1. Eat less exercise more
We’ve been hearing this mantra for decades, and it doesn’t seem to have any impact on the obesity epidemic. At the core of this advice is a false belief that overweight people are gluttonous and lazy. In most cases that is far from the truth. To start with – exercise is a poor way to lose weight. It is only responsible for 10%-30% of weight loss when compared to nutrition. You can lose a lot of weight just by changing your eating habits. You will lose only a small amount (if any) with exercise alone. Eating less seems like a good advice until you ask a question “less of what?”
If someone lives on a diet of fast food, sugar and takeaways, merely eating less won’t make much of a difference. The medical community is slowly waking up to the reality that it’s not the amount of food that matters – it’s the QUALITY! What you eat is more important for both weight loss and health than the amount you eat.
2. A calorie is a calorie
Calories in – calories out theory seem to make a lot of sense for weight loss. It’s such a simple and practical explanation; I only wish it was true. Ask yourself this – do you REALLY believe 100 calories from broccoli will have an exactly same effect on your body and weight as 100 calories from a doughnut?
Your body responds to carbohydrates, fats and protein you eat in different ways. It also reacts to the quality of each macronutrient. Calories in your food are calculated by burning it in a sealed container and then measuring the increase in water temperature around it. It is quite clear to me that our bodies don’t “burn” the food the same way. If you still have any doubts – check Sam Feltham experiment. He ate 5000 calories a day of low-fat, high carbohydrate foods for three weeks and gained 7.1 kg (waist increased by 9.25cm). When he repeated the same experiment eating 5000 calories a day of high-fat and low-carbohydrate foods – he gained only 1kg but lost 3 cm in waist circumference. Calories are not created equal!
3. Follow the pyramid (follow the money)
Do you think the government has your best interests at heart and will guide you on living a healthy life? Think again. The food pyramid is one of the drivers of the obesity epidemic in the US. The original guidelines prepared by nutritionists were changed to represent agricultural industry interests and has nothing to do with a healthy diet. For example, the advice to eat 3-4 servings of bread and cereals was replaced by 6-11 servings (a day!) to represent the corn and wheat industry. That is an insane amount of carbohydrates!
Luise Light, one of the nutritionists who worked on the original food pyramid project, has been speaking out about it. She says the food pyramid was sold to the highest bidder. Read her article here – A Fatally FLawed Food Guide.
No one points out the fact that US food pyramid is prepared NOT by a Department of Health, but by a Department of AGRICULTURE! It doesn’t represent a healthy diet, but a very profitable one. UK nutritional guidelines are a little bit better but also follow some really questionable science.
4. Moderation and balance
The advice to eat everything in moderation is closely tied to the food pyramid controversy. As Luise Light points out: “the purpose of food guides is to persuade consumers that all foods (especially those that they’re selling) fit into a healthful diet.” Or like Eric Edmeades, the founder of Wildfit, likes to say: “Everything in moderation means health in moderation”.
We need to get over our fear of cutting out certain food groups from our diet if they’re causing health problems in fear of some mysterious deficiencies! With our current knowledge about nutrition, we can easily correct any deficiency. We’ve been so brainwashed into believing that we HAVE TO eat a “balanced” diet that we fail to see thriving communities and individuals who never eat certain food groups and are healthier than we are. The other problem is – who determines how much food is “moderation”? “Everything in moderation” has turned into an excuse to eat everything and avoid making necessary changes that are needed to improve our health.
5. Eating fat makes you fat
The fat you eat and the fat you store around your waist might seem like the same thing. It makes sense, right – you eat fat, you get fat? Not so. Thousands of people who follow an LCHF (low-carb high-fat) or ketogenic lifestyle are proving this to be completely wrong. You can eat 70%-80% fat in your diet and not only lose weight but improve your health.
The ketogenic diet is also used by medical professionals to treat epilepsy in children who don’t respond to medications. Think about that – diet high in fat can do more than medication for some people. It is true that fat has more calories per gram (9 cal) than protein (4 cal) or carbohydrates (4 cal), but we already debunked “a calorie is a calorie” myth. Bottom line – fat is necessary for many systems in our body to function well, when in doubt – choose full-fat products. And don’t be afraid of saturated fat – the newest research confirms over and over again that saturated fat in foods doesn’t cause heart disease.
6. You have to eat breakfast
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the breakfast that determines weight loss success. It’s overall diet and lifestyle. No one should eat if they’re not hungry. And a lot of people don’t feel hungry in the morning. Your body knows very well how much fuel it needs and at what time, and it will tell you.
