Eat this! Don’t eat that! Only eat bread if it’s baked at the full moon by a chorus of virgins wearing cheesecloth!
Okay, we might have made up that last one, but when it comes to food, and more specifically, losing weight, myths abound.
More than six million Australian adults are now considered overweight. That’s more than one in four people. Scarier still, one quarter of Aussie kids are now considered overweight or obese. The obesity epidemic is not going away.
And you know what thrives as our collective waistlines expand? The diet industry. In the last financial year, Australians were expected to spend $641 MILLION on weight loss services. That’s a hell of a lot of dough (and not the delicious, brioche making kind which we probably shouldn’t be eating anyway).
Some of this spend is on legitimate services. Much of it is not. Diet myths, half truths, miracle cures and fads abound in the weight loss industry creating plenty of confusion around what we should (and shouldn’t) be doing.
Confusion around food is something accredited practicing dietitian Stefanie Valakas is all too familiar with. “Half my job as a private practice dietitian is busting myths, challenging food beliefs and managing food fears,”” says Stefanie. “Lots of training is required to pick out the fact from fiction.”
We quizzed Stefanie on some of the biggest food and diet myths confusing Aussie families to separate the facts from the fiction.
7 Diet Myths BUSTED (With Facts!)
MYTH: Carbs are the enemy of weight loss
BUSTED: Right now, carbs and sugar seem to be the bad guys. “This could not be more untrue,” says Stefanie. “A small reduction in overall energy intake is what is required for weight loss, or, more energy out then energy in.”
In fact, Stefanie says wholegrain carbohydrates can actually help you lose weight. “We know that missing out on any food group to lose weight is unlikely to be successful or sustainable,” says Stefanie. So no need to give up the carbs completely. Instead, opt for things like grainy bread, brown rice and wholegrain pasta for their fibre and health properties.
MYTH: Low fat and diet products are healthier
BUSTED: Many of us fall into the trap of thinking if it’s low fat, it’s automatically a good choice. Not necessarily. “Some low-fat products add extra sugar or flavourings to make the product taste better due to the reduction in fat,” says Stefanie.
Low fat yoghurts, cheeses and milks are often among the worst culprits, but Stefanie says the best way to find out what you’re really eating is to check the nutrition panel and ingredients list. “Look at the per 100g column to compare between products,” she recommends.
MYTH: The only way to lose weight is to dramatically cut your calorie intake
BUSTED: Fad diets often encourage some pretty extreme calorie cutting, something Stefanie recommends avoiding at all costs. Not only is it unhealthy and ineffective but it can be very unsafe. “Extreme calorie restriction can not only have negative consequences on both body and mind, it can also make future weight loss even MORE challenging,” says Stefanie.
While you may lose weight in the beginning, this is due to a process called ‘metabolic adaptation’ where your body adjusts to living off fewer calories just to survive. “Further restriction to dangerously low calorie intakes can cause you to become deficient in essential nutrients, reduce your immune function and even affect your fertility,” says Stefanie.
MYTH: Fat in food makes you fat
BUSTED: Fat alone WILL NOT make you fat! “Excess energy in your diet is what contributes to weight gain,” says Stefanie. The fear around fat stems from the fact that of all the nutrients (alcohol, carbs and protein), fat has the most calories. But does that make it the bad guy? NO!
“If you over consume anything above and beyond your needs, it may contribute to weight gain,” says Stefanie. “Healthful sources of fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds keep your cells and hormones functioning and help you absorb some of the vitamins and nutrients in your food.” Choose the right type of healthy fats and your body will thank you.
MYTH: All calories are created equal
BUSTED: This is a tricky one. “All calories are equal in numerical value, so 100 calories of strawberries and 100 calories of hot chips are, of course, the same,” says Stefanie. “It’s not just the amount though, but the quality of the calories you’re consuming.”
Take strawberries versus chips. To consume 100 calories worth of strawberries, you’d be eating close to three cups of fruit, packed with plenty of fibre, vitamin C and antioxidants. On the other hand, 100 calories worth of hot chips equals around half a small bag of McDonalds fries and will likely leave you hungry with a decent serve of saturated fats and excess salt. It’s not really a tricky decision, is it?
MYTH: You can ‘out exercise’ a poor diet
BUSTED: This is a very easy one to fall for. We often believe that we can balance out what we put in our mouths, simply by exercising more. Sadly, that’s not the case. “Regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Stefanie. “However it can be very difficult to see change without changes in what you’re eating.”
Look at it this way; physical activity, both exercise and the incidental stuff makes up about 15-20% of your metabolism. We have little control over the rest of our ‘energy out’. The good news? “You have 100% control over what goes into your body, well, most of the time,” says Stefanie
MYTH: If you want to lose weight, you shouldn’t eat after 8pm
BUSTED: Your tummy can’t tell the time. “Your body doesn’t care if you eat a burger for breakfast, lunch or dinner,” says Stefanie. “It’s about what happens across the course of the day, the week, the month and the year.”
Where we can run into trouble is when we OVEREAT at night. “Night time eating can be an issue for some people,” advises Stefanie. “If you’re eating lots at night, it’s important to take a look at how much food you’re eating throughout the day.” It may be that you’re skipping breakfast or not eating enough at various meals.
Stefanie Valakas APD is a Sydney-based dietitian at The Dietologist with a special interest in paediatric, women’s health, fertility & pregnancy nutrition.
Now that we’ve busted those diet myths, make sure to check out these must-know kitchen hacks that’ll change your mum life!