1st February 2015 - General
Nutrition for fat loss: facts and myths
Is there such a thing as a ‘bikini body shortcut’, and can you achieve a ‘flat stomach in 6 days’? Here we separate out the fat loss myths from the facts. 5 myths:
- Quick-fix diets work
If you’re desperate to look your best for a holiday/wedding/hot date, the latest fad diet or superfood/supplement can seem appealing. But any advert that promises you can ‘lose 7lb of belly fat in 7 days’ is a big fat lie. When you first start a diet, you may see rapid weight loss, but this initial change is usually from retained fluid, not fat. To lose half a stone of fat, you need to consume around 24,500kcal less than you expend – that’s almost impossible in a week, but easily achievable over a month or two.
- All calories are created equal
We’ve all heard the simple prescription for weight loss – ‘eat less and exercise more’ (which is often easier said than done). And if that’s all there is to it, is it okay to live on diet coke and crisps? While it’s true that you can lose weight by eating anything you like, as long as you eat less than you burn off, the choices you make are important. A diet high in processed foods will be low in vitamins, minerals, fibre and probably protein, leaving you feeling hungry, tired, stressed and irritable. Sustainable fat loss (and good health) is achieved by choosing the right foods at the right times, and not restricting things too much.
- ‘Carbs’ are fattening
This is where it gets complicated! Some people do very well on carbohydrate-restricted diets. Eating a lot of carbohydrate (especially from refined sources like white bread and sweets) raises insulin levels, which drives fat storage. But again, the main thing that determines whether you lose or gain fat is the total amount you eat and how active you are. The important thing is to work out what eating pattern works for you, and ensure it’s one you can stick to long-term. And if you’re regularly active, getting plenty of carbohydrate (from wholegrains, fruit and vegetables) will give you the energy you need to maintain effort through your workouts.
- Breakfast boots your metabolism
Breakfast may well be the most important meal of the day, but there’s no evidence that those who eat it have a higher metabolic rate than those who don’t. If you don’t like eating first thing, that’s fine. Just make sure that the first thing you do eat is something sensible. Start the day with porridge, eggs or fruit and yoghurt and you’re less likely to reach for the chocolate mid-morning.
- ‘If I exercise, I can eat whatever I want’
The classic example of this is someone who goes to the gym, does a half-hearted 20 minutes on the cross trainer, then drinks an energy drink to ‘refuel’. The amount you eat/drink during and after exercise can easily outweigh the amount you’ve burnt off. Thinking ‘I deserve a treat after that’ can lead to undoing all your hard work. 5 top tips:
- Quality is more important than quantity
Focus on getting your energy from quality foods. That means basing meals on lean protein (good quality meat or a vegetarian alternative) and wholegrain carbohydrates, filling up on fruit and vegetables, and getting some healthy fats from nuts, seeds and fish.
- Time your meals around your training
If fat loss is your goal, you want to make sure you’re not burning muscle when you train. At all times, our bodies burn a proportion fat and a proportion carbohydrate. If you haven’t eaten enough before you train, your body will get the fuel it needs by breaking down muscle. On the other hand, if you eat too much refined carbohydrate before training, your body will rely on that for fuel, and burn less fat. The trick is to find the right balance. For most people, this means eating a meal or snack a couple of hours before. Some people advocate occasionally training on an empty stomach, but that’s a topic for another day.
- Think food before supplements
While it’s easy to fall for the marketing hype, there’s very little evidence behind most of the fat burning supplements out there. Focus on improving your eating habits before you think about supplements.
- Watch what you drink
Homemade smoothies and soups can be a good way to sneak in extra veggies, but on the whole it’s easy to over-indulge on liquid calories. Focus on drinking water and herbal teas, instead of energy drinks, frappuccinos and wine!
- Don’t be too hard on yourself
The most important tip of all… have a little of the things you enjoy most. Deprivation usually leads to rebellion! Pick a few small treats and make sure you really enjoy them.