Dietitians Kate & Kate have rounded up the top 5 that get in the way of a healthy relationship with food.
Myth # 1: Carbs are bad for you.
If there’s one common diet myth that we hear every day, this is it! There is so much confusion out there about carbohydrates that it’s enough to send anyone bananas!
Truth: Firstly, many people find it helpful to recognise the symptoms of inadequate carbohydrate intake, which may include (but are not limited to) low energy levels, difficulties concentrating, constipation, irritability, low mood, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, nausea and sugar cravings. In fact, many people crave sugar after lunch or late at night because they’ve tried to skip carbs at their meals.
Most carbohydrates break down to glucose, and did you know glucose is the primary fuel that powers your brain? When you cut carbs from your diet, you are not only putting your body in a difficult position to supply your muscles with enough glucose for energy, you’re also under-fuelling your brain.
The bottom line: Low carb diets are incredibly difficult to maintain, come with a range of symptoms and are unnecessary to improve your health. Including carbohydrates at your regular meals and snacks will help improve your energy levels, mood, concentration, digestion and satisfaction post meals.
Myth #2: It’s just calories in vs calories out, simple.
If it was as simple as a math equation with measurable absolute values, don’t you think the whole world would be controlling their weight by now?
Diet culture has framed calories in vs calories out as being exercise vs food consumed, and we’re led to believe that if this isn’t precisely balanced, we’ll gain weight. It prompts people to restrict or reduce what they eat on days when they’re mostly sitting at their work desk or when they miss a workout.
This is wildly inaccurate and doesn’t consider the large amount of energy the body expends to keep us alive and functioning. So what does contribute to energy expenditure?
More than two thirds are accounted for by your basal metabolic rate which maintains your regular heartbeat, breathing, a constant body temperature, regenerates thousands of old cells and powers neural signalling between the brain and body (and much more!) Surprisingly, a small amount of energy use comes from your body’s efforts to digest, absorb, utilise, transport and store the nutrients you acquire through food intake. Another significant contribution is made by the energy required to power the millions of muscle and nerve cells required for simple functions such as standing, sitting, blinking speaking and holding things. The remaining energy is expended during incidental or planned exercise and fluctuates on daily basis as we move more on some days than others.
The bottom line: Your body still needs a great deal of nutrition every day to maintain basic body functions, even without intentional exercise.
Myth #3: Sugar is the devil
If sugar is the devil, why is the human body hard-wired to activate pleasure-generating circuits in the brain in response to sweet tastes?
Babies are able to detect sweet tastes before they are born and their first source of nutrition (their mother’s milk) is rich in the sugar lactose. The human body is designed to like sweet tastes because many foods naturally containing sugar are good for us!
A sugar-free diet is highly restrictive given sugar molecules are naturally found in fruit, dairy and grain products as well as everyday packaged foods. Restrictive diets like these result in your body missing out on great sources essential nutrients. They also increase your worry and stress levels around eating because, so few foods are “allowed” and it’s very difficult to find something completely sugar-free to eat at short-notice. This leads to meal skipping or under-eating, further complicating the sugar-free diet.
The brain interprets dieting and imposed-restrictions as deprivation and famine, so it does what it thinks it must do to survive. Say hello to the cravings, “withdrawals” (if you are eating low-carb you are likely just experiencing symptoms of unstable blood sugar), constant battles with willpower to avoid temptation and not to mention the high risk of binges, all of which people attribute to “sugar addiction”.
The bottom line: A balanced diet from all of the main food groups including foods with some natural or added sugar means the body has access to regular, adequate and varied nutrition. It therefore has no reason to operate within a deprivation-mentality.
Myth #4: Skipping meals helps you lose weight
Restriction (ie meal skipping) is the biggest risk-factor for overeating.
Furthermore, skipping meals not only leaves you hungry, grumpy, fatigued and moody, but it also increases your preference for energy dense foods. These energy dense foods are usually higher in fat and simple carbohydrates, and lower in fibre and essential nutrients. Why does the body do that? The body interprets under-eating as starvation so its leads you to the foods that will provide the most energy as quickly as possible.
We also find that bodies exposed to restricted eating for too long have altered metabolisms because the body learns to conserve energy when it is eventually provided.
Participants of The Biggest Loser took part in a long term follow up study after their stint on the TV show. The dangerously restrictive eating and over-exercising on the show initially caused weight loss and slowing of their metabolisms. Over the next 6 years most of the weight they had lost was regained, but their metabolisms remained significantly slower than they were before going on the show.
The bottom line: Restrictive eating behaviours such as skipping meals may lead to the very opposite effect it is intended to have.
Myth #5: The less calories the better
Absolute myth. Salad leaves may be low-energy, but a salad-leaf predominant diet is far from healthy.
We’re talking anaemia, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, weak bones and more. Each little cell and each strand of DNA is made up of bits and pieces of the various macro- and micronutrients broken down in the food we ingest.
The bottom line: It is not only adequate energy (calories), but also the variety of food we consume that are necessary to maintain healthy body function.