- These people are not using the best methods of looking at the science.
- People aren’t following dietary guidelines.
- Weight is not a good measure of health.
- There is not one diet that is the best diet for everyone.
Nothing makes me quite as annoyed as the myths about weight loss. I went through some common ones on the science-side of things.
“It’s simple energy-in, energy-out.”
Our body isn’t an in-out energy machine. As soon as you start to eat less food than you need for your body and brain to work at their best, your brain starts to find ways to reduce your need for energy and increase how much you eat. Because it thinks you’re in a famine.
Things your body may do:
Which means that any efforts to lose weight by changing energy balance are counter-balanced by your body in an effort to maintain your weight.
“[insert fad diet of the week] is the answer”
Diet gurus try to claim that their diet is the best way to lose weight and keep it off: that somehow eating certain foods in just the right proportions, or cutting out the right food group will somehow overcome your body’s efforts to make sure you don’t starve.
A study found that of all the ‘named’ diets (think Atkins, Zone) worked pretty much exactly the same for weight loss at 12 months, as long as you can stick to them.
“If you fail at weight loss, you lack self-control”
Every single diet study shows that an overwhelming majority of people regain weight. Weight loss maxes out at six months and most is regained by 12 months. Less than 3% of people will have kept all their weight loss 5 years later, and most people will have regained at least 83% of the weight they lost. This is because as long as your body weight is lower, your body is putting in a lot of effort to get you back there. Being on a diet is a risk factor for weight gain. Diets are perceived by your body to be times of famine. And times of famine could come again, so your body stores fat to protect you.
“Diets don’t work, but lifestyle changes do”
This, of course, depends what you mean by ‘work’. Lifestyle changes can make you fitter, healthier and happier. They can also help you lose weight in the short term. However, the changes that your body makes to protect itself from weight loss still happen whether you call the changes a lifestyle change or a diet. It’s still less energy for your body to function.
“You can’t be ‘overweight’ and healthy”
So where does this leave us? Is it all a lost cause? Are we doomed to diet of obesity-related diseases? The answer is NO. Health and weight are not 100% linked. It is true that higher body weight seems to be associated with higher risks of certain disease – but this does NOT mean that they are caused by the weight itself.
Changing your lifestyle by increasing healthy behaviours will increase your wellbeing and increase the odds of living longer, regardless of your weight. Healthy behaviours include:
Good luck on your non weight-focused quest for health!
Some sciencey reading if you’re interested in some facts behind all this:
On Catalyst the other day was an episode about low carb diets. Naturally I watched it with great interest. I was sad to see that there were so few actual nutrition experts. Associate Professor Tim Crowe and Melanie Grice, APD, had some good, balanced comments. A lot of the other comments were riddled with errors (if you want you can read a list here http://davidgillespiesbigfatlies.com/catalyst-low-carb-story-shakedown-part-1/), but putting those aside I still think the ‘debate’ is missing the point.
There is not one ‘perfect’ way to eat. Diets vary so much around the world. Some of the longest-living people, the Sardinians and Japanese, have completely different diets. Yes, it is possible to eat a healthy ‘low carbohydrate’ diet, but it is also possible on a ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates are not evil – in fruit and wholegrain form they are amazingly good for us.
A healthy diet has a few important features:
Finding a ‘diet’ which fits these features, you enjoy, and is realistic and sustainable, is the key to health. If that mean low carb or high carb or somewhere in between, that’s totally ok. *
Remember, a ‘perfect’ diet is not realistic or necessary. Eating today involves a lot of cultural foods that may not be good for our bodies. Sure, we might all be healthier if we never ate these foods again, but it’s not sustainable, realistic, or fun.
Having a bit of chocolate, an ice-cream, chips or a piece of cake a couple of times a week is not going to ruin anyone’s health. Eating is more than getting nutrients and preventing chronic disease, it’s also about enjoying food, and enjoying life.
*If you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian will help you determine if you need a specialised diet.
We hear a lot about the benefits of juicing, and the claims seem to make a lot of sense. Everyone knows that fruit and vegetables are good for you. Advocates explain that juicing extracts and concentrates the vitamins and minerals.
There is one important nutrient that juice advocates have ignored: fibre.
When you juice fruit, you take away most of the fibre. A piece of fruit has, on average, 4 grams of fibre. In contrast, a glass of juice has only half a gram of fibre.
Fibre is vital to health. Not only does it mean regular bowels, but is also leads to lower risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Fruit itself reduces the risk of diabetes and obesity, but fruit juice may in fact increase the risk. This is likely due to the fibre content of whole fruit vs juice.
If you’re trying to make the best choice for your health, whole fruit, or even a smoothie, is a better option than low fibre fruit juice.
The trend of ‘quitting sugar’ is very popular right now. It’s an 8 week diet program where you do not eat any sugar (or fructose, to be precise). After that, you can’t eat any sugar, but you can eat fruit. The diet treats sugar as an addictive, evil substance, to be avoided at all costs, somewhat like nicotine, or even heroin.
