Now that spring is in sight, many of us are thinking about how to get back into shape after a long winter of endless brownies and pizza (not that there’s anything wrong with that, brownies and pizza are the best).
To achieve quick weight loss and get that ‘summer bod’, many people will turn to restrictive diets — no carbs, no fat, limiting calories, doing a juice cleanse… the list goes on.
However, not only is this unsustainable (seriously, no one can live without chocolate 100 percent of the time) but, depending on the strictness of the diet, it can also have a pretty big impact on our mental and physical health.
To help inspire you to get into shape in a healthy, sustainable way, we asked two health experts to share the weight loss myths and diet rules they wish would curl up and die.
Chances are you’re probably following one or more of these.
1. Myth: eating fat will make you fat
“The theory here is that since fat has 37 kilojoules (nine calories) per gram, compared to carbs and protein that only have 16 kilojoules (four calories) per gram, in order to lose weight, you should avoid fat. The reality is, fat is not the enemy,” Robbie Clark, dietitian and sports nutritionist, told The Huffington Post Australia.
“Diets that are high in fat and carbs can make you fat, but it’s not because of the fat. Although fat laden products can be full of calories, consuming a modest amount of healthy fat can help you feel more full since they take longer to digest, so you eat less overall.”
The healthy, unsaturated, plant-based fats include nuts, seeds, avocado, chia seeds and olive oil. According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, the ‘unhealthy’ fats include trans fats and saturated fats which are found in fatty snack foods, deep fried foods, muffins, pastries and cakes.
“Fat is also essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients such as vitamin A, D, E and K, which are essential for good health,” Clark said. “In fact, studies have shown that diets high in fat (but low in carbs) consistently lead to more weight loss than low fat diets.”
2. Myth: low fat food products are better for weight loss
Take a quick look in your supermarket and you’ll see ‘low fat’ everything: yoghurt, whipped cream, lollies, mayonnaise, chips and even peanut butter (we know what you’re thinking: leave peanut butter alone). However, this doesn’t make a food product healthy or good for weight loss.
“The theory here is that food products that are labelled low fat and low carb are considered to be healthier and better for weight loss,” Clark said.
“The truth is, these claims don’t always mean low calorie, and if you’re trying to lose weight, stocking up on these treats could actually undermine your efforts.”
The reason being is that when natural fat is taken out of a product, it is usually replaced with sugar to improve the taste of the food.
“It is this excess sugar that is extremely harmful to our health and waistline, while the fat naturally present in food is not,” Clark explained.
“If you’re tempted by a snack food that’s labelled ‘light’ or ‘low fat’, check the nutrition label. Look at how many kilojoules or calories are in the ‘per 100g’ column, then compare that number with the calories in a comparable product that’s not making the same label claim. And then consider having just a small amount of the real thing.”
3. Myth: carbs make you fat
While reducing your carbohydrate intake can assist in weight loss, completely cutting carbs from your diet — particularly without consulting a health professional — can be risky.
“Carb free means you may miss out on important B vitamins required for energy and stress support, as well as hormone balance,” nutritionist Pip Reed told HuffPost Australia.
“It can also increase hunger and cause overeating of other nutrient groups such as fats. Choose good carbs such as amaranth, quinoa, sweet potato, pumpkin and brown rice in small quantities.”
4. Myth: eating small, frequent meals boosts your metabolism
“The theory here is that if you skip meals throughout the day, your body goes into ‘starvation’ mode and will slow your metabolism, and therefore it’s better to eat smaller more frequent (5-6) meals per day,” Clark said.
“The truth is that the old notion of eating a meal every three to four hours to ramp up your metabolism isn’t exactly perfect advice. In fact, how frequently someone eats has little to do with the speed of their metabolism.”
This is not to say you should eat all your daily energy in one go. It simply means don’t count on eating smaller meals throughout the day to ‘speed up’ your metabolism. Eating this way, however, will help you stay full and satisfied, and keep your blood sugar levels steady.
“Eating frequently is popular for some because it helps them to keep a lid on both hunger as well as cravings. As a result, it allows for better portion and choice control,” Clark told HuffPost Australia.
“Certain individuals (those prone to cravings or with special dietary needs) may benefit from consuming multiple meals through the day. However, for the rest of us, the most important factors to consider regarding metabolism are the quantity and quality of the food we consume.”
5. Myth: counting calories is the best way to lose weight
Counting calories for every meal — constantly weighing, measuring and adding up — is burdensome and can completely remove the joy from eating food.
It can also leave out important parts of a healthy diet and may lead to obsessive restriction.
“Calorie counting is an outdated form of controlling your food intake,” Reed said.
“It does not take into account your micronutrient consumption and can cause fixation and addiction to the numbers instead of the quality and variety of food intake.”
6. Myth: checking scales regularly will keep you on track
Jumped on the scales one morning to find you’ve gained three kilos since yesterday? Don’t worry. There are a few simple reasons for this.
“When you start an exercise program, it is likely that you will increase your lean muscle mass. As a result, it’s possible that your weight could stay the same or even increase, even though you might be feeling and looking slimmer,” Clark told HuffPost Australia.
There are also other factors to consider when weighing yourself that can affect the scales, such as fluid retention (increased body fluid), whether you’ve been to the toilet or not, certain times of a woman’s menstrual cycle and time of day.
“Although it’s important to know how your weight is tracking generally, once a week or once a fortnight might be a better approach. Documenting how you’re feeling is a much better way to measure your progress,” Clark said.
“For people who jump on the scales daily, it can have a negative impact on your psychology and mood.”
7. Myth: pill, herb or juice detoxes will help you lose weight
However tempting they may be, Reed warns to avoid ‘cleanses’ or ‘detoxes’ in order to quickly lose weight.
“These uncontrolled diets are not only ineffective, they can also be dangerous,” Reed explained.
“They can result in a loss of fluid, which people often mistake for weight loss, and an increase in both cravings and weight storage when you do start eating again.”
8. Myth: avoid eating out to stay on track
If you’ve started a diet and promised yourself to never order takeaway, it’s probably doing more harm than good.
“Most people, when they are trying to lose weight, remove themselves from social situations that might lead them astray from their diet or because of a lack of willpower to stay diligent,” Clark said.
“This can also be detrimental to your mental health. Avoiding the situations that bring you joy because your focus needs to be on eating the right foods can create negative connotations and relationship with food, which you can end up resenting.
“Instead of avoiding restaurants and cafes out of fear you will opt for bad food choices, be in control of choosing the restaurant and plan ahead by familiarising yourself with the menu so you can make the healthiest food choice when you dine.”
For more tips on losing weight in a healthy and sustainable way, here are 15 simple, non-intimidating healthy eating tips from five experts. To get healthy meal inspiration, check out these easy meals and 10 breakfasts you can make in under five minutes.