One unfortunate thing about contemporary nutritional information and its widespread availability is that there is a lot of misleading information out there which many of you may have been frustrated by. Conflicting opinions, unrealistic dietary requirements, outright scams… the list goes on, but let’s just cut to the quick here.
1. Eat less fat, lose fat
One of the most common myths, promulgated by many in the “nutritional establishment” is that you can lose weight by eating a low-fat diet. On the contrary, it is very important to have some fat in your diet, and it is also integral to losing undesired fat weight without losing muscle mass. It is also of even more importance for women to get enough fat, since if there is not enough dietary fat intake, normal hormonal production is disrupted and strange things start to happen such as irregular or non-existent menstruation, and for pregnant women, there could be a myriad of undesired results such as birth defects, although I haven’t researched that in much detail yet.
The end result is that people will buy any old thing that says “low-fat” and expect to lose weight, or think that they can just eat a baked potato and a soda for a meal because in terms of sheer calories, it’s not that much. What ends up happening is that they leave themselves constantly hungry from eating much of these shady products, which are often crackers and cookies with hidden calories or that contain trans-fats such as partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Because of this constant hunger from not getting enough fat, the common result is that people will overeat to compensate, and end up with the opposite of the desired result, which is weight gain. This is psychologically defeating and people may often feel it is futile to even try and end up in a vicious cycle.
A lot of the other things you might think are healthy are not really that good for you, either. Things like pasta, rice and bread, especially in their refined forms, are actually quite bad for weight loss and health in general because they are very heavy on carbohydrates, of the type that are what is called “high-glycemic” – meaning that because there is nothing in the way to slow the absorption of these carbs into your bloodstream, you suddenly get a huge boost of energy from all the blood sugar converted from these carbs for about 1.5 hours or so, followed by a dramatic dip in blood sugar and consequently low energy. What I mean by “refined” is not whole-grain or whole-wheat, or in the case of rice, brown.
Another misleading thing are diet sodas – without getting into the aspartame-is-poison debate, these generally leave you with a craving for the sugar that you’re missing, and many argue that the sweetener replacements themselves as well as the caffeine that is often in these beverages trigger undesirable insulin responses. Also, aspartame really is poison, but I won’t get into that right now.
What’s worse, this dramatic dip in blood sugar is a reaction that’s basically your body saying, “well, there’s an excess here so I’m going to tell the pancreas to secrete insulin so you store this excess energy in the form of body fat, just in case you need it for a rainy day”. Which means you get fatter. This seesaw in blood sugar not only creates mood swings, but it is hard on your pancreas and is quite possibly a major cause of early-onset diabetes. This leads me into the next one:
2. All fruits and vegetables are great!
It’s true that some fruits and many vegetables are extremely good for you, but to go back to the glycemic thing, some of them are almost as bad as pasta, rice and bread in the sense that if you don’t eat the low-glycemic ones, you might as well be eating a candy bar. A general rule of thumb is to eat them with other foods that contain insoluble fiber, or to eat ones that themselves have a sufficient amount of insoluble fiber to help regulate the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream so you don’t get it all at once and hence have a steady flow of energy. Generally you can’t go wrong with dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, romaine lettuce (not the practically worthless iceberg lettuce you may be accustomed to) and broccoli. There are a number of sites on the web that show a list of low-glycemic foods, including “good” fruits and vegetables. With fruit, it is mostly berries that are low-glycemic – blueberries and raspberries, for example. It’s also very important to combine fruits and vegetables with sufficient protein and fat (say, oil and vinegar dressing with some chicken, or a side of cottage cheese) to balance them. As Dr. Sears has pointed out in great detail in his books, there is a certain balance of carbs, protein and fat that the human body has evolved to run at its most efficient when that balance is achieved. This he calls “The Zone” and you will know it when you get in it. More about this later.
3. I can’t lose fat without exercising heavily
You most certainly can lose significant weight without exercising like an Olympic athlete. So many people engage in a diet and an exercise program, only to fail because they are far too ambitious and unrealistic about it. Take baby steps, and don’t worry about spending all kinds of money on diet drinks and a gym membership that you probably won’t use because you might be insecure about how you look with a bunch of “buff” people around you. You can do all the exercise you need in the privacy of your own home without a lot of fancy equipment, as well as incorporated into your daily activities – especially if you’re a busy person like myself!
It does help to get some exercise, however. I’ll go into this in more detail in another post.
4. Meat is bad!
Well, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, there’s probably little I can say to convince you otherwise, but for the “rest of us”, meat isn’t always the cancerous, bloating monster it’s demonized to be. First off, it’s very important to get dietary protein, whether it’s beef or soy patties, not only to maintain the … well, meat of your body such as skin, hair, skeletal and organ muscles and so on.
Of course, like with fruits and vegetables, it’s important to get meat as fresh as possible and even more so with meat due to concerns about spoiling and bacteria. However, if you are looking to engage in rapid weight loss, especially if you are not just overweight but dangerously obese, you are going to have to eat a lot of meat to lose fat, i.e. the Atkins diet.
I know that doesn’t make much sense because of the propaganda that’s been peddled out by various industries and nutritional groups, but meat isn’t all bad. I have personally lost considerable fat by eating loads of meats laden with saturated fats, and have seen my blood cholesterol DROP. Now, don’t go out and get a gravy-laden t-bone with a huge baked potato just because you read that, because there are caveats. But, you need protein and even USDA dietary requirements are vague about the amount you need, yet they are practically fascists about reducing fat intake to almost nothing.
As I was saying in myth #2, a balance is important and you need to incorporate some vegetables with your meat not only so you get some fiber for better digestion to avoid constipation, but also to get into that elusive “Zone”.
A general rule of thumb is two “fist-sized” portions of carbs per one fist of protein. This rule is especially helpful when you are dining out or are in a rush, because you don’t have always have the luxury of knowing the exact nutritional content of your food (i.e. carbs/protein/fat in grams). Depending on the type of meat you are eating, you may want to add a little butter, or an oil-based dressing to your veggies. For example, chicken breasts are very low fat, so if you don’t have any fat on your veggies you need to add a tablespoon or so of a fat source to your meal so it is balanced. This will not only leave you with a steady stream of energy, but it will also stave off hunger pangs until the next meal. Beef tends to have more fat, so there would be no need in that case.
I will go into all of these things in more detail, but the bottom line is, don’t be afraid of meat! Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan, in which case you should be sure to get enough protein intake from wherever you get it. I was actually a vegetarian for about 6 years, so I know a bit about the obstacles with it – I ate a lot of soy products, which in retrospect probably wasn’t such a good thing since the human body has trouble digesting soy, and there are increasing amounts of research about the isoflavones in soy that may disturb you. However, there is protein in places you may not expect, such as spinach!
Well, if I think of any other important myths I’ll retroactively add them.