Sometimes it feels like you’re doing everything right, yet the numbers on the scale barely budge. Despite cutting out calorie-dense foods and hitting the gym more frequently, something is sabotaging your weight-loss efforts, and experts believe it comes down to dieting hacks that are actually backfiring.
“I have sympathy for anyone who has fallen into this situation,” Kyle Byron, a Toronto-based nutritionist and trainer, tells Global News. “The food industry has put out a fair bit of information over the last 30 years that has bastardized our diets.”
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In particular, he points to the vilification of fats as problematic, as well as the rise in cleanses, which he says do nothing to teach us about our relationship with food.
In addition to this, the diet industry has perpetuated the idea of losing weight fast, creating unsustainable results and putting people on a roller coaster of weight loss and gain.
While weight loss programs and nutrition philosophies work differently for every person, there are five dieting hacks that are all but guaranteed to lead to weight gain.
#1 Skipping meals
Not to be confused with intermittent fasting, in which you follow one of several patterns of eating that fluctuate between feasting and famine, many people skip meals and think they can make up for it later on. It’s a perfect recipe for overeating.
“More often than not when people skip a meal, it’s breakfast or lunch, which means they’re guaranteed to overeat at the next meal,” Jessica Begg, a registered dietitian at Shift Nutrition in Calgary, says. “When you skip breakfast, it’s an indication that you’re not planning the day well, which usually means you haven’t packed a healthy lunch. That leads to hitting up the food court and eating something that’s high in calories.”
Although theoretically, a skipped meal should correspond to fewer calories consumed which should result in weight loss, it can backfire if you scrimp too much.
“The body needs a certain amount of calories to function, and if your caloric intake gets too low, although you’ll lose some weight at first, soon you’ll plateau,” Begg says. “Your metabolism and heart rate will slow down, and your body will hold on to whatever fuel you’re putting into it to keep going.”
That’s equivalent to setting your body to “starvation mode,” and it will hoard calories instead of burning them. You’ll also lose muscle mass and gain body fat.
#2 Cutting out carbohydrates
This idea stems from the popularity of diets like Atkins but is rooted in a lot of misinformation.
“When you cut out carbs completely, one thing will happen: you’ll crave sugar,” Begg says.
That’s because the body uses carbohydrates as its energy source, and when you don’t eat them, it needs a quick fix from somewhere else — which is where your mid-afternoon sugar craving comes from.
“It’s erroneous to think you can eat protein and fat, and be able to function properly. You won’t have the strength to work out because you need carbs for energy and to build muscle,” she says. “If you just add some quinoa to that salad you have for lunch, you’ll be better off later in the day.”
Begg is a proponent of complex carbohydrates like whole grains, quinoa, and brown rice, but Byron believes that vegetables will more than rise to the task of stepping in for carbs — provided you eat enough of them.
“Vegetables are carbs; they’re just not branded that way,” he says. “People cut out carbs because they want to stop eating processed grains, and that’s a good thing. But very few people do it properly.”
He says the ratio of carb to vegetables is roughly one to three. For example, if you would normally consume one cup of rice with a meal, you need to replace that with three cups of vegetables in order to make up for the fibre and bulk that the rice would provide.
“If you cut out carbs but replace them with a fatty protein, juice or fruit, you’ll gain weight.”
He says this comes down to absorption rate: fruit and juice are digested and released into the blood stream almost immediately so they won’t keep you full. And while a fatty protein will take longer to digest, it’s still high in calories. Whereas a few cups of vegetables can take up to three hours to be absorbed, thus keeping you feeling full longer with minimal caloric kick.
#3 Loading up on meat protein
The problem with this concept is that we eat too much protein and it’s the wrong kind. (It shouldn’t come as a surprise that consuming a plateful of bacon every day will cause you to gain weight, regardless of whether you’re eating it with toast.)
“Ultimately, a meal will digest more slowly when there’s a little bit of protein in it, but it doesn’t require a Flintstone-sized Tomahawk steak,” Byron says. “Make a fist — that’s the size of your protein portion.”
It’s also important to think of protein outside of beef and pork, which tend to be high in calories. Byron says a well-balanced snack that will keep your metabolism in check would be a piece of fruit with cottage cheese or a small can of tuna. That will help build muscle and keep your energy level up.
The other thing to note, Begg says, is that there’s only so much protein that will be absorbed for muscle development.
Couple this with a lowered carbohydrate intake, which triggers sugar cravings, and you have a recipe for diet disaster.
Begg suggests easing up on meat and opting for beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds.
#4 Eliminating gluten
This has been a hot trend in the dieting world in recent years and it’s largely based on confusion.
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“People get confused between carbs and gluten, and they think by cutting out gluten they’re doing the low-carb thing,” Begg says. “But unless you have Celiac disease, gluten isn’t bad for you.”
What’s worse, the gluten-free products on the market are no better than average highly processed carbohydrates, which are laden with chemicals and sugar. Eating these instead of a slice of whole wheat toast will definitely cause the numbers on your scale to go up.
The restrictive nature of this choice is also enough to thwart any weight loss efforts.
“Gluten is in wheat, which is a staple of the North American diet. Cutting it out really restricts you,” Begg says. “Eating healthy is hard enough already and to add in this fictitious restriction will only make healthy eating more difficult. A slice of whole grain toast is a healthy part of a diet.”
#5 Eating meal-replacement bars
In general, the experts say a meal-replacement or protein bar is OK in some cases, but don’t kid yourself into believing you’re saving calories.
“These are an emergency snack, and if you’re going to eat one instead of skipping a meal altogether, it’s OK,” Byron says. “But many of the bars that are marketed as healthy are just a lie.”
When looking at the ingredient list on a protein bar, make sure it has at least 20 grams of protein. As for the sugar content, you might as well just pick your favourite one because they’re all laden with the sweet stuff.
“A protein bar will also absorb very quickly, so it won’t keep you full for very long,” Byron says. “But it’s better than not eating anything at all.”