Eat five small meals a day, hit the treadmill and for heaven’s sake, cut the carbs! We’ve all heard these weight-loss gems and many of us swear by them as we resolve to lose weight this month.
But this isn’t the best way to lose your festive season flab, says leading British personal trainer Nick Mitchell, founder of international gym company Ultimate Performance.
To maximise your weight-loss efforts he advises that you put carbs back on the menu, eat fat to keep the hunger pangs at bay and steer clear of liquid diets.
Here Mitchell busts the 10 most popular weight-loss myths.
1 A kilojoule is a kilojoule
Many argue all kilojoules are created equal and that in weight loss it doesn’t matter whether kilojoules you shed come from protein, fat, carbohydrates or fibre as long as you burn more energy than you take in.
This argument is flawed as some kilojoules are better for your body than others. Research has found people in the UK are eating about 2 500 kJ less a day than 30 years ago, yet are ending up fatter. This suggests there must be something about the quality and choice of foods that create differences in body size.
All foods and macronutrients are metabolised differently. For example, the outcomes of high- and low-protein diets differ. In addition, seeing all kilojoules as equal discounts the hormonal impact of different foods on individuals.
2 Kilojoules don’t matter when you’re eating healthily
Many people believe as long you eat “clean foods” your overall kilojoule intake isn’t important. But this isn’t true.
Cashew nuts are a nutritious food, for example, but eating a bag of them in a day adds up to a large number of kilojoules which will hamper your weight-loss efforts.
What you need to remember is that to optimise fat loss you need to burn more kilojoules than you take in. You also need to appreciate the hormonal and metabolic effects different ratios and amounts of carbohydrates/protein/fat have on your body type.
3 Fat makes you fat
This popular myth comes from the fact that a gram of fat contains 37 kilojoules as opposed to a gram of protein and carbohydrates containing only 17 kilojoules.
The notion that eating fat makes you fat is completely false. Fat is an essential macronutrient and most research suggests a minimum of 20 percent of your daily kilojoule intake should come from fat to optimise hormonal health. Low testosterone, which can have negative effects on many aspects of health and body composition for both men and women, has been linked to low-fat diets.
Of all the fats it’s saturated fat – the type found in meat, cheese, butter and other dairy products – that has received the worst rap, due to its links to heart disease and obesity. Both links are false and as long you control your intake of fats they’ll have a positive effect on your health and body composition.
4 Carbs are the devil
Carbohydrates eaten correctly can be your ally even when fat loss is your goal. People can lose fat on daily carbohydrate intakes ranging from as low as 50 g to as high as 300 g.
The crucial point is carbohydrate intake is specific to the individual. Tolerance to carbohydrates varies according to insulin sensitivity, energy expenditure, muscle mass and body fat as well as a number of other factors.
A key benefit of carbohydrates is fuel ling intense activity such as weight training – and also restoring glycogen (energy) stores afterwards that may have been depleted.
Consuming carbohydrates can also trigger a body state in which more tissue is built than wasted, helping to preserve muscle while losing fat. This, as I will later explain, is important to successful fat loss.
Although a diet lower in carbohydrates works well for most people, this doesn’t mean it’s necessary to eliminate carbohydrates completely. The trick is to use it in the correct amounts at the right time.
5 No carbs after 6 pm
There’s another popular myth that any carbohydrate eaten after 6 pm will turn into body fat. Interestingly, recent research has shown fat-burning was higher in a group that ate more carbohydrates later in the day than in the morning.
What’s more, many people suffer with sleep issues and strategically consuming carbohydrates later in the day can help with this through the increased release of serotonin (a relaxing hormone). If you’re following a low-carbohydrate diet, the increased serotonin will help improve your mood and bring stress levels down.
6 It doesn’t matter what time you eat
A more recent myth is the idea that as long as you meet your targets for protein, fat, carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins and minerals, where you place them in the day makes no difference to results.
But scientific developments have pointed to an interesting concept called “nutrient programming”. Put simply, this means your breakfast choices will programme your metabolism for the rest of the day and set the preferred fuel source.
For people looking to optimise fat loss, eating carbs before and after a workout works effectively. Exercise increases the efficiency of Glut4, a protein which transports carbohydrates – this means that after exercise your muscles will use carbohydrates more easily.
7 Eating every 2-3 hours will speed up your metabolism
Science has shown eating 2-3 hours to “stoke the fire” doesn’t boost metabolism or improve subsequent fat loss.
The benefits of more frequent meals, as opposed to the typical two to three meals a day, are related to the regulation of insulin and blood sugar control. In other words, eating small, frequent meals keeps you feeling satisfied and keeps blood sugar stable, making dieting a lot more manageable.
8 Liquid diets
While there’s rapid weight loss on liquid diets, there are two things to consider: firstly, it’s not all fat and you’re probably losing muscle too; secondly, you’ll probably gain it all back (and more!).
Losing muscle mass can lower your metabolism, making it harder to lose body fat in future since muscles burn kilojoules even while at rest.
More importantly, liquid diets are dangerous. The body needs a certain amount of kilojoules and nutrients to function properly and liquid diets give rise to a number of deficiencies, with symptoms including fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, chipped nails and loss of mental clarity.
9 Endless steady-state cardio
Steady-state cardio is an aerobic workout over an extended period at a fixed intensity, such as a session on the treadmill, stair climber or elliptical trainer at the gym, or a run or bike ride outdoors.
While this kind of cardio workout has numerous health benefits, including burning kilojoules, it’s not the only (or best) way to lose fat with exercise.
A good fat-loss programme will combine the correct ratio and amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates and fibre with a solid weight-training regime. Cardio workouts should be used to add an extra edge: mixing high-intensity interval training (Hiit) and steady-state cardio is a great way to burn additional kilojoules.
10 High reps make you toned
There’s a belief that repetitions using light weights will “tone” your muscles while heavier weights will add bulk. This is false. There’s in fact no such thing as “toning” a muscle – muscles either get bigger or smaller.
Achieving a toned appearance is dependent on two things: body fat percentage and muscle development. So for women who want to achieve a toned appearance, lifting heavier weights with relatively short rests in between is best.