I have personally had a very interesting journey learning about nutrition over the years. In the early 90's I studied full time at Uni and worked part time as a personal trainer. I knew that if I wanted my clients to get the best possible results I needed to learn about nutrition so I read everything in the university library on nutrition.
Then I would design nutritional plans for my clients (based on standard academic nutritional recommendations, which at the time was based on the Food Pyramid). However, in a very short period of time my clients would stop getting results. I couldn't work out why these nutritional plans (high-carb, low-fat) didn't work but nevertheless I decide to change them and make more like a bodybuilder's pre-contest diet (at the time I was heavily into bodybuilding). This is more of a moderate-carb, higher protein approach.
Amazing! They started getting results again! I started doing more research on nutrition and what I discovered was quite interesting. The Food Pyramid, which was promoted by nutritionists, dietitians, health organisations, etc. was actually designed by the United States Department of Agriculture! Of course, their products were on the base of the Food Pyramid (consume the most of these, 6-11 serves a day!). No wonder it didn't work!
A few years later I decided to go back to uni and study nutrition- I lasted a year! They had changed from the Food Pyramid to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating but it still recommended the high-carb, low-fat approach with a disproportionately high amount of bread, pasta, rice, cerals, etc. They recommended about a third of your daily food intake to come from these foods.
When I approached one of my lecturers about this and about my experience I was directed to the enormous body of research backing up this approach to nutrition. I decided to examine these 'studies' in more detail. Interestingly, these studies were funded by big companies that had a vested interest in selling these types of products. I decided that I was wasting my time studying this course and dropped out. Nevertheless, nutrition is still a passion of mine and I spend a lot of time researching this area.
Here is my latest article. It covers some of the reasons behind why there is so much mis-information and confusion surrounding the very interesting area of nutrition. I hope you enjoy it and any comments or feedback about your own experiences with nutrition is welcomed.
The Nutrition Deception
By Stephen Smith
It seems like every time you turn on the TV, read the newspaper or listen to the radio, there is the ‘latest and greatest’ weight loss program, which promises to be just what you’ve been looking for; the ‘holy grail’ of weight loss that will have you dropping the unwanted kilos in a matter of days without effort or difficulty.
Before you start getting too excited about the prospect of following this program and losing all the weight you want, just take a moment to think about things logically.
• Why hasn’t any other program worked for you before?
This is usually because the principles they recommend aren’t sustainable lifestyle habits. When considering any weight-loss program or diet always think whether or not you will be able to follow the recommendations for the rest of your life.
• What makes this weight-loss program different from all the others?
Fundamental weight-loss principles haven’t changed over the years but the promoters of any weight-loss program need you to believe that the approach they use is completely new and is different from anything else you’ve ever done before.
More often than not, they tend to emphasise the minor (and often unimportant) differences between their program and other programs on the market. The bottom line is that the physiological laws that govern the human body haven’t changed over the years and as long as you follow these laws you can use them to easily achieve and then maintain your weight-loss goal.
• Why isn’t there just one diet that works for everyone?
You’ve probably heard people say that everyone’s body is different so there isn’t one approach that suits everyone. Well, in actual fact, as mentioned before fundamental physiological principles do not change. They work for everyone and they work 100% of the time.
Therefore, there is one diet that works! In the diet you can change the foods you eat to suit your individual tastes but the principles do not change.
• Why is it that all the so-called ‘nutrition experts’ can’t agree on what the best approach to nutrition is?
Generally most ‘experts’ who follow the fundamental nutritional principles will get results for their clients. For example, if you reduce someone’s food intake enough they will lose weight no matter what the macronutrient profile is.
The area where most ‘experts’ don’t agree are often the areas that aren’t as important as the fundamental principles. Also, they only tend to focus on studies that back up their existing beliefs without considering all the contradictory research.
The amount of information available on nutrition today is more than it has ever been before. More money is being spent on research and more studies in the area of nutrition are being performed than in any other time in history. Advancements in nutritional science are progressing faster every day.
So the questions remains, why are we seeing a gradual increase in the incidence of nutrition-related diseases, i.e. heart disease, cancer and diabetes just to name a few?
One reason is because we are continuing to fight an uphill battle against the food manufacturers whose sole aim is to make profits rather than provide good nutritional products for society.
Let’s face it, our bodies are designed to consume products directly from Mother Nature like fruits and vegetables. Ideally, the only processing that needs to be done before we eat it is washing and cooking.
Instead, the vast majority of food that we, as a society, eat has been processed, refined, had artificial colours, flavours and preservatives added to it, and is generally designed to satisfy our tastebuds rather than our bodies’ requirements.
Unfortunately, most of these processed foods do not optimise bodily functions and in fact, they actually impair them. What’s more, we’re led to believe that the processed food is good for us because it is so well packaged and marketed.
Just think for a moment of all the label claims made by products: lite, low fat, 97% fat free, cholesterol free, vitamin enriched, no added sugar and natural. These are terms used to convince us of the virtues of the food in question. Unfortunately, these marketing ploys are very successful.
Another reason why nutrition-related diseases are increasing despite the wealth of information available on nutrition is due to the nutrition ‘expert’s’ need to differentiate themselves from other ‘experts’. As mentioned previously, they do this by emphasising the minor details between nutritional approaches. This leaves people even more confused.
What makes the situation even worse are the massive food industries and government bodies that want to promote their products to an unaware public. For example, the food pyramid, designed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), emphasises the consumption of refined, grain-based carbohydrates!
Also, think of all the promotion being done by the meat and dairy industries. Not only do they heavily promote the virtues of their products but they also provide the funding to universities so then they have ‘research’ to support their products.
Most of the popular weight-loss programs available use some of the physiological laws or variations of them. However, the problems begin when people stop using the principles that got them results in the first place. When their old habits return, so does their previous physical condition.
If you want to maintain the results you achieve with your chosen weight-loss program then you need to be absolutely certain that the principles that you are going to use will be followed for the rest of your life! If you can’t be certain, then don’t use it!
Some of the most popular weight-loss programs here in Australia recommend people to replace their breakfast and lunch with shakes and then have whole foods for dinner. Now, of course you will lose weight by following this approach but is it a sustainable lifestyle habit? Of course not! So don’t do it! What do you think will happen when you go back to eating normally again? The weight will pile back on!
So what are the fundamental physiological principles/ laws that can help you lose all the weight you want and keep it off long term?
Here are the top 7:
1. Have 5 or 6 small meals a day.
2. Have protein with every meal.
3. Reduce your intake of high-density carbohydrates and increase your intake of low-density carbohydrates.
4. Eat mainly whole foods with the occasional protein shake as a snack only.
5. Eat 2 fruits and 5 vegetables every day.
6. Drink plenty of water.
7. Eat ‘normal’, ‘every day’ foods.
Stephen is the part-owner of Body Concepts and Focus On magazine. Stephen has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 18 years and has a science degree from UWA.