Weight loss advice is common and contentious - there are competing opinions everywhere.
Rather than focusing on "who's right," let's focus on "what's right." There are some key principles that will serve you well, no matter what approach you chose. My goal is to help you make smart decisions so you can debunk weight loss myths on your own.
Let’s tackle the top ones I come across in my practice.
Myth: Eat fewer calories and lose weight
There is truth to this. If you eat and absorb more than you use, your body will store excess as fat for a future energy source. Calories matter.
However, excess calorie consumption is a symptom, not a cause. Let me repeat. Overeating is a symptom that you are out of balance. Stop punishing yourself. Simply eating fewer calories will not get to the root of the problem.
Why are you HUNGRY!?!?!? Why are you eating beyond what you need?
Your daily diet lacks the appropriate amount of essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and lipids your specific body type requires for a healthy metabolism. Or, you are not consuming the correct ratio of lean quality protein : healthy fats : carbohydrates for your body composition, level of activity or health condition. The result? Your body screams "I'm hungry" and you reach for more to eat. Your body is overfed and starving.
Your blood sugar is out of balance. With high glycemic foods (high sugar foods that lack fibre, fat or protein), your insulin levels sky rocket, plummet and unleash a stress response, which trigger your hunger hormones. And when our blood sugar crashes, what do we do? Reach for a drink or food that will spike it so we can get on with work, our kids and rush hour. When you balance blood sugar, your appetite will stabilize.
You have bacterial imbalances in the intestines (remember leaky gut from my last blog?). This too will trigger hunger hormones and cause you to overeat. Yeast and parasites will also SCREAM at you to eat more - they want carbs and they are hard to resist.
You are not absorbing what you eat. This can be influenced by bacterial imbalances and inflammation in your digestive tract. Rigged nails or white spots on nails are an indications of malabsorption.
You are dehydrated and you mistake the feeling for hunger. This is SOOO common.
Emotions run your decision making process – sad, lonely, bored or routine. Maybe you feel tired or stressed, and feel the need for an insulin rush pick-me-up. Or maybe you overeat when you’re happy and celebrating.
All of these feelings and biochemical realities of hunger interact with our gastrointestinal, nervous and hormonal systems, influencing our calorie intake.
So, when your portions and grazing escalate, ask yourself why. Consider your diet for the past few days. Were there any gaps? Are you thirsty? Are you sad, lonley or bored? Do I have poor digestion (irregular bowel movements, heart burn, gas/bloating). Look at the root cause of hunger.
Myth: “Eat less, move more” and you will lose weight
People have been giving this advice for years. If it worked, wouldn’t we all be in tip-top shape?
The premise of this myth is based on the principle of "calories in minus calories out equals your weight." You are supposed to eat fewer calories and burn off more calories because human physiology is a simple math equation, right? I don’t think so.
There are other factors that contribute to weight problems (i.e., root causes for overeating as mentioned above). Genetics, health conditions, hormones or stress also play roles.
And what about obesogenes? That’s right. There are chemical compounds in your food/health/beauty products that are endocrine disruptors and are known to cause obesity:
BPA in plastic bottles and food storage containers, phthalates found in plastic food storage containers and face/body creams, commonly used herbicides and fungicides, and perfluorooctanoic acid (found in Teflon and microwave popcorn).
Movement is good. Movement is important. But eat less/move more is not the only answer. You need to identify and address root issues that cause weight gain.
Myth: A calorie is a calorie
Can we please put this one to bed already?
Science has confirmed several caloric components of food differ from others. For example, the “thermic effect of food” (TEF) means some nutrients require calories to be metabolized. That’s right!! Eating certain foods can slightly increase your metabolism.
When you metabolize protein, you burn more calories than when you metabolize carbohydrates. Proteins and carbohydrates both have 4 calories/gram, but the TEF of protein = 15–30% and the TEF for carbohydrates = 5–10%.
