Let’s be honest, nutrition is a crazy, complex topic that could go down so many different streams. There is so much information out there and so many different methodologies that can help people drop body fat it can be hard to even know where to start. With so much information, there is also so much misinformation or misinterpreted information out in the world that can be confusing, and counter-argue almost everything. Is fat good for us or not? Should I eat nothing but plant-based foods, or does the body need animal protein? If you want to throw some fuel on the fire, there’s a nutritionist who ate nothing but junk food (The Twinkie Diet) and lost 27ilbs in 10 weeks… look it up, it’s a real thing!

There are so many questions, but also a lot of commonly held beliefs about nutrition that aren’t necessarily 100% true. Today, we are going to go through some of the most commonly held general beliefs about nutrition, that can probably be tossed out of our mind while looking at changing our lifestyle.

Women need to eat 1200 Calories, while Men need to eat 1500 Calories to lose fat.

Generalized caloric counts simply aren’t accurate, and these numbers are an overgeneralization of what individuals would need to support their bodies caloric demands while being in a caloric deficit to lose weight. The problem is, that everyone has a different Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR), and has different caloric needs. Does a 170ilbs individual need the same amount of calories consumed as a 250ilbs person? Absolutely not, in fact the individual at 250ilbs would be starved!

Not only would someone at 250ilbs be used to eating much more, which would cause big issues with reducing calories to that extreme, but they also would have much more lean muscle mass on their body. While we don’t often think about it, when we are overweight, it applies more tension on the body to perform everyday tasks. Even standing, sitting, and walking take more total body strength to do. So when we have more lean muscle mass, our calorie expenditure increases on a daily basis, as our body needs to fuel this active tissue.

Other factors play into our BMR as well outside of our lean body mass, such as our age, gender and metabolism. There is no clear defined way to determine just how many calories you need as an individual, but by knowing our lean muscle mass we can get a good indicator of how many calories we need on a daily basis.

So why is this important? Because I said so…. Okay but really it’s important to note because when we are looking to lose body fat we need to be in a caloric deficit, but we still want to be eating enough to fuel the body, and ensure we are maintaining as much lean muscle mass as we can. That’s why we need to eat at least to our BMR, and not below that on a typical day. This can be the difference between fat loss, and weight loss. Fat loss means… well, we are losing fat, where as weight loss means we can be losing tissue regardless of what it is. If we are constantly under-eating we will lose strength, energy and the ability to maintain lean muscle mass.

Doing a body fat percentage measurement is one of the best ways to determine this number (we use what’s called an Inbody scan). This is a good way to have an idea of where you should be starting individually, versus just using a generalized number, which might not work for your body type. Is this a bit more difficult to find out? Yes, but is it worth it? In my mind, absolutely it is!

And while we are on the subject of calories… if we are looking to become healthy, we can’t just look at calories; we have to make the calories count by eating nutrient dense foods. Remember the Twinkie Diet? Yes the man lost weight, but that doesn’t mean he was healthier in the long run.

Eat only Salads and Chicken Breast

This seems to be the go-to for us when we are looking to drop a few pounds, we starting eating nothing but salad. When we are eating “good” we eat salads, and add in just a bit of lean chicken breast to get our protein in. Now there is nothing wrong with eating salad, in fact most of us should b eating as many veggies as possible, but there are some concerns here.

I’m going to let you in on a bit of a secret… but if you eat nothing but salad everyday, you’re going to get very bored with it very quickly. One of the biggest detractors from “healthy eating” is that it is boring, and it can be, especially if you’re eating nothing but salads all the time! We need variety, and we need to feel satisfied with our foods. We are more likely to stay in an eating pattern and develop better eating habits when we are enjoying what we are eating, instead of forcing ourselves to eat the same boring things all the time. Switch it up a bit, and you’d be amazed how much easier it would be to “stay on track”.

Not only is it a bit boring to eat the same things over and over, but it’s also very difficult to eat enough veggies to reach your daily calorie amount. Veggies are essentially water and fiber, which don’t really count against you calories for the day. In essence, veggies are a free food, meaning eat as many as you want.

Changing it up is also important because if we are just eating nothing but salads we are missing an important part of the equation, which brings me to my next point…

Cut Out All Carbohydrates

Tried and true, time and time again. When we decide we need to lose a few pounds, we start to cut out carbs and usually go for the salads instead. This is slightly ironic because technically speaking, vegetables are carbs… but that’s not the point. When we are replacing carbs for salads and veggies we lose out on a lot of micronutrients, and one of the biggest energy sources for our body. Carbs have been demonized over recent years, and with some validity to the argument. The problem comes down to two aspects, simple sugars and an imbalance in macro/micronutrients.

Simple sugars are a major problem in today’s typical diet, as everything seems to have added sugar or excessive amounts of sugar to make “healthy food” taste good. By simple sugars here I am mostly targeting refined sugars, not fruits, and to a lesser degree not honey or pure maple syrup or other naturally occurring sugary foods, as these at least have some nutritional benefits. Refined sugar however, gives us next to nothing nutritionally but increased spikes in our insulin (which prevents us from burning fat) and extra calories. Candies, milk chocolate, and pop are all prime examples of the type of food we talk about when we are looking at reducing overall sugar content. Unfortunately some people take this to the extreme and begin to believe Carrots and Onions are not ideal food options because they have too much sugar… If anyone can show me an individual who’s gained fat eating nothing but Carrots and Onions I would be shocked.

