When it comes to losing weight there is endless advice, but surprisingly, some of the most popular can be the most damaging and may be the real reason you are not seeing the results you want.
Snacking on fruit
It’s often advised that if you are dieting and feel hungry between meals, you can help yourself to as much fruit as you like between meals. While choosing an apple is a better choice than a packet of crisps or a few biscuits, when it comes to weight loss unlimited fruit is not your friend! Fruit has a high water content and contains soluble fibre that can slow down the absorption of fruit sugars into the bloodstream, but large amounts of fruit between meals can still cause a spike in blood sugar levels that can cause reactive hypoglycaemia, put your body into fat storage mode and disrupt your appetite by causing hunger pangs and sugar cravings. Of course, fruit has plenty of health benefits and you shouldn’t be put off eating it, but it’s how and when that are important.
Solution: Eat whole fruit, not juiced or crushed, as part of a mixed meal.
Porridge for breakfast
There is no doubt that oats have plenty of health benefits, in particular they contain a type of fibre that can help to lower cholesterol. But that does not make them the best choice for breakfast when you are trying to lose weight. A bowl of porridge will provide you with a whopping 45g of carbohydrate, which is great if you are off to run a marathon but not so great if you are just crossing from the kitchen to sit in your office all morning. Carbohydrates are an important source of energy in the body and are used by the brain and to support biological processes such as respiration. As long as you keep your intake of carbohydrates in balance with your body’s need for carbs, you won’t gain fat. However, excess carbs can be stored for a day or two as glycogen and after that, your liver processes the extra carbs into fat for long-term storage, scuppering your chances of losing weight.
Solution: Eat eggs for breakfast, scrambled with smoked salmon or poached with some wilted spinach
Eating before or after your workout
Exercise is useful for weight loss as it helps to create a larger energy deficit than dieting alone. The average workout might use up 300-600 calories depending on duration and intensity. Eating or drinking before or after a workout with the intention of fuelling or refuelling only serves to reduce the deficit and does not enhance your performance. Only sessions of longer than 90-120 minutes warrant a pre or post exercise snack, particularly if you are working at a high intensity.
Solution: Water is all you need to maintain good hydration.
Eating 6 small meals a day
This advice stems from the belief that by eating little and often you keep your metabolism stoked. Every time we eat there is a small rise in metabolic rate known as the thermic effect of food. However, this rise is small and transitory and unlikely to be enough to offset the amount of energy consumed in the meal or snack. Research shows that meal frequency has no significant effect on how much energy you burn. Another belief is that snacking is necessary to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Again, studies have reported no difference in blood sugar levels when the same amount of food was consumed as meals or meals plus snacks.
Consuming 2-3 bigger meals per day allows your body to enter the fasted state. This in turn allows the mobilisation of stored fats to be used as fuel, ultimately aiding weight loss.
Solution: Have a larger brunch and evening meal containing plenty of protein and vegetables.
Calories can be misleading and stop you from eating some foods that would actually benefit weight loss. Nuts are a prime example. Their high fat content gives them a high calorie count which can be off-putting when you read the nutrition label. In fact, research has shown that we only absorb about two thirds of the calories stated on the packet, as a large part of consumed nuts are not digested and absorbed, instead passing straight through the gut and out again. There is lots of research to show that regularly eating nuts is not associated with weight gain and some research shows eating nuts can boost weight loss.
Solution: Think about the health benefits of the foods you choose and try to eat instinctively, rather than being a slave to the label.
Lastly, a word on hunger. It’s worth remembering that weight loss is not easy and it is likely that you will feel hungry at some times of the day. It is ok to be hungry and in fact, it is a normal part of everyday life and nothing bad will happen as a result! We have been brainwashed into thinking that we should never be hungry and snacks are somehow essential. If you feel hungry between meals, have a glass of water and let the feeling pass. Try to identify real hunger from feeling a bit bored or tired and distract yourself by doing something else. If you still feel hungry then choose a high protein, high fibre snack such as a handful of nuts or a collagen drink.