Social media is full of "Nutrition and Dieting Advice" to help people lose and gain weight and maintain healthy lifestyles. Unfortunately, most of the advice constitutes nutrition misinformation. Far from the truth, you've probably heard that eating fat makes you fat and causes heart disease, that eating carbs is the only way to lose weight, or that only certain foods can give you a nutrient deficiency. So, no more blindly believing everything you read on your favorite "health guru" Instagram account. Here are the facts related to common diet myths.
Skinny Means Healthy
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While being overweight is associated with several chronic diseases, one does not need to be skinny to be healthy. In fact, many people who are naturally slim due to their genetics will still have the same risks and health problems as someone carrying excess weight. Don't fall victim to the diet industry's common propaganda that wants you thin at all costs; instead, think critically about what it means for your body composition (body type) and your overall health. Prior to the 21st century, only 0.5% of the American population was trying to lose weight. Today, almost 50% of North Americans are on a diet. This is worrisome given that dieting doesn't always lead to weight loss and might even be unhealthy. Most people who go on a diet quickly lose weight as their caloric intake temporarily drops below what it normally would be.
Studies have shown that regardless of whether a dieter's caloric intake is reduced to one-third of what they usually eat, they usually lose fat while still being able to eat all their favorite foods. Perhaps that's why people on diet plans often end up on a craving spree for "missed-out" foods that results in them gaining back all the weight they lost. This is also why the majority of diets don't last for more than a few months. The research on dieting is unequivocal with respect to both its short-term and long-term effects. In the short term, people do lose weight. However, in the long term, 95% of dieters regain all the weight they lost and additional pounds due to the new eating habits. If anything, being on a diet increases one's risk for heart disease and death by almost 50%. Dieting might lead to weight loss but it's no guarantee that you'll be healthier or happier afterwards.
Healthy Diets Are Expensive
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The perception that healthy options at the local grocery cost more seems to indicate that those of us on a tight budget have no alternative but to eat unhealthy meals. This doesn’t have to be the case. We don’t believe that healthy eating has to come with an inflated price tag considering there are plenty of affordable options out there. All that is needed is diet literacy and effective planning of meals to make due with available resources. Exercising due diligence will also reveal that unhealthy food options cost more than health products. Take for example a bag of chips which contain high levels of salt, fat, sugar and calories vis-à-vis a can of beans, fruits or vegetables. Something else to consider is that store brands will offer products of similar nutritional quality to those available in major brands at a significantly lower price.
The idea that healthy food is expensive is now outdated and has been disputed by plenty of research. A study conducted by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics in 2010 found that consumers can save approximately $550 annually on average when they don’t purchase junk food and, instead, prepare meals at home. Healthier eating also reduces your chances of suffering from a stroke, having a heart attack, contracting type 2 diabetes or becoming afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published studies which show that the human body will not benefit from higher fat and sugar levels so the cost of eating unhealthy products are clearly visible in rising health care bills for obesity related illnesses.
Low Carbs, Low Fat, Fat Free Meals Equal Healthy Diets
Just as fat has been blamed for promoting weight gain and heart disease, carbs have been shunned by many people over fears that consuming this macronutrient will cause obesity, diabetes, and other adverse health effects. But the truth is that both fat and carbs play important roles when it comes to our health. Dietitians have long acknowledged the potential benefits of fat while also warning against overconsumption and unhealthy types of fat. Similarly, we have long recognized that not all carbs are created equal and there's a huge difference between healthy, nutrient-rich sources of carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables compared to more refined sources like candy bars or white bread.
It's important to address the confusion that can occur among people who think that refined carbs may be better for maintaining a healthy weight than high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables. The problem with refined carbs is that they're stripped off all their fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants - making them more similar to junk food than a high-fiber whole food. The reason that fiber and high-fiber carbohydrates have such a powerful effect on satiety is because they stimulate the production of certain hormones in our digestive tract. These hormones help us feel full, which helps to prevent overeating. Eating foods that promote satiety helps to support healthy eating habits and limit overeating. It also helps prevent disorderly eating characterized by binge eating and other unhealthy behaviors, like anorexia or bulimia.
Fat is also an essential component of food, and avoiding it might lead to some health problems and complications. For example, people who are overweight and have metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, may actually benefit from a diet high in unhealthy fats. Furthermore, some research shows that eating healthy fats can actually protect us against heart disease by reducing body fat.
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Timing and Frequency of Meals Matters
You have probably heard that one should not even eat a grape after 7 PM or that frequent meals help you lose weight. The truth is that meal frequency does not impact one's metabolism thus having no impact on weight loss. The timing of the meal also has absolutely no effect on one's metabolism. For instance, intermittent Fasting (IF) is a form of dieting in which the goal is to eat for 16-18 hours per day with a 6-10 hour fast in-between meals. The general idea behind IF is that it will help you burn more calories since you are not eating for most of the day.
According to research, however, intermittent fasting does not increase total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). On the contrary, there exists evidence which suggests that intermittent fasting reduces TDEE and actually causes weight gain by interfering with one's natural circadian rhythm regulation. Another myth concerns the positive impacts of breakfast on one's metabolism. According to social media dieticians, "it is the most important meal of the day and significantly increases the rate at which you burn calories while at rest." They argue that skipping breakfast causes you to overeat later in the day. However, one study found that "adults with overweight and obesity observed no weight difference between those who ate breakfast and those who didn’t."
The most common myth is that eating frequent small meals will help you lose weight. Research suggests that one should eat when hungry and as varied a diet as possible. The truth behind meal timing is the following: just because you do not feel hungry does not mean that your body does not require food. It is therefore important to eat when your body craves for food and to never go more than 4-6 hours without eating a meal. You will always find misleading information about healthy diets on the Internet and social media platforms. The key to evidence-based advice is to search for reputable sources written by qualified dieticians.