Lightbulb moments!

One of the biggest learning curves for me on my journey to a healthier lifestyle was attending a course on nutrition and health. The information I received on that course, and during the further qualifications that I took, literally changed my life.

All my life I had struggled with my weight. A brief flirtation with being a size 10 at age 16, due to almost starving myself, was the only time I had been a healthy weight. For most of my younger years, and then from about age 18 onwards, I was overweight and at some points obese. Even getting married wasn’t enough to spur me into meaningful action. I tried all sorts, slimming tablets, meal replacement, many different diets, but none of them were sustainable, and I soon got bored and gave up. I liked take-aways, cake, and eating out, and I wasn’t keen on doing much exercise.

However, what did spur me on was having children. My young family gave me the motivation to change and to want to live my life differently, so that they would grow up healthy. This coincided, on my return to work with being given a new role, which involved working with the food industry, and improving access to healthy foods.  So as part of that, I took qualifications in nutrition and health. This was my lightbulb moment!

Suddenly everything was starting to become clear, and everything I learned challenged all the misconceptions I had held about what was healthy and how I could lose weight.

We will all have had these moments, where something we believed to be true is revealed to be a load of bunkum, and it is like a revelation isn’t it?

So just in case you didn’t know, we are going to bust all the weight loss myths out there, and set the weight loss world to rights!

Myth #1 – Low fat or reduced fat products are great for losing weight

It’s true a low fat diet can help you lose weight, but unless you check the full nutrition table on what you are eating, and look at the calories, you won’t know if it is the right thing to eat. Quite often a low fat product can have extra sugar or salt in it to make it taste nice. Whilst salt doesn’t necessarily affect your calorie intake, it will most certainly affect your general health. Excess salt not only dehydrates you, but can also cause an increase in blood pressure, and has links to heart disease. Sugar, as we all know is full of calories, so a high sugar low fat product, could be just as bad as a high fat product.

The same could be said for something that is advertised as ‘low carb’. It could still be loaded with fat, keeping the calories high.

There are rules around this, with certain criteria set for what can be described as low fat, low sugar, etc. For a product to be described as low fat, it has to contain less than 3%fat.  However, it can contain as much sugar as the manufacturer chooses to put in, there are no rules around that. At one point there was the intention of setting nutritional profiles by the European Union, the people who write the rules on what goes on your food packaging, but it never came to fruition. This is probably because the food manufacturers would never realistically be able to make products that met all the proposed criteria to be able to add any of the claims to their packaging.

So the bottom line is actually the top line of the nutrition table on food packaging! If you want to lose weight the calorie declaration has to be within your calorie allowance for that meal.

Myth #2 – Healthy fats

Vegetable fats such as olive oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil are better for you than animal fats. Then there is the whole coconut oil debacle!

It is true that some fats, usually vegetable based, are better for your heart than others. This is because they are unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are higher in HDL cholesterol, which scavenges your bloodstream picking up all the LDL cholesterol which causes plaque to build up on your arteries, narrowing them and causing strokes and heart disease.

Then coconut oil comes along and confuses everyone. Not so long ago, Coconut Oil was being peddled as the cure to all ills, and as a vegetable based oil, you would believe it. But bizarrely Coconut Oil is actually a saturated fat, making it high in the naughty LDL cholesterol that clogs our arteries.

However, fat is fat is fat. Fat will always contain 9 calories per gram, and for that very reason, whether you are eating food fried in lard, or food fried in extra virgin olive oil, it still adds the same amount of calories, so use it sparingly.

Myth #3 – You can eat as much ‘healthy’ food as you want, can’t you?

Eating good nutritious food, is obviously good for you.  Whole grains, high fibre, low in saturated fat, high in protein. It’s all great! But! If your bottom line is that you want to lose weight, you can’t eat as much healthy food as you want. There are no free foods! To lose weight, you have to get that calorie deficit correct. Its science! Keep eating that food in portion sizes that mean you are consuming more energy than you are burning, and it doesn’t matter how ‘clean’, or nutritious it is, you will still gain weight!

There is a specific scientific formula that is used to work out a persons energy requirements, or your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is called the Harris Benedict Formula.

