Happy Nu Year! So this week you'll undoubtedly be bombarded with pressure to set New Year's Resolutions, pressure to get fit, lose weight, to change job or move house... But there's always tonnes of conflicting advice out there, especially around nutrition, so I thought I could kick off the year with some evidence-based info for you that sets out to prove that some of the things you'll hear aren't hard facts. I'll explain what you can ignore, why and how to move on in a positive fashion!
1. "You should give up all processed foods, they're 'bad' for you"
Often find yourself feeling guilty when you chow down on something processed? That's because we've been led to believe they're incredibly bad for us, but that all depends entirely on the context of those foods in your overall diet. Too much of anything isn't great for us, we're pretty familiar with that, but until you really understand the nutritional value of a given food or meal, it's quite a sweeping statement to say it's 'bad' for you. Making up a minimum of 80% of your diet from minimally processed foods will probably keep the volume of food that you consume that's high in fat, carbs & salt down... however, if you seek to make up about 20% of your daily calorie intake from some processed foods, it's really not going to do much harm and will likely benefit your diet longer-term because you're less likely to fall off the wagon from being so highly restricted. Now tell me, what could be bad about that??
2. "Eating 'clean' is the only way to lose weight"
Quite like point 1, again, it's all about context. I take issue with the above statement for a couple of reasons... Firstly, I just simply don't like the connotation of the world 'clean'. Minimally processed, yes. Whole foods, maybe. But implying that some food is clean and some is dirty is never going to help us form a good relationship with food. It's instantly making an emotional connection, and I believe that whether you're struggling with being overweight or underweight, a large amount of that is going to come down to mindset and being stuck in a particular way of thinking. Labelling food as good or bad, clean or dirty is sure as hell not going to help. Secondly, these so-called 'clean' foods... let me just make it completely clear, you CAN overeat in this way, and you CAN put weight on, however clean your food apparently is. In many cases, it's harder to be in a calorie surplus (e.g. eating more calories than your body is using each day) eating things like veggies, pulses, lean proteins - that's because you'll get a fair amount of bite for your buck. All of these foods are fairly low calorie per serving, so you can usually enjoy more. But to say it would be impossible to gain weight on these foods is an out-and-out myth (read, lie). Suffice to say, much like in point 1, if you don't include *some* of the things you enjoy as part of your diet, you're also more likely to end a period of restriction quite abruptly, gain all the weight back that you lost and (statistically speaking), even end up heavier than you were at Square 1. Not overly helpful, huh?
3. "You need to go on a sugar detox, that stuff is like a drug"
You guessed it, I'm going to use the word 'context' again. Sugar has had a tough few years, mostly down to the media, I might add. But some apparently credible figures in the health & fitness industry haven't helped either. Let's face it, sugar is everywhere, which pretty much makes it impossible to avoid. Now, sugar is a carbohydrate. It's neither 'good' or 'bad' for you. It's a simple carbohydrate. People that say "I don't touch sugar, but eat fruit..." guys, that's sugar! Granted, it contains fibre too which has a tonne of its own benefits, plus some key vitamins and minerals, but apart from that, not much sets it apart from a bag of Haribo. Now, to explain the context, the number one priority with any diet is adherence. If a client said to me they could quite happily live without fruit, but they really needed just a handful of sweeties every day, would I try and get them to give up the sweets for the fruit? No! As long as they understood that they're less likely to get a feeling of fullness from the sweets than they are from the fruit, or that they might want to try and increase their veggie intake to ensure they were still getting plenty of vitamins, and as long as they were still in an overall calorie deficit, this would give me no concerns at all. And neither should it concern you.
That said, there are some simple ways you can probably reduce your sugar intake if you feel your notorious sweet-tooth is the thing that is causing you to be in a calorie surplus - swap out your fizzy drinks for diet drinks (and, despite the efforts of the media to demonise sweeteners like aspartame, I can tell you they are absolutely not dangerous in doses that you'd ever consume them in, even if you had several cans of diet cola a day... you're good), or just be mindful that sugar (carbs) crops up in surprising places like the milk in your large morning latte, in your 'unsweetened' breakfast cereal and in sauces like tomato ketchup.
4. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day"
Breakfast is quite a divisive subject for many. Some people feel they can't start their day without it, while a surprising amount of the general population skip breakfast, but feel like they shouldn't be... all because of the phrase coined above (I must add, that Kellogg's had something to do with coining this phrase...) My advice on breakfast? If you enjoy it and it sets your day up positively, then go ahead. If you can't stomach it, then don't force yourself to. There is no evidence that breakfast has a positive impact on 'firing up' your metabolism for the day. It should always come down to preference; that is, whether breakfast does it for you or not! If you're in the camp of people that wonders why you eat an enormous bowl of cereal but still feel hungry at 11am, I'd suggest trying a combination of protein and fibre - that might be a savoury route like salmon and green veggies, or if you're a sweet-toothed monster like me, try greek yoghurt and raspberries, or a mix of oats & protein powder (proats). This will leave you feeling fuller for longer than a fast-processing sugary cereal might. If you're in the camp that can't possibly face food before 11am, then absolutely don't force yourself - there is no evidence that breakfast is any more important than any other meal of the day.