We live in a world where information and knowledge are so easily accessible – the answer to most of our questions are just a click away. We no longer have to pay to acquire knowledge, rely on experts, or spend hours in public libraries trying to figure things out.
This is especially true with regards to dietary and nutritional advice. Whatever information you seek is online, in bestseller books, and in fashion magazines, right? Perhaps, but that also includes a whole lot of nonsense. This might explain why metabolic diseases are on the rise globally – we have access to more resources than ever, yet we’re less healthy than we’ve ever been.
My job as a Nutrition Coach involves a lot of clarifying and often battling of incorrect assumptions that my clients have about weight loss, which is why I decided to write this article. It was high time to put to rest the most common diet “myths” I come across in media and in my practice.
Before I start, it’s important to note that nutrition is not an exact science. There’s a whole lot of factors at play when we test new dietary approaches, and we can never fully control all of them. This is why there’s so much controversy out there. If you’ve found something that works for you and you feel great, please keep doing what you’re doing. For the rest of you who keep applying “conventional” wisdom without seeing the results you’re looking for, read on.
Weight loss is about calories in versus calories out.
This is one of the most common diet myths out there. In fact, I believe that it’s responsible for the majority of distorted behaviours relating to diet and exercise.
Truth be told, this statement is not actually false. To lose unwanted weight, we must create a slight calorie deficit. It’s just grossly oversimplified. We think, “I had a Snickers bar (488 calories), therefore I must run on a treadmill for roughly 40 to 60 minutes to burn it off.” Your body doesn’t work in such a simplistic way. Countless factors determine how it reacts to the food you put in – how it gets used (stored vs. used for vital processes such as digestion or breathing), how it affects your hormones, and how it makes you feel. Factors like your gender, age, insulin sensitivity, and lean muscle mass will all contribute to how your body deals with that Snickers bar, which is something that could change daily depending on whether you worked out that morning, slept well the night before, or had an argument with your loved one that day.
To add to the complexity, your body will react completely differently to 488 calories from a candy bar vs. a chicken breast, because not all calories are created equal. Different macronutrients get metabolized in different ways, creating a cascade of reactions in the body. For example, a candy bar will quickly get broken down into simple sugars that will be metabolized by the liver. The liver can either transform that sugar into glycogen to replenish the muscles (for example, if you just worked out and your glycogen stores are low) or, if no glycogen is needed, it will turn the sugar into fat to store for “later use”.
On the other hand, if you consume the same number of calories from lean chicken meat, roughly 20 to 30 percent of those calories will be spent by your digestive system breaking down the protein from chicken and, once done, the protein will be further broken down into amino acids that will be used to repair tissue and build muscle. Only then and only in the case of excess will the body break down amino acids into glucose and potentially store it (so yes, protein can make you store fat too). This is a very simple way of looking at it, but do you get the gist?
Finally, it’s also incredibly difficult to estimate how many calories you burn when exercising. That number will depend on your level of fitness, heart rate, weight, lean muscle mass, and a number of other factors. Don’t be fooled by the number on the treadmill – the margin of error there could be as high as 70 percent.
Bottom line, counting calories and then trying to burn them off with exercise is not the best use of your time and energy. No matter how committed you are, you’re probably operating with very faulty data. There are better systems to follow if you are looking for effective fat loss.
Carbs are the enemy.
Carbs are not all that bad – and they are certainly not the enemy. The human body evolved to survive on carbohydrates. They are very much needed to give us energy, feed our brain, and maintain our mood, which makes us better people to be around and gives us the motivation to exercise.
Unless you chose a ketogenic lifestyle, you will need some carbs. How much will depend on your goals, activity level, lean muscle mass, and metabolism. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula here, but this is a good baseline to follow: two cupped hand-size portions with most meals for men and one cupped hand-size portion with most meals for women.
Just like calories, not all carbs are created equal. For optimal health and fat loss, you’ll want to focus on complex carbohydrates from whole grains and root vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, beets), plenty of green veggies (zucchini, asparagus, leafy greens, celery), and some fruit.
