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Common nutrition myths: Busted

Eating healthy… It sounds so simple but who decides what healthy is? Sometimes we get so caught up with fads and new exotic diets that we don't bother to check the evidence backing the same. Being someone who gets genuine happiness from food, extreme and restrictive diets just never worked for me. I’ve listed a few of the most commonly believed food fads and have tried to break them down as simply as I can. I hope this helps clarify some misconceptions :)

(Read till the last point, it's the most important one!)

1) Myth: Starving yourself is the most effective way to lose weight.

I genuinely cannot emphasize enough on how detrimental starving is for our bodies. Starving does not necessarily mean eating absolutely nothing. Simply cutting meals out of your daily diet is also considered as starving. Starving to lose weight…Yes, it may work but it is one of the worst things you can do to yourself and here’s why. Lack of certains food groups and nutrients in our body weakens our immunity systems. Lack of nutrition not only causes fatigue but can also lead to irreversible damage to the organs and increased susceptibility to illnesses.

Upon starving yourself, you will see effective results in weight loss but that is only because of a great loss in muscle mass and loss in water weight. As a result of the muscle mass reducing your metabolic rate drops immensely. When the BMR goes down, the burning capacity of the body reduces hence eating results in calorie accumulation and weight gain.

Most importantly, starving yourself can put you on the path leading to an eating disorder. Symptoms that we might not even pay attention to such as cutting out meals, obsessively counting calories, refusing to touch certain food groups, being constantly preoccupied with your weight and feeling undeniably guilty after eating a large meal or high calorie foods are all early symptoms of an eating disorder.

2) Myth: You have to sacrifice your favourite food items in order to stay fit.

Eating healthy does not have to be torture. Restraint is good but only in a limit. You don't need to sacrifice your favourite foods be it pizza, deep fried food, desserts or chicken nuggets. Its actually really simple, the key is balance. You can do this in two ways, either you can find healthy alternatives for your favourite food or continue to eat your favourite food but reduce the quantity consumed in order to form a balanced diet.

I mean it when I say that cheat meals are as important as healthy meals. If you don't give in to your cravings at some point, there is no way that you can have a long term diet. Completely depriving yourself of your favourite foods will only lead to binge days followed by an immense amount of guilt. So find your balance, eat desserts on weekends, cook yourself some mac and cheese if you have a sudden urge and most definitely don't stop yourself from eating a piece of cake at birthday parties. Another method is healthy alternatives for example- Air frying food instead of deep frying, replacing milk chocolate with dark chocolate and eating unprocessed cheese and natural sweeteners such as banana and jaggery instead of sugar and reducing portion sizes.

3) Myth: A low carb diet is the best way to drop pounds.

Cutting carbs is once again an easy way to lose water weight, however it costs us. People who live a sedentary life might get away with the side effects of a lack of carbs, however it is a different situation for people who like to workout and have an active lifestyle. An Insufficient amount of carbohydrates slows down your metabolic rate, increases your stress hormones and causes mental fatigue.

We are under the misconception that muscle building only requires protein but when you don't eat enough of carbs, muscle glycogen is depleted and a catabolic environment is created. This means that our body begins breaking down proteins instead of synthesizing it. This can cause reduced muscle gain and even muscle loss in some cases. Yes, our body can convert fat into fuel instead of using carbs but not even close to at the same rate so if you are someone who enjoys working out then carbs are imperative to fuel your body. An alternative for cutting out carbs is replacing them with healthier carbs.

4) Myth: Eating fatty food products will make you fat.

Now this is slightly complicated. From a caloric point of view this myth does make sense because fats do contain more calories than carbs and proteins, however in practical life, cutting out fats to lose weight is a flawed ideology. Media and society places more emphasis on the calories of a food item rather than the quality and people are misguided by these labels while making food choices. To make it simpler, calories in a doughnut are different from calories in an avocado even if the numerical value is the same. The way both of them affect your metabolism, hormones and appetite is completely different. In addition to this, high fat foods keep us full for longer and help control junk food cravings.

Fats form the outer covering of integral organs and are an impotant component of a cell structure. Studies show that people with diets that are rich in healthy fats have a faster metabolism than those who cut out fats. So in conclusion how we judge food products shouldn't be based on the number of calories but instead the nutritional value of the food. Some examples of good quality fats are avocados, nut butters, nuts, olive oil, seeds, and unprocessed cheese. The fear of fat is the most misguiding food misconception.

5) Myth: How healthy/fit you are, is determined by your weight.

For many of us, our fitness depends on the number we see on the scale. When we talk about our weight in reference to height, we get our body mass index. While it might provide somewhat of an idea of one’s health it cannot be the sole determinant as it does not take into account age and body fat distribution, neither does it distinguish fat mass from lean tissues such as muscle.

Fats and muscles do not weigh the same. Fats are far lighter than muscles which is why muscular people such as athletes might be rated overweight on a BMI scale when in fact they’re healthy with a large amount of muscle mass. I am in no way saying that bodyweight doesn't matter, however obsessing over your weight isn’t the correct way to measure your fitness levels. Other more accurate factors to measure fitness include muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, joint flexibility and body composition.

6) Myth: Working out gives you a license to eat poorly.

I am in no way going to tell you that you shouldn't reward yourself after a good workout because trust me I’m all for that, however don't be under the misconception that you can outrun a bad diet and that the calories will get ‘cancelled out’. Exercise is extremely important for your health and well being but running for an extra 30 minutes will not compensate for the doughnut you ate.

The technical explanation for this is that the food you consume is more than just its calories. What you eat signals hormones to store or burn fat, boost of crash metabolism and build or break down muscle. Exercise is essential for long time weight management as it helps burn up fat storing enzymes but for immediate results we must know that a healthy diet contributes approximately 80% to your fitness where exercise is only 20%. This is the reason that fitness experts say, “Abs are made in the kitchen.”

7) Myth: Working out and maintaining a healthy diet are the only factors that affect your level of fitness and the way your body looks.

This according to me is something that isn’t spoken about enough and is something that I have caught myself thinking about multiple times. Isn’t extremely de-motivational when you’re on a healthy diet and work out every single day but people who put in little to no effort look fitter than you or just happen to have abs? The two explanations for this are genes and lifestyle.

How your body looks is heavily dependent on your DNA and body structure. For example, how easily you develop muscle is a highly inherited quality. People who have ‘muscular genes’ require far less exercise than others to look fit. The fat distribution on your body, your metabolic rate, how prone you are to weight fluctuations, your physique and medical conditions are all inherited to a certain extent.

The reason why I’m including this point is so that we stop comparing our growth and progress to someone else’s. Nothing to do with your body is ever a race or a competition. Your body is completely unique which is why you will never look exactly like someone else or show the same progress as someone else. The epitome of your fitness is never going to be the same as that of someone else. This should never be used as an excuse to avoid exercise or a healthy diet. You shouldn't be someone who says, “I genetically have a slow metabolic rate which is why I shouldn't waste my time working out.” The problem only begins when our goals revolve around matching some standard or looking like someone else instead of being the fittest and healthiest version of our self.

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way a professional however, I have consulted a professional dietitian and the article has been verified by her. These statements do not apply to people with medical conditions. Additionally, these are generalised statements and might differ from person to person based on their respective health and body type.

These are all things that I wish someone would have told me sooner so I really hope that they help. In case you have any questions at all, feel free to reach out to me via email or Instagram DM :)

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