There is a lot of conflicting information out there regarding nutrition, weight-loss and dieting.
The internet has been a blessing that allows us instant access to a huge pool of informative articles and hilarious cat videos, but unfortunately there is no guarantee that the information you stumble across is correct, helpful or remotely healthy.
Next time you see any person/company/product claiming they have the secret to fast and long lasting weight-loss a) don’t believe them and b) remember that the key to healthy, safe, sustainable weight-loss is a nutritionally varied and balanced diet combined with regular exercise and a good relationship with food.
Here are some of the worst circulating diet myths and why they’re a load of poo.
"Skipping meals will help you lose weight"
To lose weight and body fat we need to be eating less calories than we’re burning – that’s a simple and well-documented fact. Skipping meals may seem like a great way to cut your calorie intake and boost your weight loss but any form of skipping meals is a HUGE no-no.
Firstly, skipping meals for an extended period of time reduces your metabolic rate, making it almost impossible to sustain your weight loss. Digestion uses energy, so eating actually increases your metabolic rate while your body works to break down the food. Secondly, eating less can make you more prone to unhealthy food choices due to ravenous hunger and brain fog caused by a lack of glucose in your blood.
It will also leaving you feeling lethargic and weak, meaning you’re more likely to skip a workout, which are going to take you away from the core principles of healthy weight loss. Eat regular meals to provide your body with the energy it needs and to keep your metabolism going.
"No carbs after dark"
Why is this even a thing? CARBS CAN’T TELL TIME. There is no magic switch inside your body that says “Oh, its after dark now so that pasta is being stored as fat. Pity you didn’t eat it at 6:59 instead of 7:00…”.
I can only assume that this myth was perpetuated by nutrition "gurus" claiming that if you ate your carbs in the morning they would be burned off during the day by your general activity, whereas if you ate them at night when you are usually sedentary that they would be stored as fat because you won't have the chance to burn them off. This is categorically UNTRUE.
Any weight loss achieved using this strategy is due to limiting the overall amount of food you eat in a day, because you've made the window in which you're allowing yourself to eat smaller.
As long as you’re not exceeding the amount of a) total calories and b) total carbohydrates your body needs then there doesn’t need to be a time restriction on when you consume them. You won’t get fat eating carbs just before you go to sleep if you’re eating the right amount overall.
"Sugar is evil"
Sugar is getting a pretty bum rap these days and while I don’t promote the consumption of masses of processed sugar due it being mostly devoid of any nutrients, there is no reason to ban sugar form your life forever.
As long as your daily intake of fibre is being met (approximately 25-30g for an adult) then small amounts of simple sugars won’t do your body any long-lasting harm. Banning whole food groups from your diet based on the belief they are “bad” or “not clean” is also a form of eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa, and is a serious indicator of a dangerously poor relationship with food.
Sugar is also present in pretty much everything, and comes in lots of different forms. A lot of the recipes from brands like I Quit Sugar still have sugar in them, just not white table sugar like we're all thinking of - they use dates, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar etc. And while these are less refined than white sugar and therefore contain more nutrients, they are still sugars. Don’t be scared of sugar; just don’t make it a large part of your daily diet.
"Don’t eat fruit, it has too much sugar"
Yes – fruit is relatively high in sugar. It’s also high in fibre, vitamins and minerals and should form a large portion of any healthy eating plan.
The number of pieces you eat per day can depend on both your personal preference and energy requirements, but 2-3 pieces per day is absolutely fine. Fruit can and should be eaten every day.
"Clean eating is the best way to lose weight"
I briefly touched on orthorexia nervosa – the avoidance of food groups based on the perception they are “bad” – and to me this basically sums up the premise of clean eating. Clean eating tells you that certain foods (usually junk food, but also things like white rice, potatoes, bread and pasta) are bad and should be avoided, which leaves people feeling guilty and like a failure if they do eat them. Often these feelings of guilt and failure can trigger a massive binge eating session, which only makes it harder to lose weight.
A healthy diet is based around moderation, variety and flexibility of food choices – not the permanent removal of ones you deem as bad. Not to mention clean eating doesn’t take into account caloric balance, so you can eat a perfectly “clean” diet but if you are still exceeding your personal nutrient requirements for the day you won’t lose any weight.
