I'm going to start a new nutrition movement. I'll call it "eating food". Maybe I'll get a book deal #probablynot @leanlizzy @CapeCodDesigns— Kerryn Woods (@kerrynwoods) January 11, 2014
This time of year makes me cross. No, I don't mean the long-awaited but quite extreme heat wave that we're finally getting here in Melbourne. I mean the explosion of New Year misguided, dangerous or just plain wrong nutrition advice in my social media news feeds. Not to mention in newspapers, magazines and as a topic of conversation in offices everywhere.
Yes, it's January and you know what that means: everybody and their dog is On A Diet. *sigh*
OK, so you need to lose some Christmas kilos. Here's what NOT to do.
DON'T waste your money on pills or potions that promise fast fat loss. They're a scam.
DON'T jump back into that old program that you've used umpteen times in the past, because clearly it ain't working.
DON'T take advice from your mum's next-door-neighbour's cousin who had great success with the Fast Weight Loss for People With More Money Than Sense program
DON'T follow any program that: excludes food groups; uses "learn about the FIVE FOODS YOU SHOULD NOT EAT to lose weight!" as a marketing ploy; that involves compulsory purchase of expensive "super foods" or supplements; that involves skipping meals or replacing them with liquid "meals" or that declares that one food (sugar/wheat/meat/whatever) is the cause of the world obesity epidemic.
I'm sick and tired and frankly saddened by the number of people I talk to who have jumped from one diet to another over the years and are now battling body image issues, an eating disorder or physical health problems as a result.
Most of the claims made by various nutrition (self-appointed) gurus have zero scientific basis to back them up. Some of them are just plain stupid. Witness these gems:
Gluten is a type of glue. Um... actually, I'm pretty sure it's a protein.
Lettuce is high in sugar. No. So much stupid in one person. Ugh.
You need to eat only low-carb fruits. All fruits are predominantly carbs. They also pack a vitamin, mineral and fibre punch, so yay, fruits!
You won't lose weight unless you cut out fat/carbs/sugar/wheat/whatever. Fat loss is a result of caloric deficit. You can eat any types of foods and still lose weight if your total food intake is less calories than your energy output.
Just eat clean. What even IS that? As Liz pointed out the other day, it means different things to different people. It might be sensible... or it might not, depending on your interpretation. Please stop saying it, you sound like one of the crazy diet ninnies.
Wheat will make you senile. Sugar causes cancer. Blah, blah, blah. Aargh. AARGH!
Here's what I've learned, from actual science and actual experience:
You could lose weight eating McDonalds, so the weight loss link to any one food or food group is spurious (Just so we're clear, I'm not recommending you do that, OK?). If you reduce calories to below the amount you actually require, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you need, you will gain weight. It's simple maths.
We need a variety of foods for optimum health. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, grains, fats*... If you regularly only consume the same few veggies and fruit, you're doing yourself no favours. If you avoid grains and starches, you're doing so unnecessarily.
No "superfoods" will provide you with all the nutrients you need. Yes, things like chia seeds, goji berries and quinoa contain some important nutrients, but so do other, much cheaper foods. Like broccoli. Or blueberries. Or salmon, steak and potatoes.
Chocolate, cake and wine are a few of life's great pleasures. You absolutely CAN continue to eat those things and lose weight, get stronger and fitter, improve your health or whatever your goals may be. In my brief foray into figure bodybuilding competing, I feasted on pizza, scarfed down M & Ms and sipped a glass or two of wine on a regular basis. No, not daily... but every single week I worked in a treat or two. And our home-cooked Indian and Thai meals, plus potatoes, bread and whatever fruit I wanted were just part of my normal meals. Not to mention chocolate souffle omelettes. I got stupidly lean eating the same foods I normally eat, just in smaller amounts.
|52kg, full of energy and fuelled by chocolate souffles.|
So, what's my definition of healthy food? A wide variety of foods, in quantities that meet your personal nutrition goals, support your lifestyle, taste great and provide you with enjoyment. If you're struggling to stick to your current eating plan, feel as though you can't eat out at a restaurant or cafe, or find yourself harbouring feelings of resentment and deprivation, you need to take a long, hard look at what you're doing.
What works for you? And is it backed by real science?
*Obviously the exact foods you eat will depend on allergies, intolerances, whether you're vegetarian, personal likes and dislikes and so on.
For more sane advice on nutrition, check out these articles I came across recently:
Evidence Magazine: Why "Clean Eating" is a Myth.
The Atlantic: This is Your brain on Gluten - Warning: this is a bit of a long read, but worth it.
Foodwatch: Why Quitting Sugar Guarantees You'll Lose Weight