On a daily basis we are bombarded with conflicting diet advice and health claims promising lasting weight loss. We get this mostly from the internet, television, and social media. With all of this information it is definitely hard and confusing to understand how to be fit and healthy.
Below lists the worst advice I’ve heard over the past few years that just won’t seem to fully die – even though these claims have been debunked time and time again.
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“It’s simple math, eat less and exercise more to lose fat”
This is the worst piece of advice out there for so many reasons. This statement has been debunked countless times, yet I still see this advised all over social media and on the internet. If this were true and it really was this simple, than why do so many of us have trouble with not just losing weight but keep it off? Of course if you starve yourself for a while your body will start to waste away – but your body is going to go after your muscles and other tissues before it wants to burn fat.
Your body is smart, if it thinks it is starving, it will slow down (meaning less calories burned), and its going to go after your body tissue that burns the most calories (aka muscle). Fat is the last thing your body wants to get rid of because fat is needed for a number or important metabolic reasons, including normal hormone production. Also, the worst is that once you stop starving yourself and start eating at a normal level again, not only do you gain the weight back, but you gain even more weight back because your body has slowed down so much.
Unfortunately I’ve had so many patients who have followed this advice, only to become heavier after.
Don’t starve yourself, eat real food and cut out processed foods.
“Work out longer to burn more calories and fat”
Nope, definitely not. When you only do steady-state cardio, for example jogging or using the elliptical at the same pace for 30 minutes or longer, this does not magically make your body burn fat. Your body burns fat when it is challenged, such as with strength training and interval training. Strength training and interval training works your muscles harder, making them stronger, and preventing muscle loss. The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest, and the more fat you will likely be able to burn. Steady-state cardio favors muscle loss, and does not help to build muscle or preserve the muscle you already have.
I love running because I think it is the most effective and efficient workout you can do, and I like that you can do it anywhere. That being said, I advise short hard runs that incorporate intervals, and do not advise long steady-state runs (unless you are training for a marathon or other race). If you follow us on Instagram, then you see that I typically run intervals for 30 minutes, varying in intensity different days, and I basically never run at the same pace the whole time. Adding intervals and mixing up your workout also makes the workout more interesting and makes it go by faster!
Ditch the steady-state cardio, instead add intervals to your workout and cut back on the amount of time you workout for to see best results.
“Eat carbohydrates in the morning for energy and to stay full all morning”
Unless you are working out in the morning, I definitely don’t advise eating carbs in the morning. Carbs are calming for sure, but also can be too calming meaning they can make you feel sleepy and lethargic. Carbs also raise blood sugar which stimulates insulin. We want to stimulate insulin as little as possible because insulin likes to shuttles calories to your fat stores – which is why insulin is called the fat storage hormone. I’m not saying don’t eat carbs ever, just know the effects of carbs on your body and how you will feel. I advise eating carbs at night time because they help to promote sleepiness, which is what you want at night time and not first thing in the morning.
I used to eat oatmeal every single morning because I had been told it was the best thing to keep me full and that it would “stick” to my stomach to keep me fuller longer. I blindly followed this advise even though I noticed that no matter how much oatmeal I ate, I was always hungry within a couple of hours and needed a snack before lunch. If you find something like this is true for you where you are told something should keep you full and satisfied for hours, yet you are hungry within a couple of hours, know that its not you that’s the problem, it’s the bad advice you were given.
Instead of carbs in the morning, go for a mix of protein and fat to keep you fuller longer and to prevent a mid-morning energy slump.
“You must eat breakfast in the morning”
Good news for those of you who can’t stomach breakfast – you don’t have to eat it! Eat when you are hungry, if that is not first thing in the morning then wait to eat. Most breakfast food is really just dessert, so if you want to skip it then skip it. If you are hungry in the morning then I advise protein and fat such as eggs, or a Bulletproof coffee made with grass-fed butter and coconut oil.
I often get asked whether or not to eat before a workout in the morning, and I personally like to eat breakfast after working out in the morning because I don’t like working out on a full stomach, and don’t want to wait to workout after eating.
It’s simple, if you are not hungry, don’t eat. This is true not only for breakfast, but for anytime of day.
“Do a juice fast to feel great and burn fat”
The only benefit of doing a juice fast or any other type of crash diet for a few days is from what you aren’t eating, it’s not the juice. Yes you can lose weight after a juice fast – but that comes from water and muscle, it doesn’t magically make you burn fat. For the same reasons above, a juice fast is going to slow your metabolism and make you lose muscle if anything. If your friend swears by a juice fast they’ve done and tells you how amazing they feel, question what that friend was eating and drinking in the first place.
It’s ok to drink a green juice daily, but you also want to eat real food as well.
“Eating fat makes you fat”
It seems like this advice is slowly starting to die, but I know many individuals still fear that eating fat is going to make them fat. It used to be that we thought eating fat was essentially like adding fat directly to our fat stores, making us fat. We’ve found that this is not true, our body is not that simple. When you eat fat there are many chemical reactions that take place to break that fat down, and the components of fat are used for many things – making you fat is not one of them. Fat keeps you full because it is digested slowly, it is needed for absorption of essential vitamins and nutrients, and is needed to sustain a healthy functioning body. The one macronutrient we don’t need to sustain ourselves is carbohydrates, so replace the carbs in your diet with fat. For example, instead of a slice of toast in the morning to go with your eggs, add a tablespoon of coconut oil.
Fat is not the enemy, it is needed for a healthy body.
“Snack frequently to increase your metabolism”
The more you snack, the more you are going to stimulate insulin, and what did we learn about insulin above? It favors fat storage. The more times you eat a day also means more opportunities you have to overeat. Also, if you are constantly hungry this means you are never quite full enough from your previous meal, meaning you may be more likely to overeat on snacks. I advise three adequate meals per day that keep you full for ideally four hours, and a mid afternoon snack if you are hungry.
Personal example: I generally have breakfast around 8am, I have lunch around 12:30/1, a snack around 4, and I eat dinner around 7. Of course this isn’ the exact same schedule everyday, but its my usual pattern. I generally eat the same amount at each meal and so I know roughly how long I should be full for. There are days where I’m more or less hungry and might have an additional Epic bar or something, or might make a meal slightly smaller. It’s all about trial and error and trying out what works for you.
Avoid snacking, if you are having to snack or eat something within 3 hours, this means you need to make your main meals larger and denser with fiber, protein, and fat.
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About the author: Sarah-Kate is an Ivy League trained Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner with an expertise in women’s health and preventative healthcare. She considers nutrition and exercise to be the basis of well-being and is a strong advocate for daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet.