Don’t eat carbs. Don’t combine foods. Stick to protein. Eat three healthy meals a day. Eat six times a day. Avoid all snacks or you’ll blimp out. The media is constantly bombarding you with The Next Big Thing for losing weight.
Your buddies claim to know it all, too. And every solution conflicts with the next. All you want is to lose a few kilos, but who can you believe? To separate fact from fiction, we’ve put together a list of 15 misconceptions about weight loss.
You have to Give Up your Favorite Foods
Nonsense. You can eat anything you want. Just don’t overdo it. A healthy diet is all about balance. If you deprive yourself of all pleasure, your resolution to lose weight is likely to crumble. Take sugar, for instance. Although too much of the sweet stuff isn’t good for a healthy diet, including a little in your weight-loss plan makes you feel less hard done by and more likely to stick to it. Ditto fat. Including some good fatty foods (such as olive oil, avocados and nuts) in your diet will make you feel satisfied and less likely to pig out on unhealthy choices later.
All Snacks should be Banned
Your grandma used to insist on three meals a day with no snacking in-between, but modern thinking is that the right snacks, like fruit and vegetables, can actually be good for you. Snacks aren’t the bad boys ; kilojoules are. As long as you keep your kilojoule intake to what is healthy to lose or maintain weight (about 8 000 to 10 000kJ per day for a 75kg man), you can divide it up any way you choose. A small tub of low-fat yoghurt or an apple never ruined anyone’s diet, and it may keep your blood-sugar level stable and prevent you from getting cravings that will see you gobbling everything in sight before the first mouthful has even hit your stomach. Feelings of guilt and failure when you try to stick to an impossible plan can lead to you giving up, bingeing and losing self-esteem – not to mention weight regain.
Grapefruit/Cabbage/Soup/Celery can Burn Fat
No foods can ‘burn fat’. Some foods with caffeine (like coffee, chocolate and cola) can marginally rev up your metabolism (the rate at which your body’s kilojoule-burning machinery turns over) for a short time, but they can’t cause you to lose weight. If you eat nothing but celery for a week, you’ll probably lose weight initially – simply because you’re not devouring all that other stuff, not because celery burns fat. Fad diets are unhealthy because they don’t provide all the nutrients you need. Besides, can you eat nothing but celery for the rest of your life? And here’s something else to consider: if your kilojoule intake drops too low (less than about 6 000 to 60 000kJ a day for 25- to 40-year-old guys), your body will start thinking it’s in starvation mode, causing your metabolism to slow down temporarily.
So depriving yourself will only slow down the weight-loss process. And once you get back to reality and start eating normally again, those kilos are just going to pile back on. What’s more, losing too much weight too quickly isn’t healthy. You lose lean muscle tissue, which lowers your basal metabolic rate, which in turn makes you gain weight more rapidly when you stop dieting. It also encourages yo-yo dieting, which may increase your risk for heart disease. A healthy rate of weight loss is no more than 0.5 to one kilogram a week.
Food-Combining Diets Work Wonders
Some diets are based on the daft notion that your digestive system can’t tackle a combination of foods. They claim, for instance, that proteins and carbs clash, causing digestive problems and weight gain. This is bollocks. Few foods are purely protein or purely carbs; most are a mixture. And your digestive enzymes are quite savvy enough to break down all foods you eat – separately or together.
High Protein, Low Carb Diets are a Healthy way to Lose Weight
The long-term health effects of such diets are uncertain. What is certain is that getting most of your daily kilojoules from high-protein meat, eggs and cheese isn’t a balanced diet. Downside number one: too much fat increases your risk of heart disease. Downside number two: too little fruit, vegetables and wholegrains can lead to constipation from lack of dietary fiber and a greater risk of certain forms of cancer.
Too much protein and too little carbs can also lead to a build-up of partially broken-down fats called ketones in your blood, causing high levels of uric acid, which is a risk factor for gout and kidney stones. Increased urea output can also cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, leading to poor concentration, headaches and fatigue. Side effects of ketone build-up are bad breath, headache, nausea and dizziness. The liver and kidneys are placed under great strain to process this excess protein.
Skipping Meals is a Great Way to Lose Weight
You have a skinny mate who ‘never has time for breakfast’, so that seems like a great plan to you. However, studies show that people who skip meals tend to be heavier than those who don’t, possibly because they feel hungrier later on and hit the munch trail. When you skip meals, your body goes into preservation mode and your metabolism slows, as we saw in Myth 3. And that makes it even harder to lose weight. Eating three meals a day and two or three snacks helps control hunger signals and appetite. It also keeps blood-sugar levels stable, provided you’re eating a balanced diet and not snacking on chips and chocolates.
All Starches make you Fat
Hogwash. Starch doesn’t make you fat. Kilojoules do. Many high-starch foods – bread, rice, pasta, cereals, potatoes and beans – are actually low in fat and kilojoules. The killer is when your portion size is enough to feed a small herd of elephants, or when you slather it in high-fat, high-kilojoule toppings like butter, sour cream or mayonnaise.
The truth is that high-starch foods, or complex carbohydrates, are an important source of ready-to-use fuel for your body. That’s why dieticians recommend that they make up 45 to 55 percent of your diet. However, as with all foods, if your kilojoule intake is in excess of what you require, the excess will be stored as fat.
