A good nutrition plan can help you achieve goals like building muscle, boosting fitness performance, or burning fat.
But not all diet programs are a good fit for everyone, according to Angie Asche, RD, CSSD, an expert nutritionist at Centr, a fitness and nutrition app created by the actor Chris Hemsworth.
Diets with arbitrary or overly strict rules can stall your progress, Asche told Insider.
Asche says there are four classic red flags that can usually tell you if a diet is worth your time, money, and energy. Here’s how to spot them:
If you have to buy special products, a diet may be a waste of money
One of the first signs a diet might be more fad than fact-based is if it involves a costly investment in propriety meal kits or other items.
You shouldn’t have to be buying 80% or more of your food from a specific brand or company for a good diet, Asche said.
Healthy eating should be focused on a variety of whole foods you could get at any grocery store or farmer’s market like veggies, fruits, whole grains, and protein sources like lean meat, fish, eggs, and legumes, dietitians typically recommend.
Avoiding propriety diet products also includes any herbs, pills, or powders meant to stimulate
— research suggests the vast majority of weight loss supplements don’t work.
And supplements that do have benefits for burning fat or building muscle, like caffeine, creatine, and protein shakes, can be helpful but, as the name suggests, should supplement a healthy diet, not replace it, according to Asche.
“We’ve got to address the food first,” she said.
Be wary of one-size-fits-all meal plans
Another common pitfall of popular diet programs is if they use the same menu for everyone, regardless of an individual’s unique goals, preferences, or circumstances.
“If you’re just walking in and given a meal plan, it’s not helpful,” Asche said.
Ideally, a dietitian or other qualified expert in nutrition would look at your current routine and offer advice on how to adjust it over time.
“I’d want to learn about what you’re doing right now to see where we can make improvements, little by little,” she said.
Cutting out certain foods or food groups can be detrimental
It’s a bad sign if your diet requires you to eliminate or severely restrict any foods or food categories, including carbs, sweets, or comfort foods.
You don’t need to cut anything out of a successful diet, but should focus on balancing foods you enjoy with nutrient-dense choices, Asche said.
Banning foods might even make you more likely to crave them and less likely to stick to your diet, research suggests.
Strict rules on a diet are unnecessary and often harmful
You don’t need to follow a diet precisely 100% of the time to be successful, and good diets allow flexibility while keeping you mostly consistent with healthy habits.
For instance, food journals or calorie tracking apps can be a helpful tool to assess your eating habits, but can become stressful or detrimental if taken to extremes, according to Asche.
“It can be great or it can be awful and obsessive. You don’t need to use it to track every single strawberry you put in your mouth,” she said.
As a result, you may want to steer clear of programs that make you feel guilty if you don’t meticulously record every morsel of food, or have similarly inflexible rules you can’t realistically maintain in your everyday life.