Weight-Loss Dogma

Human beings (myself included) can be very close-minded and dogmatic about some things. This isn’t usually deliberate – we simply hear something several times and absorb it, then file it away as a fact. When we hear something that contradicts it, we dismiss the new information as untrue and move on. The older I get and the more I experience life, the more I question my underlying beliefs. This is true in all aspects of my life – not just in weight management and nutrition and wellness – that just happens to be the arena I’m writing about right now!

Let’s explore some of the dogmatic things that so many people believe about weight management.

Sadly, most people are stuck in this pattern of believing that weight is simply a balance of energy in vs energy out – calories consumed vs calories expended. Although we have been fed this idea that in order to lose weight we need to “eat less and move more” this entire concept is not founded on actual human science. It’s founded on math – and we all know how well math applies to the (very complex) human body. We actually have a ton of data about the human body that contradicts this idea – and no good data that actually supports it. I lecture about this topic to professionals periodically and they all shake their heads in agreement when the contrary science is presented, yet on a large scale, the idea persists. Probably because it’s neat and tidy and logically makes sense. Sad. I will keep lecturing and writing about it in my little lane. I’m sure all of the amazing authors out there that understand it that are writing books and blog posts and news articles will keep trying to change the dialogue. Someday we will make some headway.

Hopefully, most of my patients understand this – I’m not sure you can be a patient in my clinic and not question this dogma – especially because we never talk about calories during any of our visits! However, even when we break past this ridiculous obstacle, we still have lots of little dogmatic things to unlearn. Little barriers that often need to be overcome as we transition to thinking about weight as a hormonal regulatory problem. These are the ones that I hear all too often and want to address today:

  1. You shouldn’t eat carrots when losing weight because they contain too much sugar. This is crazy talk. I know of no vegetable (potatoes are NOT a vegetable) that causes people to gain weight. Carrots are wonderful vegetables and should be eaten often – without guilt. I heard and believed this dogma while following multiple commercial weight loss plans in my younger days (none of which worked, by the way). While on those calorie counting plans that tried to instill me with more willpower and strength of character, I was told to avoid carrots because they contain too much sugar, but I was allowed Rye Crisps and Melba toast and protein shakes and protein bars and all kinds of highly processed foods that were full of sugars and simple starches that break down into glucose molecules in the blood stream. But somehow carrots are “bad”.
  2. You shouldn’t eat iceberg lettuce because it is full of empty calories: I still hear this one all the time. If you like iceberg lettuce, eat iceberg lettuce. Good lord. You aren’t going to get a ton of nutrition from it – it’s basically crispy water, but it’s not going to hurt you. Yes, spinach and kale would be better choices than iceberg if you are trying to increase your vitamin and mineral intake, but when trying to choose between the cheeseburger or the salad made with iceberg lettuce, pick the salad! And if that’s the only vegetable you like – eat it. Feed your gut bacteria something. What are empty calories anyway? Calories that don’t give you vitamins? If that’s the case, then all sucrose (table sugar) is empty calories. Candy is empty calories. Alcohol is empty calories. Iceberg lettuce has scant nutrients in it, but it still has some!
  3. You have to eat 6-8 small meals every day during weight loss: this one baffles me. I’m actually not sure where it started but so many of us think we have to eat all day long to lose weight. It makes no sense whatsoever – and is actually really, really easy to disprove from a scientific standpoint. However, so many of my patients want to know what they should eat for snacks. My response to that: NOTHING. If you are eating 2-3 healthy meals during the day, you shouldn’t need to snack. Small babies need to eat often – they are growing like weeds. They also have very small stomachs and are only getting liquid nutrition. If you were tasked at doubling yourself in size in a matter of months, you would be expected to eat more often – but that’s not your goal as an adult. Your energy needs are there to keep you from starving to death or getting malnourished – radically different physical goals than those babies.
  4. Eating something unhealthy is “cheating”: I hate this word. People use it all the time when referring to eating something unhealthy. It’s incredibly negative and inevitably makes people feel bad about their food choices. Having a piece of cake at your friend’s wedding isn’t cheating – it’s celebrating. Having a piece of Grandma’s pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving isn’t cheating – it’s having a traditional, nostalgic moment in the context of a family celebration. Having a messy, sugar-coated ornament cookie after decorating cookies with the kids is tradition and joy and love – and should never be considered cheating. The most simple definition of cheating is: to act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage or to avoid something undesirable by luck or skill. If you really think celebrating your daughter’s birthday with a piece of cake is acting dishonestly, you need to rethink some things. I’m not saying eating cake or French fries is healthy – it’s just not cheating. It’s indulging. It’s making a deliberate choice to eat something other than what your body really needs – which is nutrition.

There are lots more of these, but this post is getting entirely too long. Some day I will revisit the list and add to it, but dig in and process your thoughts about eating and dieting and weight regulation and see what you say in your head – or aloud. See what you accept as true simply because you’ve heard it from other people. Question everything. That’s how we grow and develop!

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