The Story Of How I Lost 6kg In 4 Weeks By Busting 5 Of The Most Common Nutrition Myths
Despite the efforts of science and the evidence-based community, nutrition myths prevail. Deceit, lies, and misinformation are used to make a quick buck. The truth, cast aside, along with any notion of genuinely helping you achieve your goals.
Right now, you don't know which way to turn. You don't know who to believe. Who to trust. Or what to do when it comes to losing weight.
You've cut carbs because the Keto guy made you panic about insulin.
You've starting Intermittent Fasting, even though you love breakfast. But hey, some gimp said, "research shows" a lot in an article, so you figured it MUST be true.
And now you've banned animal products. All because social media scaremongering convinced you meat and dairy cause cancer.
And let's not get started on clean eating. Scrubbing your broccoli with bleach didn't turn out to be the best idea.
But still the weight doesn't shift. You're trying everything, but nothing's working. And you've hit a brick wall.
Here's the thing.
In this article, you're going to discover the real truth about these 5 common nutrition myths that are stopping you losing weight:
- Carbs are the primary driver of weight loss, not energy balance.
- You can't diet near to (or below) BMR, because you'll lose muscle.
- Cardio is essential for weight loss.
- You can't lose weight eating processed and refined foods.
- Eating late at night (carbs especially) prevents weight loss.
It's time to take control of your weight loss, and make dieting great again.
The Scientific & Practical Truth
No doubt, you've read articles like this before. And even though they sound scientific and quote research, you're not 100% sure what it all means. And what you really want to know is, "Does the theory work in practice?" Because it's all well and good proving something in a lab, but what about in the real world? Can you actually get results following this advice?
So to answer these question, I did my own experiment. Nothing hugely scientific, but it represents at least some practical proof that what you'll learn in this article, works.
Over the course of 7 weeks, between the 1st April 2019 and 19th May 2019 I went on a mission. A mission to prove you can lose weight, drop body fat, and retain muscle, all while flying in the face of the most popular nutrition myths.
This is where I started.
In pretty decent shape. But carrying a little winter fluff. And so the challenge was on. To get to Shredsville and not let any nutrition myths derail me in the process. These were the rules of the challenge.
The Rules Of The Challenge
Whilst this approach might not have been my preferred option under normal circumstances, I was doing it for the greater good. To help free you from some of the misinformation clouding your mind and stopping you from taking action.
During the 7 weeks, I followed these rules on a daily basis:
- Consume 1,990 kcals (or as close as possible). This was close to my estimated BMR of c.1,850 kcals. And it also represented a deficit of 35%. A very aggressive deficit and one that you might think would cause muscle loss.
- Consume 50% of all calories AND carbs after 6pm. Dispelling the myth that eating your food, particularly carbs, late at night causes you to gain weight.
- No cardio. This one wouldn't be too hard, that's for sure.
- Eat a chocolate bar every bar (or a tub of ice cream). This one wasn't too hard either. But there was a serious point. You might think you HAVE to ban all the foods you love, in order to lose weight. But I wanted to show you that you can have them every day (if you want to).
And with that, the challenge started. But before we get into the myths themselves, let's look at the results of the challenge. Here's the Week 1-4 and Week 4-7 progress pictures.
So, I think you'll agree, this N=1 study demonstrates, at least to some degree, that the nutrition myths you once believed to be true are about to get fucked by some science.
It's All about Carbs, Not Calories
There's no messing around, we're diving straight in at the deep end and dealing with the Keto-Kryptonite that is the carbohydrate. Do you need to fear bread, pasta, and rice? Is banishing them from your cupboards the only answer to your weight loss dilemma? First, let's start by looking at the myth itself.
The Nutrition Myth:
Carbs are the key driver of fat loss, not calories. Insulin and insulin resistance are the main causes of increases in body fat. Consumption of carbs spikes insulin. Insulin switches off your body's ability to burn fat, ultimately leading to greater levels of body fat.
Insulin. It's all about the insulin... allegedly.
But when you look into the detail, you'll see insulin gets unnecessary bad press. So let me do a bit of a PR job in favour of this often bullied and demonised hormone.
