Three Lies You Still Believe About Your Health
The Cusp wellbeing expert, James Anderson, outlines three of the worst fallacies we still believe about our health – and what we need to know instead.
The health industry is such an amazing industry to work in, but like everything, has its fair share of frustrating downsides. One main downside is trainers who promote faddish dietary or exercise programs which scare people into (or out of) training or eating in a way that’s actually completely healthy. Not only is this wrong, but it can come with dangerous consequences.
Sure, I’ll accept that trainers will often ‘fill the gaps’ from time to time, stretching their knowledge base. However, there’s a big difference between filling gaps using your education as a springboard, and simply making stuff up.
It’s important to be informed with the most up-to-date science about our bodies, so you can say ‘Bye Felicia’ to the fictional statements that are still often touted as fact.
Here are three I find the most frustrating.
Lingering Lie #1: Fat makes you fat
No, it doesn’t. This statement is about as real as Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons on Game Of Thrones. Thanks to the low fat diet craze that sparked in the 80’s, this terrible advice has stuck. Fat is not nearly as bad as the heart attack it was once said to cause.
What’s so good about fat?
Not only can going ‘low fat’ be detrimental to body composition goals – if you’re not getting adequate amounts, it can actually make you look and feel like rubbish. This is because fat is a macronutrient; one of the main components your body needs to function healthily.
Your body needs macronutrients to exist. The human body is made up of approximately 37.2 trillion cells and fat plays a pivotal role in building and maintaining the membrane that surrounds each of those cells. Plus, the essential fatty acids found in fats are vital to the body’s functions, like hormone production (more on that next), whilst also aiding performance.
Fats play a huge role in the production and regulation of many important hormones in the body, particularly the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. An example of the negative effects of going low fat can often be seen in women whose body fat levels drop so low that they end up suffering from amenorrhoea; a loss of normal menstrual cycles.
There are also some very important vitamins our body needs that are only fat-soluble; these are vitamins A, D, E, and K. In order for them to be absorbed through your intestines, your diet needs to contain quality and adequate amounts of fat.
Finally, fat makes you look good: it’s essential for the proper functioning of all the cells in your body, including skin cells. Dry and flaky skin is often an indicator of a fatty acid deficiency in your body. And this also applies to having shiny hair, and strong nails and teeth.
What fats should I be eating?
Although there is an army of information for what types of fat you should have and in what proportions, my advice would be to aim for roughly an equal mix of types of fat by getting a varied diet and rotating your food sources.
This means getting around one-third of your fat from monounsaturated sources; one-third from polyunsaturated; and one-third from saturated fats. Yep – even saturated fats.
Monounsaturated: olive oil, avocado, nuts such as macadamias, cashews, almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts (as whole nuts and in oil or butter form.)
Polyunsaturated: seeds, sunflower oil and oily fish.
Saturated: red meat, dark poultry, full-fat dairy such as cream, butter and cheese, as well as tropical fats like coconut oil.
Bonus: One useful addition to your diet would be a fish oil supplement. If you eat oily fish a few times a week, you probably don’t need to take a supplement, but the EPA and DHA (types of essential fats) in fish oil have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect which helps maintain a healthy body.
Not all fats were created equal
You might want to lower your intake of trans fats. In small doses, trans fats (types of fatty acids created from the hydrogenation process that makes things like margarine) won’t do you any major harm, but it makes sense to limit them as much as possible. This is because they actually raise LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol, which can contribute to clogged arteries.
Unfortunately, you’ll find trans fats in about 40% of products in the supermarket, as well as in things like fast food, cakes and pastries, margarine products and products made with hydrogenated oil.
So when can fat make me fat?
The fear had to come from somewhere, right? Well, fat has the highest caloric density of all the macronutrients, with nine calories per gram. For reference, proteins and carbohydrates both have four calories per gram each, and alcohol with seven calories per gram.
So even though it’s good for you, this density can make it much easier to over consume in regards to your basal metabolic rate (i.e. how many calories your body burns each day) – without even realising you’ve done so.
But the take away is this: what makes us fat is not fat, but rather the overconsumption of any combination of proteins, carbs and fats (otherwise known as macronutrients).
