Let’s take a look at some common statements you’ve no doubt come across, that are perhaps a bit misleading…
“Calories don’t matter, as long as you’re eating real food!”
Don’t get me wrong, food quality matters.
I mean, I think natural/whole/minimally-processed/real food (however you want to term it) is awesome!
And certainly, the majority of your diet should be made up of these foods.
But saying that somehow that means we can eat as much as we want of it, without any consideration for the energy content, is just plain misleading.
Sure, including more real food and less highly-refined foods in someone’s diet is a great way to both support health and fat loss (if that’s the goal). And we know plenty of people have made this change and transformed their physique. But let’s be clear why…
More real/whole foods will generally (there are exceptions) mean higher satiety, more fibre, more protein, better blood sugar regulation and so an overall lower drive to overconsume. Win!
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for someone who is eating 100% “clean” to be potentially gaining weight (or at least to be stuck in their fat loss efforts) if they are simply eating too much.
More real food makes it harder to overeat. But it’s certainly possible.
Just hand me a tablespoon and a jar of cashew butter and I’ll prove it.
Similarly, snacking on 100g bags of cashews, dousing every bite of food with coconut oil and blending butter into your coffee make “clean over-consumption” a hell of lot easier (and probable).
Take it another step and start the home-baking of “healthy treats”. Grab a bowl, melt and mix coconut oil, peanut butter, agave syrup and dark chocolate and set into squares of 450 kcal bite-size bars.
Now we not only have a calorie-dense snack, but it’s been blended, mixed and sweetened into a highly-palatable state.
With adequate portion control and allowance within overall daily intake this is fine. But if we combine this with a sense of “calories don’t matter” should we be surprised when there is no fat loss progress despite eating real food?
There is no way around energy balance I’m afraid. No matter what personal stories you’ve been told by your biohacking guru.
In my post on the Pros and Cons of Counting Calories, I highlighted difference in saying calories matter and saying everyone needs to actively count/track them. On calories I said:
“Not only do they matter, they are actually the main determinant of body composition changes.
But please do not fall into the trap of thinking that I’m saying they are the only thing that matters. I’m not. Here is a very important distinction:
Calories do matter but that doesn’t mean calorie-counting is the best way to control them.
You see, saying that calories matter and the practice of calorie-counting are two completely different things.”
So to clarify:
- Calorie intake matters (a lot).
- You can count/track calories if you want. But you don’t have to count them if you don’t want.
- Food quality does matter too. But it’s not a free-ride to a daily BBB (bacon & butter binge)
“Don’t count calories, count chemicals.”
If you hang around Facebook or Instagram long enough, I’m sure you’e seen some graphic with a slogan like that on it.
Perhaps it was something like “don’t eat what you can’t pronounce” or “fat free foods = chemical shitstorm”.
Whilst I partially get the intended sentiment behind these phrases, it can mislead people into believing that anything made from “chemicals” is bad.
Well, simple fact is that everything is made from chemicals…
Again I get the sentiment of returning the focus to real food but doing so by scaring people into thinking their Liberte yogurt is pumped with harmful “chemicals” because it’s fat-free isn’t really the most helpful way to do so.
On a side-note, f you want to see some amazingly talented folks put there chemical-detection skills into place, this recent piece from the Jimmy Kimmel show in the States is hilarious:
“Carbs make you fat. Because, you know, insulin.”
So the story goes like this: Carbs raise insulin. Insulin suppresses lipolysis (fat release from fat cells) and promotes fat storage. Ipso facto carbs make you fat.
But you see, when you zero in on one action of insulin, at one isolated time point you are blinkered to the bigger picture. Over a prolonged period of time, the net fat gain/loss is determined by energy balance.
When someone is insulin resistant or diabetic does that mean keeping carbohydrate intake relatively low can be a prudent approach? Sure I think that’s certainly a fair statement.
Put to lay the blame for fat gain solely at the feet of a whole macronutrient group based on it’s effect on ONE hormone is illogical. There is so much contradictory evidence.
We see many populations around the world with traditionally high intakes of carbohydrate and yet they aren’t riddled with obesity.
I explained why insulin is not the issue in this post: Eat More Fat, Burn More Fat: Myth, Magic or Metabolic Advantage?
“If you eat more fat, you burn more fat.”
If “burning more fat” simply equates to oxidizing more fatty acids then of course we should be burning more fat when we eat more fat… there’s a whole load more of it available, right?
So yes, you could say we are “burning” more fat. But the question really is this:
What does this mean in relation to BODY-FAT levels?
First, while a high-fat, low-carb diet will mean greater lipolysis due to lower insulin levels it will also mean an increase in the process of re-esterification (putting fatty acids into a fat cell to be re-esterified with glycerol and stored as triglycerides). So essentially, the net effect is zero.