Insulin serves a perfectly normal and functional process in the body. When you eat a meal containing carbohydrate, two things happen. Number one, you become happy. Because carbs are fucking awesome. True story, but that wasn't my real first point. This is.
The carbohydrate in your meal is broken down into glucose, which is a useable form of energy. At this point, the glucose is in your bloodstream. But that's not where your body wants it.
Sensing a rise in blood glucose, insulin is released from the pancreas, which allows the glucose to enter your liver, muscle, and fat cells. Once the glucose in the blood returns to normal levels, insulin production also reduces. And this process is happening all the time.
But that's not all insulin does. This humble hormone is a fundamental part of the muscle building process. So... gains! And it stops the fat burning process and stimulates the creation of fat, which is where the Keto zealots get excited.
But here's the thing. Once insulin has managed the glucose in your bloodstream, the fat burning process resumes. And, as long as you're in a calorie deficit, you'll lose body fat.
"But if I don't eat carbs, won't I just burn fat all the time?"
Ok. This is a good question. And an element the keto zealots love to play on. Ditch the carbs and you'll become a 24/7 fat burning machine.
But here's the mind-blowing reality. Burning fat and losing fat aren't the same thing.
Let me explain quick, before your head pops!
If you eat 500 kcals of fat and burn 500 kcals of fat, body fat reduction is 0 kcals. So, yes, you burned the dietary fat you ate, but you didn't create the deficit required to lose the body fat you have already stored.
Now, let's look at that in the context of Keto vs a higher carb diet.
- Keto - Calories Consumed: 1,000 kcals (80% fat, 20% carbs) vs Calories Burned: 1,000 kcals = Body Fat Loss: 0 kcals
- High Carb - Calories Consumed: 1,000 kcals (80% carb, 20% fat) vs Calories Burned: 1,000 kcals = Body Fat Loss: 0 kcals
So you might think you're a fat burning machine on the low carb approach. But that's simply because you're eating more fat.
Any other evidence?
Sure. There's lots. You can start by looking at some of the world's populations, such as the Kitavans, who have very high carbohydrate intake (c.69%), yet show very low levels of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
And if that's not enough, there's huge body of evidence highlighting calories and energy balance as THE MOST important aspect of weight loss. You can look at studies comparing low-carb against low-fat and you'll see there's no significant difference between the two. Then you could look at even more research on popular diet methods, and again you'll see no significant difference.
Whether you like fat pie or carb pie, whichever way you cut the weight loss pie, just focus on the deficit and follow the approach you'll stick to long enough to see the results you want.
You Can't Diet Near (Or Below) BMR. You'll Lose Muscle
This is a nutrition myth, no doubt originating from deep in the bowels of bro-science. But is an aggressive calorie deficit a recipe for muscle loss and misery? Let's find out.
The Nutrition Myth:
Severe calorie restriction results in significantly more muscle loss, compared to slower rates of weight loss. In an aggressive calorie restriction, the body utilises protein for fuel, in the absence of adequate calories.
There is some truth to this one, although only for a relatively small group of people. And I'll go out on a limb and say that if you're reading this, you're probably not one of them.
Rapid weight loss induced by an aggressive calorie deficit could cause muscle loss IF you are already very lean, ie sub 10% body fat. But if you're over that threshold, the research is there to support the fact a deficit of up to 40% won't lead to greater muscle loss, providing a couple of variables are managed.
And those are; training and protein. The building block of gains.
Without training you can't build muscle. Take all the protein shakes you want, Hell, take some steroids if that's your thing. But if you don't get off your ass and head to the gym, your body isn't going to build much muscle. And when you're in a deficit and not training, it won't hold on to it either.
Plus, if your protein intake is low (<1.2g/kg) then you're in danger losing some of the those precious gains. And we don't want that, do we?
"What did you do on your weight loss diet?"
At the start of my weight loss challenge, I tipped the scales at 85.9kg. My goal was to keep protein intake in a range between 1.8-2.0g/kg (155g - 172g per day). This was both to preserve muscle and to keep hunger at bay. Don't forget I was eating roughly 1,000 kcals less than normal, so the chances of me chewing my own arm of were high, if I didn't do something to manage hunger.
