Ever noticed how it’s easier to find reasons not to do something, than just crack on with it? It’s not only procrastinators (you know who you are), but most of us have an in-built resistance to change.
The harder we perceive change to be, the less likely we are to make it. Now, in my logical brain, if the sum of the benefits exceeds the sum of the effort required to get those benefits, then people will jump to it.
The issue with nutritional change is that the effort starts now, but the benefits may take a few days or weeks to show. In the insta-results climate we live in, that’s just too long to wait.
Unfortunately, change needs to start with doing something different. Here are Thrive’s top five diet myths and why you should forget about them, re-learn what it means to eat healthily, and make changes to match your goals.
FYI, we don’t like using the word “diet” as a verb as it implies short-lived nutritional changes. We prefer to call it “eating”; eating nutrient-rich foods, balanced in a way which supports healthy living for life, flexing the balance to reflect what’s going on.
Most people see dieting as a way to lose weight, and that’s what this article focusses on, though the principles apply to most nutritional goals.
Yes, if you decide to massively restrict your calories, you will be hungry. Do it for an extended amount of time and you could also be under-nourished and find it hard to perform at your best.
If you eat a healthy, balanced meal, you are unlikely to be hungry. This was the result of a study published in Cell Metabolism in 2019 which concluded that when people are allowed to eat as much or as little as they want, those on a healthy diet (in this case, unprocessed food) reported the same level of appetite measures (hunger, fullness, satisfaction and eating capacity) as those on an unhealthy diet (ultra-processed food).
With that in mind, think about these results:
- Those on the ultra-processed diet ate 509 calories a day more than those on the unprocessed diet.
- Those extra calories were carbohydrates (280 calories) and fat (230 calories). Protein intake was pretty much the same in both groups.
- Those on the ultra-processed diet gained 0.9kg (2.0lbs) of weight; the others lost the same amount.
That means that over two weeks, the impact on the participants’ weight between a healthy and unhealthy diet was 1.8kg (4.0lbs). That’s over half a stone in two weeks, without food restrictions or feeling hungry.
I think this is a really interesting study worth a read if you have time. It’s a recent, highly controlled study (participants were in an isolated unit for 4 weeks with all meals provided for them) based on normal people (50/50 male and female, average weight 78.2kg (12st 4lbs), BMI 27.0 (overweight), age 31).
In this study, the nutrient differences between ultra-processed and unprocessed foods were minimised, but the latter had less added sugar, lower saturated fat as a proportion of total fat, more insoluble fibre and less salt. Looking at the photos of a typical day’s food, it also had more colour and interest.
For this study, ultra-processed foods are those made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact whole food. Unprocessed foods are edible parts of plants, animals and fungi after separation from nature.
Myth #1 debunked: I’ll be hungry
Eating healthier, less processed food leads to fewer calories
being consumed without feeling hungry.
You can pretty much spot a fad diet from a mile off. Tell-tale signs are:
- You can only eat a small range of foods
- Promises quick results
- Extreme, non-sustainable meal structure
- Severely restricts certain nutrients (e.g. low fat, low carb, dairy free, gluten free)
- Promotes certain nutrients or supplements (e.g. high protein, exogenous ketones)
- Markets its own range of diet-friendly foods
No wonder diets are seen as restrictive and hard to stick to.
In reality, most people’s nutrition is already restricted, either through personal beliefs (e.g. vegetarianism, veganism, or faith-based restrictions) or being stuck in a rut.
Try this short exercise:
- List the 12 foods you eat most regularly. Here are mine:
- Protein: chicken, beef, salmon, whey powder
- Vegetables: broccoli, peas
- Carbohydrates: pasta, rice, berries, oats
- Fats: Greek yogurt, butter
- Now list out the next most eaten 12 foods. If, like me, you find that hard, you already have a restricted, or limited, diet.
We eat about 20 meals a week. That’s 20 opportunities to optimise our nutritional intake by mixing up our food choices. Try it for yourself now:
- For each of the 12 foods you identified in the first step, write down an alternative. Add them to your shopping list and don’t buy the others for a week.
If you’re struggling for inspiration, ask me for Thrive’s list of suggested lean protein, non-starch vegetables, carbohydrates and fats. It’s not an exhaustive list; it’s not a restrictive list; with over 120 food items, there’s enough variety for a different protein, vegetable, carbohydrate and fat for every meal in a week.
Myth #2 debunked: Diets are too restrictive
A healthy diet is likely more varied than
what you currently eat in an average week.
