Imagine the scene…you decide you need to lose a stone for your wedding, you jump on Google and start reading up on the latest diet trends.
You encounter various “authority” websites with pictures of toned looking women in fitness gear. You start noting down a few tips and after a few good hours of research (in between cat videos), you come up with a list of things that people swear by as the “thing” that helped them reach their ideal wedding body.
You look at the list and although some of the things make you wish you hadn’t decided to tone up, you decide it’s worth it to put yourself through this to look amazing on your wedding day.
What you may not be aware of though is that the majority of fitness tips that are circulating the Internet are nothing more than old wives tales that don’t have any credibility when scrutinised by science.
These tips you find are either circulated to sell a product (in the case of fat burners), make you buy a special plan (if you can’t eat carbs), or just plain wrong even however logical the person telling you makes them sound.
I’m gonna go through each of these myths and lies, explain why they are wrong and give some advice on what to do instead.
- You can’t eat after 6pm
- You can’t eat carbs
- You have to cut out foods you like (chocolate and wine)
- You have to eat 6 times per day
- Fat burners can help you burn fat
- You have to do crazy workouts to tone up
- Training fasted helps burn more fat
Key terms that you’ll need to know for this article:
Calorie maintenance – The calories you require to maintain your weight.
Calorie deficit – Eating fewer calories than your maintenance so that you lose weight.
Calorie surplus – Eating more calories than your maintenance so that you gain weight.
Let’s get into the myths…
1. You can’t eat after 6pm
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This is one of the most popular myths you hear when trying to tone up for your wedding (or any other event). It’s apparently fine for you to eat before 6, but anything that hits your stomach after this time instantly gets stored as fat and ruins your diet. The idea behind this is that in the evening you slow down and are burning less energy. It would make sense to anyone who doesn’t know better – 6:01 pm comes around and that’s eating done for the day.
- However what happens when the clocks go forward?
- What happens when you go on holiday and you enter a different time zone?
- What happens when you just don’t have time to eat during the day and 6 O’Clock comes around? Are you not allowed to eat?
The happy news is, you can eat after 6pm and still lose weight! You can eat at any time and lose weight as long as you are in a “calorie deficit”.
A calorie deficit means that the overall calories you eat (and drink) during the day are less than what your body needs. Because of this, it dips into your body fat stores to get the energy it needs. As long as you are eating in a way that keeps you in a calorie deficit, your body will dip into the body fat stores at some point of the day to get the extra energy it needs, and as a result you’ll lose weight.
Emma is starting a wedding diet. Let’s say that she needs 2000 calories to maintain her weight. A calorie deficit would be any number under 2000.
The lower the calories under 2000, the more body fat will be burnt and more weight lost. However it’s not as simple as that. You can’t just chop off 1000 calories or so because you’ll get very hungry, be low on energy and generally hate life. We have to find a balance, so a 10-15% deficit is usually the sweet spot for losing weight effectively.
So as long as Emma is 10-15% under the calories she needs to maintain her weight, she’ll drop fat. It doesn’t matter when she eats those calories even if she is less active in the evening – we still burn fat while we’re sleeping!
10% off 2000 calories is 1800. If Emma, consistently eats this amount, (and she is still requiring 2000), there’s no way she can’t lose weight as her body will be taking the extra energy it needs from its fat stores.
If by 6pm Emma has eaten 1800 calories though, then yes, it wouldn’t be a good idea to not eat after 6pm. What she has eaten would have been enough for her to hit her weight loss target, and if she’s been good about her food choices, she should be full enough to not want any more food now.
However, if by 6pm Emma has only eaten 1000 of her daily calories, she still has calories left. She can eat at whatever time she wants and will continue to lose weight as long as she only consumes her 800 remaining calories.
Earlier in the day when she hadn’t been eating, Emma’s body would have dipped into fat stores for energy. The 800 calories she consumes after 6 may put some of that back, but because she’s still eating under what her calorie needs are (2000), she’ll still be in an overall fat burning “mode” by the end of the day.
