Whether you sign on to work with me through some health coaching or Functional Nutrition protocols or not, a good place to start on your health journey is to forget most of what you've been told.
In fact, I insist upon it with my clients. And you know what? It is one of the hardest things for people to do. These fussy rules have been so deeply engrained that it is nearly impossible for us to break free of them.
Let me give you one of about a million examples I have ready on the tip of my tongue: Low-fat salad dressing. You put it on your salad believing that by keeping the caloric load of your meal as light as possible, you are winning diet points. Except I don't want you to have light meals. I want you to have satisfying ones. And I don't want you buying store-bought dressing because they are inflammatory garbage, and as long as you're chronically inflamed you won't be able to successfully move the needle on health anyway. Folks believe that choosing a low-fat salad dressing is a good option because we've been lead to believe it is. It isn't. Abandon that conventional wisdom. Abandon all of it.
Oftentimes a client will be doing great work, will be having amazing success... and then that success will suddenly dwindle, and I've come to find out that they're back on the 0% Activia, or the skim milk latte, or are having salads with light dressing for lunch. It's remarkable how we fall back into the patterns of conventional wisdom, especially when you consider that the conventional wisdom hasn't worked.
Here is a list of the Conventional Wisdom I want you to forget about. Warning: this post is freakishly long; but if you think it's a killer to read, imagine how the poor fool who WROTE it must feel. Heh.
In summary, the conventional wisdom I mythbust in this blog post is as follows. Feel free to scroll down to the one(s) that most interest you.
And don't forget: If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Stuff to Stop Caring About:
Exercise for Weight Loss
Food Journaling/Fitness Tracking
Eating Every 2-3 Hours
Fitness Nutrition for Non-Athletes
If calories in and calories out were the key to keeping grips on our weight, I can say with absolute certainty that we would not be in the situation we’re in, as a culture. I’m not even talking about obesity, diabetes or heart disease. I’m referring to the “epidemic” of generally overweight people who are absolutely bewildered as to what to do. Who keep trying things that only offer short-term help. Virtually every client I’ve ever had has gone on an extreme calorie restriction program. “It worked,” they say, “for a while. But then I gained it all back.” Counting calories leads to restricting food, and that leads to hunger, and hunger leads - biologically - to eating! The key to effortless weight loss isn’t restricting calories. It’s managing hunger.
It seemed to make sense: eating fat will make you fat. Only, the complete opposite happened; once we stopped eating fat, replacing fat foods with fat-free ones, we just continued to get fatter.
Eating lean foods won’t successfully make you lean, because you will be very, very hungry. It’s, for my money, at the root of why "diets don’t work," and goes back to the folly of calorie counting: lean eating leaves us undernourished at the cellular level, and when our cells are starved, the body sends out a hunger signal that you will have a very hard time ignoring. Not to spoil the surprise, but eating fat is one of the ways we can quieten the call of hunger.
First of all, gluten sensitivity is NOT a fad. It’s real. There is nothing good about gluten and everyone will be better without it.
However, gluten is just one of many things wrong with a diet based on cereal grains. I don’t have any use for gluten-free muffins or gluten-free cakes because all they do is take away one antinutrient (gluten), and usually replace them with another one. The rice/oat/quinoa flour used to bake those healthy versions of muffins are not much better for you than wheat flour. A gluten-free anything is simply not an inherently healthy choice just because of its lack of gluten.
Exercise for Weight Loss
AKA, “Eat Less; Move More.” I love exercise but I do not believe it is an important weight loss tool. As such, my weight loss program does not have an exercise requirement built in. In fact, depending on where you already fall on the exercise spectrum, I may ask you even to dial the exercise down.
Exercise is amazing for physical fitness and I encourage it for that reason. Maybe once you’ve lost some weight you’ll feel more inspired to get out and lift some weights, join a class, take up a group activity - whatever. That would be a tremendous side benefit, but it is not a necessary part of my weight loss program.
My biggest problem with portion control methods is that it’s fussy. Whether you’re specifically measuring portions or just generally “eyeballing” it - either way, you’re spending way much more time worrying about how much of what you’re eating than any other animal on the planet. I don’t want anyone to have to weigh, measure or worry about how big or small their food portions are. I want us, instead, to understand the foods that support us, and I want us to reconnect to true hunger and satiety signals - the original, biological, “portion control system” that our species evolved with.
Food Journaling and Fitness Tracking
You are more than welcome to continue wearing your FitBit. If you enjoy entering your foods into My Fitness Pal, go for it. But I will never ask to see that information and I, as your nutritionist, don’t even really care too much about it. And someday I would hope that you would stop caring too. Life
is too short to have every morsel of food and step of activity tracked and chronicled and put into a spreadsheet.
I don’t think it’s a happy or healthy way to interact with food or exercise and I’d love to see it go away. Instead, I am going to get your body’s fuel partitioning system working so that you can use food better as fuel.
I offer meal plans as an extra-fee add-on to my programs. They are not, and will not ever be, a part of my regular nutrition services because I don’t agree that it helps with sustainable health or weight loss, and it sure as heck doesn’t help with achieving an effortless relationship with food. If I tell you specifically what to eat and when... then what lifelong lessons have you learned? Rather than dictating what to eat, I want you to instinctively KNOW what and when to eat, like every other animal on the planet.
I don’t put people on plans. I give them an education. A new set of rules to try out, based on biology and supported by science.
This is the notion that if we don’t continuously feed our bodies, it will sense a threat of food scarcity and go into calorie- or fat-hoarding mode in anticipation of starvation. Much like the theory that “by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated” this really makes a mockery of the amazing machinery that is the human body.
The human animal experienced many periods of scarcity in terms of food (and water) during our evolution, and we didn’t get fat and dehydrated. The body has very precise mechanisms to ensure that the wheels don’t fall off if we don’t have a perfectly portioned meal of chicken breasts and steamed broccoli every three hours.
