Myth 1: Eating a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight
Fact: There is no scientific data that proves that eliminating gluten promotes weight loss.
Any time we try something new, we are “all in,” at least at the onset, with a keen and committed attention to our nutrition, physical activity, and avoidance of what we (or the internet) consider “bad food.” So yes, there can be indirect weight loss for some people due to cutting down on calories as a result of elimination of certain foods or even an entire food group. Additionally, if processed gluten foods are being replaced with fruits and vegetables, some weight loss will likely occur.
However, this enthusiasm when trying to follow a diet, rather than a lifestyle modification, may start to wane over time, making any weight loss benefits short-lived. One instance where a gluten-free diet may benefit and prompt weight loss is for those with an unknown gluten sensitivity. The diet may alleviate some bloating or water retention. Most people do not need to limit their gluten intake, and those with a sensitivity to gluten or who have celiac disease should eliminate gluten from their diet permanently. The rest of us, however, shouldn’t remove gluten entirely, even if it is temporary.
A little warning here: Wheat provides elasticity and stability in a food product.
Once it is removed, companies must use a substitute that will provide the same qualities. They may use rice, tapioca starch, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flours as well as fillers like gums, syrups, oils, and starches. The calories, fat, and carbohydrate levels can be higher in these gluten-free products compared to the original gluten-containing foods.
Myth 2: Carbs make you fat
Fact: Carbohydrates seem to be the most misunderstood nutrients, despite several studies demonstrating that whole grain consumption is associated with a reduced risk of weight gain.
The quality of carbohydrates consumed is what counts, so we cannot lump all carbs into one category, as they are not all equal. No one macronutrient—whether it be carbs, fat, or protein—causes weight gain. Excess calories, no matter the source, cause weight gain. The goal here is to eat whole foods and minimally-processed high fiber whole grains along with fruits, vegetables, and legumes. For example, swap out white rice for brown rice, or opt for a whole grain English muffin on most days over a white one.
And overall, get rid of the empty calorie sugars like candy, sodas, cookies, donuts, and pastries. These foods should be consumed in moderation and not be part of a daily routine. One takeaway note is that a low carbohydrate diet actually lowers energy levels and decreases alertness. This isn’t a good combination when you are trying to be your best self at work, school, or with your family. So choosing healthier carbs and watching your portions are vital here.
Let’s shift the focus away from the gluten-free fad and focus on eating fiber rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein rich foods to help balance blood sugar, improve satiety, manage weight, and be healthier. Carbs are the best way to fuel the body to perform at its best, so choose the right ones.
Myth 3: Avoid fatty foods
Fact: Certain types of fat are needed for good health and weight control.
Fat provides us with flavor, satiety, and satisfaction. If you give these up, you will find yourself eating more and more to find some level of pleasure in eating which leads to overconsumption, especially with sugar and refined carbohydrates, resulting in weight gain. Research indicates it is the type of fat and not so much the total amount of fat that affects our health. The American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, such as poly- and monounsaturated fats to reduce chronic inflammation and improve heart health. Examples of healthy fats include avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and nut butters.
Myth 4: I worked out, so it’s OK if I eat this piece of cake. After all, I deserve it
Fact: Exercise is not a green light to eat more or you will gain weight. Exercise alone does not promote weight loss.
Eating right along with physical activity is essential in weight management and overall good health. Exercise helps us retain lean muscle and lose fat. A combination of aerobic and resistance exercise increases muscle mass, strength, endurance and tone. Although being active has many health benefits, it cannot erase the negative health effects of a bad diet or overeating. It just doesn’t work that way.
You may be undoing all your hard work with the mindset that you can eat whatever you want all the time just because you went to the gym. The recommendations for physical activity, just for maintenance and not necessarily weight loss, are 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Being physically active is important in overall health, including the prevention or treatment of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes among many other conditions. If the goal is to lose weight, keep a food log or use an app. It creates awareness and accountability in your choices, while also giving you motivation as you see results.
Myth 5: To lose weight, you need to starve
Fact: Get over the concept of a diet.
Yo-yo dieting leads to weight gain over time. Extreme calorie restriction alters metabolism, making it slower and more difficult to maintain your weight long-term. Don’t starve yourself to lose weight. It sets us up for failure, deprivation, and frustration, not to mention just plain crabbiness. Research proves that the best way to lose weight is slow and steady. Eat until you’re just satisfied. In other words don’t overeat, and be physically active on most days of the week. Low-calorie or extreme diets tend to cause overeating once off the diet, resulting in the regain of weight. Focus on proper portions and balanced nutrition that includes lean proteins, plant proteins, whole grains with fiber, fruits, and vegetables, and healthy fats. If you want a meal plan that will keep you satisfied while promoting gradual long lasting weight loss, see a dietitian to work on a meal plan that is balanced and has portion control. Try to adopt more of a Mediterranean style lifestyle where the focus isn’t on calories, but on whole real foods that are nutrient dense and not calorie dense.
Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information