Mainstream fitness is full of misconceptions. You can find information about nutrition everywhere online, but still, so many people don’t have the results that they want or they can’t stick to their diet plan. That’s mainly because much of the information that you can find online is false. It sets you up to follow these extreme diets that are not sustainable given our lifestyles. We’ve been led to believe that you can only lose body fat if you eat clean foods, or that you can speed up your metabolism by eating 5 small meals during the day. I will break down all these myths and others. Let’s start with the first one:
1. You can only lose weight if you eat clean. False
Clean eating has become almost like a cult. Many self-proclaimed fitness experts run away from the occasional pizza or donuts because, supposedly, eating those foods makes you fat. Their argument is that a donut, for example, contains empty calories due to the simple carbs and sugar that it contains. While it is true that on the level of nutrition, a donut cannot be compared to sweet potatoes, the calories that you find are still calories that your body uses. And because in the matter of losing weight, all that matters are calories in versus calories out, you can lose body fat eating donuts in moderation. You see, our body applies the first law of thermodynamics when it comes to losing or gaining weight: energy in versus energy out, the energy we get from the foods we eat versus the energy that we burn through physical activity.
Actually, a University professor lost 27 pounds eating a twinkie diet only to prove a point. You can read Mark Haub’s story here.
So for the purpose of losing weight, it doesn’t matter what foods we eat, as long as we are in a caloric deficit, meaning we eat less energy than we burn through physical activity. Food choices matter only in terms of health. Whole nutritious foods are better than donuts, sweets, etc.
Your energy in and out doesn’t have to balance every day. It’s having a balanced diet over time that will help you stay at a healthy weight for the long term. Children need to balance their energy, too, but they’re also growing and that should be considered as well. Energy balance in children happens when the amount of ENERGY IN and ENERGY OUT supports natural growth without promoting excess weight gain.
That’s why you should take a look at the Estimated Calorie Requirement chart, to get a sense of how many calories (ENERGY IN) you and your family need on a daily basis.
This calorie requirement chart presents the estimated amounts of calories needed to maintain energy balance (and healthy body weight) for various gender and age groups at three different levels of physical activity. The estimates are rounded to the nearest 200 calories and were determined using an equation from the Institute of Medicine (I.O.M.).
|1,000 – 1,400
|1,000 – 1,400
|4 – 8
|1,400 – 1,600
|1,400 – 1,800
|1,600 – 2,000
|1,800 – 2,000
|2,000 – 2,200
|2,000 – 2,200
|1,400 – 1,600
|1,600 – 2,000
|1,800 – 2,200
|2,000 – 2,600
|2,400 – 2,800
|2,800 – 3,200
|2,600 – 2,800
|2,400 – 2,600
|2,800 – 3,000
|2,200 – 2,400
|2,400 – 2,800
Source: HHS/USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2005.
- These levels are based on Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the IOM Dietary Reference Intakes macronutrients report, 2002, calculated by gender, age, and activity level for reference-sized individuals. “Reference size,” as determined by IOM, is based on median height and weight for ages up to age 18 years of age and median height and weight for that height to give a BMI of 21.5 for adult females and 22.5 for adult males.
- Sedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
- Moderately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
- Active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
- The calorie ranges shown are to accommodate the needs of different ages within the group. For children and adolescents, more calories are needed at older ages. For adults, fewer calories are needed at older ages.
The myth is debunked and it has been proven that you can lose fat just by following the mathematical principle above, but I still recommend that for the sake of your health, lose fat by eating properly.
2. You get fat if you eat in the evening. False
This is a myth that is strongly linked with the first one. The mainstream logic behind it is that in the evening the body goes to rest, so any food you eat will be stored as fat because you can’t burn calories while asleep.
The process of storing fat and burning fat is not dependent on the time of day. These two processes happen all the time simultaneously. What matters is the rate of these processes. If the rate of fat storage is higher than the rate of fat burning, then you will gain fat. And if the rate of the fat burn is higher than the rate of fat storage, then you will lose fat. All of this during a 24 hour period.
Digestion, on the other hand, could be hampered for some of you so you must experiment and observe your body’s reactions.
3. Eating 5 small meals speeds up your metabolism. False
The speed up your metabolism obsession revolves around losing weight. The 5 meals per day idea promote the theory that by digesting small amounts of food every two hours, the metabolism speeds up, burns more calories and you can lose more body fat in this way. And the two poles that this idea targets are the resting metabolic rate and the thermic effect of food.
Well, the truth is that your resting metabolic rate, as in the number of calories you burn if you lay in your bed all day, doesn’t change significantly no matter what you do. It’s one of the steadiest mechanisms in the human body.
And the thermic effect of food, as in the number of calories your body burns during digestion is approx 10% of your total daily calorie intake, independent of what foods you eat.
So you cannot increase either the resting metabolic rate with food or the thermic effect of food. You can read more about this topic here!
4. You should do cardio if you want to lose fat. False
Many people that want to lose body fat go straight to cardio training. They believe that is the way they should follow. And that’s because they are confused regarding the calorie-burning process. In reality, any physical activity burns calories!
I don’t say that cardio exercise isn’t effective but as long as you are in a caloric deficit with your food intake, you will burn fat. You can focus on training your muscles. Train them hard, eat in a calorie deficit and in this way, you will preserve your muscle mass or even increase it depending on your training methods.
While doing that, you will also lose fat. Cardio is just a tool in the toolbox. If you like it you can use it to burn some extra calories. But as a rule of thumb, it should never be more than 10-20% of your training routine if you want to be muscular. Too much cardio and too little resistance training in the long term can cause muscle loss.
5. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. False
Meal distribution and timing are two of the most misunderstood topics in the nutrition area. Many people are manipulated by the fitness industry to eat in a certain way even if they don’t feel good doing so. The obsession with breakfast comes from the idea that during sleep your body is depleted of nutrients so you have to eat first thing in the morning to get the necessary energy to start your day.
From the evolutionary point of view that doesn’t make any sense. We didn’t have access to food so easily during the caveman era as we do now. Humans were forced to hunt and gather food during the day and eat it in the evening.
From a practical point of view, it depends on how you feel. Some people feel sleepy after a big breakfast. Their productivity slows down. Others feel great and energetic. In fact, the body uses stored fat as energy. That’s why some people have the required energy to train in a fasted state. And in a fasted state they are more alert and productive because in a biological sense that’s how we are built to function.
That’s why the choice of eating breakfast or not should come down to personal preference. There are great benefits from fasting until later in the day. Also, in terms of fat loss or fat gain, skipping breakfast does not have an impact.
The training regimen triggers the hypertrophy response [muscle growth reaction] from your body and hence it will need more nutrients and calories to grow. In this case, breakfast is suddenly very important.
Who are bad candidates for skipping breakfast?
- Pregnant women.
- Children and adolescents who are still growing.
- People who suffer from impaired glucose regulation.
- People who are hungry soon after waking up and want to feel sated in the morning.
- People who need to exercise at peak performance in the morning.
- People who wish to optimize muscle gain or retention.
- People who just like eating breakfast.
Who are good candidates for skipping breakfast?
- People who want to extend their morning fast as a weight-loss strategy.
- People who aren’t immediately hungry in the morning.
- People who just don?t feel like eating breakfast.
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