5 common diet mistakes

With the different professional opinions and theories on weight loss many readers write to me about their attempts to lose weight, and it's clear that there are a host of misconceptions doing the rounds. And with so many different diets on the weight loss market, it is easy for confusion to creep in.

Read: The golden rules of Banting
Read: The Atkins Diet
Read: The Paleo Diet

From the many strange and wonderful ideas, DietDoc has identified five of the most common diet mistakes people make, she writes:

To lose weight, I must suffer
The idea that slimming must entail suffering is totally wrong. Most dieters think that if they don't follow diets that are either so low in energy that they feel starved all the time or if they don't tremble with hunger pangs, they're not going to lose weight.

Research has shown that the use of low- or very-low-energy diets (i.e. starvation diets) can actually hamper weight loss, because the human body perceives such weight-loss attempts as a threatening situation. If you cut off the body’s food supply, it's been programmed over millions of years of feast and famine to urgently conserve its fat stores. So, if you reduce your energy intake too drastically, you are signalling your body to stop losing weight.

The use of a diet that has a moderately reduced energy content (for example, one that provides 6300 kJ instead of 8400 kJ per day – this is a reduction of 2100 kJ a day) will promote steady weight loss at a rate of between 0,5 and 1kg per week. It also won't switch off the body’s weight-loss systems.

In addition, such a diet will still provide enough energy for you to do daily strenuous exercise, which will help you to achieve weight loss more efficiently. It will also prevent those hunger pangs that undermine your resolve to stick to your diet.

In other words, you don't have to suffer hunger pangs when you want to lose weight.

Read: Weight loss without hunger

To lose weight, I must cut out carbs
One of the most popular misconceptions related to dieting is that weight loss should entail cutting out carbohydrates. Carbs are regarded as ‘The Enemy’ and dieters firmly believe that they will lose the maximum amount of weight by cutting out all carbohydrates.

This is nonsense! Carbohydrates have the lowest energy content of the three macronutrients and each gram of carbs will only contribute 16 kJ to your energy intake. Proteins contribute 17 kJ/gram and fat provides a whopping 37 kJ/gram, so logically you will save more energy and lose more weight if you cut back on fat intake instead of carbohydrate intake.

By all means, cut out sweets, chocolate, cakes, tarts, biscuits, sweetened cold drinks and other high-GI, low-fibre carbs, but don’t make the mistake of trying to cut out all carbs.

Ironically, the rule that it's not healthy, nor sensible, to cut out any one of the macronutrients, also applies to fats. I said above “cut back on” fats, not “cut out all fats”. The human body still requires some fat, particularly ‘good fats’ such as the monounsaturated fats found in fatty fish, olives and avocado.

The secret is to reduce your total fat intake and to ensure that you're still eating some ‘good fats’, even when you need to lose weight.

Read: The lowdown on low carbs

To lose weight, I must drink litres of hot water
Drinking liquid, including water, is an excellent idea, but not if you start to ingest more than 3 litres a day. It's a fallacy that drinking hot or cold water will lead to actual loss of body fat.

If you overdo your water intake, you'll dilute your electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium and even calcium) and an electrolyte imbalance can lead to all kinds of problems.

For example, excessive water intake (a condition known as ‘water intoxication’) can dilute your electrolytes to such an extent that you develop a variety of negative side effects, including water retention. From a slimming point of view, you'll not weigh less when you step on the scale, because your body is retaining water.

In extreme cases, water intoxication can be fatal.

Stick to having a total of 2.5 to 3 litres of liquid a day.

Read: Drink yourself thin

Herbal slimming pills are safe
Ephedra, which is commonly used in herbal slimming products, is an example of how wrong and potentially dangerous it is to believe that herbal slimming agents are ‘safe’ because they're ‘natural’.

Herbal slimming pills can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than pharmaceutically prepared slimming pills. Herbal products usually contain plant extracts like ephedra, or harsh laxatives or diuretics, which can disrupt the normal function of your digestive system and your kidneys.

Herbal slimming products either have no effect (in other words, it’s the starvation diet that accompanies the pills that leads to weight loss), or can be potentially harmful.

Rather lose weight with a sensible diet and exercise than to use any type of slimming pill, including herbal ones.

To lose weight is expensive
Many readers tell me they can't lose weight because they simply can't afford special foods, diets or gym memberships. This is also a fallacy. There's no need to spend large amounts of money to lose weight effectively. You don't have to join expensive diet programmes or buy special foods or pills or join expensive gyms to lose weight.

Read: 40 tips for cheap and healthy eating

Weight loss can be achieved by simply adjusting your food intake while still using ordinary foods that are not expensive and by doing some form of aerobic exercise every day.

The basic foods for weight loss, such as wholewheat, brown or rye bread, cooked porridges, fat-free or low-fat milk (use milk powder to save money) and home-made yoghurt produced from this milk, inexpensive fruits and vegetables in season, small portions of lean meat or fish or eggs, legumes (the slimmer’s friend because they contain little fat, lots of fibre, plant protein, vitamins and minerals, and are not expensive), and 3 tablespoons of olive or canola oil a day, don't cost a fortune.

For exercise, you can go for walks with family or friends, or buy a skipping rope. If you can skip for 30 minutes a day, you'll be getting a thorough cardio workout that burns plenty of energy and firms you up. The good news is that it won't cost you anything.

These are just a few examples of the myths that are linked to weight loss. Be sensible and forget all the old wives’ tales about slimming. Remember that it's not necessary to starve and suffer, to cut out whole food groups, especially carbohydrates, to drown yourself in litres of hot water, to use a herbal or any other type of slimming pill, and to spend a lot of money on your slimming programme.

Slimming, like most other things in life, can be achieved with a sensible, down-to-earth approach.

Read more:
7 factors that prevent weight loss
The GI tool
Any questions? Ask DietDoc
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