It looks like this:

Men 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)

Women 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)

Then a factor is used, based on how active a person is, to give a person’s Total Energy Expenditure (TEE) in calories.

A pound of fat is the equivalent of 3500 calories. So to lose a pound in weight, you need to consume 3500 calories less than your body needs to function. Hence, we set your deficit at just over 3500 calories for the week – to give you the weight loss of 1-2lbs a week.

Myth #4 – Fruit juice is good for you

I used to drink gallons of fruit juice, thinking it was full of vitamin C and other nutrients and so would be good for me. What I hadn’t stopped to read was how much sugar and calories were in a glass of fruit juice. And if you think about it, it is common sense, I just hadn’t applied it. A friend once said to me, ‘How many oranges do you think it took to make that glass of juice?’ I was confused! ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘if you think that glass of juice has probably taken 10 oranges to make it – add all the calories up from those oranges! Would you eat all those oranges?’ That was it – life changed! Lightbulb moment!

Myth #5 – Carbs make you put on weight

Carbohydrates or carbs do not make you put weight on.  Eating lots of carbs, along with lots of other foods makes you put weight on. We tend to eat carbohydrates in large portions, and make it the majority of our meal, so this is probably where we get the association with them making us gain weight. But if we eat them in the right portion sizes, we will not gain weight.

Carbohydrates give your body the fuel it needs to perform exercise.  The reason we need them to perform exercise is that the chemical structure of carbohydrates is such that our body finds it easy to break down. It breaks it down and stores it in our muscles as a chemical called glycogen. This is fuel for our muscles. If we don’t use that fuel within 48 hours, it turns to fat and is stored in our bodies for when we might need it in the future.

Low carb diets, particularly when you are exercising can leave you feeling tired and worn out. So we would absolutely recommend that you eat carbohydrates as part of a healthy diet.

Myth #6 – Supplements and meal replacements help you to lose weight faster

Supplements is a wide term used for a number of different products, covering tablets to boost your diet in essential vitamins and minerals, to potions that might improve your hormone balance. Then there are the less scrupulous types of supplements – weight loss supplements.

Weight loss supplements are a real bugbear of mine. There are some products out there, that are made by genuine pharmaceutical companies, had clinical trials carried out and have proven that they do aid weight loss as part of a calorie controlled diet.

However, and there is always a however, there are a large number of less scrupulous people out there pedalling all sorts in a bid to relieve you of your money with no regard for the consequences to the purchaser. Coffee that will make you skinny, and fruit extracts that will make you burn fat. The truth is at best these products are ineffective and at worst, they can actually kill you.  Just this last few weeks, this has been in the news again – 21 year-old Eloise Parry died from taking fat burning supplements containing a substance called DNP.  The 30 year old man who sold them to her was jailed for her manslaughter, and is now appealing his sentence.

Protein powders and meal replacements are another matter.  Protein powders are great if you are in an intensive physical training program, and need the extra protein to repair your muscles. But, the majority of the population gets enough protein from their diet without supplementing it.  What a lot of people don’t realise when they start supplementing their protein, is that they also contain calories, so you may well be adding more ‘muscle repairing’ protein, but you are also adding calories and therefore reducing your calorie deficit. And, if your goal is to lose weight, adding the calories in, is not conducive to that goal.

Myth #7 – Organic means healthy

Nutritionally speaking, organic foods and non-organic foods aren’t that much different. In fact in some tests, it has been shown that non-organic foods may actually have higher levels of micronutrients.  With regards to weight loss, there is absolutely no difference whatsoever, nutritionally, if you eat organic or not.

Myth #8 – Cheaper foods aren’t as good for you

It’s true that some cheaper foods on the market are pumped up with chemicals, like preservatives, colours and stabilisers to make them look nicer and last longer. However, having worked in and around the food industry for a number of years, I know that some factories making branded products, will also make products (usually to the same recipe), for supermarket own brands and value brands.  The difference? They just finish it slightly differently, so it looks a bit different, but the ingredients going in are the same and therefore the nutritional value is the same.

In some cases, if we are looking to reduce calories, sugar, fat etc, we might even find that the cheaper products fit better with our needs.  Products like own branded bread and cereals are often lower in calories than premium brands.

