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Many times I have ended up in conversation with individuals who have stumbled across a diet by way of neighborhood gossip, or begun a weight loss program that is the latest fad. In no way am I taking the place of a dietician, and anyone with a clinical eating disorder should consult one as soon as possible. I would, however,  like to shed some light on several common  FAQ's and myths, and hopefully help you, as the reader , to make wiser decisions in your quest for healthy weight loss and management.


Myth #1: High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets are a healthy way to lose weight.

Fact: Aside from special dietary restrictions associated with specific concerns, such as type-1 diabetes, allowing protein to make up the bulk of your diet isn't very wise. You may be eating too few fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which may lead to constipation due to lack of dietary fiber. Beyond gastrointestinal discomfort, following a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet may also make you feel nauseous, tired, and weak. Eating fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrates each day can lead to the buildup of ketones(partially broken down fats) in your blood. A buildup of ketones in your blood(called ketosis) can cause your body to produce high levels of uric acid, which is a risk factor for gout(a painful swelling of the joints) and kidney stones. Ketosis may be especially risky for pregnant women and people with diabetes or kidney disease.


Myth #2: Starches/carbohydrates are fattening and should be limited when trying to lose weight.

Fact: Many foods high in starch or carbohydrates, like bread, rice, pasta, cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables(like potatoes and yams) are low in fat and calories. They become high in fat and calories when eaten in large portion sizes, or when covered with high-fat toppings like butter, sour cream, or mayonnaise. Foods high in starch (also called complex carbohydrates) are an important source of energy for your body. Naturally, the fruits and vegetables higher in natural dietary fiber are often the best choice.


Myth #3: Skipping some meals is a good way to lose weight.

Fact: Studies show that people who skip breakfast and eat fewer times during the day tend to be heavier than people who eat a healthy breakfast and eat four or five times per day. This may be because people who skip meals tend to feel hungrier later on, and eat more than they normally would. It is difficult for the body to maintain stable blood sugar levels for more than 4 hours between meals. That being said, eating several small to moderate sized meals and snacks throughout the day can go a long way in preventing the big "binge".


Myth #4: Eating after 8 p.m. causes weight gain.

Fact: There isn't anything magically detrimental about eating after a particular time. It comes down to what and how much you eat. That, along with how much physical activity you do throughout the day that determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight. No matter when you eat, your body will store extra calories as fat. If you want to have a snack before bedtime, think first about how many calories you have eaten that day. If there is still room in your calorie allowance for the day, a healthy snack can be enjoyed anytime.


Myth #5: You crave certain foods because you're deficient in one or more of the nutrients they provide.

Fact: Not true - unless you're a deer! While those types of animals may be attracted to "salt licks" because of the mineral deposits supplied therein, human food cravings tend to be more about satisfying emotional needs. Marcia Pelchat, Ph.D., a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, says, "Cravings tend to occur when your diet is restricted or boring, or when you know that you can't have something. If it's forbidden, you usually want more."


Myth #6: You'll burn more fat if you don't eat before a workout.

Fact: Exercise normally burns away your glycogen(stored carbohydrate) reserves, and when you're done burning those, you'll start dipping into your fat stores for energy. It's true that when you're running on empty, you're more likely to burn fat right away, but you'll probably run out of steam before your workout is close to over, and end up ravenous and grabbing whatever food you can find in an attempt to refuel afterwards. This can be prevented by consuming a balanced meal approximately one to two hours before exercise.


FAQ #1: How many calories should I be eating each day?

This is somewhat of an open-ended question due to the drastically variable needs of different populations. Also, when it comes to weight loss and management, your overall activity will have an effect on your calorie needs. However, we do know that for women, a range of 1600-2400 is within recommended guidelines*. Those attempting to lose weight will want to stick very closely to the lower end of recommendations. Even for those wanting to speed things up, the long established American Dietetic Association guidelines advise against diets below 1200 calories/day. Anything lower may fail to meet energy needs, and cause too great of a nutrient deficit in the long-term. 


FAQ #2: Am I supposed to eat a certain amount of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats?

Yes, a percentage or ratio to be exact. All of this may seem a little too in-depth for those of you who are looking for an overly simple "diet", but learning about these macronutrients and how they interact will go a long way in us staying healthy.  While there can be variance in exact numbers, for the sake of simplicity, we will stay with the following averages of the American Dietetic Association guidelines**:

55-65% carbohydrates                         20-30% fats                       15-20% protein


FAQ #3: If I eat healthy foods, do I still need nutritional supplements?

Eating enough food that will supply your body with the recommended daily value (DV) of nutrients your body needs is possible, but not easy. You'd really need to be vigilant about what you eat and keep track of exactly what goes into your mouth. If you're busy and on-the-go like most of us, you may have a hard time doing this, in which case a multivitamin and other convenient sources of nutrition may be a good fit. "What if I try to eat a few servings of fruits and vegetables every day?" The grains, fruits, and vegetables produced on huge tracts of degraded soils are one of the main underlying causes of the increase in degenerative disease that is caused by poor modern diets.***So next time someone tells you "Oh, I get all the nutrients I need from my diet" you might want to query them about the degradation of the food supply. Furthermore, if you are in a calorie deficit - as necessary to achieve healthy weight loss - this calorie deficit carries with it an even greater nutrient deficit.


FAQ #4: What's the deal with all the marketing hype surrounding different nutritional supplements? Isn't a vitamin a vitamin?

Unfortunately, no, not all products are equal. It is important to look into a company's history, policies, and processing requirements. For example, a meal replacement can be a very convenient and affordable way of getting necessary macronutrients, with fewer calories than most whole food meals. However, recent independent tests have shown several popular brands to contain more than trace amounts of toxins, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury****. Finding a product line/brand that requires third party testing is your best bet.

 

*http://healthy.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf

**http://www.eatright.org/public/content.aspx?id=7086

***http:www.preventive-health-guide.com/degenerative-disease.html

****http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/july/good/protein-drinks/overview/index.htm

 

Dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure disease. Do not self diagnose any health condition. Work with your health care provider to determine how best to achieve optimal health and always check with your health care provider before taking a supplement, especially when combining or substituting them with other foods or medicine.