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Some Myths about Food

By Dr. Rosemary Helyar D Psychotherapy MSc Counselling

The human body is a complex and intricate system which is easily disrupted when it does not receive the fuel it needs in the form of regular meals. Yet, because of dieting, many people count calories and deprive their bodies of the food they need. By doing this they are setting themselves up to gain weight – the metabolic rate slows down when less food is taken in, and fewer calories are burned so that the body can survive on less. People think that by being hungry they will lose weight, but this is not true. Instead, the body moves into ‘famine mode’ and makes every effort to store fat from the food it does receive.


It’s a Myth that We are Losing Weight when We are Hungry

Quite the opposite. Our metabolism works best when the body receives regular amounts of food – women shouldn’t regularly go more than three hours without food, whereas men are okay for five hours. When we feel hungry, our bodies are prompted to look for food – part of our survival mechanism. Being empty means the level of our blood glucose (the amount of sugar in the blood from which we derive our energy) becomes low and we can feel irritable, shaky, have headaches, and lose concentration. In this state, we often feel prompted to eat something sweet, to give us much-needed energy, but unfortunately the introduction of a lot of sugar means the pancreas has to release lots of insulin to mop up the extra glucose not needed for energy, and this gets stored as fat. In addition, the sugary food doesn’t sustain us, and so our blood sugar falls again, giving us another ‘low’ point in the day. This can continue all day unless we eat foods that are low in sugar and so need less insulin to process them. The glycaemic index tells us how much sugar content there is in particular foods and how much insulin is needed to convert them to energy.


It’s a Myth that Fat is Fattening

Eating too much refined carbohydrate needing a large amount of insulin to convert it into blood glucose is what makes us fat. As a result, insulin has been nicknamed ‘the fattening hormone’. We can see this happening when a diabetic begins to have insulin injections – the resulting weight gain is a direct consequence of large amounts of insulin.

The Atkins diet recommends avoiding carbohydrate altogether, and people do lose weight if they only eat protein and fat. But our bodies need carbohydrate for energy, and if they don’t receive enough, intense cravings for what is lacking will occur – cravings which can be as powerful as an alcoholic’s need of a drink. That’s when bingeing happens, so by trying to cut down on food intake a person can end up eating far too much all in one go, and feeling very guilty and ashamed afterwards. They try to make up for this by dieting again, and so the whole binge-diet cycle continues. The way to break the cycle is to eat small, frequent balanced meals of fresh, not processed, food – up to six per day. 

Blood glucose will then be stable, ensuring a feeling of wellbeing and enabling people to make good choices of healthy food, and avoiding bingeing. Cutting down on stimulants such as coffee, tea and alcohol will also help.

The brain is composed of 60% fat, of which the omega-3 essential fatty acid DHA (found in oily fish) forms the primary component of brain tissue and improves the facilitation of messages between cells. So we need certain fats for our brain and our body to work properly. Although the fats needed are called Essential Fatty Acids, probably they should be called Essential Thinny Acids, since they enable our bodies to process the bad fats such as saturated fats.


Weight Loss is Only Possible if You go to the Gym

We all know that exercise is good for us, but not everyone feels at home in a gym. The secret is to build in some activity into your lifestyle which you can enjoy and do regularly. A 35 minute walk (at a fast pace as if you were late for an appointment) morning and evening is ideal.


So Remember Three Simple Rules

  • Eat complex carbohydrates (e.g. oats, wholemeal flour, brown rice) to give you a continual release of energy throughout the day.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
  • Exercise regularly so your body knows it has to store a certain amount of blood glucose in your muscles and liver for when you need it. Less glucose will then be stored as fat.

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