Give the body a little more credit. It doesn’t need us to micromanage its starvation preparedness. A great way to avoid feeling starved is to effectively manage your hunger signalling and fuel partitioning.
Eating Every 2-3 Hours
I am apologizing on behalf of the entire fitness industry, which led itself to believe that it was automatically qualified to coach people on nutrition.
The fitness industry - of which I am a part! - told people to eat every 2-3 hours, for two main reasons, both of which reek of hogwashery:
1: “Keep the metabolic fires stoked.”
This theory suggests that if we are always metabolizing food - like, literally, ALL DAY LONG - then our metabolism switch is always in the ON position and it means we’ll just burn and burn and burn and... sigh. Honestly, it’s like a 7-year old kid made up this theory. Bro science perpetuated this myth because once people started eating every three hours they found they were very actually very hungry all the time. “My metabolic fires are totally stoked, that’s why!”
No, you’ve broken your natural hunger mechanism; that’s why.
Metabolism is not a simple switch; it is not an "up or down" dial. It’s an extraordinary machine that keeps us alive (that’s right: your metabolism isn’t just there to help you get bikini ready for your beach vacation). I strongly believe in conditioning the metabolism to be a more efficient and effective machine, and I do so by giving it the due respect it deserves. It’s complex, it has a lot of moving parts.
2: Pre-emptive eating.
In order to avoid eating too much at meal times, snacking in between meals was encouraged so as to dampen hunger. Meal-snack-meal-snack-meal-snack.
Maybe it’s just me (admittedly, respecting hunger signalling is one of the cornerstones of my business, so I probably get more worked up about this than most people), but this whole philosophy seems pretty messed up - borderline disordered - when you see it written on paper.
Hunger and satiety mechanisms exists for a reason: to tell you when you are ACTUALLY hungry at the cellular level, so that you know when you need to feed yourself, and how much. When it works properly, appetite is a flawless, effortless system that we have broken by trying to ignore, trick, or manipulate. This is at the heart of the dysfunctional relationship with food and appetite that I’ve personally witnessed in my 20+ years in health and fitness.
Fitness Nutrition for Non-Athletes
Menno Henslemans is a bodybuilder, fitness model and respected fitness nutrition researcher that had this to say in his blog post, Fitness Nutrition is a Scam:
“CONCLUSION: There is no such thing as a miniscule window around your training sessions where you have to consume protein or lose out on your gains.”
For my money, fitness nutrition, macronutrient ratios (IIFYM: “If It Fits Your Macros”), nutrient cycling, macro timing, and the like are a waste of time and energy, because the body already knows how to fuel itself for optimal performance - it’s been doing it for millions of years. You just need to get out of its way, basically, and it’ll get ‘er done for you.
Our bodies are designed to accomplish athletic feats without requiring pre- or post-workout nutrition. Yes, you can train fasted (there is a pile of research to support it for performance and body composition goals, in fact). No, you don’t have to carb load with plate of spaghetti the night before a Spartan Race. Sure, have a protein shake after you lift - but you certainly don’t have to.
For muscle hypertrophy and people training toward body recomposition goals exclusively (people looking to “get swole” and/or super ripped in the gym) there is research to support pre-workout carbs and post-workout protein. Not enough research, in my books, to make all this fussiness worthwhile.
Food doesn’t exist in groups. It was put into groups by the government as a means to help us understand how to eat a balanced diet. And... that didn’t really work so well, did it? We are fatter and sicker than ever, and have been getting fatter/sicker ever since the Food Guide was foisted upon us a few generations back.
A “balanced diet” is important to me in the sense that we need to try to get a balance of vitamins and minerals. But eating from all the four “food groups” is... well, it’s just kind of made up.
There is at least one food group, if not two, that have caused us more harm than good. These are the food groups that don’t technically exist in nature; we created them and decided to feed our growing global population with them because it was easy and accessible.
“Everything in moderation" is simply not true. I have pinpointed some foods that, according to a great deal of research and empirical data, are making us fat, sick, inflamed, allergic and autoimmune, and eating those foods in moderation does nothing but prolong the suffering. In order to heal the body from these foods we need to get them out, completely.
Moderately consuming inflammatory foods is like moderately consuming small doses of poison. The body still recognizes it as poison and responds accordingly. We need to mellow out the body’s response to the poisons that we continue to consume “in moderation” by absolutely eliminating them.
The idea of willpower is this: someone gives you a set of rules and you are supposed to simply will yourself to obey them, no matter what your biological signalling or your free will try to tell you. And if you don’t obey them then you are weak. You lack willpower.
I don’t believe our daily food choices need to be the sort of thing where we exert discipline. It’s FOOD. It nourishes us and sustains life. Furthermore, where dieting is concerned, willpower specifically refers to ignoring your hunger signalling. Listen, if you feel hungry it means your body is hungry. You are not weak if you “break down” and ignore a hunger signal by eating something.
What might be happening, though, is your hunger signalling may be entirely broken. We can fix that. The key to weight loss is managing hunger, so that hunger signalling becomes a soft suggestion, rather than an urgent roar. Once you have that figured out, the entire notion of willpower actually ceases to exist. Can you imagine?
[Read also: Willpower Doesn't Exist]
The biggest problem I have with the conventional wisdom we've been hearing repeated over and over again is that when it ends up not working for someone, they believe that they have failed; that they are destined never to achieve the health and happiness they'd like.
If I could leave you with one takeaway message from this huge, long rant, it's this: If what you've been doing is working for you - even if it is any of the conventional wisdom nuggets shared above - then by all means keep doing it.
But if it ever seems to STOP working, I hope you'll consider trying something totally different.