What’s more, not all starches are equal. High-GI (glycaemic index) starches like white bread, chips and cakes give you a short burst of energy, whereas more desirable low-GI carbs like whole-grain rye bread, brown rice, baked beans and apples keep you full for longer, so you eat less.
Also, a diet high in carbs, especially sugar and refined, high-GI starches, can increase your secretion of the hormone insulin, which promotes the deposit of fat, especially round the belly, and retards the fat-burning process.
Avoid Fats like the Plague
Although fat is twice as kilojoule-dense as carbohydrates and protein, it’s brainless to avoid it altogether because you’ll just want to eat a whole horse, saddle and all. Fats keep you fuller for longer because they stop your stomach from emptying too quickly. Your body must get some fats to function properly. About a third of our kilojoule intake should come from fat. Too little fat in the diet can result in dry skin, wounds not healing properly, reduced immunity function and vitamin deficiencies. Plant fats (found in olive oil, nuts and avocados) and omega-3 fats (from oily fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon) are good sources of essential fats. There’s even evidence suggesting that omega-3s can help with weight loss.
A related myth is that nuts are packed with fat, so should be avoided by anyone trying to lose weight. The truth is that nuts, in small amounts, can be part of a healthy weight-loss program because they contain unsaturated fats, which don’t clog your arteries. Portion size is crucial, however, so don’t devour a kilogram of roasted cashews on automatic pilot while watching the game on a Saturday afternoon. If you can’t stop at a handful, rather sprinkle nuts over salads or put them in stir-fries. And unsalted nuts are healthier and less more-ish.
All Dairy Products are Fattening
Not true. Low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yoghurt are as nutritious as full-cream dairy products. They still contain protein to build muscles and help organs work properly and calcium to strengthen bones, but are lower in fat and kilojoules. There’s some evidence that increasing calcium intake when dieting actually improves fat loss and promotes muscle-building.
Make sure you read the fine print on food labels, however. So-called ‘low-fat’ cream cheese contains a whopping 21g of fat per l00g of product, and ‘reduced-fat’ cheddar can easily contain 20g per l00g. Although this is less than regular cheddar, which has a fat content in excess of 30g, it’s still loads of fat. At less than five grams of fat per l00g of product, low-fat or fat-free cottage cheeses are obviously your best cheesy choice.
It’s Fat Free, so I can Eat as Much as I Want
False. ‘Fat free’ doesn’t mean ‘kilojoule free’. Although low fat or fat free foods are often lower in kilojoules than full-fat equivalents, many contain added sugar or starch thickeners to improve flavor and texture after the fat has been removed. These ingredients add kilojoules. So sweets like jelly babies may be fat-free, but they still pack a kilojoule punch at 1 600kJ per l00g of product – the same as six slices of bread.
Never Eat Dessert
Deprivation is the ruin of many a diet, so go ahead and occasionally have a small portion of dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth – it’ll make you more likely to stick to your diet. Just don’t overdo it: think of it as a treat, not a staple. Once or twice a week is reasonable. Choose your occasions wisely, plan ahead, and don’t skip a meal out of guilt. That way, you won’t feel so deprived that you turf the whole diet and stuff your face with truck loads of forbidden cake and ice cream.
Drinking while Eating makes you Fat
The assumption here is that fluid dilutes your digestive juices and enzymes, slowing digestion and packing on excess body fat. Wrong. In fact, drinking water with your meal improves your digestion and helps give you a full feeling. Obviously, too much kilojoule-laden booze can be fattening, but that’s true whether you drink it with your meal or not. Five beers means 2 500kJ are going down the hatch, meal or no meal.
To speed up initial weight loss, try to cut out booze entirely or halve whatever you’re
currently drinking, for a total of six or seven drinks a week. Your belt notches will show you the benefits.
Don’t Worry about Dieting – Just Exercise
Sorry. Exercising alone won’t burn enough kilojoules to make you lose weight if you’ve constantly got your snout in the trough. Wolf down a double cheeseburger and chips (5100kJ) and you’ll have to walk briskly for four hours to burn them off. Four hours. Unless you cut back on kilojoules as well, there’s not enough time in your day to lose weight through exercise alone, so any extra weight won’t be waving goodbye.
Exercise must be Intense if you want to Lose Weight
Not so. Although it’s a good idea to work out three to five times a week at moderate intensity to increase cardiovascular fitness and burn fat, all physical activity is good. Any amount of movement you do will increase the number of kilojoules you burn and, ultimately, contribute to fat loss. So mow the lawn, clean out the garage, take the dog for a walk – just get moving.
Avoid Resistance Training if you want to Lose Weight
Where did you hear that? Although aerobic exercise burns more fat, the benefits end shortly after you stop. But strength training helps build muscle, and muscle cells are up to eight times more metabolically active than fat cells. This means muscle burns more kilo-joules than fat – even when you’re sitting still. Because muscle is heavier than fat, building muscle may initially make you gain some weight, but it’ll also burn more fat and streamline your shape in the long term.
Ideally, you should do cardiovascular exercise like walking, running or swimming at moderate intensity (in other words, you can still chat to your buddy) for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. Then you need two weekly strength training sessions to build muscle. Any kind of resistance training will do: lifting weights, using large rubber resistance bands or doing shoulder presses, leg presses, push-ups or sit-ups. Even digging or lifting chores round the house can be of benefit.