(This is part 8 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)
As it is with many subjects, fat loss is awash with mythology. What’s unfortunate is that most people blindly follow the latest and greatest “fad” or are clinging to outdated information that in the end really hurts their efforts to get leaner. Then there all of the ridiculous programs promising to “cleanse” the body and “reset” the metabolism as if there were some magic ctrl-alt-delete feature for the body. Furthermore, weight loss and fat loss are not synonymous with each other as there can be weight loss without fat loss and vice versa. Following are what I consider to be a few of the many myths about fat loss in the hopes of offering you some clarity.
- Eating For Fat Loss Isn’t Always The Same As Eating For Good Health
Despite what various diet marketers will tell you, losing weight is pretty much all about calorie control. Sure, the proportion of fats, proteins, and carbs do play a role (more about that later in this article), but ultimately, if you consume less energy than you expend, you’ll lose weight, even if those calories come from “unhealthy” foods or food ingredients. Now there’s an interesting corollary to this: if you’re fat — let’s say even obese — you’ll improve your health by getting leaner, regardless of what you ate to lose the weight. I’m not necessarily suggesting you eat “bad” foods to lose weight; I’m just trying to achieve some clarity on this subject. And as much as many people will cringe when I say this, but you can and will lose weight eating cookies and chips and ice cream and any other forbidden foods you can imagine, as long as you eat too little of these foods. Again, I’m not advocating these foods; I’m just making a point.
- The Dangers Of “Chemicals” And Food Processing Are Largely Overblown
Why you ask? Well for starters, everything you eat or drink is a chemical, and everything you eat or drink has been processed to some degree. With that being said, some chemicals are less healthy than others, and of course, some types of food processing are worse than others. As the old saying goes, “the devil is in the dose:” even pure spring water will kill you if you drink too much of it. And even arsenic is safe if you consume a small enough amount of it. This isn’t to say that you should be completely indiscriminate in your food consumption. Some types of processing, such as trans fats, have been shown to adversely affect human health. Other types of food additives and processing methods are still the subject of vigorous debate in scientific circles. With that said, is there really a downside to eating an extremely “natural,” totally organic, and/or “unprocessed” diet? Aside from the potential expense, probably not. It’s just that such an overly cautious approach probably isn’t necessary. So why make things more difficult than they need to be?
- No Single Food Is “Fattening”
I mean that literally. Ice cream isn’t fattening. Big Macs aren’t fattening. Pizza isn’t fattening. What is fattening then? Eating too much food relative to your energy needs. Once again, pizza and ice cream certainly aren’t “helpful” foods if you’re attempting to lose weight, and they’re also not particularly great for your long-term health. But they certainly can be eaten as a part of a fat loss strategy, as long as your overall food intake is appropriate.
- Low/No Carb Diets Can (And Often Do) Work, But Not For The Reason You Might Think
People love weight loss diets that give you hard and fast rules, and I understand why: it removes the uncertainty from the process. So I’m not against rules necessarily, nor am I necessarily “against” low carb diets, but it’s important to understand that they don’t work for the reasons that their proponents state. For example, the common rationale usually put forth about low carb diets is that when you eat carbs, your body produces insulin, which is a fat-storage hormone, so the result is, you get fat. There are a few problems about this scenario however: First, insulin does act as a fat storage hormone, but it also has very beneficial properties also — that’s why it exists in the first place after all. Secondly, carbs aren’t the only types of food that produce insulin — proteins for example, also stimulate insulin production. Third, your body can store fat without insulin. So even if you find a way to totally prevent insulin secretion, it doesn’t mean you can’t still gain weight. So how do low carb diets work? Any time you remove large categories of food from your diet (such as carbohydrate-containing foods, or animal-based foods, just to cite two common examples), you tend to eat less, and therefore, you lose weight. Simple right? Actually, it’s so simple most people never consider it.
- Most People Have No Idea How Much They Eat
If losing weight isn’t about what types of foods you eat, but rather, how much you eat, then it’d certainly be important to know how much we’re eating, right? Unfortunately, research has shown over and over that most of us tend to significantly under-estimate how much we eat, and most people also tend to over-estimate how much physical activity they do over the course of a day. The solution? Self-monitoring. By the way, the most common characteristic among people who lose weight and keep it off for long term is self-monitoring.
- It Doesn’t Really Matter How Many Times A Day You Eat
One of the oft-repeated myths about nutrition and fat loss is the idea that “you need to eat every 2-3 hours to keep your metabolism from slowing down.” Like most folklore, there is a kernel of truth in this idea: going long periods with no food does indeed decrease your metabolic rate, and eating anything does in fact speed up your metabolism. But when you look at the science, what we find is that, on a practical level, it doesn’t make much difference if you eat twice a day or 6 times a day. What does matter is how much you eat in 24 hours.
So if you’re one of those people who don’t get hungry until noon or so, don’t worry about eating breakfast. Or, if you find that your energy levels and overall mood is better when you eat more frequently, go with that. In other words, use whatever meal timing and frequency that will make your overall nutrition program more effective and easier to comply with. Just make sure that in the space of 24 hours, your caloric intake and nutritional needs are being met.
- Fiber And Protein Make Any Diet More Successful
As a final suggestion, I’d like to leave you with a quick and easy tip that will make any nutritional program more effective, both in terms of weight loss and long term health: Most people would be better off with more fiber and more protein. There are a number of benefits to both, but for this discussion, I’m mostly talking about the satiety (feeling of fullness) that these two nutrients provide. The irony is however, that calorie per calorie, foods with a relatively high protein and/or fiber content are much more satisfying on a calorie per calorie basis. Feeling full is a GOOD thing because it makes you less likely to binge on less-productive types of foods.
See you tomorrow for Day 9 of the 12 Days of Fitness
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.
Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:
Day #1 – Top 10 Reasons Why People Don’t Exercise
Day #2 – The Dangers of Dieting
Day #3 – The New Rules to Strength Training
Day #4 – How to Stay in Shape When You’re Busy
Day #5 – How Natural is “Natural Flavoring”?
Day #6 – Understanding Food and Nutrition Labels
Day #7 – Minimalist Fitness