Are you looking to eat healthier and lose weight but frustrated by lack of results? Type “diet articles” into Google and you’ll get almost 160 million hits. With advice and scams abounding on the Internet, it can be hard to weed out truth vs. fiction when it comes to food and weight loss.
We're a diet-loving nation: 108 million people went on a diet last year in the United States, and those people, on average, made four to five attempts to diet.
Adding to this confusing mass of information is the fact that people love to know what their favorite celebrities eat, and celebrities, who get paid up to $3 million to endorse diets, love to give advice. But normal people don’t have nannies, assistants, personal trainers and chefs to help, so a fairly restrictive diet with four hours of daily exercise is not realistic for most of us.
With $20 billion going into the U.S. weight-loss industry every week, people seem to want a shortcut to fast results. Should you go on a low-carb diet? Do you really need to go gluten-free? Do you have to give up all carbs? Can you eat what you want and just work it off?
These are common questions registered dietician Kary Woodruff hears all the time. She spoke with us to debunk the most common diet myths that might be holding you back from enjoying food while losing weight.
Myth #1: Don’t eat after 8 p.m.
The reasoning: Late-night snacking will make you gain weight and food eaten during the evening will turn into fat.
The reality: It really doesn’t matter what time of day you eat food. Woodruff says people usually meet their calorie needs during the day and late-night snacking turns into weight gain because they’re eating too much at that point.
“There’s no difference between eating dinner at 6 p.m. or 9 p.m.,” Woodruff said. “It’s based on your total caloric intake.”
Myth #2: Eat five to six small meals during the day
The reasoning: Eating every few hours will boost your metabolism and help you lose weight.
The reality: Eating more often doesn’t boost your metabolism, Woodruff said. Eating at regular intervals during the day can help you not overeat. Woodruff actually recommends eating every few hours to help with cravings.
“But it doesn’t need to be six small meals,” she added. You can eat three regular meals with little snacks in between. Regular intervals is a healthy approach to dieting and helps our energy to be better throughout the day.”
Myth #3: Carbs are bad for your diet (especially bread and pasta)
The reasoning: Carbs turn into fat cells.
The reality: Carbs are essential to your health. Too many carbs can cause you to gain weight, Woodruff agreed, but too much of anything can cause weight gain. It doesn’t mean that all carbs are bad.
“They are essential to our diet and we need them,” Woodruff said. “They’re the only useable source of energy for our brain. There are no health benefits to a low-carb diet.”
Woodruff suggests focusing on quality carb sources in the form of whole grains (that includes whole grain bread and pasta), fruits, vegetables, milk and yogurt.
Myth #4: You can eat a lot as long as you exercise
The reasoning: You are starving after that intense workout and deserve that “____________” (Fill in the blank: milk shake, cheeseburger, fries, pizza, ice cream, etc.).
The reality: You’re probably not burning as many calories during exercise as you think you are, Woodruff says, and so you don’t have a bunch of calories to expend on junk food. Food intake is just as important as exercise in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and/or losing weight.
Myth #5: Going on a diet is the best way to lose weight
The reasoning: You need to religiously count calories and make sure you’re not going over your daily allotment to lose weight.
The reality: “The thing I don’t like about diets is that the whole mentality is you 'go on' a diet and then you eventually 'go off' a diet,” Woodruff said.
However, lots of people like the structure of diets and not having to think about their food choices during the day. The problem is when the diet is over, people usually haven’t learning anything about maintaining the weight loss, and they go back to their regular habits.
When people lose weight at a slower rate, there are more likely to retain the weight loss, Woodruff said.
“When you make sustainable lifestyle changes, you lose weight more slowly,” Woodruff said. “But it’s less exciting and there’s not that instant gratification.”
Myth #6: Go on a gluten-free diet to 'cleanse' your body and lose weight
The reasoning: Gluten is bad for your body and causes a host of intestinal problems.
The reality: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, Woodruff says, and right now, research indicates there is nothing wrong with gluten. When people cut out gluten, they’re also cutting out refined carbs, which tends to lead to feeling better and losing weight.
“I would suggest you can cut those (refined carbs) out without going gluten-free,” she said. “Gluten is good forms of fiber.”
What exactly constitutes "eating healthy"? Woodruff uses an easy guideline for her meals: Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate should be whole grains or healthy starches (complex carbs) like corn or potatoes and the last quarter should be lean protein.
“That can help us see we are eating a good variety of foods,” Woodruff said. “Focus on higher-quality foods.”