The other way around – if she has eaten all 1800 Calories by 6pm then stops eating at that time, her body will dip more into her fat stores after this time.
The point is that if you are in a calorie deficit, whatever time you eat, your body is gonna have to dip into fat stores at some time and you WILL lose weight.
The important thing is being in the calorie deficit rather than when you eat the calories.
You could eat all your food in the morning or all your food at night and it would have the same effect.
So it’s not the time of day that usually makes you put on fat, but the fact that by the end of the day, you’ll usually have eaten a lot of your daily calories already, so it’s just easy to go over.
In addition to this, you’ll often comfort eat more often in the evening, have a few glasses of wine or be out at a social occasion, so there are a lot more opportunities to be overeating.
Even if the “You can’t eat after 6pm” rule is a lie, could it work for you? Yes most definitely. Why? Not because you magically get fat after 6, but because it creates a rule you can follow to stop you stuffing your face full of chocolate in front of the TV when your calorie allowance for the day is nearly up.
Of course, you can also most definitely still eat chocolate in front of the TV and still lose weight if you want, but you have to put strategies in place to make sure you have enough calories left over for the evening.
2. You can’t eat carbs if you’re on a diet
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Not being able to eat carbs is another popular myth in 2017 for wedding dieters. The idea goes that carbs cause your body to release insulin, insulin stops fat burning and causes fat storage. This is very true, however the argument falls flat on its face when we look at it from the same calorie deficit point of view that debunked the “you can’t eat after 6pm” idea.
First off, insulin is essential to your survival. Type 1 diabetics who don’t produce insulin die if they don’t have it synthetically injected regularly throughout the day. Insulin is like a gatekeeper hormone. It lets energy into the right cells at the right times. When it’s not present or not working correctly, things go seriously wrong. Energy can’t get into your cells so you feel tired all the time, however because your body thinks it’s lacking energy, it pumps out extra sugar from its stores in the liver into the bloodstream. The bloodstream is then overloaded with sugar, where it does all kinds of damage, particularly to small blood vessels in the hands, feet and eyes. This is why these are the first things to be affected when someone has type 1 or 2 diabetes.
With the need for insulin out of the way, we can now look at why it doesn’t matter if you spike it while eating carbs.
Basically, your body is dipping into fat stores at some times of the day, then storing energy (carbs, fats and sometimes protein) as fat at others. It all depends what activity you’re doing and when you’ve last eaten.
What matters for fat loss though is if you are in a calorie deficit at the end of the day or not. As explained in Emma’s example above, if you’re in a calorie deficit (eating less than your body needs), it’s gonna have to dip into your fat stores and you WILL lose weight.
It doesn’t matter if you eat carbs and insulin stops fat burning at one point in the day, because if you are in an overall calorie deficit, at another point of the day your body is gonna have to burn more fat to “top up” the energy it needs, and you will lose weight because of it.
3. You have to cut out foods you like to lose weight for your wedding
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Most people think that to lose weight, you have to stop eating all the “nice” foods you like (chocolate, cake, ice cream) and replace it with lettuce. Luckily this is wrong, and you can most definitely eat chocolate and lose weight, plus it may actually help you lose more than if you didn’t eat it.
I’ll revisit the calorie deficit principle that I explained in myths 1 and 2 to convince you of this one.
Remember that in Emma’s example, as long as she ate under her 2000 daily calorie limit, she’d lose weight? Does a chocolate bar fit into 2000 calories? Yes, easily. A small chocolate bar is around 250 Calories, so definitely. If you eat a chocolate bar, it’s not automatically going to make you fat.
Where does this myth come from then?
Well, there is one problem – chocolate bars are delicious.
They are high in calories for their size, really tasty and really easy to eat loads of them without getting full.
That means that you can easily go over your calorie limit if you’re not careful from eating the chocolate, plus as it doesn’t fill you up, you’ll have to eat more food to make sure you’re full afterwards.
What does that mean?
