There must be eighty thousand “health foods that make you fat” type posts on the internet already by now. Actually a colleague posted one the other week. Apparently it was so successful that his server crashed from the amount of traffic when the link went viral. I checked it out myself and it was such a load of old bollocks that I actually unfriended the guy on facebook.
I’m rather easily annoyed. Especially by bad, misleading or harmful dieting advice.
I wouldn’t say the article I have in mind was necessarily “harmful” per se, but definitely misleading and self contradictory. For example, early on there’s an instruction to “skip grains altogether” while later, the same article quite correctly points out that there is no benefit in seeking out “gluten free” products unless you actually require them to manage a diagnosed medical condition. So… no need to avoid gluten, but do avoid grains… where the gluten comes from. Maybe you can make sense of that, because I can’t.
So… there’s a reason there are so many of these articles available and probably the same reason you’re reading this one now. People are lead to believe there’s one particular food, or one particular ingredient in foods that is “bad” and all they have to do is avoid that and they’ll finally be successful in weight loss. Alternatively, they’re promised a similarly easy fix if they just eat more of this one particular “super food” that has magical, thermogenic or other properties which will cause you to lose weight regardless of anything else you eat or do. For us in the business there’s a lot of confusing information put out to market nutrition courses and certifications, so we think “well gee whiz, I can’t make head nor tail of this… I guess I’ll need to sign up and do their course if I want to be able to help my clients”.
Let’s clear this up. As a trainer, we need to be able to give nutritional recommendations, guidelines or plans to for each client to meet their goals. This could be a weight loss goal, an athletic performance goal, even a body building contest preparation goal… the list goes on. What we shouldn’t be doing is what I call “vicarious hypochondria”; assuming that clients need a specialised and restrictive diet to manage medical conditions that they don’t even have.
So for a weight loss goal, here’s what we need to be concerned about:
- Appropriate calories. Not too many, not too little.
- Sufficient fiber intake.
- Appropriate ratios or percentage of calories from protein, carbohydrates and dietary fats.
Now, for a healthy diet it is also crucial to meet the recommended daily allowances of all your vitamins and minerals, as set by the National Health And Medical Research Council. With that being said, if you’re getting a nice variety of fruit and vegetables (cereals are good too, believe it or not) you’ve probably got that covered. If you need more specialised advice due to a medical condition, allergy or intolerance, for goodness sake use your common sense and see your GP and get a referral to a real dietitian. That stuff is so far beyond the scope of your Personal Trainer.
With all that said though… just for the record, I’ve taken it upon myself to study up on the Clinical Practice Guidelines For Healthy Eating For The Prevention And Treatment Of Metabolic And Endocrine Diseases In Adults, so I feel like I’ve probably got a better understanding than most. For any trainers out there reading this, that’s the stuff to study up on when you want to further your education and better your understanding. Read the real information as provided to the medical specialists who treat these conditions… not a bunch of half truths, pseudoscience and conspiracy theories put together by manipulative marketing people.
So, back on topic. Healthy foods that will make you gain fat? Anything and everything that will cause your total intake to exceed an amount suitable to maintain your current weight. If you exceed your maintenance level of calories, you gain weight, no matter how healthy or “clean” your food choices are.
How do less healthy foods make you lose fat?
They don’t. Foods with more calories, less micronutritients and fiber… they make it far more likely that you will exceed your calorific requirements while still falling short on your other requirements. HOWEVER… they don’t automatically send you straight into fat storage mode. If your total intake is sufficient to maintain a goal weight that is lower than your current weight, you will still lose weight even if some of that intake was (1) ice cream, (2) soft drink, (3) a slice of pizza, (4) some chocolate, or (5) hot chips.
By training strategically we increase our fueling requirements, meaning there is more room in the plan for an indulgent choice here and there. Having non-starvation calorie targets and making an allowance for some enjoyable foods makes it a lot easier to stick to your diet long term. In fact, you quite probably will not feel like you’re on a diet at all.
In this way, we can say that including some less healthy foods in the plan can actually be a positive strategic move that will help you to lose weight and achieve your goal body type.