PART 3: Debunking Nutrition Myths and Fads!
Part 3 of this series builds off last week where we defined diet and metabolism. If you haven’t read that post yet, I highly recommend taking a few minutes and reading it now! Metabolism refers to your body’s ability to convert food and beverages into energy to function. You need energy from food to support all the functions of your body. We also discussed TDEE or the Total Daily Energy Expenditure, aka the number of calories your body burns in a day through digestion, physical activity and day-to-day movement, as well as the calories your body burns at rest to keep functioning. So why do we see so little about metabolic health, metabolic adaptation (caused by a change in your metabolic function from overeating, under-eating or overexercising), and TDEE??
***DISCLAIMER: This post is not meant to shame or insult anyone currently trying any of the below dietary changes. If you have been prescribed any of these changes by a doctor, or practice them for religious purposes, please disregard. My hope is to educate and help people find sustainable ways to lose weight or find health. You should always consult a doctor or registered dietician before trying any extreme dietary changes.***
As I mentioned last week, the diet industry loves extremes. People love extremes in general. We love to see big makeovers and huge weight loss. We often don’t appreciate small growth and change, when we should. We are constantly seeing these no carb and low carb diets like Keto. And restricting carb intake has been a fad in the diet industry for many years. The reality of these extreme diets is that yes they do work for some and they can have fast immediate results. When you put yourself on an extreme diet, whether it be low carb or any highly restrictive diet, you are often putting yourself into a caloric deficit (eating less calories than you were previously), simply because you’ve eliminated so many foods and are eating less. Caloric deficits and eating less food than your body needs to function does equal weight loss. CALORIES IN VS. CALORIES OUT.
So are these restrictive diets good or bad? In extreme cases such as morbid obesity, a doctor may prescribe a heavily restrictive diet for fast weight loss. Outside of extreme cases or medical necessity, these diets are not necessary and rarely lead to long term success.
Why do these diets fail? The biggest consideration with wanting to eat better or to lose weight, is adherence. WHY DO SOMETHING YOU HATE AND CAN’T KEEP UP?! One of the issues with heavily restricting food is falling off the bandwagon. You will miss your old foods, you’ll get sick of feeling hungry, which can lead to binging (eating excessively large meals leading to discomfort). Not to mention when you eat too little your thyroid kicks in sending hormones to trigger you to eat because it doesn’t want you to starve!
The worst part is that we often feel defeated at the end of it. You tell yourself you have no strength and beat yourself up for quitting a diet that was made to fail you, because the body is not meant to sustain heavy restrictions. Restrictive eating will take a toll on your mental health. This is where disordered eating, eating disorders and body dysmorphia can occur. Remember this is not your fault and if you are struggling there are resources for you. Do not fear seeking help from your medical professional. (See resources listed at end for additional help)
Now let’s take that deep dive into diet myths, defining common diet fads and how they actually impact the body. I have yet to meet a person who hasn’t seen an ad claiming that you need to detox or cleanse your body to “restart” your metabolism. ***insert large eye roll*** A quick tip for everyone out there, if an ad claims it has “best thing for you and will work for everone,” it’s BS. We hear these buzzwords everywhere: cleanse, fast, toxins, refresh, restart, metabolic boost, etc. If a product uses these keywords, just run! It’s just not factual! No diet, exercise plan, supplement, cleanse, detox, etc. works for everyone. In fact most of these things don’t work at all, but regardless, no 2 bodies work the same and any product claiming it’s perfect for all, is inaccurate. So the first step when deciding to try something you see online is if it makes these claims, and just pass on by.
Now marketing is very successful and unlike the word “diet,” which is just the sum of food and beverages we consume, the “diet industry” is a totally different ball park. URGENT NEWS: The diet industry is marketing items to sell. If they don’t sell, they don’t make a profit, and believe me they make the sales. They claim “fast” and “easy” weight loss, and who doesn’t love a shortcut? Something to remember, though, did you put on the weight you’re trying to lose in the span of 1-3 days? NO! So we can’t lose it that fast, either. Yes you may lose some water weight, but that will come back. Logically, the diet industry isn’t going to make products that “work” because then no one would keep buying them. They want you to drop some water weight, think you’re losing weight, gain it back, and use the product again. Otherwise, they wouldn’t make any money!
Before going into specific diets, supplements and shortcuts to weight loss, we need to discuss digestion! Digestion is simply the body’s ability to break down food for the nutrients and energy you need. Now I’d like to give a special shout out to the liver. The liver functions to remove harmful substances/waste from what is consumed. It then decides how much nutrients to send to the body and how much to store away for later or energy use. On the other hand is the kidneys. Kidneys function to remove excess waste and water from the body. Now this is important because so many ads market products to “restart” or “refresh” our metabolism, implying that your body is unable to digest food on it’s own. WE HAVE THE LIVER AND KIDNEYS TO BALANCE WASTE AND WATER WEIGHT! The body is specifically made to provide all the digestion and waste removal you need. No product will “restart” the digestive system. If your digestive system was no longer working, you would perish.