To Lose Weight, Cardio Is Essential
For my own benefit alone, I'm so glad this one isn't true. Because I hate cardio as much as you. But, the myth still perpetuates. And so rows of cardio equipment get occupied by miserable, sweaty beings, counting down every second of their tortuous time on the treadmill. Seemingly, all for nothing.
The Nutrition Myth:
Cardio burns fat and weight training builds muscle. Plus, sweat is fat crying, yeah?
This one should be quick and painless. A straight-forward cull of nutritional BS. Like an epic Game Of Thrones decapitation. So, without further ado, let's put cardio's head on a fucking spike.
But first, a caveat.
Cardio isn't all bad. It's healthy to have a good cardiovascular system. And for some (I call them crazy people) it's actually enjoyable. So if you need, or want, to include cardio for those reasons, then you absolutely should.
That aside, let's get back to work. Weight and fat loss is driven by energy balance. A calorie deficit. We covered that earlier. Using this premise, cardio relates to the 'calories out' portion of the equation. So thinking in a logical fashion, it stands to reason that if you can create your required energy deficit without the inclusion of cardio, then it becomes a non-essential activity. For example, you could decrease calories, increase NEAT, or a combination of the two.
Either way, to say cardio is an absolute MUST would be a massive overstatement. Because it's simply not the case. Of course, if cardio helps you hit your deficit target because cutting calories further and/or increasing NEAT isn't practical, then great, do it.
But don't force yourself to plod away on the treadmill if you don't need to. Approaching your diet with the enthusiasm and motivation of a moody teenager, isn't going to do anyone any favours.
"You seriously did no cardio to get THAT lean?"
Not one exercise bike pedal was turned in the making of those abs. The aggressive deficit was created by managing calories and taking a slightly longer walk to the gym every morning. Literally, that simple.
You Have To Eat Clean. Junk Food Stops You Losing Weight
What the fuck is clean eating anyway? Does anyone even know?
I'm sure you've got a vague idea, but I can't help feel the rules are a bit shady. I mean, what makes a food dirty or clean? The ingredients? If so, which ones and it what quantities? Is it the ingredients AND quantities combined?
Can you have any, so-called junk food, and still be classed as a clean eater? Or is it shit or bust from the get-go?
Who the fuck knows? And to be honest, who the fuck cares?
The Nutrition Myth:
Junk food, such as fast food, chocolate, donuts, crisps, candy, and biscuits is bad for you and will cause you to gain weight and become unhealthy.
This is the big one. Now you get to find out if you can have chocolate and still lose weight.
Well, the simple answer is yes. You can eat chocolate and other demonised foods, and still lose weight and be healthy. And to prove it, here's another N=1 study, but taken to another level.
Mark Haub, a professor of nutrition at Kansas State University, undertook a 10 week experiment in which his diet consisted predominantly of junk food. He ate cookies, cake, and drank diet Mountain Dew consistently. He also had a modest amount of vegetables, a protein shake, and multivitamin pill (I guess so he didn't die). All while maintain a calorie intake of <1,800 calories per day.
So if the myth were true, our friend Mark wouldn't have shifted a single lb. But here's the results:
- Lost 27lbs
- Lower Blood Pressure
- 20% decline in fasting glucose
- 20% decline in LDL ("bad" cholesterol)
- 24% increase in HDL ("good" cholesterol)
- 39% decrease in triglycerides
Quite the opposite of what the myth would have you believe.
But just because you can, doesn't mean you should
While is eminently possible to lose weight eating a wide variety of foods, including "junk" food, for many, it's more complicated than that. Issues of hunger and cravings are real. Trying to make it through the day without committing hunger-induced murder is no fun. And the harsh truth is, highly palatable food that tastes great, is sometimes hard to control.
You see, your brain is hard-wired to seek carbohydrate, fat, protein, salt, and glutamine. And a bit like Pavlov's Dog, you salivate at the thought, sight, and smell of calories-dense foods, with a perfect mix of these ingredients. Seeing a burger and fries on the TV, smelling fresh baked good in the supermarket, or even just reading this, may trigger cues in your brain that initiate a compulsion for food. Even though, you might not be hungry in the slightest.
