fruit instead of your usual dessert and you were still craving that piece of chocolate?

You might be using all your willpower and you manage this for a couple of weeks.

Then you are very stressed or something happened and bang – you’ve eaten all that healthy fruit AND you still want to eat chocolate afterwards, because the fruit just doesn’t do it today.

The problem is that, while we substitute unhealthy snacks with healthier ones, we are not always addressing the reason for our cravings in the first place.

In theory, 3 nutritious main meals should be enough, we should not be hungry and feel the need for snacks in between. Most people eat snacks out of habit or for comfort. If you simply swap, you are still continuing your habit – for example, every time you get petrol, you used to buy a Mars bar, and now you are buying fruit. This might last for a while, while things are going well, but at some stage, the fruit won’t give you that pleasure kick that the sugar does. That’s when it’s very easy to fall back to buying what you used to.

My suggestion:

Don’t just swap unhealthy foods with healthy ones, especially when it comes to snacking – aim to break the habit instead! Could you just stop buying anything when you go to a petrol station? (Or could you simply stop having that biscuit with your tea in the evening? Or could you simply stop having that snack at 11 am that you don’t really need?)

Once you broke the habit, you are less likely to swap the healthy choice back for the unhealthy one.

I also suggest exploring, why you might be eating when you are not really hungry. Are you using food to comfort yourself? A good health coach will help you explore and understand your eating habits.


  1. You don’t need to eat a low-fat diet and count calories to lose weight

One of the reasons, why many people feel miserable when “on a diet” and why they stop, is because the diet is too low in essential fats and that affects their mood. We know that essential fats and the right nutrients are necessary for our brain health and our mental well-being. Yet, many diet recommendations cut out these fats.

Also, a lot of low-fat foods, have replaced fats with sugar to make them tastier. However, sugar will cause cravings for more sugar. Also, these foods won’t keep you full and satisfied for very long. So, you might be eating your low-fat yoghurt as a healthy dessert or breakfast, but you are hungry and have cravings an hour later – and you will either have to use more willpower or you’ll give in. Both are not sustainable.

My suggestion:

Have an egg or an avocado or nuts which are higher in calories, but these will nourish you with healthy fats and keep you in good mood.

These will also keep you more satisfied and fuller for longer. Most likely, overall and spread over the day, you will find you are actually consuming fewer calories.

  1. I just need to exercise more

I am a huge fan of exercise and regular movement and there’s no question that exercise will burn off some extra calories.

However, what I see over and over again, is that people use exercise to “allow” themselves to eat more or an extra dessert. Food is being used as a reward for the “cruelling” and “tough” workout.

Are you looking at your exercise as a “chore” that needs a reward? If this is the case, I suggest, you look at finding an exercise or movement that you actually enjoy and that you do because you love it.

Explore, if you are using your food as a “reward”, ideally with a coach who can ask the right questions and help you tease it out.

Exercise is absolutely crucial to keep your muscle tone and your bones healthy as you age. Muscle decline starts gradually in your 30s but then increases rapidly after menopause for women but also for men. If you want to continue to lead an active life where you can do everything you love doing, it is vital to keep all your muscles busy. Walking alone is not enough!

Also, we know that a body that has more muscle requires more calories even at rest. So, basically, the more muscle you have, the more you can eat.

Exercise should also include ways that keep you flexible and keep your balance. We know that there is a connection between cognitive decline and balance. We also know that falls are usually the start of rapid decline in older people.

We know our heart needs a little stress to work optimally, so any exercise that raises your heart rate and your pulse is necessary on a daily basis. This could be a run but it can also simply be running up and down the stairs in your house or office building a couple of times per day.

My suggestion:

Find daily exercises and movements that you enjoy, but keep in mind that you need to do strength training for all muscle groups in the body (legs AND upper body).

Find daily exercises and movements that increase your heart rate/pulse a couple of times per day.

Find daily exercises and movements that keep you flexible and keep your balance, for example, yoga and pilates are great for both. They both are also great for muscle building, but not sufficient to get your heart rate up.

And most importantly, have fun with it!

I will help you understand some of the diet myths that have been keeping you stuck for years during my 1-2-1 programmes and in my group courses that I run on a regular basis. Check out under programmes








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