If you’re not hungry in the morning – skip the breakfast, but make sure you have some healthy foods with you for the time when your body decides it’s time to eat. Just like no one should try and starve themselves to lose weight, no one should try and force themselves to eat breakfast either.
7. Dieting to lose weight
One big mistake people make after realising they are overweight – they decide they need to go “on a diet”. Most people do go on a diet, lose weight, gain it all back, go on another diet, lose weight, gain it all back. “Dieting” as a concept is not sustainable. It implies this idea that there is a short-term fix for a long-term problem. Anyone who has struggled to lose weight has a long-term problem. And only a long-term solution will resolve it for good.
A permanent change in eating and lifestyle habits is the only way. Dieting doesn’t work. The only exception is trying to lose a couple of pounds for a wedding or other special occasion, in that case, yes – go on a diet, as long as you don’t have expectations that your weight loss will last after you stop the diet.
8. It’s genetic
I often hear people say that their weight is “genetic”, that it “runs in the family”, that everyone in the family is “big boned”. This is another myth – becoming overweight because of genetics. The science is clear about that – you might have a genetic predisposition to weight gain, but genes by themselves won’t make you overweight. Only your lifestyle will.
Genes are not static – we can switch them on and off through changes in our lifestyle. Genes that signal the body to gain weight will stay inactive if the person is eating healthy, exercising and taking care of themselves. What is happening in overweight families is simply shared eating and lifestyle habits, blaming it on genetics is an excuse to change nothing.
9. You shouldn’t eat after 6
Just like “you have to eat breakfast” this one has nothing to do with reality. There is a theory that your metabolism slows down in the evening and food you eat after 6 can’t be “burned off”. That is simply not true. Your body is smarter than that; it can store energy in the liver and muscles until you need it. Once again – it’s important why you eat, what you eat and how much you eat.
If you’re genuinely hungry – you should eat, the time of day makes no difference. If you’re trying to lose weight, your overall diet and lifestyle is the important factor, not what time you eat your dinner. The only issue with eating after 6 is indulging in unhealthy snacks or binging, which happens more often in the evenings. Having your main meal and even snacks after 6 is not a problem, as long as you eat healthily.
10. You can be fat but fit
Can you be healthy, even while overweight or obese? Yes and no. Previous studies indicated that there is a subgroup of people who are overweight or obese but show no indications for developing health problems. However, an extensive follow-up study showed that overweight people, who were otherwise completely healthy, had 28% increased risk of coronary heart disease when compared to healthy people in the normal weight group. The study didn’t look at other health complications, only heart disease. So the answer to the question “can you be fat but fit” is – for a while, you can. Overweight people who are 40 or younger, who have fat distributed all over their body, not just on their waist, and who are moderately active non-smokers can get away with being overweight without getting sick for a while. Staying overweight into the older age will undoubtedly lead to increased risk for health complications.
11. You have to starve yourself to lose weight
When you think about a “diet” your mind most likely comes up with pictures of bland, boring, unappealing foods, deprivation and hunger. First of all, denying your body food when it is genuinely hungry is never the right answer. Going hungry for prolonged periods of time can lead to depression and backfire as emotional eating, it can also damage your metabolism.
The trick is to learn about appropriate portion sizes and to regulate hunger and satiety hormones (ghrelin and leptin). Starving yourself is a sure way to increase your hunger hormones. From my experience with the low-carb high-fat diet, I can say that having a right balance of fats, carbohydrates and protein can drive hunger levels down so much that you have to remind yourself to eat something.
12. Perfect diet for everyone
There are many healthcare practitioners and healthy eating gurus who try to convince the world that there is ONE ideal diet for everyone (the one they are selling). If only we all followed their advice – we would all live healthy lives forever. The truth is more complex. Our bodies are different, we evolved in different regions of the Earth, in different climates, with different food supplies. We are different genetically, affected by different environments, medications, microbiome, lifestyle choices, health issues. Some of us have food intolerances we are not aware of. Some of us struggle with insulin resistance and don’t even know about it.
Some people greatly improve their health by following a plant-based (vegan) diet, others – by switching to high fat, high animal protein diet. Some people benefit from avoiding lectins in their food (check The Plant Paradox) or going organic. People who have cancer will have different dietary needs than people with diabetes. I would say there are as many perfect diets as there are people on the planet, the trick is finding what works for YOU and your body! And what works for you might not work for anyone else in the world.
Good luck and good health!