As a Holistic Nutritionist, I strongly dislike the mainstream meaning of the word “diet.” It implies subjecting our bodies and minds to a period of short-term deprivation in order to reach an (often unhealthy or unattainable) end weight goal, and people view it as simply something that must be endured if they wish to lose weight.
This standard diet model rarely works, especially if you are seeking long term weight loss. It might promote short-term success, but at the expense of your mental sanity. Drastically cutting calories, eliminating major food groups, and/or undergoing a radical detox or cleanse program almost always ensures that the weight will come right back.
Why? This method of weight loss does not work for several reasons. For example, drastic calorie-restriction or detox programs can actually do permanent damage to the metabolism, they deprive the body of essential nutrients, we end up with uncontrollable cravings which often lead to bingeing, and we never learn how to actually change our eating habits in order to achieve sustainable, long term success.
Weight loss myth #1: Eating fat makes us fat
Plain and simple: Including appropriate amounts of high quality dietary fat does not lead to body fat. Gaining popularity in the 1950s and really taking off in the 1980s, Americans became obsessed with the idea of a low-fat/no-fat diet model.
Fortunately, the myth of the low-fat diet being the leading cause of obesity and heart disease has been largely debunked in recent years, but many still do cling to it as the diet model of choice when wanting to lose weight.
While studies show that processed and rancid fats such as trans-fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils) will contribute to obesity and a host of other problems, good sources of fat can actually help us to lose weight. Sources such as coconut oil, olive oil, raw nuts and seeds, avocados, and flax oil are actually essential to include in a healthy diet. If weight loss is the goal, moderating them to one serving/meal is recommended (approximately one tablespoon).
In fact, studies show that a low-carbohydrate and higher fat diet model can be highly beneficial in weight loss.
Weight loss myth #2: Calories in, calories out is all that matters
Thermodynamics is the study of the relationship between heat, work, and the internal energy of a system. What this boils down to for weight loss is that you have to burn more calories than you take in, plain and simple. (This is basic science). However, what many people fail to take into account is that not all calories are created equal.
Scientifically this holds true, as we cannot eat more calories than we burn and expect to lose weight. However, eating certain foods will increase our metabolic rate and our level of satiety (feeling of fullness), therefore promoting further weight loss. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon in their best-selling book, Eat Fat Lose Fat, point out that eating a low-fat diet can actually produce more food cravings and has been linked to overeating.
Eat Fat, Lose Fat goes on to give some examples of symptoms you may be experiencing that are indicators of nutrient deficiencies in your body that lead to over-eating and sluggish metabolism:
- Weight slowly creeping up
- Can’t lose that last 5-10 pounds no matter what
- Low energy
- Feeling hungry after a meal
- Craving fried, sweet foods
- Experiencing a mid-afternoon energy crash
- Feeling too fatigued to exercise
Weight Loss Myth #3: Cravings are controlled by will-power alone
One of the most essential parts to successful weight loss is blood sugar regulation. When our blood sugar drops, we become ravenously hungry and are much less likely to discern between healthy and non-healthy foods, let alone make healthy choices. If we eat at regular intervals throughout the day, and include healthy proteins and fats in each of these meals/snacks, our bodies are able to better sustain energy levels, and avoid reaching the point of feeling famished.
Foods that will cause more dramatic spikes and crashes in blood sugar include starchy, high carbohydrate foods, but particularly refined carbs and sugar. That is why eating a breakfast high in protein and good fat (eggs and veggies cooked in coconut oil, with 1/2 baked sweet potato on the side, for example) will set you off on the right foot for the day to come, especially if you suffer from blood sugar dysregulation.
An excellent book to learn more about overeating and cravings is The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by Dr. David Kessler.
While there is no secret trick to magically lose weight, here are some pointers:
-Get adequate amounts of protein (20 grams of protein/meal for an average, healthy adult). Adequate protein has been shown to boost metabolism.
-Avoid inflammatory foods such as soy, refined carbs and sugar (processed pastries and baked goods, candy, white bread and pasta), along with rancid oils such as canola, soy and corn. Eating inflammatory foods and/or foods we might be sensitive too can lead to fluid retention and swelling (among more serious conditions).
-Lower your stress level, as stress produces excess cortisol, which increases insulin resistance. Cortisol is a fat storage hormone, and will lead to belly fat, in particular. Begin a meditation or deep breathing practice, get adequate sleep, and don’t be afraid to say no to social events or engagements that add stress to your life.
-Don’t over-exercise. Excess exercise, especially intense and long-duration cardio, can actually increase your cortisol levels, leading to weight gain.
-Consider toxicity. If you suspect weight loss resistance (inability to lose weight), it might be a toxic load issue (think environmental toxins like mercury, lead, arsenic, etc). Find a healthcare practitioner who offers hair analysis testing for heavy metal toxicity, and undergo a safe detox program.
-Make sure your Omega 3:6 fatty acid ratios are in line. Most Americans are deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids (the kind found in cold water fish such as wild salmon), and too high in inflammatory Omega 6’s (found in vegetable oils like canola). Omega 3’s boost the bodies fat burning capacity, so consider including more wild fish in your diet. If you can’t eat three servings of fish per week, supplementing with a fermented cod liver oil could be beneficial.
By debunking common diet myths, we can achieve healthy and sustainable weight loss that does not sacrifice our sanity. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you.