As an online coach and personal trainer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women and men question me about what they should and should not be doing when it comes to being on the right path to their fitness goals. Many of the questions I get, of course, are related to dieting.
There is so much information out there that it often becomes so hard to decipher between what is scientifically proven, what’s anecdote, what’s bro-science, and what’s simply plain nonsense. So in today’s post, I want to get down to the nitty gritty of 3 diet myths that seem to be hot topics among those in the fat loss game.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
Avoid Eating Carbs At Night
I’m not even sure where this originated, but we can definitely all agree that this myth has been a long standing dogma in the practices of those on a weight loss journey. Carbs ALWAYS seem to get the brunt end of the stick whenever the word “diet” or “weight loss” come into play – despite them being the preferred macronutrient source for energy for many of the Herculean efforts you’re putting forth in the gym. It likely has to do with misinterpreted research about insulin levels being lower at night, hence making the body more “insulin resistant”, and therefore leaving the body to magically lose its ability to process carbs after X hour of the day (shuttling them straight to your fat stores).
And let’s not even talk about how the specific hour of the day you’re supposed to stop eating carbs came about – as though your cells are roaming around your body with Rolex watches around their “wrists”… Le sigh – I digress. What if I told you that there is specific scientific research that blows this theory right out of the water… Because guess what, there is! Let’s take a look at the following 2011 study:
Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. (Excerpts)
This study was designed to investigate the effect of a low-calorie diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner on anthropometric, hunger/satiety, biochemical, and inflammatory parameters. Hormonal secretions were also evaluated. Seventy-eight police officers (BMI >30) were randomly assigned to experimental (carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner) or control weight loss diets for 6 months.
… Greater weight loss, abdominal circumference, and body fat mass reductions were observed in the experimental diet in comparison to controls.
Hunger scores were lower and greater improvements in fasting glucose, average daily insulin concentrations, and homeostasis model assessment for insulin resistance (HOMA(IR)), T-cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels were observed in comparison to controls.
The experimental diet modified daily leptin and adiponectin concentrations compared to those observed at baseline and to a control diet. A simple dietary manipulation of carbohydrate distribution appears to have additional benefits when compared to a conventional weight loss diet in individuals suffering from obesity. It might also be beneficial for individuals suffering from insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome.
So what exactly does this mean? Well, compared to the control group, the experimental group who were given the same amount of food calorically (1300-1500 calories per day according to the full study) were also given a majority of their carbohydrates at night.
This group not only saw their measurements and body mass decrease in a greater capacity than the control group (whose carbs were spread throughout the day), but they also saw an improvement in crucial hormones, fasting glucose levels, daily insulin levels, and improved cholesterol levels as well.
Additionally, the diet overall seems to be a better alternative for those who suffer from obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Now this is not to suggest that you now change your entire diet around to eat all of your carbs at night, however this should help you to realize, and release the fear of simply eating in a way that better fits your lifestyle – including eating your carbs after sundown… Let’s take a look at our second big dietary myth.
Rebuke Sodium! Eliminate Sodium From Your Diet – It Is THE ENEMY
Salt is a crucial mineral, and too much of it (like anything) can be a “bad” thing. But just like, our friend above (carbs), it gets a bad wrap in the face of fat loss. Sodium is an electrolyte in the body that is responsible for fluid balance. The body is a finely tuned machine that has survived millions of years of evolution. A dieter trying to attempt to limit salt by completely eliminating it from their diet can end up doing way more harm than good – particularly if this person is an avid exerciser.
Consider this, sodium (along with potassium) plays a crucial role in muscle contraction, and the ability for the central nervous system to properly fire a muscle. Together these two minerals allow your nerve cells to send electrical impulses (called action potentials) to your cells that signal your muscles to contract. A large reduction of sodium can disrupt this signaling causing muscular weakness, twitching, and cramps as well. In other words – bye bye gains!
There is an interesting 2012 experimental study and literature review that touches on how a low sodium diet can impart on trainees symptoms of overreaching and overtraining, when either training intensity or frequency is increased. Researchers found that these symptoms started to occur in trainees in as little as a two week time period once training began – and this occurred BEFORE blood sodium decreased below the physiological range. What they found was that by increasing sodium in the diet, as opposed to taking a training break, it would help to restore the energy levels back to baseline after a few days of administration.
