By Bianca Drennan, ND
As we enter a new year, many of you may be making New Year’s Resolutions.
Often these resolutions centre around health, specifically weight loss. I believe that the intentions behind resolutions and the start of a new year are genuine and well-placed. However, in so many cases, people “fall off the wagon” and are left feeling discouraged, only to make the same resolution next year. What if this year, you approached weight loss from a more sustainable, long-term wellness angle? What if this year you chose a more informed and balanced way to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight? There is a lot of misinformation out there about the most effective weight loss methods – it is incredibly confusing. What I am providing you with are my top 5 diet myths out there, based on evidence and clinical experience. Make 2017 the year you decide to achieve balance and overall wellness, and work towards becoming YOUR best self.
1. FAT IS THE ENEMY
Everyone seems to have a serious hate-on for fat. We’re a fat-phobic society and we have been since the 70s. We think if we eat fat, we’ll get fat. Right? Wrong. Our bodies need fat to function. Fat is essential for brain health, nutrient absorption, metabolism, and energy production. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats from plant oils (olive, nuts, seeds, avocados) are a great source of anti-inflammatory fatty acids which help keep your cells healthy, lubricated, and functioning optimally. Saturated fats can also be a great energy source, especially coconut oil which contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These fats help burn “bad” fat. Saturated fats from animal products are also not something to be afraid of anymore. Research is now showing that in moderate quantities, saturated fats from animals does not lead to poor health as was originally thought. There are some great health benefits from these fats, especially when sourced from grass-fed animals. The type of fat to avoid is trans-fat, which is typically found in processed foods (fried foods, baked goods, some margarines). This is the type of fat that leads to heart disease and weight gain.
What our bodies don’t need are simple sugars – and this is where the problem is. All those “low-fat” and “non-fat” products you see on the shelves are chock-full of unnatural, laboratory based ingredients, most of which are various forms of sugar. Anything that ends in -ose is a form of sugar. The issue is that these sugar-laden, low-fat products are the true culprits to weight gain and poor blood sugar balance. They cause sugar highs and lows, with very little satisfaction which causes you to crave more and feel hungry. What’s more, these sugars end up getting stored as fat anyway! However, when you eat fat (especially the good kind), you are actually burning through it more. Wouldn’t you rather eat something from a plant or animal than a laboratory? Fat is not the enemy, sugar is. Moral of the story: you need to eat fat to lose fat.
2. CALORIES = LIFE
Another old-school way to think of weight loss and healthy weight maintenance – you have to count calories to lose weight. The amount of food we eat does have some importance, but it is not the be all and end all. Much like low-fat products, low-calorie foods provide very few nutrients, generally a lot of sugar, and zero satisfaction. This often leads to over-eating and a false sense of health. I always give people the same example: whole wheat bread has more calories than white bread. Does that make white bread healthier? I think we can all agree that is not the case. A calorie is not a calorie. Avocados, nuts, plant oils, and oily fish are some of the higher calorie foods that are generally recommended as part of a healthy diet. But these are GOOD calories, ones that improve health, prevent disease, and stimulate metabolism. It would be a shame, and a mistake in my opinion, to omit these foods from your diet because of the high calorie price tag. You could likely eat a donut for less calories than a handful of almonds – but that does not mean that you are making a healthy choice.
Counting calories is not sustainable and can lead to an obsession of numbers. Healthy eating and living is not about micromanaging everything you put into your mouth. This can lead to frustration, pre-occupation with food, and potentially eating disorders. It is no way to live. My best advice is to eat REAL food. When you stop eating things with long ingredient lists, calories stop being an issue.
3. CARDIO IS THE SOLUTION
You see them – rows and rows of people killing themselves on the treadmill or elliptical. Or maybe you see them in the group exercise room taking a step class. Cardio exercise, technically meaning exercise that works your heart by raising your heart rate, has become the face of weight loss. But like many weight loss strategies, this is only part of the story. I watch people in the gym sweating it out on cardio machines, thinking that they must not know the whole story. I have friends tell me that they have to work out for 1-2 hours a day on the elliptical or treadmill in order to lose or maintain weight. That is because the advice that cardio exercise is essential for weight loss is slightly misguided.
