Diet – truths and myths

First I’ll start off by saying everybody is different when it comes to diets. The most recent research shows that there really isn’t a “one size fits all” diet which works for all overweight people. See, for example, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/11/a-personalized-diet-better-suited-to-you/.

If you see a diet (particularly a proprietary, paid one) which claims it works for everybody, then be skeptical.

My list of “diet truths and myths” is what I’ve discovered over years of dieting, and does apply to me at least. I know it also applies to some others I’ve spoken with. But I won’t claim it applies universally. I want to be as objective about this as I can.

I’ve successfully lost 100+ pounds and regained it multiple times over many years. As recently as 2012-2014 I lost 100 lb and have slowly, since then, regained half of what I lost, and I’m trying to prevent a complete rebound, and have been trying various methods.

Here is my take on what is true and what are myths about dieting, and the effects of diet on overall health.


 

Vegan diets and control of high cholesterol.

Premise: If you have high cholesterol and go vegan (e.g. the Ornish Spectrum heart-disease reversal program) your high blood cholesterol will drop to normal since only animal products contain cholesterol and you would be eating a completely cholesterol free diet.

True or Myth: MYTH.

I started out with very high bad cholesterol (LDL) in 2012 and went on a strict vegan + no oil + no nuts diets, as recommended by the Ornish program, and also by others such as Caldwell Esselstyn. After several months my cholesterol did not change, even as I lost a lot of weight. It was only after my doctor prescribed a daily statin that my cholesterol came down to excellent, normal range values.

Most recently, new U.S. research has shown there is no real cause and effect between the cholesterol you eat and your blood cholesterol, which is produced by your body. In fact, after I went off vegan and began consuming animal products, including eggs, my cholesterol did not go up again, and I continue to take a daily statin.


High blood sugar and high glycemic foods.

Premise: If you have high blood sugar, and you eat high glycemic foods like refined rice and bananas and you will have trouble reducing your blood sugar.

True or Myth: MYTH.

As somebody who needs to be careful about high blood sugar, as measured with HbA1c, I have found it makes absolutely no difference what I eat as long as I keep my weight under control. As I lose weight, my blood sugar comes down to a normal range without additional medication. This is true even if I eat lots of fruits, including bananas, and processed grains such as white rice. If I gain weight, my HbA1c goes up again and blood sugar medication is required.


 

Low carb diets and weight loss.

Premise: If you eat very low-carb (e.g. Atkins, Protein Power, Gary Taubes) then your body reduces insulin output so food can’t be easily absorbed and stored as fat. Thus you can ignore calories because your body has no means of storing the food you eat as fat. In addition your blood pressure will naturally drop.

True or Myth: MYTH.

This one can’t be further from the truth. If people lose weight it is because low-carb foods are simply more likely to curb hunger, so for some people it reduces appetite so they lose weight. It by no means works for everybody. I’ve tried multiple versions of this diet over the years, including Atkins, and most recently Protein Power. In my most recent test I stuck strictly within the carb limit and over 12 days I gained 4 lb. In addition, my blood pressure, which had been a perfectly fine 116/69 went up to 132/70. This diet never has and never will make any sense. Ask yourself this: you are hungry, so which makes most sense as a snack? The choices are (1) a salad made from cucumber, tomato and mushroom with a non-oil dressing – but a total of 10.5 net carbs, or  (2) a couple of pork chops, with zero carbs. This diet would say the pork chops are a better choice. No wonder I gained weight!

 


 

Vegan, no oils and no nuts diets and weight loss.

Premise: If you eat vegan, with no added oils , and no nuts, and no added sugars (e.g. Ornish, Esselstyn), you don’t have to count calories to lose weight.

True or Myth: MYTH.

It’s just as easy to eat too many calories on a vegan, no added fat diet as it is on a low-carb diet. Rice has tons of calories. So do most grains. And it doesn’t matter if they are whole grain or refined. If you start eating them you very often just want more. If you eat too much you will gain weight.

Low calorie eating and weight loss.

Premise: If you eat fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight then you will lose weight.

True or Myth: TRUE.