This notion was summed up perfectly by Dr. Stephan Guyenet, using chocolate as an example.
"Chocolate is the most frequently craved food among women, and it’s also a common craving for men. From the brain’s perspective, this isn’t hard to understand. Chocolate is not only a highly concentrated source of fat and sugar, but it has another trick up its sleeve that pushes its craveability into the stratosphere: A habit-forming drug called theobromine. Like its cousin caffeine, theobromine is a mild stimulant that acts on the same brain pathway as dopamine. This drug accentuates fat and sugar’s natural ability to spike dopamine signaling, which in many people results in powerful cravings, and in a few, addiction-like behavior."
"Help me manage my hunger and cravings, Simon."
It's important to understand, cravings and hunger aren't the same thing.
Hunger is the general feeling you need to eat food or else you're liable to kill. Whereas a craving is a specific emotional state where you crave a certain food. Here's some tips to help you regain control of both hunger and food-specific cravings.
- Focus on less calorie dense foods. Opt for simple, unrefined foods that meet your calorie needs while maximising satiety.
- Maximise home cooking to maintain calorie control and reduce food palatability, which could otherwise lead to over-consumption.
- Create effort barriers, particularly for snacking, ie made it difficult to raid the cookie jar at midnight.
- Limit food cue exposure by managing your food environment. Don't have those trigger foods in the house. Don't keep going to the restaurant that triggers your cravings. And don't watch the Great British Bake Off all the damn time. It makes you want to eat cake!
By doing these things, you're allowing your brain to forget. To break these food associations over time. Does it mean you can never have them? Of course not, but when you do consume them, you're doing so from a point of control, not emotional recklessness. There's a difference.
Stephan Guyenet sums it well again...
"Understanding cravings allows us to manage them more effectively. Since cravings are driven by food-related sensory cues such as the sight and smell of tempting foods, the most straightforward way to beat them is to avoid exposing yourself to those cues. If tempting, unhealthy foods aren’t available in your personal surroundings, not only will they be harder to eat, but you’ll be less likely to crave them."
Carbs Eaten After 6pm Get Stored As Body Fat
This is one of the stalwarts of nutrition myths. One that's stood the test of time, while others fade away. Think of it as the cockroach of nutrition myths. The one that won't die, no matter how many times you think you've killed it off. But let me try one more time.
The Nutrition Myth:
If you eat carbs late at night, they'll turn to fat, because your body doesn't need the fuel.
Surprising as it may seem, but your body isn't constantly clock watching. At 6:01pm, a switch doesn't get flipped that sends any food passing your lips directly into your body fat stores. Whether you have your carbs late at night, or early in the morning, it simply doesn't matter (as long as you're managing calories, of course).
Bunching your carb intake to particular parts of the day may have a small, yet significant benefit to body composition. But you can front load your carbs, or backload them into the evening, to get that small benefit. But remember, adherence is king. And if a bunching approach flies in the face of that, then keep the focus on what works best. Essentially, the result is the same when it comes to weight and fat loss.
The Bottom Line On Nutrition Myths
Nutrition myths can tie you up in knots, create self-doubt, stop you taking action, and ultimately put the brakes on your progress. But it doesn't have to be the case. The evidence shows dieting and weight loss doesn't need to be that complicated.
My weight loss challenge wasn't incredibly scientific and it was just one person's experience. But when you see the practical application of the research, in a real-world environment, it becomes powerful. There were no magic tricks and fat burning pills. Just consistent application of basic principles. So heed the scientific evidence and take note of what can be achieved when you follow it.
So now's the time for you to do the same. Stop seeking more information and start taking action. Do that, and the results will come. And trust me, that's no myth.
Your Next Step To Mastering Nutrition And Shaping A Leaner, Healthier, Stronger Body
Here’s what to do next to get on the fast track to a leaner, healthier, stronger body. Simply click the link below and I’ll send you my Lean Life Kickstarter Pack. In it you’ll find a free 4 week beginner’s training programme (complete with exercise videos and a workout tracker), a guide on calculating your calories, plus so much more.
If you want it, grab it here.
But for now, all I’ll say is… Keep living the Lean Life and I’ll see you soon.