Cardio exercise is great for your heart and building endurance. That being said, it is not the most effective for weight loss. During cardio exercise, your body burns calories for that time period only. However, during resistance exercise (weights, etc), your body burns calories during the workout AND up to 72 hours after the workout. This is because resistance exercise increases muscle mass which is more metabolically active than fat mass. In other words, more muscle leads to more calories burned on a daily basis. Cardio exercise can build muscle as well, but when extended too long, it can lead to muscle breakdown, meaning it does not stimulate your metabolism long after the workout. It is also untrue that resistance exercise does not work your heart. Resistance exercise, especially moving weights above your head can certainly increase heart rate and provide a positive cardiac effect. Resistance exercise is also important for bone and joint health, whereas cardio exercise can be damaging.
This is not to say that cardio exercise does not have a place in our workout regimes. However, it is not going to give you the most significant results when it comes to managing your weight.
4. EAT LESS TO LOSE MORE
If you eat less food, less often, you should lose weight right? Not so much. When we cut back calories too far or skip meals, we are essentially starving our bodies. Our bodies are very primal in nature, and when we don’t nourish it adequately, it goes into “starvation” or “hibernation” mode – aka, fat storage mode. Evolution has lead to many changes, but what has not changed is our reaction to inadequate nutrition. When we skip meals or eat too little, our bodies are unsure when it will receive food next. As a result (and for protection), we end up storing all the calories that we do consume as fat. This allows us to have a fuel reserve in the event that we have to enter starvation mode again. My advice is to consume food regularly throughout the day to keep you energized, fuelled appropriately, and constantly burning calories and building muscle. This prevents us from entering this fat storage mode.
Whether you should eat 3 times per day or 6 times per day is up for debate (and depends on your own specific requirements). But, what is known, is that cutting back too much and skipping meals is not the solution to weight loss. It is about making the best food choices to fuel ourselves and keep our bodies metabolizing at a healthy rate.
5. THE SCALE IS GOD
When we talk about weight loss or weight maintenance, we’re usually talking about the number on the scale. Although this number does carry some importance, it is not the only determinant of weight loss. Through exercise and diet, we are ultimately aiming to lose fat and gain muscle. This will cause the scale to drop, but not always at a rate that we might expect or want. The truth is, muscle weighs more than fat. Unfortunately, most at-home scales cannot differentiate between fat and muscle. Therefore, when we weigh ourselves and do not see the number go down, we get frustrated. However, if we are losing fat and gaining muscle, the scale will not be able to reflect that. The best way to determine how well your weight loss is going is to measure inches. Or, even easier and more practical, is to measure how well your clothes are fitting. Weight loss leads to a change in body composition (ie. more muscle than fat), and as a result our clothes fit better, and we lose inches. This is a much more accurate measure of weight loss rather than depending on the scale which will not tell you much. Ironically, athletes are often considered overweight or obese based on their weight – which is all due to muscle mass. I think we can all agree that athletes are not actually overweight or obese, which really highlights the limitations of a traditional scale. If you’re really interested in your body composition, you can have it measured at some clinics which can tell you your percent of fat and muscle mass. Monitoring your weight is not about crunching numbers – it is about practical, sustainable, and more holistic measurements of health.
Dr. Bianca Drennan ND, provides nutritional consulting and naturopathic medicine services at Pacific Wellness and is available for appointments five days a week. If you would like to detoxify and trim your body, improve your lifestyle or address certain health concerns please call us at 416-929-6958 or submit your online appointment request to arrange your initial appointment. The naturopathic appointments are covered by most employee benefits.
New Year’s Special Offer:
Book your initial naturopathic appointment with Dr. Bianca Drennan in January and February, 2017 and receive a free body composition test at your second visit.
One of the most convenient and reliable ways to determine body composition is with Bio Impedance Analysis (BIA). Our research grade BIA equipment is used regularly by major hospitals and university facilities. It provides an accurate estimation of fat and lean mass percentage, as well as other important bio-markers of health.
The BIA Procedure ? Fast and Simple
The BIA procedure is a simple, non-invasive test, completed in just a few minutes. An electrode is attached to the surface of your hand and foot, and patients do not feel a thing.