Top 10 Diet Fallacies
Ori HofmeklerExploding Mealtime Myths and Nutrition Superstitions, Part 2
In the conclusion of his myth-busting exposé, Ori Hofmekler, author of The Warrior Diet, tackles the final five controversial beliefs about nutrition.
The best way to
control your weight††
is to count calories.
†Calorie counting has been widely regarded as a reliable method of weight management. Some of todayís most established diet plans use calorie counting as a principal way of controlling energy intake. Yet, in spite of its reputation and wide appeal, calorie counting fails to provide the long-term benefit of staying lean and healthy.
The reason: Real life involves dynamic changes that arenít included in the typical calorie-counting calculation. You cannot overlook the profound effects of life changes on your body. For that matter, humans (like other animals), carry survival mechanisms that regulate fuel use and energy generation, in response to changes in environmental conditions.
Your basal metabolic rate fluctuates according to changes in physical activity, food availability and overall calorie intake. For instance, lower calories generally promotes a BMR decline, whereas higher calories generally promote an overall increase in BMR. (Many health clubs provide machines that check BMR.) Since calorie counting is based on a fixed BMR, it often fails to provide a real-life measurement of energy balance; that is, the surplus or deficit of calories.
Athletes and bodybuilders who use calorie counting to improve body composition should be aware of the downside. A calorie isnít a calorie. Calories coming from sugar cause more fat gain than calories coming from grains or nuts. The human body has adapted to use calories derived from certain food combinations better than from others. The same calories that cause fat gain in one food combination can induce fat loss in another (see fallacy 4 in the September í05 IRON MAN).
Timing is another factor thatís often overlooked by calorie counters. The same carb calories that could be very beneficial when eaten right after exercise to increase protein synthesis in the muscle may be harmful if eaten before exercise due to excessive cortisol release.
One of the most controversial diets today is the calorie-restriction diet. The CR is based on the assumption that chronic calorie restriction increases life span. That dietary approach has been endorsed by anti-aging advocates who are convinced that CR reduces overall metabolic stress and thereby increases life span. There are, however, a few concerns regarding CR.
1) CR can lower body temperature, which may be a sign of lower thyroid activity and a total metabolic decline.
2) CR may cause a substantial loss of libido. Itís often associated with declining sex hormone levels and an impaired ability to maintain vigor, potency or fertility.
3) CR compromises the ability to endure intense exercise and, for that matter, build muscles.†
Recent studies on intermittent fastingóone day of fasting followed by one day of overeatingóat Johns Hopkins University in Maryland found that such feeding cycles provided superior benefits to those gained with CR. According to Dr. Mark Mattson, professor of neuroscience and head of the research team at Hopkins, intermittent fasting increases the resistance of mice to degenerative diseasesósuch as diabetes, Parkinsonís, Alzheimerís and strokeówhile improving body composition and increasing life span more than what occurs with mice that are fed a CR diet. More studies are required before we can fully understand the effects of similar feeding cycles on humans.
All that said, calorie counting can still be an accurate way of evaluating food-energy intake. If used correctly, it can help measure the effect of calorie intake on nutrient use. Indeed, studies by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have established that overall calorie intake affects protein use. A high-calorie intake (about a 20 percent surplus) maximizes protein use and vice versa. Low-calorie intake decreases protein use. Active individuals should take advantage of that by incorporating a specially designed high-calorie meal, preferably at night (see last monthís installment).