Dieting is surrounded by myths and gimmicks. No single food or diet can help you lose weight. Low carb, high carb, high protein or limited diets can damage your health. To reduce body fat and lose weight, you need to change the way you eat and increase your physical activity.
More Australians are overweight or obese than ever before, and the numbers are steadily increasing. Around 64 per cent of men and 47 per cent of women are carrying too much body fat. This means that the incidence of obesity-related disorders, such as coronary heart disease and diabetes, is also on the rise.
There’s no magic weight loss potion
Dieting has led to many unhealthy misconceptions about weight loss. There are no magical foods or ways to combine foods that melt away excess body fat. To reduce your weight, you need to make small, achievable changes to your lifestyle. You need to change the way you eat and increase your physical activity.
Some dietary fats cause weight gain
Fats contain approximately double the amount of kilojoules (calories) per gram than carbohydrates or protein. They are a very concentrated form of energy. If you eat a lot of fat, you are more likely to put on weight than if you eat a lot of carbohydrate.
The type of fat you eat may also be important. Research shows that animal fats (saturated fats) may be more ‘fattening’ than plant and fish fats. Fish and plant fats appear to be more readily used by the body and less likely to be stored as fat in the belly. They can also provide some health benefits.
Excess carbohydrates or protein can also be converted into body fat. If you eat more kilojoules than you use, you will put on weight whether those kilojoules came from fats, carbohydrates or proteins.
Low, moderate or high carbohydrate diets
In the short term, very low carbohydrate diets can result in greater weight loss than high carbohydrate diets but, in the long term, weight loss differences appear to be minimal. Very low carbohydrate diets can be unhealthy if too much animal fat is consumed and if plant foods are overly restricted. The long term safety of these diets is unknown.
FIVE FOOD MYTHS EXPOSED
There are many myths about foods – which you should eat and when you should eat them. Below five myths are exposed as false!
1. Potatoes make you fat – false
It was once thought that the key to weight loss was eliminating all high carbohydrate foods, including pasta, rice and potatoes. We now know that carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source. Eating a potato, or any type of carbohydrate rich food, won’t automatically make you fatter. However, if you are watching your weight, enjoy potatoes in moderate quantities and be careful of how you eat your potato (for example, butter and sour cream are high in fats).
You have to regularly eat more energy than your body needs to put on weight. This is harder to do with high carbohydrate foods than high fat foods. Eating a diet high in carbohydrate (and also fibre) is likely to push fat out of the diet.
2. Food combining diets really work – false
There are plenty of diets based on the belief that the digestive system can’t tackle a combination of foods or nutrients. Commonly, carbohydrates and proteins are said to ‘clash’, leading to digestive problems and weight gain. The opposite is often true. Foods eaten together can help the digestive system. For example, vitamin C in orange juice can increase iron absorption from a meal like chicken or beef.
Very few foods are purely carbohydrate or purely protein; most are a mixture of both. The digestive system contains enzymes that are perfectly capable of breaking down all the foods we eat. Food combining diets should be avoided.
3. Breakfast should consist of fruit only – false
There is no evidence that eating only fruit at breakfast has any health or weight loss benefits. Most fruits are not very high in complex carbohydrates, which the body needs after an all-night fast. They are, however, a good source of fibre and vitamins. Cereal foods (especially wholegrain varieties) like bread, crumpets, muffins and breakfast cereals are a much better source of carbohydrates to get you going in the morning.
4. There are some magical foods that cause weight loss – false
Some foods, such as grapefruit or kelp, are said to burn off body fat. This is not true. Dietary fibre comes closest to fulfilling this wish because it provides a feeling of ‘fullness’ with minimal kilojoules. High fibre foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, and legumes also tend to be low in fat.
5. Drinking while you are eating is fattening – false
The theory behind this misconception is that digestive juices and enzymes will be diluted by the fluid, and this will slow down the digestion and lead to excess body fat. There is no scientific evidence to back this up. In fact, evidence suggests that drinking water with your meal improves digestion. Kilojoule-heavy drinks such as alcoholic beverages can be fattening if consumed in excess, but drinking them with meals doesn’t make them more so.
THE KEY TO WEIGHT LOSS
Suggestions for safe and effective weight loss include:
- Don’t crash diet. You’ll most likely regain the lost weight within five years.
- Aim for slow weight loss. You should lose no more than 0.5kg a week or 10kg in six months.
- Aim to lose 10cm from around your waist in six months. This is more important for your general health than the number of kilos you lose.
- Cut down on dietary fats, especially saturated fat.
- Cut back on refined sugars.
- Increase your intake of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrain breads and cereals.
- Consume less alcohol.
- Eat less takeaway and snack foods.
- Exercise for approximately 30 minutes at least a few times every week. Introduce more movement into your day – try to accumulate 30 minutes of walking daily.
- Don’t eliminate any food group – choose from a wide range of foods every day instead and choose ‘whole’, less processed foods. Have a regular pattern of eating and stick to it.
- Drink at least 1,500ml of water per day.
- Where to get help
- Your doctor
- An accredited practising dietitian, contact the Dietitians Association of Australia
- Things to remember
- ‘Crash dieting’ can affect your physical and mental well-being.
- There are no magical foods or ways to combine food that will help you lose weight.
The best way to lose weight is slowly, by making small, achievable changes to your eating and exercise habits.