Lemon water detoxes the liver and helps you lose weight??! Remember how I mentioned above that the liver covers all the detoxing you need?? So can lemons really increase your ability to lose weight?? The short answer is no. While the nutrients, like Vitamin C, are good for you, the amount you get from half a lemon will have very little benefits, if any. So why does anyone actually believe this myth?? Lemon water is often associated with weight loss because people cut out higher calories beverages to drink it. Bye bye Starbucks latte! Reducing calories can put you in a caloric deficit, leading to weight loss. The lemon has nothing to do with it. Though if you like the taste of lemon water, go for it! Just know that any weight loss you experience is because you are reducing calories and hydrating. Proper hydration can promote a healthier metabolism and burning more calories.
Now another popular online trend for weight loss is juicing! Now while juicing can have some benefits, it’s not a direct link to losing weight. Some pros of juicing are you quickly get in the vitamins and nutrients from fruits and vegetables. It is also tasty and can be used to replace other snack options. These are both good things on their own, but there are some downsides to juicing. When you juice your fruit or vegetables you actually leave behind skin and pulp that actually provide you with fiber. Fiber is important for healthy waste management. Not having enough fiber in the body can lead to constipation. Also, without fiber, the body absorbs the fructose (sugar) in the fruits easier, and this can lead to spikes in blood sugar, and sometimes sugar crashes. Also, while switching to juicing over another snack can be good, oftentimes people forget how many calories are actually in fruit. Sometimes this perceived “healthy swap” can lead to you consuming more calories than if you stuck with your usual snack! Also, without the fiber you may find yourself hungry faster than if you just ate the fruit. Lastly, all these fruits and vegetables can be very expensive and you need a lot to make a full glass of juice! All in all, you can decide for yourself, but my personal recommendation is to stick to eating those fruits and vegetables over drinking them.
Now it’s time to dive into the interesting world of detoxes, detox tea, and cleanses. These are probably the most promoted dietary “supplements” featured on social media. While these items are often promoted by celebrities and influencers, are they good for you? Will you lose that 10 pounds in one week that they promise?? Will they fix your metabolism??
What is the metabolism? Remember that your metabolism is your body’s ability to convert food and beverages into energy to function. Not just digestion, but all the hundreds of chemical processes that happen in your body. Now these products claim that you have a broken metabolism that needs to be reset. If that was true your body would cease to function. Your metabolism doesn’t stop because you eat bad and it doesn’t start up again because of a detox or cleanse!
But why do these products have a reputation for weight loss? Most people are not focusing on the ingredients in detox tea or the labels. Detoxes are known for combining caffeine, diuretics and laxatives with other supplements. That caffeine can have a laxative effect and lead to excess bathroom breaks. Caffeine also ups your energy levels making you more active. Activity = calories burned. Now if you don’t know what diuretics do, they are for regulating water weight. Diuretics simply increase your urine output, leading to a loss in water weight. And laxatives are well laxatives. They’ll keep you in the bathroom all day! Laxatives are used to move waste out of the body quickly, though this is not needed as the liver and kidneys can regulate that for you.
Now while the use of caffeine is fine, as long as you are staying under 400mgs a day or 4-5 cups of coffee, there are a lot of side effects of diuretics and laxatives. Unfortunately, most people don’t know the side effects or even that the products they are buying contain them. Saying “BUY THIS ITEM FOR WEIGHT LOSS! IT CONTAINS LAXATIVES AND DIURETICS,” isn’t very sexy and wouldn’t sell the product.
To list some of the negative side effects of laxatives/detox products containing laxatives:
Nauseous or general feeling of upset stomach
Intestinal blockage (from long term use)
Dependency (Some people do these detoxes so much they do damage their digestive health and become dependent on laxatives to have any bowel movement. These people then have to keep upping dosage as the body gains tolerance)
They can also have major side effects if you’re taking other medication, and should only be taken if recommended by a doctor.
One of the most serious side effects is you can cause permanent organ damage; colon infections, IBS, and liver damage to name a few.
Now diuretics are a totally different ball park. They are commonly used to lower blood pressure and improve symptoms of heart and liver failure, edema (which I personally have and require medically prescribed diuretics every day), and some kidney disorders. While diuretics can improve a lot of medical diagnoses, they have a lot of downfalls and should not be taken unless prescribed by a doctor!
Side effects of diuretic use:
Low sodium/potassium levels
Increased blood pressure
Higher bad cholesterol
Kidney failure (I am required to do blood work every 3 months to make sure my medication is not impacting my kidney function)
CAN WE SAY YIKES???!!!
Now let’s focus on cleanses. Cleanses and detox are often used interchangeably in social media and basically attempt to do the same thing. Detoxes are said to remove “toxins” from your body, while cleanses often claim to be cleaning out the digestive system by removing multiple food groups or removing food all together (fasting) for a period of time. Oftentimes the approach to a cleanse, is to eliminate “bad” foods and only eat a small group of approved foods. To be clear, your body needs a multitude of foods to thrive. Limiting your intake to a small group of foods can make it harder to get all the nutrients you need. Any weight change from something like a cleanse is simply because by eliminating so many food options or eliminating them all together (like in a fast), you are reducing your caloric intake. You could do this without eliminating a ton of food options. Whether it be cleansing or fasting, you are reducing your calories to oftentimes a dangerous place. The body thinks you’re starving and starvation does not equal weight loss in the body. It triggers the body to hold on to all its fat. If you actually believe you have food allergies or intolerances that should be avoided, a doctor or registered dietician can help advise you before you eliminate more foods than necessary and negatively impact your digestive health.