Well, you just have to eat in moderation. 250 Calories for a small bar of chocolate is more than 10% of your calories if you’re trying to aim for 1800 per day. If you do include one, then you’d have to make sure the rest of your meals 1. fill you up enough, 2. don’t push you over your daily calorie limit. You could also raise your daily calorie limit and add extra space for it by burning more energy, but this would be a lot of extra work.
The above paragraph shouldn’t put you off wanting to eat chocolate though (or anything else tasty), as it can really help you lose weight – not from a calorie point of view, but from a psychological point of view.
After the initial motivation wears off, the first thing that comes into the head of most people when on a diet is “when can I stop this and go back to how I was eating before”. If you’re thinking like that, your wedding diet is doomed for failure. While not something you have to do forever, a diet should be at least a bit enjoyable to make you stick to it. This means including things that you like and things that make you happy. If that means chocolate, then fit it into your calorie allowance. If that means wine or cake, then do the same.
It’s proven in psychology that if you tell yourself (or anyone else) not to do something, that’s what you’ll focus on. It’s called the red button syndrome. What happens is that you can’t take your mind off the chocolate, you give in, and then binge on it because you don’t know when the next time you’ll be eating it will be.
If you like them, consuming things like chocolate, wine, cake, ice cream etc…are much better in moderation than not at all.
4. You have to eat 6 times a day to lose weight
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Yet another diet myth is where you’re told to eat 6 times a day or every 3 hours to “stoke” your metabolism. The idea behind this one is that every time you eat, your body requires energy to digest the food, so the more often you eat, the more often your metabolism will be “boosted”.
It’s true that your body requires energy to digest food, but the problem with the idea of “eating more often revs your metabolism up more” is that the amount of energy required to digest the food, depends on the amount of food to digest. Every meal you have, it takes about 10-15% of the food’s energy to digest it.
What does this mean?
Well, it doesn’t matter if you have 1, 3, 6 or 10 meals. If the total calories are the same over the day, the same amount of energy will be required to digest it.
If we take the 1, 3, 6 or 10 meals of 1800 Calories, we can see this clearly:
1800/1 = 1800 x 10% = 180 x 1 time per day = 180
1800/3 = 600 x 10% = 60 x 3 times per day = 180
1800/6 = 300 x 10% = 30 x 6 times per day = 180
1800/10 = 180 x 10% = 18 x 10 times per day = 180
So in all these cases, the amount of calories burnt digesting food at the end of the day is the same – 180, despite how may meals are eaten.
There is one exception to this rule- Protein. Protein requires more energy to digest so as a result burns a few more calories. This is one of the reasons it’s recommended to eat more protein while on a diet and trying to tone up. Replacing some of the carbs or fats in your diet with protein means you’re consuming the same amount of food, so stay full, however burning a few extra calories through digestion. This is a tactic everyone should definitely implement while on their wedding diet.
5. Fat burners help you burn fat
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“Fat burners make you thin” is another lie in the fitness industry. A magic pill that you can take and lose weight is what everyone wants! – no need to think about diet and exercise – just pop the pill and get your ideal body.
While the first 4 diet myths were focused on calories (the energy you take in), fat burners are based on movement (the energy you burn).
The idea is that taking a fat burner pill will help you burn more fat and get you toned for your wedding. The pills usually have a long ingredient list, a snazzy label, and a big price tag. The number one ingredient in all these types of products is almost always caffeine. The other ingredients usually have little effect and are usually just there to give you a “buzz” or because a study on rats showed that taking 100 times the dose gave a marginal effect in weight loss (literally grams). So caffeine we know is a stimulant and taking it makes you more alert and energetic. That’s basically how fat burners work – they make you burn more energy because you move around more! There’s no magic behind it!
However, there’s one big caveat and it goes back to the calorie argument that I used in myths 1-4. If you’re not in a calorie deficit, a fat burner isn’t going to make you lose weight.
