Healthy eating is really fashionable at the moment, and as a result, everyone is trying to get in on the act.
The problem with that is there are now an overwhelming number of healthy eating rules that pretty convincing people (celebrities, bloggers, health coaches etc) swear by. But have you ever looked into how valid these rules are?
I’ve put together the 5 most common healthy eating rules that actually make you less healthy and more likely to gain weight.
You should give up sugar 100%
Sugar is the villain of the moment, and with good reason too. When eaten to excess, it gets laid down as fat, and research has linked sugar consumption with diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Oh it rots your teeth and makes you look old before your time. But, just because going sugar-free is all the rage, doesn’t mean you should take it too literally. That’s because, try as you might, cutting out sugar in entirety is near impossible, seriously limits your diet and is actually not as healthy as you think.
For example, naturally sugary foods like fruits and root vegetables, that are often axed by sugar-free advocates, are also packed with good stuff your body needs, like fibre, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.
Plus, the vast majority of people who decide to cut out all traces of sugar from their diet end up craving the stuff more than ever before and eventually find themselves caught in a cycle of being 100% sugar free one week, and bingeing on all the sugar they can find the next week. The end result? Yo-yo weight gain, which research has shown makes you more likely to be overweight than if you just eat a moderate diet and avoid the swinging from sugar-free to sugar monster.
You need to refuel with a shake after exercising
This is true if you exercise like an athlete and your goal is fitness.
Because hardcore exercising (that’s exercising for more than 90 minutes in one sitting) will deplete your glycogen stores and if you don’t replenish them, your body may start breaking down precious muscle to fuel its high energy needs. The sugar and carbs found in post workout drinks are perfect for quickly replenishing these stores. However, if your focus is weight loss, these drinks are a bad idea.
That’s because the key to losing weight is creating a calorie deficit – either through exercise or diet (or both).
If you burn off 350 calories during a 40 minute run and then come home and refuel with a 330ml protein/carb shake that contains around 350 kcals and then eat your normal meals later, guess what you’re doing? You’re cancelling out the calorie deficit created by that workout you just did. A better strategy for weight loss is to work out closer to mealtimes, then you can simply eat a protein-rich breakfast, lunch or dinner after you’ve finished exercising. Do this, and you’ll avoid accidentally consuming excess calories from your recovery drink AND your normal meals.
Cutting all carbs is the best way to lose weight
While cutting carbs will lead to weight loss, there are two main problems with this approach.
One: the brain’s primary source of fuel is glucose.. from… yes, you guessed it – carbs. Cut out all carbs and you won’t be as sharp or energised as normal. And while your brain will eventually switch over to using ketones if you stay carb free for long enough, the majority of people don’t. We cut out all carbs, crave them within a few days, cave in and have a carb feast, and then repeat the cycle again. The end result is no weight loss, and often more weight gain in the long term.
Two: Cutting all carbs, usually leads to a sizeable drop in calories (unless you increase fat and protein accordingly) and the long term effect of drastically cutting calories is that your body becomes more efficient at functioning on fewer calories. This means your metabolism slows down, and a slower metabolism equals a greater likelihood of gaining weight when you go back to eating carbs.
If it’s a clean food, you can have as much as you like
Avocados, nut butter, sweet potatoes. They’re all clean eating staples that are unprocessed, packed with lots of nutrients and taste pretty good. However, just because they’re nutritious doesn’t mean you can eat them all day every day without any impact on your waistline and heart health. Take sweet potatoes for example. As explained in this previous post, they have exactly the same amount of calories (90 kcals per 100g of baked flesh) and carbohydrate (21g per 100g of baked flesh) as white potatoes.
Similarly, as explained in this post on nut butters, peanut, cashew and all other nut butters are actually 50% fat, making them a very calorific option (especially if you like to eat half a jar in one sitting). And the sad truth is that when you consume excess calories on a regular basis, you will end up gaining weight.
Oh, and don’t forget that 5% of every spoon of nut butter is saturated fat – the type that may raise your risk of heart disease and strokes – so that’s another reason to take it easy with nut butters.
Eating lots of small meals is healthier and more slimming than eating 3 main meals
This myth is a classic that refuses to die. In fact, it’s one of the commonest eating mistakes I see among the women who come to me, claiming they just can’t lose weight. And once they go back to eating just 3 meals a day, guess what happens? The weight drops off and their cravings disappear.
There are several reasons for this, but the biggest one is that eating encourages the release of the fat-storing hormone insulin. About 2 hours after a meal, insulin levels drop and the body can then move back into a fat-burning state. But if you insist on eating every couple of hours, you never give your body a chance to stop making large amounts of insulin, which means you never shift out of fat-storing mode. (You can get more info about why eating lots of small meals a day is not a great idea from this previous post).
Got any healthy eating rules you’ve come across but are slightly suspicious of? Drop me a comment below and I’ll let you know my two cents!