It's hard to count all the health platitudes we've heard — probably from your parents or health professionals touting guidelines for us to follow making a "better you."
Remember when we were told that margarine is healthier than butter? Or diet sodas will have the reverse effect on your weight-loss journey?
We've all come to accept these ideas as truth, but California-based endocrinologist Dr. Amy Lee, who specializes in weight control, obesity and nutrition, seeks to dispel some of the myths ingrained in our brains.
Obesity, she says, is our silent pandemic.
Recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination, a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to show an upward trend in levels of Americans who are overweight.
"It is projected that by 2030, 50% of American adults will be categorized as obese with a body mass index over 30," Lee says. "And to this day, there is still a shortage of physicians who practice weight-loss medicine, and we are causing harm by not talking about the issue to our patients."
Here are the top food myths that the doctor says are keeping the weight on:
Myth: One must stop eating to lose weight.
Starving your body to achieve weight loss is not a good way to lose weight. There are ways to fast, such as intermittent fasting, that help with weight loss, but there is a fine line of healthy fast vs. starvation. Studies have shown that prolonged fasting through severe caloric restriction can cause increased muscle loss.
Myth: Diet sodas cause weight gain.
If used appropriately, Lee says, diet sodas, diet fruit drinks and foods with artificial sweeteners do not cause weight gain. However, we have to realize that, for some individuals, the use of these artificial sweeteners and additives can cause the body to crave more food.
Also, some people who use a lot of diet foods also eat the same amount of regular sugars, carbs and processed foods, which doesn't help with weight loss.
Some individuals don't tolerate these types of ingredients and can react to them with bloating and inflammation.
Myth: I can't eat fruits if I want to lose weight.
"If you ask me, it wasn't the bananas, apples and oranges that got anyone in trouble in the first place," Lee says. "When it comes to healthy eating, it is all about focusing your carbohydrates (one of the three macronutrients) on 'complex carbs,' which means: Eat your fruits and vegetables! The more colorful the better because each color is a reflection of a special mineral and phytochemical."
When it comes to complex carbs, it's about moderation and being consistent, she says. What one should eliminate or eat minimally are processed carbs, refined sugars and simple sugars.
Myth: If I stay up, I can lose weight.
Pulling an all-nighter does not help with weight loss. In a practical sense, when one stays up all night, snacking or grazing is too tempting to resist and outweighs the basal calories expended by staying up.
The person who gets a good night sleep, meaning deep restorative sleep, does end up burning more calories compared to that same person staying up all night.
Deep restorative sleep can decrease stress on the body, and it is the body's chance to fix and repair the damage from the day. That drives the stress hormones down and can translate to a decrease in inflammation and water retention.
Myth: I can lose weight as long as I eat clean.
Generally, "clean" eating refers to foods that are minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible, but not every dieter seems to understand the concept.
"Sometimes, when my patients claim that they don't understand why they are not losing weight even though they are 'eating clean,' it makes me wonder," she says.
Lee says there is no formal, scientific list of such foods, so she recommends just keeping it simple. If we get too restricted with defining what is good vs. bad, clean vs. dirty, we may end up self-sabotaging a dietary regimen. With any food, it's all about macronutrients, which means, proteins, fats and carbs, she says.
Myth: I can't lose weight post-menopause.
"I do agree that during pre-, peri- and post-menopause, the body takes a hit, and it does make an impact on the metabolism," she says. "But weight gain is the result of the process of aging."
If you understand the mechanism of menopause, and how the hormonal axis changes in your body as you age, then you will realize that the foods you eat and the exercise that you do should also change, she explains.
"In our practice, we focus our conversation with this patient population to understand the importance of the changing body and the focus on lean mass maintenance."
The cold months of winter bring on a new dimension in the fight again weight gain, she says. It's cold outside, so you don't feel like getting out. Many of the fresh fruits taste like cardboard, and vegetables aren't much better. Couple the cold with the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year's when all the sweets and carbs are so tempting.
Due to COVID-19, the number of parties and other gatherings that can lead to out-of-control eating and drinking were lessened this season compared to years past. However, Lee says, "What I fear is the inevitable worsening of one's social isolation, which could result in self-sabotaging behavior and using food as a coping mechanism." These habits can take hold during the colder weather and holiday season.
* Don't keep sweets and cakes that you purchased or received during the holidays. Give them away so that you don't eat them.
* No matter how cold it is outside, make an effort to incorporate several brisk walks outdoors. Fresh air helps with mood and distracts you from staying in and wondering what is in the kitchen.
* Don't limit yourself to big New Year's resolutions. Make small, realistic goals on achieving a daily step count, or simply attempt to add more liquids in forms of hot herbal teas daily.
* If you are meeting for dinner with family or friends, have a high-protein snack before you go so you don't end up sabotaging yourself with sugars and carbs. Decision-making can be very different for a person with a full stomach vs. an empty one.
Here are some healthful recipes to start the new year on the right track.
Brussels Sprouts With Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Seeds
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 large shallot, sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
3 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss Brussels sprouts with shallot, oil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet.
Roast the Brussels sprouts until crispy and tender, 20 to 22 minutes. Return to the bowl, and toss with vinegar to taste. Sprinkle with goat cheese and pomegranate seeds. Each 3/4-cup servings has 117 calories and almost 6 grams of protein.
Tuscan Soup With White Beans
This Tuscan-style soup is packed with good-for-you vegetables and white beans to keep you full.
1 (4-ounce) piece Parmesan cheese with rind
1 pound dried small white beans (such as navy or cannellini), rinsed, picked over and soaked overnight
2 bunches (about 1 pound) kale, chopped (about 5 packed cups)
4 cups vegetable broth
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 loaf crusty bread, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 packed cups)
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cut off rind from Parmesan; set aside. Grate 2 tablespoons cheese into a small bowl for serving (reserve remaining cheese for another use).
Line a 6-quart slow cooker with a liner, if desired. Add beans, kale, broth, onion, carrots, celery, oil, tomato paste, garlic and Parmesan rind.
Crush tomatoes in a large bowl using your hands; add to slow cooker. Stir in bread, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 8 hours on low or 5 to 6 hours on high.
To serve, stir in remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle with reserved cheese and drizzle with oil.
— Real Simple
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.