The information that the general public are aware about is generally increasing in both quality and quantity overtime, for the most part. Much of this is due to the rapid amount of information that can be consumed via the internet along with an observed trend of average person becoming more heath-conscious. However, along with the near-overwhelming amount of information that can easily and effortlessly be consumed online comes much that must be questioned, criticized, and closely examined. Nevertheless, many do not find the need for such close scrutiny and instead accept some faulty information on faith. Thus, many “fitness myths” are born.
It is one of my main concerns that this site address these myths so that the general public can make better informed decisions about what they eat and how they exercise so that changing their body isn’t as much of a struggle and seems less impossible to attain, as by following some of the current myths, might lead to this conclusion.
One of the most fundamental but most perpetuated diet myths is that healthy foods allow people to lose weight easier.
While in some cases there is a definite correlation between how healthy the food is and how much it will contribute to weight loss, much of the time there is no correlation and in some cases, there may be an inverse correlation.
Along with needing to eat 5-6 meals a day and performing high reps while dieting to “increase fat loss”, thinking that by changing what you eat to “healthier” foods will help you lose weight directly is fundamentally flawed thinking, yet almost everyone who is not deeply informed about nutrition and fitness has some faith in the idea.
The problem comes down to thermodynamics. Without getting technical, you burn so much energy each day, and we measure this expenditure in a unit called calories (technically, it’s kilocalories, but I digress). If you consume more calories, or energy, than you burned that day from metabolism and movement/exercise, then you will gain weight. If you consume less, then you will lose weight. Of course, in the long-term things like hormones make things a little more complicated, but ultimately the change in hormones will just lower the amount you burn from metabolism if you diet too hard for too long.
Regardless, the point is that in the end, you must eat and drink less calories than you burn on average in order to lose weight. Now we get the the part where some will argue that total calories matter for weight loss, fat loss is still enhanced by healthy foods.
The problem is, research just does not show this to be true. Moreover, this has not been true in my own experience. By eating “healthy” foods, you will, most likely, become healthier over time. However, this does not mean that you will lose fat over time. Furthermore, I’ll give you an example of a sometimes deemed “healthy” food/drink that can actually lower your health markers over time:
Let’s say that you are an average weight individual with average health markers. Then, in an effort to be more healthy, you add 3 tall glasses of orange juice to your diet while keeping every other aspect of your diet the same. However, these 3 glasses push your calories over your maintenance level, so that you actually start slowly gaining weight over time. Hypothetically, if you kept the rest of your diet the same and eventually added 30 lbs of body mass, much of which was fat due to the only increase in calories coming from the sugar in the orange juice, then it is likely that your health markers would have decreased, making you a less healthy individual due to the fact that you are carrying more fat now.
The fact that orange juice has some vitamins in it does not overcompensate for that fact that you are fatter now, as that has a larger impact on your health.
This is the main problem. People are overweight, and they try to remedy this by adding food to their diet, albeit “healthy” food.
Allow me to make one point blatantly clear at this moment: You will not achieve fat loss by adding food to your current diet, not matter what the food is. There is no food that will cause you to lose weight, as virtually every food stuff contains some amount of calories. Adding more calories to your current diet will make it harder for you to lose fat, simply because you have more calories now that you need to get rid of somehow.
Another point, just for emphasis: In order to lose fat, you need to remove calories from your diet. This is by far the easiest way to lower your total calories, and normally means removing food that you are currently eating from your diet, not adding different food.
Removing food from your diet is the easiest way to lower your calories. If you jog at a moderate pace for a half-hour, you may burn 300 calories. However, you could have lowered 300 calories from your diet by not eating those 2 cookies or slice of pizza as well.
While perfecting a diet obviously entails more than just removing some foods that you are already consuming, such as trying to increase the amount of calories that come from protein in your diet (notice, this is not increasing your calories by adding protein, but rather swapping some of the calories you are already consuming for foods higher in protein), in the end, being able to lose weight comes from a net loss of calories at the end of the day. That’s it.
By lifting weights and increasing the percentage of protein, you will probably come out with a better body composition after the diet, and by choosing healthy foods, you will probably come out a bit healthier after the diet, but in order to lose weight, you must have a net loss of calories.
Why then do so many people recommend eating so healthy when trying to lose weight?
This is the same question as asking how this myth began in the first place. The reason that many people think this way is because by choosing healthy foods, many people will feel full easier due to the higher concentration of fiber and protein that is in many “healthy” foods, both of which allow less food to be eaten in order to feel full. Thus, by starting a diet that consists largely of fruits, vegetables, and meat, many people will be able to lose weight without much of an effort, namely due to the fact that they are consuming less calories at the end of the day with these foods. In contrast, if someone was to start a diet but replace the fruit with chips, they could, conceivably, achieve the same weight and fat loss as they would with fruit, however much of the time they will not. The chips, with their added salt and lack of fiber, will generally cause the person to consume many more calories than the person would if they ate apples instead. This is why and how choosing healthy foods on a diet will increase your chance of success, but it goes no deeper than this for the most part.
If someone had the will power to do so, one could lose just as much fat on a steak, chocolate, and milk diet, as long as the amount of carbs, fat, and protein was identical to the vegetable, fruit and meat diet above, though, admittedly, this might be hard to achieve. Nonetheless, it is theoretically possible and demonstrates the point I am trying to make.
Now, unless you have some abnormal amount of will power, I would still recommend trying to eat as many “healthy” and fresh foods while dieting as possible, as this will make hitting the right amount of calories and protein easier than by eating junk food. On the other hand, for your sanity, it does not hurt to incorporate some “junk” food in every once in a while as long as you are hitting the calories you want to – just make sure that you leave room for it.
For example, if I know that I am going out to eat with some friends for dinner that will probably end up with me consuming a lot of calories, then I will just eat a lot less (or, depending on what type of diet I’m currently on, perhaps not at all till dinner) so that I still hit the calories I want to hit at the end of the day. Then, at the restaurant it would be wise to choose something like chicken or sirloin steak so that it’s easier to get in the amount of protein that I want to for the day.
In conclusion, don’t worry so much about which specific foods you are eating. There is no magic food that will help you to lose weight, regardless of what you hear or read about. Yes, I know about MCT oil. Yes, I know about unsaturated fat. Do things like this really matter much in the end? No, you would not even be able to tell a difference in composition.
Just set up a number of calories that you want to hit every day (or, you can make the number a little higher on lifting days and a little lower on rest days, but we are getting beyond the point) and try to hit that number as close as you can. This might require that you either count calories or set up specific meals in which you know how many calories are in the entire meal, and then use those meals frequently to make it easier on yourself.
Next, eat at least a gram of protein per pound of body weight everyday. These calories should be included in the total you are trying to hit.
Lastly, there is some research eluding to the idea that if you have a lot of fat to lose (overweight or very overweight), then it might be in your best interest to lower the carbs to a low level (less than 150g a day) and get the majority of the calories for the day from protein and fat. If you are already relatively lean, then you may want to raise the carbs a bit (200g a day or more). At least one study showed this set-up coming out with the best body composition.
Furthermore, the more fat you have to lose, the lower you can set your target calories without having to worry about your hormones messing with your metabolic rate. If you are pretty lean, then you may want to take a slower approach to avoid muscle loss. Also, break or “cheat” days can be included, but make them planned and with a definite caloric intake still.
Whew! Hope that’s not too much at once. If anything is still unclear, please re-read it again. I hope that now you have a better understanding of what is and is not important when you decide to lose fat/weight and can make better educated decisions in the future!