Egg yolk will raise your cholesterol.
It’s time to let this myth from the 70s go. Multiple studies have proven that dietary cholesterol in eggs has virtually no effect on your blood cholesterol. Saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, do. So, if you have eggs and bacon every morning, the reason for a lousy blood panel will probably be the bacon rather than the eggs.
Egg yolk is full of valuable micronutrients that raise your satiety levels, so say goodbye to egg-white omelettes.
P.S. If you can, choose eggs that are organic and come from hens that were pasture-raised.
Not eating after 6 p.m. will help you lose weight.
We’ve all heard this one, but no one really knows where it came from. No scientific study can confirm this statement and, honestly, who can even be at a dinner table that early?!
There seems, however, to be one advantage to stopping food intake at 6 p.m., and that’s the elimination of the issue of late-night snacking. If you’re someone who struggles with that, you might want to try to find ways to keep your hands and brain busy at night, as well as choosing a dinner that is high in satisfying protein, complex carbs, and fats to induce the feeling of satiety and help with restful sleep.
Skipping breakfast will help you lose weight.
Unless you practice intermitted fasting, you should not be skipping breakfast. Putting quality fuel into your body will make you more productive and carry you all the way through to lunch. You will make good food choices later in the day, which in turn usually reduces overall calorie intake and helps you avoid binges. This is especially important if you exercise in the morning.
Choose a morning meal high in protein and good fats to keep your blood sugar steady, and don’t overdo the caffeine to avoid a slump later on in the day.
Here are some of our favorite breakfast options.
Natural sweeteners are okay.
Following sugar’s demonization as one of the unhealthiest and most addictive substances out there, the health-food industry came up with dozens of “natural” alternatives that are marketed as healthier, less processed, and more nutritious. Common options include dates, maple and agave syrup, honey, and coconut sugar.
Are they better than refined sugar? Definitely. Are they healthy? Not exactly. See, our bodies will break down these sweet substances into glucose and fructose, which are the same end products as with pure table sugar. Sure, they offer more minerals and antioxidants along the way, but they still spike insulin and add calories.
If you’re on a mission to get healthier and trim down, it’s best to minimize the amount of sweetener you consume.
Juice detoxes are a fast way to cleanse and reset.
Juice detox programs are incredibly popular at the moment, which is not surprising considering the fact that they promise to cleanse, re-set, and help you drop pounds in a mere three, five, or seven days. Unfortunately, many of these claims are unfounded and not supported by science. Drastic calorie restriction can cause hormonal disruptions, and the weight you lose in the process is usually water weight that quickly comes back as you re-introduce solid food into your diet.
Don’t get me wrong; organic cold-pressed green juices are great. They provide a generous amount of readily available nutrients and hydrate our cells. However, if the goal is fat loss, you will get more sustainable long-term results with a proper nourishing diet and moderate exercise rather than with a miracle seven-day quick fix.
Going vegan will help you shed the weight.
Did you know that French fries are vegan? And so are Oreos? See where I’m going with this? Veganism doesn’t equate health. I’ve seen pretty sick overweight vegans and pretty healthy lean omnivores.
That’s not to say that a vegan diet can’t be done well. Focusing on whole plant-based foods, such as vegetables, grains, and legumes, can be a great foundation for a healthy diet and can certainly help you shed unwanted pounds. But so can following a whole food-based Mediterranean-style diet.
Don’t get fooled by labels. Focus on eating foods that make you feel good. Assemble meals from a variety of colourful veggies, complex carbohydrates, lean protein (animal- or plant-based), and nourishing fats, and you will be on the right track.
Fat loss is about working with your body – not against it. Do not fall for miracle solutions, quick fixes, fad superfoods, or myths that are not backed by science. Truth is, we intuitively know what’s good for us. Practice mindful eating and tune into your satiety signals. Once your body feels like it’s being listened to, extra weight will melt off.
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