First thing first. Diet does NOT mean reducing food intake. The word ‘diet’ actually means meal regimen – that is, what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat. I always cringe when people say, “Don’t diet” when they actually mean, “Don’t starve yourself”. All of us diet all the time, because all of us need to eat. What makes a difference is the content of the diet itself – do we consume mostly junk and highly-processed food, or do we strive to eat wholesome, healthier munchies?
If anything, facts and myths surrounding diet are more notorious than those of exercising. I’ve heard people do fad diets, crash diets, baby food diet, grapefruit diet, ‘detox’ diet, and a whole array of horrendous meal regimen. A diet should be sustainable. It should not make you feel, and look, miserable. Think about your current meal regimen (whether you deliberately plan it, or just generally how you take in your food everyday), and check it against these myths and half-truths…
1. Skipping Meals is Good for Losing Weight
Most (not all) women with healthy weight have a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) of around 1,200 calories. BMR is the minimum caloric requirement to have your internal organs functioning (heart beating, digestive tract digesting, brain thinking… you get the idea). To determine BMR, you have to take into account your age, weight and sex. A tall, younger male has a higher BMR than a petite, older female.
When you sustain taking less than your Basal Metabolic Rate for an extended period of time, you may lose weight initially, but after a while, your body goes into starvation mode. Our primal instinct of survival kicks in, and your body is fighting back to store more fuel by burning less calories, i.e., energy. In turn, you become lethargic and not as energetic as when you were eating healthy amount of food. Additionally, you may be in danger to train your body into slower metabolism. You do not want slow metabolism, especially when you are trying to lose weight. You could even mess up some other things, like menstrual cycle, skin, hair and nail health. At the end of the day, you are teaching your body to burn less, and eventually, it will defeat the purpose of losing weight.
Of course, this is not to say that you could eat whatever you want. If you want to lose weight, you still need to create a deficit from your daily caloric intake, usually 1,200 multiplied by a factor of activity level. For example, if you are sedentary (sitting on a desk all day, with minimal to no exercise), your daily caloric needs = BMR x 1.2. The multiplying factor becomes larger if you are more active (e.g., you exercise vigorously 3-5 days a week or if your job is a construction worker).
If I keep up with my current exercise schedule around 4-5 times a week, my daily caloric needs to maintain my weight is around 1,900 calories. If I want to lose weight, I would create a deficit in that 1,900 calories by reducing a bit of my food intake and increasing my physical activity, resulting in net caloric expenditure between 1,200 and 1,900. Check out these online BMR calculator and Daily Calorie Needs calculator to find out your numbers.
2. Carb is Evil
Low and No-Carb diets gained a lot of momentum in the last decade. I used to be very tempted by the rate of weight loss coming out from this diet, but I am tempted no more after learning more about carb, and the danger of carb deficiency.
Carb, in moderation, is NOT your enemy. Carbohydrate is the fuel of your body and your brain. Meaning, it helps to regulate your energy level, brain functions for cognitive tasks, and even mood. Cutting out carbs temporarily is fine – some athletes, performers, body-builders, and even brides-to-be, are known to stop taking in carbs several days leading to the big event. But continued deprivation of carb can be dangerous.
When your body is depleted of carbs, weight loss for the first two weeks is rapid, because you also lose water weight as water binds with carb. However, with a sustained carb deprivation, your body will begin cannibalizing itself, using muscle tissue as energy. You never, ever, want to lose muscle tissue (naturally, you are already losing more muscles as you age, usually starts at around 30 years of age). Continued depletion can cause the skin to sag, as well as the weakening of nail and hair. When you enter ketosis phase, usually happens in a prolonged diet sans-carb, one or more of these symptoms may occur: bad breath (ew), nausea, irritability, muscle weakness, and dehydration.
The key with everything that you put into your mouth is moderation. It is strongly preferred that you mostly consume complex carb like brown rice or whole-grain food, and limit simple carb (highly processed bread and rice). But even that, a small portion of simple carb can be useful to give you a burst of energy when consumed 45-60 minutes before you start working out.
3. Eating Late At Night is Always Bad
Technically speaking, eating at 9:00 or 21:00 makes not much a difference. While having breakfast is linked to people having lower Body Mass Index (BMI), the same cannot be had with having dinner later in the day. There is just no convincing study done on humans to support this long-standing myth. If you eat that same hamburger at 5PM, it will still be as unhealthy as eating that at 9PM. For some people, eating dinner a little later can help stave off cravings in the middle of the night. We all know that these midnight cravings usually end up with us, sitting on a couch, watching crappy shows, with a bag of chips in our hand. Some people workout in the evening, and late dinner works best for them, and it’s completely fine. However, be careful not to eat your dinner too close to your snooze time. It can disrupt your sleeping pattern as your digestion system is still working hard to process the food.
4. All Calories Are Created The Same
One calorie is one calorie. However, the type of food of which the calories come from can be processed by and responded by your body differently. Calories coming from protein are digested slower than carb, and thus providing a longer feel of satiation. You have a choice of having an equivalent amount of calories from different foods, say from white bread or from oatmeal. The latter provides better nutrients, makes you feel full faster, is digested longer (again, that longer satiation), and rich in fiber (regulates your #2 and lowers your bad cholesterol). The same 200 calories can be had from chocolate milk or beer. But I hope you choose protein- and calcium-rich milk rather than beer. Your choice is food is as important as the amount you are getting into your body.
5. Fat is Bad
It is true that fat must only be a small part of your daily nutrition intake. Excessive consumption of fatty food and bad fat (saturated and trans-fat) will make your waist larger and your health worse. But, a reasonable amount of good fat helps to make you feel satiated faster and longer, and hopefully you end up eating less calories in total. Good fat is the mono- and polyunsaturated, and Omega-3 types. They are contained in salmon, olive oil, nuts, and Omega 3-enriched eggs – they have enormous health benefits. These include lowering bad cholesterol, less risk of heart diseases, and maintaining your energy level. Do not banish fat – enjoy it sparingly and choose it wisely.
Which one(s) of the above myths and half-truths that you still incorporate in your habit? I hope this post sheds some light to some of the confusions that you may have in your diet!
* images via matton.com