So then how are we even allowed to buy these products if they have so many possible side effects? DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS LIKE DETOXES AND CLEANSES ARE NOT REGULATED BY THE FDA! So people can market and sell these products, and people will buy them not knowing that they are not tested or controlled in any manner. To detail this further I am linking a really great article from FDA.gov below. Be very cautious of these products. These products can be mixed however they want and you can’t guarantee you’ll be able to find out what is actually in them.
What you can do instead of taking laxative or diuretics:
Drink more water
If you read most celebrity endorsements for these detoxes, you’ll see that they even ask you to combine them with exercise, extra hydration and eating more balanced meals. These products on their own do not aid in actual fat loss, they add in the release of items in your bowels and water weight. As soon as you go back to your old diet (because none of these options are realistic long term), you’ll gain the weight back. That’s why we see so much yo-yo dieting!
So why do all these products claim they will fix my metabolism? If they fixed your metabolism you wouldn’t have to keep doing them once a week, month, or a few times a year. If you had “fixed” the problem, you’d be able to just go through life fine and lose that weight. It’s so important to remember your body has organs to remove any waste or potential “toxins” from the body. A detox, cleanse or anything else mentioned above will not fix or improve your organ function, and if you actually believe you are having issues with the function of your liver, kidneys, or anything else, seek help from a doctor before self-diagnosing.
Now a very controversial dietary change is switching to vegetarianism or veganism. I’ll be discussing these 2 things as they relate to weight loss. If you are practicing either due to ethical, moral or medical diagnosis, this does not pertain to you! The vegetarian and vegan diet have really become quite the popular trend lately for weight loss. A lot of people claim that shifting to these diets will “boost” your metabolism and guarantee you’ll drop pounds immediately.
Switching may cause you to go into a caloric deficit and lose weight, but that could have been done without removing animal products. Just because you switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet doesn’t mean you are eating well! So many people think this will fix all their problems, but if you aren’t eating healthy with animal products, this doesn’t mean changing your diet will lead you to make healthier decisions. Keep in mind, while these diets should leave a person consuming more fruits and vegetables than they were previously, a lot of people will just eat more of what they were eating before. You can be unhealthy in all variations of a diet plan and eating vegetarian or vegan should only be tried for ethical, environmental or health reasons. You may have a health condition that is improved with a vegan or vegetarian diet, but it should not be treated as the latest fad to lose weight and “kick-start” your metabolism. Consult your doctor before considering this switch and remember that many have issues getting the right nutrients upon eliminating animal products and struggle to get their protein in. Seeking some guidance from a registered dietician may help find a new balanced diet that will suit your lifestyle while making sure your body can stay healthy and strong!
This same mentality goes for diet plans like Keto or low-carb. While both have been helpful for many, and a keto diet is often prescribed by doctors to improve various health conditions like epilepsy, it doesn’t mean the average person would benefit from it. If you’re eating in a really unhealthy manner, eliminating carbs won’t fix the problem. And just like every other dietary take we’ve looked at, it comes with its own set of side effects.
Something that’s important to mention is that all these extreme approaches to the diet can be dangerous to mental health. Yo-yo dieting is difficult to understand. Most people are very black and white about weight loss. Losing weight = happiness and weight gain = sadness. You try these approaches that “guarantee” weight loss and when it doesn’t happen you can feel bad about yourself. People will often fall down the rabbit hole and keep trying new products and this could lead to disordered eating, an eating disorder, or body dysmorphia. It’s important to remember none of these plans are set up for you to succeed, but I’m here to help you see there’s an easier approach.
So what does lead to long-term success? The reality that few mention, is that YOU CAN EAT ANYTHING YOU WANT AND LOSE WEIGHT. No foods need to be eliminated and by eliminating huge parts of your diet to meet the demands of these fads, you can be missing out on a lot of the micronutrients your body needs. Remember that the diet industry markets “fast” and “easy” results, but weight loss is anything but that.
Eating well, drinking water, sleeping and staying active is all you need for a healthy digestive tract. If these things don’t improve the problem, go seek help from a doctor or registered dietician before overhauling your diet. They can save you a lot of time and stress by pinpointing the actual issue and helping you resolve it properly!
Now that we’ve taken the time to go over what won’t lead to long-term success, adherence, health and weight loss, join me next week for Part 4 of the series! Next week we will discuss how to find our caloric needs. From there we will break down how to lose or gain weight in a manageable way. I’ll also be provided healthy tips on how to improve your meals on a budget and how to better understand nutrition labels and what we are really putting into our bodies!
Until next week… and remember that fitness is for all!
Since weight is such a difficult topic for many to discuss, I want to provide some resources for those who may be suffering, or know someone suffering from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or body dysmorphia. Help is out there and you are not alone.