Like the mullet, let’s put fat shaming onto the large pile of things that should’ve been left in the 80’s.
Lingering Lie #2: Carbs are the enemy
Carbohydrates were to the 90’s what fat was to the 80’s. Just like the lingering misunderstanding surrounding fats, what many of us still associate with carbs should have been long forgotten, like Hanson’s MMMBop.
Carbs, what are they good for?
Carbohydrates provide you with a quick and easy source of energy. And although the low carb brigade will have you believe that you don’t ‘need’ carbs because your body can make them from protein and fats, this process demands a lot of energy from you and isn’t very efficient. And it’s why you feel like rubbish when trying to go no-to-low carb.
Carbs also play a critical part in ensuring that you perform at your best during your workouts, whilst also aiding your recovery process.
Why were we so easily fooled?
Going on a low-to-no carb diet makes you lose weight, fast. And considering the fact that we want everything, like, yesterday – it makes complete sense that this excites us.
However, if you believe that your quick low-carb weight loss was the 5kgs of fat you’d been putting on since Christmas – then you’re also likely to see Harry Potter at your local café drinking a soy chai latte after his Quidditch game because you’re living in a fantasy world, my friend.
The bubble burst is this: when you avoid carbs you’ll lose weight very quickly as your body sheds excess water that is required to maintain the cells that were storing carbs. It’s not fat – it’s mostly water.
I know, I know; sad, but true.
Can I have my cake without getting fat?
Before you eat all the carbs, there are few things to know. Firstly – carbs won’t necessarily make you fat. It’s always the overconsumption of any combination of macronutrients that will make you a jolly human.
Secondly, if you’ve burned them, you’ve earned them: the more active you are, the more you deserve. The more energy you expend, the more carb goodness you’re allowed. So if your idea of exercise is getting up to change the channel when you’ve lost the remote, then there’s no cake for you.
Thirdly, make sure you’re getting quality produce in. Because although a sausage in white bread can be tasty, it’s not a help to your health. The majority of your carbs should come from nutrient-dense sources such as fruits and vegetables, as well as beans and whole grains.
Now let’s get onto the last (and my most despised) fallacy.
Lingering Lie #3: Weight loss = fat loss
It pains me the majority of the health industry still promotes weight loss over fat loss, despite what we know about how each process affects the body.
Here is the difference between weight loss and fat loss:
–Weight loss is a loss of any combination of muscle, bone, water, urine, excrements or body fat.
–Fat Loss is a loss of fat tissue.
So why is weight loss promoted so much?
Well, weight loss is much easier to achieve.
Go to the bathroom? Weight loss.
Go low carb? Weight loss.
Sweaty workout? Weight loss.
Juice diet? Weight loss.
Dehydrated? Weight loss.
What you’ve most likely lost a combination of muscle, water and fat – and this is a very bad thing when it comes to your body composition and general health.
The reason being is that muscle is a metabolically active, fat-burning tissue. More muscle means you burn more calories.
Therefore, the more muscle you lose, the fewer calories your body burns each day, which is pretty much the opposite of the effect you’re actually trying to achieve.
One of the other reasons that weight loss is promoted is due to its relatively simple measuring system. The bathroom scales are an ubiquitous measuring tool you use to beat yourself up and make yourself miserable each morning when you step on them.
But the good thing is now you know that weight loss isn’t a valid measure of health gain, you can start to gather more data.
Start measuring the circumferences of your thighs, hips, waist, chest and arms. Take before and after photos, and if time and resources are available, invest in a body composition test from a skilled practitioner (or if you’re really serious, a Dexa scan, which determines your exact ratio of muscle, fat and bone). These methods will give you a much more accurate indication of your body composition.
Now you know better, you can do better – and leave the fiction to J.K. Rowling.
James Anderson has combined over 10 years’ experience as a personal trainer with a background in NLP coaching and a couple of near-death experiences to develop a very unique outlook on life. As a result he speaks, presents and writes no-BS content in the hope that he can help others find their long-term personal health and happiness solution. He is the founder of Sydney-based female group training program PHAT Fit. Find him onInstagram or Facebook.