This is the only way I’ve ever been able to lose weight. If you can manage to eat less than your body needs to maintain its current weight – which depends on age, sex, level of activity, and your personal metabolism – you will lose weight. The problem, unfortunately, is keeping it off long term. I myself find that I can keep lost weight off for about two years before a rebound starts creeping in. I understand 80% of overweight people have the same problem. And nobody knows the solution. The solution, however, is not one of the fad diets mentioned above.

Exercise and weight loss.

Premise: If you do cardio exercise, then it is possible to eat more and still lose weight.

True or Myth: TRUE.

Exercise burns calories. The more you burn, the more you can eat and still continue to lose weight – or maintain your current weight if that’s what you want. Exercise is also good for your overall health. It keeps the blood flowing, it keeps up your strength and is generally good for you. Despite what some of the low-carb people say, cardio exercise does not simply cause you to get hungry so you eat more. If anything, it has the opposite effect. Resistance training is also good for weight loss because increasing muscle mass increases your personal metabolism. Exercise is good for you.


 

Diet versus “Lifestyle change.”

Premise: Many weight-loss programs claim they are not a “diet” but a “lifestyle.”

True or MYTH: FALSE.

Any regimen which has rules about what you eat, or don’t eat, or how much you eat is a diet. Saying it’s not a diet but a “lifestyle” is just advertising mumbo jumbo.

 

So what’s the solution to losing weight and permanently keeping it off?

Answer: For losing weight, the answer is to eat less calories. To keep it off? I don’t know. Nobody seems to know.

 

 

Diet advice over the years – a retro report

The New York Times has an interesting article – and video – today on the history of diet advice over the last 40 years. It includes the low-fat fad, the low-carb fad and has some interesting science in it.

Gary Taubes is also in the video. I’m not a big fan of his because I believe he too went to far in supporting, without real basis, low-carb and high-fat diets and claims calories don’t count. I think he’s wrong about that and have written extensive notes about it here.

But he is only part of this report, and I think the video is worth watching and the article worth reading. It’s a 12 minute video, but interesting to watch.

The one piece of news I have come to believe (and it is also highlighted in the video), is the recent research showing that cholesterol in food doesn’t hugely impact your blood cholesterol. I found that true when I eat vegan diets as well. My cholesterol doesn’t go down until I start taking a daily statin. And it doesn’t go up if I eat eggs or other high cholesterol foods. Cholesterol is made by the body. It’s true that high cholesterol is associated with heart disease. But it’s not true that dietary cholesterol is the main cause of blood cholesterol.

I think the one thing all diet advocates seem to agree on though is that added sugars are really bad for you.

Anyway, please check this out, and if you can, watch the “retro report” video here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/04/us/a-healthy-diets-main-ingredients-best-guesses.html

 

Yet another diet rethink

I’m afraid I may have leaped before looking sufficiently into the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine program. I am just so desperate to start something and avoid a total rebound that I didn’t check out all the details sufficiently.

For one thing, it turns out there is almost no real guidance over important things like “do we use oil, or don’t we?” And the people in the support forums seem to insist that calorie counting is not needed which is something I have learned from long experience just isn’t true.

So I am scrambling for an alternative program now. It’s the morning of the first and I am determined to be good this year!

I really need a diet program which can be supportive and recognize that different people have different needs. I’ve “been there and done that” with whole vegan foods and no calorie counting. It just plain does not work for me. I think I do want to try “mostly” vegan again. But I also believe you need to really keep track of what you eat to avoid overeating.

Sometimes a group can’t seem to recognize these differences exist between different people. No matter what they believe simple “detoxing” and eating the right things is not always the entire solution to obesity. Actual control and calorie counting are needed by many people. You can’t violate conservation of energy, no matter what diet you are on.

So I’m scrambling this morning. And in the meanwhile am logging and restricting my calories. But I won’t be participating with that group after all.

 

 

Coca Cola becomes the equivalent of climate-change deniers when it comes to diets.

Here is a quote from the New York Times article:

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Sorry Mr. Blair. But eating too much food and having too much sugar is the overwhelming cause of obesity.

You can read the full article here: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets