No other questions has caused so much confusion, frustration and doubt in people wanting to lose weight or make a healthy change to their lifestyle. So many different opinions are floating around and one simple google search will return a vast number of contradicting articles, all with scientific support. Unfortunately, we also do not have a simple answer for everyone, but rather some important information to take away to apply to your own individual journey.
It is important to remember that everybody and every “body” is different. What works for one will not necessarily work for another. We are all at different stages in our lives with different fitness levels, reactions to certain foods, sporting abilities, goals and motivations when it comes to food. The second that the internet gets hold of a breakthrough diet or eating regime and has a success story to back it up (Jared from Subway being one of the first), the world will dive on it with dreams of a quick fix… but most people end up disappointed and, in many cases, having the opposite effect of what was desired. So where do we begin?
Let’s talk about carbs
In the 80s and early 90s it was fat. And the result was and still is that we have versions of most packaged foods that are now “99% fat free” or “low fat”. Fat was the enemy back then and the word carbs had never even crossed our minds. Then came the CSIRO Well-being diet. Suddenly carbs were on our radar and high protein diets were all the rage. The internet had just arrived, and we were able to start searching what effect carbs were having on us… and the results were not good.
Sadly, ever since, carbs have gotten a bum rap. Carbs are exceptionally beneficial to our daily lives, we just need to ensure we are eating the right kind of carbs. Unfortunately, the most dangerous, tempting foods like donuts, white breads, cereals, honey, chips etc. are all high in carbs and excessive amounts exceed our daily carb intake requirements, throwing our balance off and causing weight gain. But the right kind of carbs help fuel our body, create energy and even help us relax and sleep at night.
The best kind of carbs are obviously fruits and vegetables. Yes, there are still very sugary fruits that should be eaten in moderation, but even small amounts of sugars can be beneficial to our diets when trying to lose weight. But back to the good carbs. Rice, yes even white rice, has been linked to long life and healthy digestive systems. Once again, it all comes down to the right kinds, the right amount and at the right time. This is where your fitness professionals can help you. If you have an exercise routine or even have certain times of the day when you are more active, coinciding your carb intake can greatly improve your functionality and aid in weight loss, without cravings and risk of binging.
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
No. But neither is lunch or dinner. Or snacks. Actually, definitely not snacks. Let’s get this out in the open straight away: There is no evidence at all that links eating breakfast to weight loss. No matter the size or the type of breakfast. Yes, there can be benefits in other areas. Some people enjoy the energy buzz from eating early, however others feel sluggish after eating early. Other people claim that they feel focussed after eating first thing in the morning, but then we again have others who claim it makes them unmotivated and distracted. It really depends on what you want to do. If you are functioning great throughout the day and are getting your desired calorie intake from lunch and dinner, there really will be no benefit to adding breakfast to your meal plan.
But shouldn’t I be aiming to eat smaller meals every 2 hours to ensure my body keeps burning calories. Sorry to say, evidence to prove this theory is also few and far between. The logic behind this is that your body burns more calories when you are digesting. So therefore, if you are constantly eating throughout the day, your body will be in a constant motion of burning calories, correct? Technically, yes this is correct. Where it falls down is that in order to lose weight, we should only be eating a certain amount of calories each day. Consuming these calories in 2-3 big meals versus 4-6 smaller meals makes absolutely no difference. Your body burns more calories when you are eating, but it will burn more calories the more you eat.
Splitting your meals is making no difference. In actual fact, for some people, you are just fuelling your appetite and risking over-eating and cravings. You do what’s best for you. If you’re the type of person who hates cooking or simply doesn’t know how to cook, trying to eat 6 times a day is just creating an environment where you are more likely to turn to processed foods and take away just to ensure you are eating at your chosen intervals. Personal preference is key in this case. Just limit your calories and make sure you are allocating your calories wisely.
When you say allocating…?
Ok, here is the important bit. Allocating your calories is the most important part of any diet. We all know that we need to be running at a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. But the way we spend those calories is the most important part. I could easily fit a slice of pizza and a pepsi into my calorie range, however that’s all I’d be eating in the whole day and I’m not getting my daily nutrient intake.
Small things can also make a huge difference. By switching from fried chicken to skinless roast chicken you can open up a whole other meal. Switching from pork dumplings to vegetable dumplings can halve your calorie intake. And for those Mexican food fans out there, even a simple change from enchiladas to fajitas can make a significant difference. The size of meals does not dictate the number of calories. And with only a small amount of internet research you can find yourself opening up an incredible door to more and more healthy options throughout the day, rather than one standard meal and then intermittent fasting.
The easiest way to start this process is to look at foods with plenty of options eg. Yoghurt, peanut butter, jam, butter etc. The same amount of one brand could literally be half of another brand. A simple google will help you determine which is the best option. Plenty of websites and nutritionists have already done the hard work for you, so take advantage and start stripping down your calories without skipping meals.