So if being at the top of your beast mode in the gym is important to you, and you care about seeing continual progress, you may want to reconsider the importance of keeping a healthy amount of salt in your diet for optimal performance. And that brings us to our final diet myth for today…
Eating Fat Will Make You Fat! Avoid It At All Costs!
Fats. Let’s face it… Fats are yummy, and although they carry about a good 9 calories per gram, they all aren’t necessarily bad for you. The key with eating fats is choosing the right kinds of fat, and avoiding those which are highly processed. Here’s an interesting factoid. There are SEVERAL studies that point to the fact that despite a drop in the amount of total fat eaten per day by subjects dietarily, affluent countries (such as the US) have seen an astronomical rise in obesity levels. The following 2002 study explores this in greater detail:
Dietary fat is not a major determinant of body fat.
The percentage of energy from fat in diets has been thought to be an important determinant of body fat, and several mechanisms have been proposed. Comparisons of diets and the prevalence of obesity between affluent and poor countries have been used to support this relationship, but these contrasts are seriously confounded by differences in physical activity and food availability.
Within areas of similar economic development, regional intake of fat and prevalence of obesity have not been positively correlated. Randomized trials are the preferable method to evaluate the effect of dietary fat on adiposity and are feasible because the number of subjects needed is not large. In short-term trials, a modest reduction in body weight is typically seen in individuals randomized to diets with a lower percentage of calories from fat.
However, compensatory mechanisms appear to operate, because in randomized trials lasting >or=1 year, fat consumption within the range of 18% to 40% of energy appears to have little if any effect on body fatness. The weighted mean difference was -0.25 kg overall and +1.8 kg (i.e., less weight loss on the low-fat diets) for trials with a control group that received a comparable intensity intervention.
Moreover, within the United States, a substantial decline in the percentage of energy from fat during the last 2 decades has corresponded with a massive increase in the prevalence of obesity. Diets high in fat do not appear to be the primary cause of the high prevalence of excess body fat in our society, and reductions in fat will not be a solution.
Want to know something else? Let’s get back to the ideal of the taste of fat in foods. Fats make things savory, and they give it flavor. The next time you’re at the grocery store take a look and compare full fat items to their fat free versions. What do you notice?
Typically when fats are taken out of foods, there has to be another substance added to it to add flavor back. And often, that means an increase in sugar, carbohydrates, sodium, and other fillers/thickening agents to add substance to the food that has been lost once the fat was removed. Depending on how your diet is set up, this can make a big impact on how well you meet your specific macro totals for the day. There’s a double whammy in this as well. Fats have a way of being more filling than carbs, remember they carry 9 calories per gram vs. 4 calories per gram found in carbs. So you may have a tendency to consume more of the fat free product as opposed to the full fat version if we are talking about satiety alone.
Having fat in your diet is crucial for various functions in the body and overall hormonal health. So instead of eliminating them, it’s a better idea to choose better versions of them to keep as mainstays on your plan while successfully reaching your goals. Understanding nutrition and how the body processes the foods we eat is not only a clear path to your overall success in the short term, but it is dually as crucial for your long term success.
Before falling victim to the many rules of game of fat loss, always question the reasons why, and see what scientific data and research says about the topic at hand. Finding balance is the key to reaching your goals, and ensuring that you keep those results for years to come.
Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, Voet H, Fink G, Kima T, Madar Z. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Oct;19(10):2006-14. doi: 10.1038/oby.2011.48. Epub 2011 Apr 7. PubMed PMID: 21475137. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21475137
Blank MC, Bedarf JR, Russ M, Grosch-Ott S, Thiele S, Unger JK. Total body Na(+)-depletion without hyponatraemia can trigger overtraining-like symptoms with sleeping disorders and increasing blood pressure: explorative case and literature study. Med Hypotheses. 2012 Dec;79(6):799-804. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2012.08.032. Epub 2012 Sep 24. PubMed PMID: 23234732. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23234732
Willett WC, Leibel RL. Dietary fat is not a major determinant of body fat. Am J Med. 2002 Dec 30;113 Suppl 9B:47S-59S. Review. PubMed PMID: 12566139. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12566139