“I’m a big fan of the misunderstood, the vilified, the underdog, the breaking of myths.” – Dominic Monaghan
Gurus like to take advantage of vulnerability.
They like to prey on those who don’t know any better, those who are trying to reach their goals, but don’t know where to get started.
They like to draw attention to their products via superior marketing and flash rather than truth and substance. Thus, the creation of the ever popular dieting myths.
We, as a whole, need to be more skeptical. It’s very important to take what you read and research it on your own. It’s very important to objectively look at claims, and do the work to see if they are valid. Keep your bullshit detector strong. Don’t believe anything I say, and don’t believe anything anyone else says, until you look at the evidence.
Myths are born due to the blind following of unsubstantiated claims. And trust me when I say that I’ve fallen victim to my fair share of myths and misconceptions, and I think that is what has made me skeptical of every idea until it is backed by solid evidence.
Below are some of the diet myths that I’ve fallen for in the past, and hopefully this will help you discern fact from fiction.
Let’s do it.
Myth #1: Calories Don’t Count
Ah, the most nonsensical of them all. People that say calories don’t count are the same people who still believe in Santa Clause (sorry, he’s not real) and think the Tooth Fairy comes at night to take their fallen teeth out from beneath their pillow.
They are also the people trying to sell you something. “Calories don’t count, come buy my product that overcomes the laws of the universe for $279.99!”
This has and always will be the most basic fundamental principle of dieting. If you don’t create an energy deficit, you’re not going to lose weight. If you don’t give your body a reason to access it’s stored energy, you won’t lose weight.
If you don’t have the basics down, stop worrying about the minutia. Some magical combination or timing of macronutrients will not magically cause you to lose fat unless you’re in a caloric deficit.
Myth #2: Carbs Are the Devil
It’s funny how such great leaps of faith are made in such a short amount of time. First it was fat that was evil, now carbs are shouldering the blame for obesity and countless other issues. The constant shift from one extreme view to another is a great way to determine that both views are wrong.
The logic seems to go something like this: carbs = insulin = you get fat. There is more or less intensity behind the argument in some cases, but that gives you the general idea.
The problem is: this is freakin’ wrong on too many levels to count.
A magical insulin fairy doesn’t come and store body fat by completely bypassing the caloric deficit (see myth #1). Often times, the same people who say that carbs make you fat are the same ones that say calories don’t matter.
The classic example is Dr. Atkins, the creator of the ever popular Atkins Diet. The basis behind the diet, essentially, is that as long as you don’t eat carbs, you won’t gain fat. Of course, to anyone who has even a slither of knowledge of basic nutritional principles, this is crazy talk.
Well, you’re right. It’s nonsense. The problem is that you can store fat without insulin, via Acylation Stimulating Protein, which I have referenced in the past. Also, dietary fat consumed in a caloric surplus is stored directly as body fat. Another issue with the insulin=fat storage equation is that dietary fat can blunt fat burning as well via the suppression of HSL, a fat burning enzyme. Funnily, the low-carb zealots seem to forget this. They also seem to forget that protein is highly insulinogenic, often more so than carbohydrates.
Of course, carbs do have the ability to make you fat, but only if they’re eaten in conjunction with excess calories. Even then, it’s not the carbs that are being stored (exception being an insane amount of carbs). Consuming carbohydrates increases the burning of glucose for energy and stops fat burning in the meantime. So, if you consume excess carbohydrates (over your maintenance calories), more of your daily dietary fat will be stored as body fat.
If you’re interested in reading more about the intricacies of the role that insulin plays, check out James Krieger’s series on the topic (part 1, part 2, part 3). I also highly recommend that you check out Stephan Guyenet’s debunking of the insulin claims made by Gary Taubes in his book Good Calories Bad Calories here.
Myth #3: There’s an Inherent Metabolic Advantage to Low-Carb Diets Compared to High-Carb Diets
I don’t want to get into this too much because, quite frankly, there are already plenty of arguments about this topic floating around the internet if you’re willing to look.
In controlled isocaloric (calories are the same) metabolic ward studies (the subjects are monitored closely to ensure they’re eating what they’re supposed to), there is no evidence showing a metabolic advantage between either type of diet.
As long as there is a caloric deficit, the subjects lose weight.
If you’re interested in the complete, relentless destruction of the metabolic advantage dogma, I highly recommend you check out Anthony Colpo’s free ebook titled “They Are All MAD“, MAD standing for metabolic advantage dogma. I’ve never seen such a brutal and merciless destruction, and I don’t think the believers in the so-called metabolic advantage of low carb diets will ever recover (assuming, of course, that they actually read the book, which is quite the assumption unfortunately).
Look, I have nothing against low-carb diets. However, I have a lot against the people who spread low-carb methodology like it’s gospel. You have to find what works for you.
Myth #4: Fruit is Evil (Say What?!)
This often comes from a fear that fructose is dangerous, due to a myriad of reasons that I’m not going to dive into. The problem is that the studies that show a reason to fear fructose have the subjects consuming literally inhuman amounts of fructose, some up to 25% of daily caloric intake. Simply unrealistic.
I’m going to let Alan Aragon take it from here. His post about the fructose issue was truly ground-breaking, and the comment section was extremely educational/entertaining as well.
Myth #5: There’s a Magic Bullet
Let’s face it: the fitness and nutrition industry are money-making machines. They are both full of shady folks who would love nothing more than to scam you with their most recent “secret” that’s going to change the dieting world forever.
And, as human beings, we are interested in flashy, new ideas. We’re drawn to concepts that are unconventional and intriguing, and we so often dive in without looking at the research.
The fact is that any diet that creates a caloric deficit will work; everything else is speculative and individual. All of the low-carb bigots need to stop touting the endless benefits of low-carb diets as if they are the second coming, and the bodybuilders need to stop with their eight meals per day nonsense.
Diet should be based on the fundamental principles, followed by personal preference and what allows you to best adhere to the diet. Like to do intermittent fasting, great. Paleo? Cool. Carb Backloading? Sure. Primal. Sweet.
As long as it’s giving you results, stick to it. Just don’t be a part of the people that go parading around claiming that their way is the best way. Most of the time, they’re full of shit.
Myth #6: Eating Clean Positively Affects Body Composition
I touched on this here, so I won’t go into it too much.
But, unfortunately, I still get questions about “eating clean” all the time, so I guess it’s not clear. In terms of body composition, assuming calories and macronutrient composition of the diet is the same, it doesn’t matter what you eat.
No, you’re not superior to others if you eat chicken and broccoli every meal. You’re not superior to others if you eat strictly Paleo. Frankly, no one cares. I have no problem with clean eating or Paleo principles, until they become dogmatic and are pushed on others, which tends to be happening more and more often.
Now, health is a different story. However, Lyle McDonald reviewed research that compared a fast food meal and an organic beef meal, and the hormonal responses were almost identical.
If you want to read more into the clean eating issue, I suggest you check out JC Deen’s posts on the topic. That’s all I’m going to get into for now.
So there you have it. Hopefully you’re now more well-equipped to deal with the pile of crappy information floating around the nutrition world.
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Have a great weekend, we’ll talk again soon.