Dieting is hard. Seemingly, there are fewer ways to achieve your weight loss goals than there is to fail the process. Even more confusingly, the internet is chock-full of contradicting weight loss information that makes it even harder to ascertain how you should rid the unwanted flab.
To cut through the noise, we asked Holly Heasman, resident nutritionist at SHREDDY (opens in new tab), to shine a light on some of the most commonly known dieting 'facts' and debunk them if she must to help you lose weight and shift stubborn fat in a meaningful way.
Whilst we can't tell you what to believe, we can take a deeper look into the science behind some of these dieting myths and so-called facts. Either way, boosting metabolism or even just improving slow metabolism is always a good idea; whether it's through exercising or diet changes, it's up to you.
Without further ado, here are some of the most common myths, with a side order of truth.
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1. Skipping meals will save you calories
On a very fundamental level, this statement is not untrue. As the saying goes, 'A penny saved is a penny earned', similarly how a calorie not consumed is a calorie lost. However, your body needs the energy to function, so skipping too many meals will end making you feel lethargic, deflated, with your thoughts confused and in a foul mood.
Hunger is a powerful feeling. When you're hungry, your brain will switch to scavenging mode and will recruit resources from elsewhere in the body to support your efforts to find food.
"These are the moments that we make ‘impulse’ decisions and opt for the easy, 'grab-and-go' options which are usually poorer in nutrition", Holly says, "Likewise, if you skip lunch and manage to abstain from food until dinner time, chances are you're going to be starving. That’s when we risk overeating and overindulging."
Holly's advice? Plan your meals, pre-portion sizes and fuel your body adequately throughout the day.
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2. Snacking is bad for you
Not all snacks were created equal. Some are bad – no one would ever recommend eating a Cadbury Double Decker when someone's hungry – but there are plenty of healthy snacks you can choose and consume in moderation that affect metabolism positively.
"Nuts are a great source of fibre, protein and healthy, essential fats", Holly recommends, "We’ve also got fruit, vegetables, seeds, yoghurts, and homemade sweet treats – the list of healthy snacks is indeed quite long!"
The same advice Holly gave above applies here, too: you will get hungry throughout the day, and it's better to be prepared than to reach for naughty snacks. Having a protein bar in your bag on a 'just in case' basis is a good idea: these are low in sugar, high in fibre and protein, perfect for snacking.
The more hardcore of you can consider carrying around protein powder to whisk up on the go. Or, you know, fruits for energy. Berries are low on calories and sugar.
"Not everyone will need or want snacks, but if you do, that's okay! Go for something that's going to make the body feel great inside and out", Holly suggests.
3. You need to lock the cupboards after 7 pm
Research has shown (opens in new tab) that generally speaking, we're more likely to overeat in the evenings (as opposed to any other time in the day). So, for some people, having a ‘window’ of feeding time is beneficial and stops the tendency to over-consume.
Following an intermittent fasting eating pattern can help you manage this window more effectively. As long as you don't consume calories outside the feeding window, you can start fasting whenever you want, even after 7 pm.
For example, you can have your last meal of the day at 8 pm, sleep through most of the 16-hour fasting window and resume eating at 12 pm. Or finish eating at 4 pm and have your first meal at 8 am in the morning. You can adjust fasting as you wish to better incorporate it into your lifestyle.
"Some people will benefit from having feeding windows, some will not, it’s down to individual preference", Holly says.
4. Eating any carbs will result in weight gain
Carbs are often portrayed as the source of all evil in weight loss circles. However, this macronutrient is more nuanced and versatile than you'd think.
"Carbs are the body's main energy source", Holly says, "When we eat a carb, the body will break it down into glucose. The body then has two priorities - use this glucose for energy now or store it for later use as fat. As long as you time your meals right and don't overeat, carbs shouldn't harm your body."
Holly's advice? Choose whole-grain varieties, fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses over bread, pasta and white rice as main sources of carbs.
5. You have to say goodbye to treats
Have you noticed that the day you start a new diet, you’re the most hungry you’ve ever been in your life? More often than not, we want what we can’t have. Even with the best intentions in the world, the temptation will prevail. Treats are not a bad thing when eaten in moderation and with reasonable portions.
"Even when working towards a specific goal, you can still factor in those foods that give you joy even if they aren't the most nutritious in the world", Holly suggests, "Plan ahead, savour those sweet, sweet treats, and focus on eating fresh and balanced meals for the remainder of your day. As long as you don’t continue to splurge meal after meal, you won’t derail your diet."
6. You can target weight loss
We discussed this topic here on T3 before (read all about it here), but in essence, you can't spot-reduce fat in your body. Fat might accumulate in certain areas of your body more easily, but you can't remove it just from there; that's not how fat loss works.
"When the body loses fat, it loses it all over, no matter what nutrition plan you follow", Holly chimes in, "However, with the correct training plan, you can improve muscle definition in certain areas (creating 'tone'). Remember, this is muscle definition, not fat loss!"
Increased muscle mass can also help increase basal metabolic rate, or BMR for short, essential for long term weight loss. Cardio might help you create the energy deficit you need to lose weight, but as soon as you stop running for five hours a day, the weight will pile back on, especially if you return to eating 'as normal'.
Having more muscle will increase the BMR, which increases your calorie needs so you can eat without piling the weight back on. You shouldn't go crazy with your diet, though, but a higher BMR can help you sustain weight loss easier.