• Sydney Cochran, MS, RD, LD

Busting Common Nutrition Myths: Part 2


Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

Last week, I started busting some common nutrition myths and couldn't fit it all in one post, so I'm back this week with part two. If you haven't read part one, be sure to check it out! We talked about how you don't automatically gain weight if you eat after 8:00p, that carbohydrates aren't your enemy, and that you can shop in all parts of the grocery store (not just the perimeter).

Today, I'll be covering three more myths that I run into pretty often. If you have other nutrition questions you'd like answered, let us know in the comments and I can do another round of these posts!

Myth 4: It's bad to feel hungry

If you're on social media or, well, the internet in general, you've probably seen or heard about the explosion of appetite suppressant teas, candies, etc being promoted by celebrities in recent years. The whole idea is that hunger is somehow bad and needs to be gotten rid of. I hear a similar refrain from people who have a history of chronic dieting - that if only they could master their hunger, they could reach their goals. It's almost as though they feel ashamed of feeling hungry!

Hunger is not a bad thing and honoring your hunger will not cause you to gain weight. In fact, hunger is a sign that your body and your metabolism are working properly! Hunger is a normal cue from your body, just like the urge to go to the bathroom or to take a deep breath after you've been underwater. When hunger cues go away is actually when you're more likely to see weight gain because your body has given up on the idea that you will feed it adequately and has started to slow down your metabolism in order to get the most out of whatever you do decide to give it.

Giving in to hunger isn't a sign of weakness, it's you responding to your body's natural need for food. If you're looking to suppress your appetite, your best bet would be to eat food!

Myth 5: Your weight defines your health

There is a massive assumption in our culture that higher weight or BMI is equivalent to poor health and, subsequently, that weight loss is an appropriate recommendation for people who fall outside of the "normal" BMI range. Although obesity is associated with many disease conditions, there is not an established causative link. Studies rarely account for fitness, activity level, diet quality, socioeconomic status, or weight cycling, all of which increase disease risk and likely risk of weight gain as well. [1] In fact, loads of research indicates that weight and BMI are not accurate indicators of health and that increased health risk is seen only at the extreme ends of the BMI spectrum. In fact, the overweight BMI category was associated with greater longevity than the normal BMI category. [2,5]

I have a more detailed post on BMI but, even if weight or BMI were indicators of health, we know that diets don't work and that 2/3 of people who go on a diet weigh more after 4-5 years than when they started. Having a history of dieting has actually been shown to be a predictor of future weight gain. [3,4]

Although studies on the effects of weight loss on health are notoriously poorly designed, those that have shown improvements in health parameters (blood pressure, lipids, blood glucose) with weight loss have also implemented other interventions, such as exercise or reduced sodium intake, and the improved health parameters cannot reasonably be attributed to the weight loss alone. Studies focusing on things such as exercise and improved diet quality or eating behaviors rather than on weight also show improvements in health parameters (blood pressure, blood lipids, psychological health, etc).

Not only is weight not an accurate measure of heath and diets are ineffective for promoting sustained weight loss, weight cycling (the process of continually losing and regaining weight) has been linked to adverse health outcomes, particularly cardiovascular health.

While this all may come as shocking news to you, I think it's actually quite good news. Rather than fighting an endless battle with diets and the nearly impossible feat of maintaining significant weight loss, you can focus on behaviors you actually have control over, like physical activity, sleep, and incorporating nutritious foods and eating behaviors to improve your overall health. Sometimes, weight loss occurs naturally as you incorporate more healthy behaviors into your life and your body returns to it's natural weight, but it's the behaviors rather than the weight that ultimately determine your overall health.

Myth 6: You shouldn't snack between meals

I hear from a lot of people who feel like they "shouldn't" eat between meals and also a fair number who aren't quite sure what to do about snacks or frequency of meals. Frequency of meals and snacks is fairly individualized but I included this because I don't think it's accurate to put a hard and fast rule on it.

Our bodies tend to function best in terms of energy levels, blood sugar regulation (even if you don't have diabetes...have you ever felt a headache or irritability after a long stretch without eating?), and digestion if we eat every 2-5 hrs throughout the day. Some people can make it longer than others without eating but going longer than 5 hours without food doesn't tend to end well. Either you:

  • get a lot of GI symptoms (particularly bloating or pain) when you do finally eat

  • find yourself unable to do anything besides daydream about food

  • fall asleep at your desk mid-afternoon

  • end up eating well past fullness

...or some combination of the above. Snacks can be very helpful in breaking up long stretches between meals to avoid some of the above. If you don't eat breakfast until 9:00a and you get a lunch break at noon, you probably don't need a morning snack. But, if you eat lunch at noon and don't get dinner ready until 7:00p, then an afternoon snack is a great idea. Or, maybe you eat dinner at 6:00p but don't tend to go to bed until midnight. Chances are you're going to need a snack somewhere in between there. Or, maybe you ate breakfast an hour ago but you're clearly hungry again. Although it may be inconvenient, your body is clearly ready for more food and a snack would be useful.

So, although there isn't a "formula" for how many snacks you should or shouldn't eat in a day, they're not bad and are actually quite helpful in avoiding the unpleasant side effects of going too long between meals.

[1] Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal 10, 2011.

[2] Flegal KM. Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity. Jama 293: 1861, 2005.

[3] Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew A-M, Samuels B, Chatman J. Medicares search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist 62: 220–233, 2007.

[4] Dulloo AG, Jacquet J, Montani J-P. How dieting makes some fatter: from a perspective of human body composition autoregulation. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 71: 379–389, 2012.

[5] Tomiyama AJ, Hunger JM, Nguyen-Cuu J, Wells C. Misclassification of cardiometabolic health when using body mass index categories in NHANES 2005–2012. International Journal of Obesity40: 883–886, 2016.

#health #nutrition #weight

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