Getting your carbohydrates from natural sources and unmodified. Potato’s, Yams, Rice, Fruits, and Wheat are all good examples, when not doused in fatty oils (like French fries).  In short (and to try not to get too science-y), carbs are all broken down into sugars and our body uses them to energize our cells. When we have carbs with more fiber, it slows down the digestive rate so we get a steadier stream of sugar that our body can convert into energy. When we have quicker digesting carbs with little fiber or nutrients (think a piece of cake), our body gets an excess amount of sugar all at once and won’t use the energy right away so the body will try to use as much as it can, then start the process of converting that sugar to fat much more quickly if unused.

The other thing to keep in mind with carbs is how much of your daily caloric intake are coming from carbs vs. fats and proteins. Carbs usually should be the highest macronutrient intake on a daily basis as they are what the body will utilize as energy easily, but if we aren’t tracking… we don’t really know what we are getting in. Roughly most people should be aiming for about 40-50% of their daily caloric intake to come from carbs, while I find keeping proteins around 25-30% helps people maintain more lean muscle mass and stay more satisfied after eating for the day, and then 20-25% from Fats.  A lot of time if we aren’t paying attention to the food we are eating there will be an imbalance with our macronutrients where carbs can account for 60-75% of our intake, which can lead to an excess amount of sugar in the body, which can be converted to body fat.  

(Please note, I am not a dietician, however in years of training I have found these recommendations with percentages to be very effective for clients. What works for you may be different)

Now if we are cutting carbs, we are actually depriving our body of nutrients it needs to operate at a high level. If we dramatically reduce carbohydrates our body is going to search out for these nutrients, and set off “cravings” for something sweet. It’s a survival instinct by the body to get the fuel it needs. This is why if we don’t eat enough in a day, by the end of the day we just can’t stop eating, or we go for more junk food options. It’s not just because we lack will power, it’s our bodies way of telling us we need to eat more through the day and ensure we are getting the proper nutrients daily.

Aim for a balanced approach, unless of course we decide to take a keto-based approach in which case there are much different parameters. Discuss a keto-based diet with a nutritionist before starting, and we think to ourselves if this is a quick fix to lose a few pounds or a lifestyle change we’ll be able to maintain. If it’s the former, maybe we have to look at a few different areas before jumping on the newest fade, or seek out assistance to ensure you are taking the proper measures when reintroducing carbs to our diets.

Eating at Night Is Bad For You

Now the body is a pretty remarkable thing that allows us to adapt to most things we do on a consistent basis and can make incredible changes based off our lifestyle or out of necessity (I mean our skin literally repairs itself after a cut… if that isn’t crazy when you think about it…). But do we really think that the body thinks to itself

“Hey body, it’s after 8pm this food has to be turned into fat!”

Absolutely not.

Regardless of the time of day, the body will attempt to utilize the food consumed to maintain the natural state of our body. It will utilize calories for energy, to repair muscle tissue, and produce different responses in the body depending on what we are consuming (producing insulin for example). In fact, there are some benefits to eating before bed. When we are asleep our body is rebuilding itself and resetting itself (more on sleep in the near future), so when we have extra nutrients for the body to use, it can recover at much quicker speeds, and help see better results. This is why Casein Protein can be beneficial when trying to build muscle as it gives the body a slow digesting protein that can release throughout the night.

Think of it this way, if we are awake for 8 hours, and don’t eat, we are going to be starving! Our body is going to be craving foods that probably aren’t the best for us (because we know it will be quick digesting and release endorphins in our body to make us less stressed). That is what our body is going through every night while we sleep. It’s using all the nutrients it can to help sustain us while we are recovering in our sleep. Even increasing our Carb intake can help us sleep better, as it blunts cortisol (the stress hormone), which can affect our sleep as blood sugars drop throughout the night, and also help with the production of serotonin and tryptophan, which both help us fall asleep.

This isn’t a license to go crazy and have a massive meal before bed. Overeating is overeating at any time of the day, but having a small snack before bed can certainly assist with sleeping more soundly, and aiding in recovery from the daily grind/workouts.

So hopefully that helped debunk a few of the common misconceptions when it comes to “dieting” or nutrition. Again, the best nutritional approach is the one that works best for you, and we should always think lifestyle above and beyond anything else. Are these changes we can make full time? But at least now we can go into it with a bit more information, and can avoid those out of date recommendations!

In review:

  • If possible, find out your BMR (or a generalized idea of it)
  • Don’t eat lower than your BMR, eat at least enough to keep your body fueled
  • Eat your salads and veggies, but don’t restrict yourself to JUST salads and veggies
  • Don’t Cut Carbs, eat more nutrient dense options, and have a well-balanced dietary intake
  • You can eat at night, and it will not be automatically stored as body fat. In fact it might help to see better results. 

Rich Hill

CSEP – Certified Personal Trainer

RK Athletics – https://linktr.ee/RK_Athletics