The most common fat loss myths debunked
Understanding how to lose body fat and more importantly keep it off is a confusing subject.
Do you need to cut out carbs?
Can I speed up my metabolism by eating more frequently?
Is a ‘fat burning’ supplement really going to help?
Over the years I’ve seen and heard a lot of crazy stuff relating to fat loss, I’ve even made a lot of mistakes myself. And whilst there may not be a blanket prescription for losing body fat or a one solution fits all approach, it does help to be aware of the common pit falls that so many of us fall victim to.
Here are the most common fat loss myths I often get asked about
Should I cut out carbs?
Over the last decade we seem to have moved away from a fat-fearing society to one which now points the finger at carbs. Many of the claims that carbs make you fat stem from the idea that carbs spike your insulin (‘fat storage hormone’) which promotes fat storage. Although this logically makes sense, if we take a look at a 2015 study which compared the effects of a low carbohydrate diet vs. a low fat diet (i.e a diet where carbs are not restricted), the results show that eating carbs won't hinder your weight loss goals.
In this study, participants were split into 2 groups (low fat and low carb) and were prescribed diets to keep them in a calorie deficit (when your energy output is higher than your energy input). After 8 weeks into the diet, both groups reported an equal drop in fat loss. What this study shows is that being in a calorie deficit is what results in fat loss.
So people who cut out carbs and lose weight do so not because there is anything inherently bad about carbs, but simply because they are restricting themselves from consuming an entire food group. By eating less of a food group which they would have usually been eating, their chances of eating fewer calories naturally would be lower. Who wants to live a life eating no pasta, bagels, bananas or potatoes? Certainly not me.
To wrap this myth up, it is calories not carbs that really matter when it comes to fat loss.
Choose a dietary strategy that allows you to achieve your goals and sustain it in the long run, whether that’s low carb, high carb or anywhere in between.
Should I have fat burners to help speed up my weight loss?
Firstly, let's take a look at what fat burner supplements claim to do:
- They aim to mildly suppress your appetite so you don’t feel the need to eat as much
- Give you a caffeine boost, which in itself has a growing amount of evidence showing its potential uses in fat loss
But did you know you could achieve this with things you may probably have in your kitchen?
Save yourself money by simply:
- Drinking the occasional coffee
- Ensuring you are eating enough protein, ideally at every main meal
Sticking with these 'real foods' would be better for your health in the long run whilst providing the same results. Caffeine may help to speed weight loss marginally but you don't need it or fat burners in order to lose weight.
Supplements should be the final consideration when your aim is to lose body fat, even more so if the foundations (total calorie intake) aren’t in place. After all, supplements are there to simply “supplement” a diet, and should not be relied upon as a major determinant in your fat loss journey.
Staying in a calorie deficit is what is going to make you lose weight, and provide greater results.
Nutritionally speaking, your time would be better spent building a solid foundation first with your nutrition, and looking at your total calorie intake. Why?
Calories act as the pillar by which you will either succeed or fail in your pursuit of burning body fat. If you're not taking into account your total calorie intake, you could easily be underestimating the amount of food you are eating. Whether you choose to count calories, eat mindfully, fast or follow a food plan, do so with the understanding that all these different diet approaches are trying to do, is simply get you eating less, which in turn will elicit a calorie deficit and make fat loss achievable.
My advice would be to focus on your total food intake before you even consider the use of supplements. Look at your daily habits. Are they giving you the stable foundation needed in order for fat loss to occur? If the answer is yes that’s great. Keep going, consistency is key. If the answer is no, it might be time to re-assess your priorities and adjust your habits.
Can I eat as much fruit as I want?
I’m all for people consuming fruit and veg as part of a balanced and optimal diet. But one thing that really gets me is when people assume that the calories in fruit don’t mean anything because fruit is packed with vitamins and minerals.
Fruit contains calories, and these calories enter the body the same way as calories from other foods. Yes, they are more nutrient dense and vitamin packed which is great, but just be aware of how much fruit you are eating.
Fruits can easily add up to and put you above your total calorie intake - so be mindful.
A handful of berries and a large apple in a day is fine. Just don't go overboard and portion control.
The same goes for ‘free foods’, unless you're indulging on gourmet ice cubes your food is likely to contain some degree of calories. Be mindful of this when eating and choosing foods.
Does eating smaller meals more frequently speed up your metabolism?
Another common debate, but sadly one which isn’t true either. When we look at the research in this area, there really isn’t even a contest, but I see why some people get confused.
The idea is that by eating smaller meals more frequently you boost the amount of calories burnt each day due to something known as thermic effect of food (TEF). This basically accounts for the amount of calories you burn just by eating food. Some say that by eating more regularly throughout the day, you will constantly be using more energy due to eating more often.
This isn’t the case; your total calorie intake is the main determinant of net thermic effect of food (TEF).
Let’s say we have two people both eating 3000Kcal per day. Person A decides to eat 3 times a day (1000 Kcal each time) and person B decides to eat 6 times per day (500 Kcal each time). At the end of a 24-hour period both dieters would have the same TEF. So eating smaller portions more regularly really doesn’t boost your metabolism.
Take home message
A common problem in the fitness realm is that it is assumed everybody fits into one universal diet system but this is not the case. So before you think about completely taking out carbohydrates (or any other nutrient for that matter) out of your diet, remember that we are all individuals. A diet that works for one person may not work or be right for another person.
Optimal nutrition is a very individual lifestyle choice, even though if we could all benefit from moving around a little more and eating more vegetables, personal modifications will need to be made in order to find that special balance.
Understanding these common myths may help you find your perfect eating strategy, or they may not be applicable to you.
Find a routine that suits you
What do you prefer? What do you see yourself sticking to? And what do you enjoy? These are the real questions you should be asking yourself.
Hall, K.D., Bemis, T., Brychta, R., Chen, K.Y., Courville, A., Crayner, E.J., Goodwin, S., Guo, J., Howard, L., Knuth, N.D. and Miller, B.V., (2015). Calorie for calorie, dietary fat restriction results in more body fat loss than carbohydrate restriction in people with obesity. Cell metabolism, 22(3), pp.427-436.