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Your Weight-Loss Diet May Not Be as Healthy as You Think, Study Says

The health-conscious choices some dieters make may be inconsistent with reality.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

You're surely aware of how important it is to eat well if you want to keep your body in good shape. However, a new study has found that many people think that their weight-loss diet is much healthier than it really is.

"We found that while people generally know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, there may be a disconnect between what researchers and health care professionals consider to be a healthy and balanced diet compared to what the public thinks is a healthy and balanced diet," said study author Jessica Cheng, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and in general internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, according to EurekAlert!

The study that was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2022 event took a look at 116 adults from the greater Pittsburgh area, area who were between the ages of 35–58 years old. Those involved all wanted to lose weight and checked in with a dietitian before using a Fitbit app to note what their diet included for an entire year while also keeping track of both their physical activity and weight.

On top of that, they gave themselves scores between one and 100 to rate how healthy they believed their diets were. The researchers also scored the diets based on a Healthy Eating Index (HEI), which used the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans as a reference.

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Results showed that 75% of the participants were incorrectly scoring their diets with the majority believing their diets were healthier than what was deemed as actually healthy by the researchers. Specifically, the participants gave themselves an average score of 67.6 out of 100 compared to 56.4 which was the average score when using the determined HEI. After the year-long period, participants generally believed that they had improved their diets by 18 points while it was only around one point, per the HEI.

"I'm not surprised with the results," Lisa Young, Ph.D., RDN, the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, a nutritionist in private practice and a member of the Eat This, Not That! medical expert board, says. "There is a lot of confusion about what exactly constitutes a healthy diet."

"For example," Young continues, "while people know that they should eat more vegetables, many people don't pay attention to the fact that a large salad with toppings, such as croutons, honey-roasted nuts, and dressing can lead to weight gain. "

"This is a problem because if you think a food is healthy, you pay less attention to how much you eat which can ultimately yield weight gain," Young explains. That's why, if your aim is to shed a few pounds, Young says that "it's so important to pay attention to how much food you are eating."

"It's important that health professionals discuss these nuances of healthy eating with patients," Young also points out.

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée