Listen. Everyone should eat how and what they want.
Food, and all our neuroses that go along with food, is really tough stuff. Especially for women. My own experience with food, like many people's, has been a constant yo-yo. I am always in a state of "YES GIVE ME THE MEXICAN FOOD I'm eating whatever I want to right now," or "I'm eating clean, only celery for me!" It's not a terribly healthy way to live, but it's the truth, so I'm telling it.
One of the things that really gets me, though, is when information is mishandled (or just plain made up) in order to play on many women's desire to lose weight. Because of that, I sat down at my computer last week and have done a week's worth of reading and research to bring you my 5 most annoying food myths and the truth behind them.
1. All calories are equal.
Counting calories has never been something I've understood. I think all millennials grew up listening to our parents and grandparents use a food's calorie count to determine its inherent healthiness.
In reality, this is a really deceptive system. If you've seen the movie Fed Up, you've already heard this example, but bear with me:
Let's say you eat 160 calories' worth of almonds. Those calories are nutrient-rich. Your body is getting fiber, a slow blood-sugar rise, and a low likelihood of fat production. The digestion of those almonds requires more energy from your body. (Carbohydrates yield 4-ish kilocalories of energy, while alcohols yield 7 kilocalories, and proteins yield 9 kilocalories. Proteins pack a wallop because they take so much energy to digest, and they provide more energy for longer. [NERD ALERT NERD ALERT!])
If you drink 160 calories' worth of Coke, on the other hand, you're getting empty calories: a spike in blood sugar, and, therefore, in fat production. Coke absorbs straight into your bloodstream through your stomach lining, so not much of it goes through your digestive tract. Your body doesn't have to spend any extra energy breaking it down.
Same calorie count, VERY different results.
To me, counting calories doesn't make much sense - it's a lot to try to keep up with, and also can get really tricky when you consider that the nutritional value of a calorie is so different from food to food. Instead, it makes more sense to know what you're eating (less processed food, more natural/whole food).
2. Certain foods/products/oils/wraps can "detoxify" you.
This might be the one that bugs me most of all. "Detoxing" is not a real thing. Well - let me go back. If you're a person who's addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, then of course - detoxing is a real, and imperative, process.
But if you're a 25-year-old woman, chances are someone's tried to sell you something in a "cleanse" or a "detox" form.
The truth is, there's no such thing as "detoxifying" your body with a juice cleanse or a regimen of chili powder in your lemon water. Our bodies do that for us! Our liver, kidneys, even our skin - all organs that are working 24-hours a day to rid us of anything harmful. There's no such thing as "detoxifying" a vital organ - that's something that's been invented to sell us things.
Here's the nugget of truth in those claims: if you intensively eat fewer calories per day of clean, whole foods, then you will probably lose weight, experience less inflammation, have clearer skin, and maybe even more energy. It's true that you'll probably also give your organs a break from having to process all the sugar and sodium from the foods you eat. If you use a wrap, you will probably notice an immediate drop in inches around your waistline or thighs. But that's water weight - not "toxins."
While it's definitely true that cutting low-nutrition food out of our diets can cause provide us with many positive health benefits, the idea that we're "flushing the toxins out of our systems" on a lemon water diet is just not accurate.
3. Fat makes you fat.
Here's the truth about "low-fat" products:
Fat tastes really good. I mean, right? Like BUTTER. OH my gosh. Butter is king. Or maybe butter is queen. Probably queen. Butter Queen. Should be the companion to Burger King.
Anyway, I digress.
My point is, when companies make something "low-fat," they have to replace that fat with something in order for the product to taste good. Normally, they use sugar to supplement the fat. Sugar is not a bad thing inherently, but we aren't built to eat lots of it. Think about it: thousands of years ago, people were hunting and gathering. When they came across a sweet fruit or a sugar source, it was scarce! So their bodies reacted just like ours do today: the spike in blood sugar caused their pancreas to produce insulin, which turned that sugar into fat stores. And that was good! Those reserves gave their bodies energy in order to keep moving, because their bodies knew that they weren't likely to receive another sugar bump for quite some time.
Today, we POUND sugar - it's hidden in everything from canned pasta sauce to mayonnaise. But our bodies are still the bodies of our ancestors - we create extra fat stores from the sugar we consume. The problem is twofold: one, sugar is no longer scarce. It's EVERYWHERE. And two, we don't have a need for those extra fat stores anymore. We drive. We sit on the couch. And those extra fats that we used to need sit dormant.
So - sugar is something to watch. If you haven't before, start looking at the labels on the back of your food. Added sugar is hidden in even the healthiest products, like KIND bars and Naked Juice.
Another quick and important thing to note is that "fat" is very diverse - the fat we refer to in our bodies - the stuff we're trying to lose - is usually caused by sugar, not butter or grease. There's also such a thing as a healthy fat: avocados, nuts, olive oil, and fish are some great examples!
4. Carbs are evil.
Man, this is one that really hits home for me.
Before I did The Whole 30, if I was trying to lose weight, that meant cutting "carbs," also known to me as bread, pasta, potatoes, and cake.
Turns out, carbohydrates are much more diverse than that. I have two problems with this food myth.
First, demonizing a food group is a bad habit. Cutting out an entire food group simply because we think it causes us to gain weight is not good for us. This is a perfect example of how the messaging around things like the "Low-Carb Atkins Diet" is messing with our heads. Just like produce, a little dairy, and protein, carbohydrates make up an important part of our diets - they aren't bad!
Secondly, what bothers me is that the word "carbs" is so misleading. Of course, there are unhealthy carbs: refined carbs. They call them "refined" because they've been stripped of their fiber and nutrients, and those are the carbs we find in things like cake, pizza crust, cookies, and sugar cereals. But there are also GOOD carbs and grains! Quinoa, brown rice, whole barley, corn - all of these foods have their nutrients in tact, which means (just like the calorie example from earlier) that they take more energy to break down in our bodies, while also providing us with lots of fiber and other goodness.
I've done diets where I've cut grains completely, and I won't lie - I've lost lots of weight. But I also missed the point: which grains were bad, and which were actually healthy.
5. Packaging is telling us the truth.
One of the saddest scenes I've ever seen in a documentary (and I mean sad sincerely, not sarcastically) was a shot of an overweight family shopping the aisles at a grocery stores, and pulling things like Low Fat Cheez Its and Diet Coke because they genuinely thought that it would be healthier than their regular counterparts.
The truth is, unless you can pronounce every single ingredient in your products, it's probably best not to buy it.
The marketing departments behind processed food are very careful to snag our eyes - they use bright colors, fun mascots, and words like "wheat" and "reduced fat." But we can easily outsmart them.
Let's crack some examples:
- "Multi-grain" or "wheat." They're trying to trick you into assuming that "multi-grain" is the same as "whole grain." But the words "whole grain" aren't anywhere to be found. Check the label. If the words "bleached flour" are included, you know you've been had. Unless the product says, "100% whole grain," chances are, the grains you're eating have had the nutrients processed right out of them.
- Energy or granola bars. It sounds healthy on its own, but check the label - if you see sugar added, or better yet, disguised (agave nectar, dextrose, fructose, honey), you know that product isn't what it's claiming to be.
- Lean Cuisine (and other prepared meals). When you look at the ingredients list, your jaw will drop. There is SO. MUCH. SODIUM. in these meals. Not to mention the preservatives that are packed in to keep the food safe to eat. While these meals are so convenient and simple, they're also not terribly healthy when it comes right down to it.
And those are just a few. Bottom line: read the labels. And if possible, buy as little processed food as you can! Shop from the perimeter of your grocery store: produce, dairy, meat, and DONE.
All of this to say, my friends, I want us to eat however we want. Want an entire pizza to yourself tonight? Go for it. Want to binge the new season of Grace and Frankie while wasting an entire gallon of Phish Food? Call me to come over. Done it.
But do all of this with KNOWLEDGE. Don't let food companies, diet books, or Facebook posts teach and trick you about the food you choose to put into your body. YOU are brilliant and fabulous, and you owe it to yourself to be educated on something you do every day: eat.
Love you and see ya next week!