Again, I go into this in DETAIL here: Eat More Fat, Burn More Fat: Myth, Magic or Metabolic Advantage?
“Observational/epidemiological studies are useless.”
Epidemiology is the science that studies the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations. Very different from studies that have subjects in a clinical trial that is randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind in nature.
I’ve been one of the most vocal in pointing out that we can’t pull conclusions from observational data and epidemiological studies. And that’s absolutely true. They can never prove causation. And their limitations have been recognised in the literature.
BUT that is not to say they are useless.
Observational data an be hugely valuable in pointing to potential associations that might be worth looking into. Used properly, they can be used to generate hypotheses which can then be tested in randomised, controlled trials.
The potential helpfulness or misleading nature of observational studies lies in how they are used. As with most things, use the right tool for the right job.
When you stretch data of this type beyond the scope of what it actually tells us then you are doing people a disservice and misleading them. The China Study is the most infamous example of this in my eyes.
At the same time, if you discredit all epidemiology and all observational data then you throwing the baby out with the bathwater. While they can’t prove the exact variable responsible for a certain effect, they play an important role in the overall movement of science to discover more.
“If you eat chicken, broccoli and rice you are ‘a bro'”
Flexible dieting is cool.
The whole positive aspect of flexible dieting is that there are no foods that are inherently forbidden or essential. Exact food selection can come down to the individual.
So why do some try to cultivate the same mindset of food shaming if someone decides to eat a typical “clean” meal?
Claiming that rice and chicken are “bro foods” is ridiculous.
IIFYM is good because you CAN eat ice cream, not because you HAVE to eat ice cream. If someone else decides to eat a salad, fuck off and let them eat it.
Can’t we just agree that in the same way there are no “good” and “bad” foods, there are also no “bro foods”?
But don’t be a dick.
You don’t have adrenal fatigue. Your adrenals aren’t burnt out.
“Creatine causes kidney failure/steroid-like affects/sudden death”
The (mis)information around creatine that seems to rear it’s head in different domains ranges from slightly incorrect all the way to disturbing scaremongering.
Take for example THIS 2013 piece from the Irish Independent, in which journalist Neil Francis not only fails to provide any actual reference to scientific studies showing the supplement is dangerous but goes WAY beyond that and makes two associations which are not only misleading but, to me, are downright disgusting.
First, he leads the article by claiming that Jonah Lomu’s well-documented severe kidney problems are potentially down to taking creatine whilst playing for the All Blacks.
Then to make things worse, he later suggests that a number of the unfortunate deaths of young people from sudden adult death syndrome (SADS) could have it’s roots in creatine use. Utterly sickening.
So for those of us who prefer to base our choices on science and the world’s leading researchers as opposed to junk journalism, let’s take a look at the state of the scientific literature on the matter…
You won’t find too many places where you get such a great set of competent and objective people than when you look to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. So, perhaps one of there reviews of the evidence will show up at least SOME support to the supposed dangers of creatine supplementation…
From the ISSN position stand on creatine:
“There is no scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects on otherwise healthy individuals.”
Even in people with pre-existing kidney issues there is nothing to confirm it’s definitely a problem. It might perhaps be a good idea to be more wary if someone has polycystic kidney disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or another kidney disorder characterized by tissue swelling.
“Avoid high-cholesterol foods like eggs”
I’m not going to get into the whole dietary fat-cholesterol-heart disease issue. It’s been done to death and there are way too many caveats and important details to include that wouldn’t fit into a post like this.
However, I will just highlight the cholesterol-containing foods issue.
Yes, eggs and other animal products contain cholesterol. But for most of us (I’ve seen figures of 70% +) the cholesterol we consume via diet has virtually no effect on the total cholesterol in our blood. We’re hypo-responders. I will note that for some folks who are hyper-responders, they may see an elevation in total cholesterol when dietary intake increases. Although there does seem to be research indicating that the increase does not alter the ratio of HDL to LDL.
“Glucose is a toxin”
Constantly elevated glucose in the bloodstream is toxic. The research on glucose toxicity preceding insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes is well-established.
That doesn’t mean that ingested glucose is toxic to humans.
It doesn’t mean we can’t handle spikes in blood glucose. (The Nadolsky’s recently wrote a piece in which they highlighted how glycaemic index is a pretty pointless metric to base your dietary decisions on once your eating a whole foods-based diet).
As for glucose being toxic, that usually comes from people who are dogmatically “super low-carb for all”. If you think having some potato, apple or oats is immediately going to wreak havoc due to the toxic nature of glucose then guess again.
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