Here’s another example of a calorie not being a calorie. Different fats are metabolized differently. Medium chain triglycerides (fats known as MCTs) have the same 9 calories/gram that other fats do, BUT they're metabolized by the liver before getting into the bloodstream, much like a carbohydrate. This means they aren’t utilized or stored the same way as other fats. This is one of the reasons why people love coconut so much as an energy source.
So, eating calories from protein and MCTs will actually increase your metabolism.
Myth: Buy this supplement/tea/food/magic potion to lose weight
There is no magic pill for weight loss. No supplement, tea, food, or other potion will do the trick. There are products that make these claims, but it’s marketing hoopla. Yes, you may drop pounds very quickly, but how fast does it come back when you resume your old habits? What have you done differently or learned that is sustainable?
I agree, certain shakes or meal replacements can help with quick weight loss. But PLEASE make sure they don’t contain hidden sugars and you don’t have a food sensitivity to the protein source. For example, whey protein is only helpful if you don't have a dairy sensitivity (most of us do). And pea/rice protein can be concentrated in arsenic and cause gas/bloating if there is a bacterial imbalance.
Additionally, recent studies have shown very popular brands of vegetarian protein powder are terrible for you - high in heavy metals, arsenic and whatnot. Specifically, chocolate flavoured powders seem to absorb more metals than vanilla. I was incredibly disappointed to discover the Vega and Sunwarrior brands in this category. Vega I can understand, but Sunwarrior - the warrior of vegans?
It was brought to my attention that I shouldn't perhaps believe all studies like this, but someting to consider. Other organizations have come up with the same results (FDA). And if it were to "scare" us off protein powders, why did only rice/protein perform poorly - some doing better than others.
Mind Body Green suggests avoiding all shakes that include the following: whey protein isolate, casein, gluten, dextrin, glucose (or anyting that ends in “ose” or “extrin” or “polymer”), artificial sweeteners, skim milk powders or solids, soy protein, vegetable oils/fats, thickeners and gums (xanthum gum) and finally, fillers (coconut powder, pysllium). I'm also leery of aloe as it basically just causes a the poop gates to open and prevents absorption of medications and nutrients. Aloe has it's time and place, but needs to be used with care.
So this leaves us with basically NOTHING. What should you use in replacement? Whole chia seeds or hemp seeds are one option. Collagen or bone broth proteins are another, but not without their own considerations.
If your protein powder is not listed on CleanLabelProject.org, look to see if the poweder is certifed organic, has a natural health produce number and where it is made. Many rice/pea products are sourced from China, "made" in North America and then distributed. Boomer Nutrition advised me to also consider the scoop size - if you need a scoop larger than 30g to get 20g of protein, it is a poor quality protein powder and may be doing more harm than good.
I intend to continue to use protein powders, but at the end of the day, it's all about moderation - whole foods are best.
Herbs and teas can also help you shed some pounds, but only if your lymphatic system is primed for detoxification. And I have not met one client who’s lympathic system is working well.
If you pump a bunch of "cleansing" herbs into your system and your lymph is stagnant, you’re basically prompting your body to dump toxins into an already sluggish river. Toxins slowly circulate, get reabsorbed and you’re left with a more damage than when you started. No wonder medical science hasn't been able to prove herbal cleanses really work - they don't work if no preparation takes place and your system is primed for detoxification.
When it comes to pills and powders, the only thing you will lose is your money. So, please don’t believe this myth. The real magic is in adopting a sustainable holistic and healthy approach to living your life. What you need is a long-term lifestyle makeover, not a product.
Weight loss is hard! Believe me, I get it. I'm still working on that 15. However, there are too many people out there trying to make it sound like they have the simple solution (or the latest and greatest).
Be smart. Don’t fall for the myths that say:
Calories cause weight gain, and fewer calories are the path to weight loss.
“Eat less move more”
A calorie is a calorie
Buy this supplement/tea/food/magic potion to lose weight
Now check out my magical “weight loss salad” recipe in my weekly recipe blog (just kidding!).
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