The problem is, sugar isn’t an addictive drug. It’s delicious, sure, and too much of it isn’t good for your health, but it doesn’t need to be absolutely removed from your diet in order for you to be healthy. This all-or-nothing approach is unnecessarily restrictive.
Such a restrictive diet is very difficult to follow – it doesn’t allow for any slip-ups, and because sugar is seen as evil, eating it seems like the end of the world. Not participating in the delicious parts of life, such as your favourite dessert, or your best friend’s birthday cake is very difficult.
For many people, controlling their diet is a way of managing out of control feelings that they have in life. They channel all their negative emotions into how they feel about their diet – what they eat becomes a representation of their life, and through controlling their food, they feel they are controlling their life.
Unfortunately, this means that when a very restrictive diet, such as quitting sugar, ‘fails’ – ie, sugar is eaten – those people feel like that because they’ve lost control over their diet, they’ve lost control over their life. As a way to deal with the stress of life, it feels like it works: until it doesn’t, and then they are overcome with feelings of guilt, failure, and anxiety.
The best way to eat healthy is to eat from all the food groups in moderation. So enjoy treats, because food isn’t just about nutrition: it’s also about deliciousness, socialising and celebrating.
Floating around Facebook today is Pete Evans’ poke against dietitians and conventional diet wisdom.
Pete has created a picture of dietitians who are all about calorie balance, and who demonise overweight people as simply not exercising enough, who say ‘a calorie is a calorie’. He mentions low fat diets, implying that those who promote them promote coke, potatoes, and other high GI carbs. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is presented as horribly out-of-date, trailing miles behind Sweden who promote a high fat, low carbohydrate diet.
If you look at the recommendations (http://bit.ly/1ygElVr) you’ll find that Sweden’s low carb recommendations are for weight loss, and their guidelines for the healthy population look rather like ours.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating definitely does not promote a high carbohydrate diet, and it doesn’t ignore the difference in quality of calories. It promotes lots of fruit and veggies, and a moderate amount of unprocessed grains, lean meat and dairy. It promotes using oils that we know are healthy, with lots of evidence behind it – for example olive oil.
Dietitians are a clever bunch – we read lots of scientific papers, and we really care about our patients, wanting to use all the science we know to help them meet their health goals.
Pete Evans is promoting the paleo diet – which restricts grains and legumes. Cutting edge science is looking into gut health and food, and shows that grains and legumes promote good gut health, and diets high in animal products, such as the paleo diet, can lead to poor gut health. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24495527)
The Dietitians Association of Australia is indeed sponsored by some big food companies, but they’re not bombarding us with fake science and spin. If you’re looking at conflict of interest, you don’t want to ignore that Pete Evans is launching his own coconut oil brand, a key ingredient in the paleo diet.
All up, current science says lots of fruit and veg, moderate amounts of unprocessed grains, lean meat and dairy, to include legumes and nuts, and use a moderate amount of fats from nuts, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and other unsaturated oils.
You may have heard of the many amazing benefits of raw food – it cures cancer, causes you to lose weight, and even makes you more beautiful – the way we were meant to eat. You may have seen raw cakes, salads and juices appear in your favourite hipster cafe.
The proponents of raw food have quite clever-sounding arguments about raw food: Do not heat food above 44 degrees celcius, for at this temperature the enzymes are destroyed. The enzymes help digestion, therefore cooking food makes it more difficult to digest. Nutrients, in particular vitamins and antioxidants are destroyed by heating – and why would you want that?
The thing about food fads, is they always have elements of truth to them. It’s true that some nutrients are destroyed on heating, but other nutrients are made easier to digest when they’re heated. These include vitamin A, which is vital for eye health, and lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes known to reduce your risk of cancer.
The claim of enzymes is quite an interesting one. Some raw foodists claim the enzymes get absorbed by your body. Scientists know for a fact that this does not happen. More sensible claims are that these enzymes survive until the upper stomach and help to digest food, thereby saving your pancreas the effort. In fact, enzymes do not work for very long at all in the highly acidic environment of your stomach (Chemistry 101), and for goodness sake, let your pancreas do its job!
One of the main claims of raw food is that it reduces your risk of cancer. Research in this area absolutely supports eating a high amount of fruit and vegetables to prevent cancer, but this is the same whether they are cooked or raw. Raw food diets are definitely high in fruit and vegetables, which would reduce your risk of cancer, so that’s a definite plus.
Raw food can also be a way to carefully control eating, so make sure it’s not an excuse to restrict food unnecessarily. It also makes eating out very difficult, and dinner parties inevitably awkward.
All up, there are some great parts of the raw food diet – the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables is inspiring, and there are many new ways to enjoy foods. I definitely would not advise against eating plenty of fresh food, but by restricting cooked food, you’ll be missing out on a variety of foods and nutrients. A wide variety of food and cooking techniques, is the best choice for health and enjoyment.
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