This really depends. In the 2019 American study, unprocessed meals cost 42% more than ultra-processed meals on a calorie vs calorie basis. However, when you consider that those eating unprocessed foods ate fewer calories, the increased cost of the unprocessed food drops to 18%.
I’d always encourage people to buy the best quality food they can afford, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive. Here are some strategies for recouping the remaining 18% and more:
- Buy in bulk and use your freezer.
- Use your butcher for animal protein as this reduces the environmental cost of food production and distribution too.
- Only buy and cook what you need. Which? reports that 17.7% of the food we buy gets thrown away.
- Take a leaf out of McDonald’s book (I worked there for a couple of years whilst at college) and record all the food you throw away in a week. That should help you adjust your shopping and cooking habits to save money.
- Divert some of your alcohol budget to food – it’s really a win/win for you. You save money, limit the damage alcohol does to achieving your health and fitness goals and are less likely to eat crap after having a drink.
Myth #3 debunked: Eating healthily is more costly
Eating less, wasting less and shopping smarter
compensate for increased food prices.
If you don’t have 20 minutes to cook a healthy meal, then you seriously need to look at your life.
In under 20 minutes, you can fry a chicken breast, boil some frozen vegetables, and cook some rice. Add some butter on the vegetables and you have a healthy, unprocessed meal fit for the whole family. Microwave some fish and you’ll be ready in under 15 minutes.
And that’s a key thing about the nutrition I coach Thrive’s clients in: it’s fit for the whole family, whether they’re looking to lose weight, bulk up or stay as they are. It’s good, wholesome, nutrient-rich food – you just adjust the portion sizes for the individual. That’s why it’s sustainable.
Other time aspects to consider are:
- Sitting down to eat. Allow yourself time to eat in a relaxed environment. Prioritise this time. You’ll be better positioned to tackle everything else on your metaphorical plate.
- Planning and shopping. If lockdown has taught us one thing, it’s that we can survive on one big shop a week. Save time by avoiding regular shopping trips through planning what you want to eat. Stuck for ideas? Remember to contact me for the list of food items to inspire more variety in your meals.
- Bulk cooking. This isn’t just the catering sized pan of chilli. If you’re cooking chicken, cook extra for lunch the next day. If you’re making a salad, double everything. Even rice or boiled potatoes can be refrigerated for future use.
- Spread the load. Get the family involved in cooking. If this includes kids, then it’s a useful life lesson and gets them into healthy habits before they leave home.
Myth #4 debunked: I don’t have the time to shop/cook/eat
Making time to shop, cook and eat well is a choice
which really will not adversely affect everything else you need to do.
You are what you eat, right?
More accurately, you are what eat, digest, absorb, and don’t excrete. How you optimise each of these functions is a massive subject, but the following these tips will move you in the right direction:
- Chew your food until it’s liquid. This gives your gut the best opportunity to digest and absorb the nutrients you are so carefully providing it.
- Eat slowly. In studies, those who took 20% longer to eat their meals consumed 10-13% fewer calories. In the 2019 study, those eating ultra-processed foods ate 17 calories/minute (or 7.4 grams/minute) faster than those eating unprocessed foods, making it easier to overeat.
- Avoid eating if you’re stressed. Go for a walk for 10 minutes before eating as our bodies are less able to process carbohydrates when we’re stressed.
- Treat each meal the same. At the top of this article, I asked you to re-learn what it means to eat healthily. Treating all meals the same is a big thing to re-learn, particularly when it comes to breakfast. Breakfast is often carbohydrate based (cereal or bread), but a higher protein meal will fire up our neurotransmitters, kick start our gut, boost our immune system and make it easier to choose healthy food options later in the day.
- Keep active. The more active we are, the more inclined we are to eat healthily. And for the times we slip back to old habits, our body will be better able to deal with excess carbohydrates. Even walking 7,000 steps each day makes a difference. Just make them brisk steps, not a dawdle.
Myth #5 debunked: It’s only about the food
How we eat impacts the outcome of what we eat.
There’s no end of nutrition advice out there; from friends, families, celebrities and even experts. Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start.
The most important thing is to start, and be consistent, with healthier eating. It doesn’t have to be the theoretically optimal solution for you, it just needs to be a little bit better. We’re looking for progress, not perfection.
Afterall, we’re all different and it’s not until we try a few things that we know what will work best for us.
Are you ready to thrive?