I can’t categorically say that every own brand or value product, is going to be the same or maybe even lower calories, but what I will say, is that it is definitely worth checking out those cheaper brands, to see how different they are to your usual choice – you never know you might be surprised.

Myth #9 – Exercise will make you lose weight

Or, I have exercised therefore I can eat what I want!

We have told you the figures so many times – but here they are again! If you are currently eating to the point that you are gaining 1-2lbs a week, you are eating at least 500 calories more than you should be, each day. In this scenario, to get into the realms of weight loss, you need to burn 1000 more calories than you are putting in each day. This is the 500 extra that you are eating, plus the 500 to get into calorie deficit.

1000 calories of exercise equates to a 7 – 10 mile run (depending on your size), 5 hours strength training, 2.5 hours HIIT session or 2 hours spinning…. every single day!

When we exercise we burn far less calories than we think we do. One half-hour HIIT session is about 200 calories. That is the equivalent of two slices of bread, or a small porridge pot and a banana. Do not think, you have earned enough deficit to eat lots of food from doing a gym session, a run or a workout.  The easier win, is to cut back on the food.

Myth #10 – Eating gluten free, dairy free or vegan will make me lose weight

You see it every so often in magazines, on TV shows and on social media, that eliminating certain foods from your diet is good for your health as well as your waist line.

There are some people that can’t tolerate, or are even allergic to certain foods, and for them, of course to exclude these thing from their diet is the right thing to do.

Going vege or vegan is clearly a choice to be made based upon your inner, deep held beliefs. But if you are doing it, you need to do your research to make sure that you are meeting all your nutritional needs. By eliminating certain foods from your diet, you run the risk of becoming malnourished, because the foods you are eliminating will be rich in certain nutrients that you may struggle to get in vege or vegan foods, unless you know what you are looking for.

It can be really difficult to get protein and iron into your diet, once you eliminate meat, so make sure you include lentils and pulses, quorn or tofu as your vegetarian protein. If you eliminate dairy, you will need to make sure you include lots of green leafy veg and whole grains to get enough calcium, B Vitamins and Vitamin D into your diet.

There is also the danger with going vegetarian that you use dairy to meet your protein needs – so everything has cheese on it – and that is likely to impact your waistline in the wrong way.

Increasing the amount of plant-based foods that you do eat, could help you lose weight though. These foods do make us feel fuller, so will help to keep our appetites under control, and naturally contain less calories. So if you increase the amount of plant-based food and reduce the high fat, high sugar foods, whilst controlling your portion sizes, this will help to reduce your calorie intake.

Myth #11 – A juice cleanse is the answer!

I have had so many friends and family who have tried a juice cleanse or detox to get them to their weight loss goals. It’s true you will lose weight on a juice diet – because you are just eating or rather drinking fruit and vegetable juices for a short period. However, you lose weight because you are essentially starving yourself.  You will definitely feel less bloated too, but when you start reintroducing foods without changing any of your habits, you just go back to where you started. Eating the wrong foods, that make you feel bloated and sluggish, and regaining those extra pounds.

So what’s the answer? Plenty of fruit and vegetables at every meal and plenty of water to keep you hydrated, will keep your gut functioning properly. Your skin will be fresh, your eyes will be bright every day, not just for the time that you have detoxed, and you won’t have spent £120 on a 3-day juice diet! And over time, if you get the calorie deficit right, you will lose weight.

Myth #12 – Once you have lost your weight, you can eat ‘normally’ again.

This begs the question, ‘What is normal?’ If your ‘normal’ is a take away or eating out every other night, lots of junk food and drinking excessively, then if you go back to eating that way you will soon be back at square one. This tells us that you have been on a diet, and you haven’t tried to change your lifestyle.

However, if your new ‘normal’ means, going up to maintenance calories, weighing yourself occasionally to keep a check on your weight, generally eating tasty, healthy food, having the occasional treats, and carrying on with regular exercise that you love, this will be the key to long term success and sticking at your goal weight.

Tell us!

There will be lots of myths that we haven’t busted here – if you have had any revelations in the past, or whilst on your journey with Be Strong, we would love to hear about them – add them in the comments below.

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