I agree with the promotion of nutrient-dense food choices above nutrient-poor food choices and I also understand that not everyone wants to count calories/nutrients – just be aware that clean eating and eating for weight loss are not necessarily the same thing. Weight loss is perfectly possible by still eating things that aren't acceptable under the rules of clean eating.
"Eating smaller meals more often will speed up your metabolism"
This one is thrown around all the time, and is based on some actual science but unfortunately doesn't get it quite right. As I said earlier, eating increases your metabolic rate because your body has to work to break down the food. The percentage of total energy is different for carbs, protein and fat (with protein using the most calories to digest and fat using the least), however the amount of energy burned up during digestion doesn't change depending on how often you eat.
Hopefully some basic maths will clear this up once and for all. With approximately 10% of the total calories that you eat are burned by digesting those meals, you could eat:
If you're eating the same amount of calories it doesn't make any difference to your metabolism how often you consume them.
"Detox teas are a safe way to shed a few kilos"
DON’T. EVEN. GET. ME. STARTED. You can read more in my post detailing the truth about detox teas, but if you’re serious about losing weight then ditch the detox tea and spend your energy planning, buying and preparing healthy meals instead of on a quick-fix tea.
"Detoxing your liver can help you burn more fat"
The liver is our body's main detoxification organ, and overloading your system with loads of salt, fat, alcohol and medications can put it under strain. Despite this, you don't need to do a juice cleanse, or take an overpriced supplement to help boost it's function.
Your liver is perfectly equipped to process everything you put in your system, extract the nutrients it needs and excrete the bad things it doesn't. Instead of a detox, simply limit the amount of alcohol and highly-processed foods you're eating (but don't worry about giving them up completely) and focus on fresh, nutritious wholefoods.
"Stick to 1200 calories if you want to lose weight"
A lot of popular diet and weight loss programs encourage women to eat a 1200 calorie daily diet, and I'm sure they see rapid and stunning weight loss - at least in the short term.
The problem with only eating 1200 calories a day is that it is well below most people's basal metabolic rate, ie the minimum number of calories their body needs just top stay alive. So our bodies, which are still hardwired to believe we live like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, interpret this drastic reduction in calories as a famine. It responds by slowing down your metabolic rate to conserve energy stores, the theory being that if you burn through your energy stores slowly you're more likely to survive until food becomes abundant again.
This means that when the initial weight loss has stalled, which it always does, you either need to drop your intake of calories even further to see results, or workout more to continue burning more calories than you consume (which is the only real way weight loss can take place).
There is no magic number of calories you must consume to lose weight, as this changes from person to person depending on starting weight, height, age, body composition and a host of other factors. The safest and most sustainable way to lose weight is to slightly decrease the number of calories you take in, either by smarter food choices or smaller portion sizes, and slightly increase the amount of physical activity you do.
"To lose weight you need to cut out all junk food completely"
On the surface this sounds reasonable. Stop eating junk food (because it's bad for you) and you'll lose weight - right? Well, sort of.
Firstly, there is no food SO bad that you can never eat it again. Even the most indulgent, unhealthy foods are fine every once in a while, so there is no need to be quite so strict. Denying yourself all junk food is likely to make you want it more, and when you inevitably eat some of that forbidden food (because you're human and it happens) you're significantly more likely to overdo it and eat way more than you would normally. Hello, guilt-ridden binge/starve cycle.
Secondly, giving up all junk food won't help if you replace the junk food with the same amount, or more, of another food. So you can feel really proud of yourself for not eating that tim-tam after dinner, but if you replace a tim-tam (100 calories) with a reduced-calorie ice cream (125 calories) or a large bowl of fruit salad (250 calories) or toast with avocado and vegemite (200 calories) then you haven't saved yourself any calories - and calorie balance is the crux of all successful weight loss - AND you've missed out on eating something you really enjoy. Learn portion control and you can enjoy your favourite indulgences while still losing weight.
Invest your time and energy into setting up healthy, sustainable habits instead of a fad and you'll be rewarded with a fit, strong, healthy body for life.
Have you tried any crazy ways to lose weight? If you need realistic, sustainable advice and guidance from a nutrition professional then contact me for a consultation and start eating and living for a healthy, strong body today.
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