In Emma’s example above, if she were to be eating 2100 calories (more than her body needs per day), she’d put on weight. While taking a fat burner, say she burnt 100 fewer calories per day because of the extra movement she did, she’d still be just at 2000 (what her body needs to maintain its weight), so not in a calorie deficit. She’d need to be eating in a way that allowed her to be in a calorie deficit and then her body would use its own fat stores for fuel. Taking a fat burner may help burn off a bit more fat if you are in a calorie deficit, but there are better ways:
- Just take a caffeine pill. They are inexpensive and don’t come with fancy marketing. Coffee is also another good choice due to its caffeine content. Both these will help you feel more energetic and help you move around more to burn more energy.
- Get an activity tracker like a FitBit. If you know how much activity you are doing during the day, you can monitor it and implement strategies to increase it if you aren’t doing enough.
- Increase your protein intake. As mentioned in the myth “you have to eat 6 times a day to lose weight”, simply swapping some carbs for protein can burn a bit more energy – you’re eating the same amount of food – just swapping the types of food you eat, so this is a no-brainer for a bit of extra fat loss!
So to sum this one up, fat burners are nothing special or magic. They are high in caffeine which gives you energy to move around a bit more and burn a few extra calories. Whether they cause you to lose weight or not depends on if you are in a calorie deficit or not, and that’s not down to the fat burner, so it’s definitely something you shouldn’t be putting all your money on.
6. You have to do crazy workouts to lose two dress sizes for your wedding
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…or any amount of weight for that matter. This is a big myth and often baffles people why they can’t get results with it.
Like lie number 5, the myth about the amount of exercise you need to do to lose weight is focused on the “energy burnt” side of things rather than the “energy you take in” side of things.
To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit as explained in Emma’s example.
Your calorie deficit means eating under your required calorie needs for the day and as a result, your body takes fat from your fat stores to replenish it, making you lose weight.
Part of your required calorie needs for the day is made up of movement:
- Planned exercise.
- All other movement in your day.
The more of each of these things you do, the more you’ll be able to eat and still be able to be in a calorie deficit.
So movement is good!
However, it’s only a small part of your energy output per day. Much more comes from keeping your bodily functions working etc…
If you’ve ever run for 30 minutes on a treadmill, you’ll know what I mean. You burn about 250 Calories (enough for the small chocolate bar we mentioned earlier).
So, doing exercise is hard work for the number of calories you “earn”.
Before I go on, though I’m not bashing working out. I’m just trying to highlight the fact that it may not be the most important part of losing weight.
Exercise brings incredible benefits like improving your overall health, making you feel mentally better, plus some people just plain enjoy it! Exercise can be a cool social activity too. Things like body pump, circuit classes or even cross fit are great ways to make new friends who have the same goals as you. This can bring tremendous motivation to continue.
A big problem however is that a lot of people can’t find the time to get to the gym, maybe don’t feel confident to workout out around others, plus don’t enjoy it.
Good news is that you don’t necessarily need to go to the gym to burn energy – especially if you’re just starting out.
Think about burning calories as time vs intensity. Let’s use running and walking as an example.
With running you work at a higher intensity so burn calories faster.
With walking, you work at a lower intensity so burn slower.
So basically, to burn 100 calories, it takes longer walking than running. The point is that you can still burn 100 calories walking. You don’t need to run.
So we can now think about doing exercise based on your preferences.
Do you enjoy running, are injury free and don’t have much time? Awesome, maybe incorporate running into your routine.
Do you not enjoy running, maybe have some niggles and are new to exercise, but don’t mind spending a bit more time to get the same benefit as running? Awesome, try going for a walk. Walk the dog, stroll and listen to music, phone a friend etc…you don’t need to focus on the fact that you’re walking for exercise.
I mentioned before that planned exercise plus every other movement you make during your day makes up the energy you burn and have control of.
Let me ask you a question…
How long do you spend in the gym? 1 hr? 1.5 hrs max?
How long is the rest of the day? …23 hours right?
You’ve got a lot more chances and time to slip in some extra movement during this 23 hours. It’s much easier to combine extra movement into your day-to-day activities that you don’t really notice than take time out of your day to do some crazy, super HIIT body workout routine at the gym.
