Oprah never eats in the evening. Khloé Kardashian eliminated dairy. Kim stays away from carbs and Beyoncé is a vegan enthusiast. There are so many star-approved nutrition tricks, but it’s hard to know what really works and what is just Hollywood hocus-pocus. Read on to find out the truth behind the most-talked-about nutrition “rules.”
MYTH: Don’t eat after 6 p.m.
This Oprah-endorsed diet trick is not entirely false. (You didn’t think I’d call the Mighty “O” a liar, did you?) But, it can totally backfire. According to Molly Sanders, associate weight loss coach at Adele Wellness, “Depending on what time you go to bed, implementing a rule like not eating after 6 p.m. equals late-night hunger, which equals late-night snacking.” The holistic nutritionist adds that satisfying hunger at this hour means ingesting more unnecessary calories: “Even if you reach for something healthy—which, let’s be honest, is unlikely—you’re adding extra calories into your day that don’t need to be there.” To avoid having to add in a pre-bed (or midnight) snack, Sanders suggests eating at least two hours before sleep to allow time for digestion without letting the body get too hungry in the process. “Your digestion isn’t super efficient while you sleep,” she says, “so you can actually store more fat if you eat then sleep right away.”
MYTH: Eat many small meals throughout the day
Turns out the popular modern-day dieting rule of eating small meals every two to three hours might be sabotaging our efforts. Sanders explains that because our bodies release insulin every time we eat, when we’re fuelling more often these releases become more frequent. “This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing,” she says, “but insulin also signals the body to store any excess sugars as fat for later use. If you’re constantly eating, the body doesn’t actually spend much time burning the fat that was stored for later, let alone burning any excess fat you have hanging around.” Splitting up our meals into the traditional big three, plus a snack, eliminates this issue. “It will not only give your digestive system a break, but will also allow your body to spend more time burning fat.” To make sure we’re still avoiding the risk of overeating at mealtime, it’s important to make sure the meals we have are well balanced and include protein and some good fats to keep us energized and satiated.
MYTH: Avoid gluten
Worth over $3 billion, the “gluten-free” industry is massive and shows no signs of slowing down. I mean, who doesn’t have a friend (or three) who avoids gluten like the plague, even though they don’t have an intolerance to it? The protein found in wheat is thought to be fattening and unhealthy, but this is technically not true. Gluten got a bad rep because it’s generally associated with highly processed, high-sugar foods like bread, crackers and cookies. Taking the gluten out of these foods doesn’t necessarily make them healthier. Sanders explains: “Just because something is labelled “gluten-free” doesn’t make it friendlier to your waistline; most gluten-free crackers, cookies and breads have lots of added sugar and are stuffed full of straight-up crap!” If you’re going to cut out gluten, she recommends replacing the gluten-filled products with whole foods instead—think fruits, veggies and pseudo-grains like quinoa, millet or amaranth.
MYTH: More cardio is better for weight loss
As a personal trainer, one of the biggest misconceptions at the gym is that cardio is the most important aspect of training for weight loss. Though it is important to boost heart health, sleep quality and mood, high-intensity cardio can actually do more harm than good. “Cardio technically stresses the body, triggering cortisol release,” explains Sanders. “Cortisol leads to fat storage.” So, basically, when we’re constantly hitting the pavement and spending hours on the elliptical our bodies are secretly storing more fat. “Instead, balance a couple of cardio sessions with things like walking, yoga, tai chi or deep stretching to get those cortisol levels down, and add in weight training to build muscle and make the body more efficient at burning calories when you’re not working out.”
MYTH: Weight loss is all about calories in and calories out
With the restaurant industry moving toward labelling the calorie count of all our meals, our society’s obsession with counting calories is alive and well. But trimming down isn’t as simple as we’ve been led to believe. The biggest issue with counting calories is that it doesn’t take into consideration the nutritional content of the food. “If ‘calories in’ were the only thing to consider, an 80-calorie English muffin would seem like a better option than a 130 calorie halved avocado,” says Sanders. “But the English muffin provides virtually no nutrients while the avocado is loaded with satiating fats, energizing B vitamins, fibre and phytonutrients.” Eating vitamin- and nutrient-deficient foods leads to consuming more calories in the long run because they simply aren’t filling our body’s needs.
MYTH: Eat all your carbs in the morning
One of my favourite pieces of diet advice is that carb-loading in the a.m. is ideal. I mean, a stack of pancakes and fruit for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do. Unfortunately for me, and other pancake lovers, Sanders says this is not only wrong, it’s backwards. “Consuming carbs in the morning wreaks havoc on our blood sugar levels,” she says. “What that means for weight loss is that your insulin levels are drastically up and down for the rest of the day, giving you little control over your cravings and leading to more storage of those carbs as fat.” The weight-loss expert advises her clients against morning starch and advocates instead for dinnertime carbs. Say whaaaat? The philosophy, known as “carb back-loading” is based on optimizing our hormones for a more restful sleep and therefore a more efficient metabolism. Mind blown.
MYTH: Fats are bad, saturated fats are worse
In the past, everyone from family doctors to dietitians have preached the importance of avoiding fat. For years the food group has been wrongly vilified for contributing to heart disease and obesity rates. Modern research has not only disproven that fat is the criminal, but it’s shown that low-fat foods could be much worse for our health and weight. Sanders weighs in: “The ‘low-fat diet’ is one of the worst results from the calorie-counting model. Because each gram of fat is higher in calories than that of carbs and protein—nine to four, to be exact—fat is usually the first thing to go.” The problem then becomes that many of the nutritious benefits that make fatty foods so satiating and that contribute to optimal body function are lost (yes, this includes our metabolic function). Not only that, but to make fat-free foods taste better, additives like chemicals and sugars are added into the products instead. Sanders not only encourages a diet full of good fats like avocado, coconut and nuts, but she also debunks the myth that saturated fats are the devil. “The short- to medium-chain fats found in saturated fats actually help with weight loss and are easily digested and converted into energy.”