Why do we keep falling for fad diets and obsessing with our weight? Nutritionists have the answer


Journalist-turned-nutrition expert Núria Coll explains how to break the cycle and keep the pounds off for good

Núria Coll, journalist and author of 'I am what I eat'.
Núria Coll, journalist and author of 'I am what I eat'.JOEL CODINA

"The better you nourish your body, the more energy you will have and the less tired you'll feel. Exercise comes next, followed by quality sleep, essential for brain detoxification and optimal body function the next day." Núria Coll (Barcelona, 1980) is a journalist by trade, having worked in radio and television in her native Catalonia, but has always had a keen interest in health-related topics. Faced with own problems of chronic constipation, she sought alternatives to laxatives and traditional remedies before a friend introduced her to the world of healthy eating — and no, we're not just referring to grilled chicken and vegetables.

"At that time, the culture of 'clean eating' hadn't gained much traction. My family and friends struggled to grasp it," she explains. Instead of abandoning her quest, she continued researching, eventually building a community of thousands of loyal followers. "It started as a hobby that I had no intention of monetizing." She went on to set up Como Como Foods, later launching an online clinic with 15 nutritionists. Today, she compiles her top nutritional tips in the book Soy como como (I am what I eat).

Healthy eating might not appear challenging, but navigating the constant flux of trends and abundant, often contradictory, dietary advice can be confusing. Nowadays, there are opposing views on carbohydrates, especially on social media. Should we really be eating them?
Naturally, it depends from person to person, but carbohydrates, as a rule, should be consumed in moderation. In general, our society leads a very sedentary lifestyle, exercising infrequently, yet still consumes large amounts of carbohydrates. There's no problem in eating them in one of your main meals, but for the other, I would lean more towards protein and fats, which are more filling.
In your book, you strongly advocate for fats. But why are they so widely vilified?
Fats serve as a crucial, calorie-dense macronutrient and a significant energy source. When assessing the nutritional composition of our meals, we often focus solely on identifying carbohydrates like rice or potatoes, overlooking the fact that vegetables also contribute to our carb intake. Consequently, a substantial portion of our meal becomes carb-heavy without us realizing it. Incorporating fats, such as avocado, nuts, olives, and olive oil, can diversify our dishes and be used to make sauces like pesto. Additionally, saturated fats found in foods like bacon or deli meats are necessary for our bodies. The problem with fats is that people are yet to understand how they can benefit our diets.
Why are we always on a diet?
Because we don't learn how to eat healthy for life. We're always dieting because we are obsessed with our weight, especially women. It's unfortunate, but people have to exercise restraint in order to go out and have a social life involving food and drink. Our inconsistency stems from adopting unhealthy habits. Even diets that seem healthy, such as hyper-protein plans devoid of any fats, can be misleading. While you might shed five kilos in a week, the stringent restrictions mean foregoing even something as simple as drizzling olive oil on a salad. This approach is impractical and a recipe for disappointment.
As summer approaches, many of us gravitate towards eating salads, assuming they're inherently healthier options. However, as we add ingredients like nuts, dates, or raisins, could the calorie density rival that of fast food?
A common misconception is that consuming fats leads to weight gain, but in reality, fats can be thermogenic, promoting metabolic reactions that aid in burning body fat and contributing to weight loss. While nuts are calorie-dense, they aren't inherently unhealthy; moderation is key. On the other hand, raisins, rich in fructose, are essentially sugar and should be measured out. Considering that a significant portion of the population grapples with insulin resistance, linked to diseases like cancer and diabetes, managing sugar intake is crucial. Carbohydrates, whether from starches, fructose or sucrose, contribute to our blood sugar levels. This doesn't mean avoiding fruits, but an excessive intake of bread, pasta, and similar foods can spike our glucose levels as significantly as adding several spoonfuls of sugar to our coffee.
Are sugar substitutes like agave syrup or panela truly a healthier choice, or would we be better off consuming white sugar?
Sugar substitutes often masquerade as healthier options, but they still contain sugars. Opting for natural alternatives like sweet potato, pumpkin, or banana can offer healthier substitutes for sugar. If you're still craving something sweet, consider snacking on 85% dark chocolate. When it comes to white sugar, enjoying it in moderation guilt-free is likely a better choice than using syrups like agave, which combine fructose and sucrose.
There's considerable buzz around the daily consumption of a tablespoon of unfiltered apple cider vinegar to lower blood sugar. However, dentists warn about potential enamel damage, and nutritionists dismiss it as a passing trend. What's your take on the matter?
Using apple cider vinegar daily with the aim of offsetting subsequent high carbohydrate consumption isn't logical. However, in moderation and as part of a balanced diet, acetic acid can aid digestion and food absorption. While the concerns raised by dentists about its acidity damaging teeth are valid, this risk can be mitigated by using a straw or consuming it in one swift sip.
Do all vinegars offer the same health benefits?
Apple cider vinegar is the most extensively researched and is often recommended. However, various wine vinegars, such as sherry vinegar, share similar beneficial properties. On the contrary, balsamic vinegar, due to its high sugar content, is one to steer clear of.
Your book highlights an intriguing point about bottled water containing PET plastics and tap water containing many an impurity. What alternatives do you recommend for safe drinking water?
Drinking unfiltered water essentially means you become the filter. It's the most consumed beverage, yet regulatory bodies often overlook its significance, concealing findings from esteemed research institutions like ISGlobal, which have revealed how exposure to chemicals in drinking water correlates with a higher incidence of bladder cancer. Tap water carries viruses and bacteria like E. coli, along with heavy metals due to pipes made from materials like asbestos cement, lead, and PVC, releasing toxins when heated. Pesticides, herbicides, and medication residues also find their way into the water supply. Passing through an osmosis filter, though not affordable for everyone at around a thousand dollars, removes mineral concentration, necessitating remineralization. Activated carbon filters, although not 100% effective, eliminate some contaminants at a more affordable price point at around 140 dollars. Pitchers, on the other hand, only improve taste. Access to clean water should be a fundamental right, and it's crucial to distinguish between water being merely potable and genuinely healthy.
What causes anxiety to manifest as binge eating?
Binge eating often stems from emotional hunger, a response experienced by many. Frequent sugar spikes from excessive carbohydrate consumption can also lead to increased snacking. However, allowing the digestive system to rest is crucial for maintaining gut health.
Is intermittent fasting suitable for everyone?
Intermittent fasting isn't advisable for specific groups, particularly those with eating disorders or individuals prone to heightened anxiety when there's a significant gap between meals, as it raises their cortisol levels. The body benefits from a minimum 12-hour break from eating, yet many individuals have late dinners and early breakfasts, which can be detrimental. However, on days when physical activity is limited — when not exercising or walking 10,000 steps — fasting can compensate for the reduced caloric expenditure incurred during those periods.

Read the original interview in Spanish here.