So I mentioned above that walking (other movements too), can easily burn calories just like running – it just takes longer ‘cos they are less intense…
We just need to create some cool movement habits to get you burning this extra energy throughout the day.
Great examples are:
- Always taking the stairs.
- Parking further away than you need to.
- Walking around when on the phone.
- Going for walks while listening to audiobooks.
Doing things like the above can drastically increase the energy you burn, help increase your calorie deficit, and so help you burn more fat – all without going to the gym!
Being aware of the exercise that you’re doing has great psychological effects as well. Just being in a mindset that you are doing good things towards your progress (be it going to the gym or just trying to get extra movement into your day), you’ll make better eating choices as well which will be a great help with your weight loss progress.
One interesting effect of doing really high-intensity workouts is that some people will often sit down, rest more and generally expend less energy after their workout. The energy then not burnt during this extra rest negates what was burnt in the workout, so ends up meaning the workout was done in vain and didn’t contribute to their weight loss. All that effort for nothing right? This doesn’t happen with everybody, and I’m certainly not saying not to do exercise because of this, but just be aware of it. An activity tracker like a Fitbit can make sure you’re keeping up the same activity day-to-day, so you know you’re not compensating for working out more by sitting down more!
7. You have to train fasted to burn fat
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If you’ve followed the 6 myths and lies up until now, you won’t be surprised that it’s also not true that you have to work out fasted to burn more fat to fit into your wedding dress. The idea is that if you train before breakfast, then you won’t have any food in you, and so your body will use its fat stores for fuel. Sounds perfectly reasonable right? If you’ve also followed myths 1-6, then you may have an idea why this one isn’t true.
Yes, if we train before we eat in the morning, we will have to burn fat as fuel if we don’t have enough carb stores in our muscles. However, the idea that this will make us lose weight doesn’t stand up to the calorie argument.
Going back to Emma again…
Let’s say she’s eating 2300 calories per day (300 over what she needs).
She burns 200 calories in the morning before breakfast so she’s starting the day on -200.
The calories have come from body fat.
However, because she’s eating more than she needs overall, she’ll just replace the body fat burnt by the end of the day when those extra 300 Calories she’s eating spill over into her fat stores.
End of the day = 2100 Calories.
If Emma decides to do the workout after her breakfast, then the 200 calories she burns will come from the food that’s immediately available to burn.
She’s starting the day on 0 because she’s not burnt anything from body fat.
So over the day she’s eating the 2300 Calories.
200 of those are burnt off after breakfast.
At the end of the day, she’s at 2100 Calories as well.
Both examples work out the same. Doing exercise before or after eating your first meal (fasted/non-fasted), doesn’t matter for fat loss.
Saying that, it could be better to train after breakfast because the extra energy you get from your food could help you train harder and burn more energy.
If you like training fasted, or you have no choice (no time to eat and work out before work) then it’s also not a problem.
Bonus lie: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
This is one of the biggest myths out there. Everyone knows that breakfast is king right? Ask your grandma and she’ll confirm it’s true!
Well, actually it’s a lie as well!
The idea of this myth is that if you don’t eat breakfast your metabolism slows down. It’s true that after a period of not eating, your metabolism can slow down to stop you starving to death. However, this period is measured in weeks and not hours. If you skip a meal your metabolism will actually speed up as your body releases hormones to get you moving to find food.
There’s also the idea that food in the digestive system revs up the metabolism. However as we’ve already discussed in myth 4, it’s a percentage of that food (10-15%) that’s burnt off through digestion, so if you don’t eat the food to start with then it doesn’t matter than your not burning off 10-15% of it!
What it comes down to is, if you eat breakfast and like eating breakfast, then stick with it.
If you don’t eat breakfast and don’t like eating breakfast, there’s no need to start. You’ll be adding extra calories to your day unnecessarily that you could have saved for ice cream later 🙂
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these myths and they stop you falling into some unnecessary traps with your wedding diet. If you have any doubts about any other common dieting practices, please ask!