One of the diet rules for weight loss that we’ve heard more than any other: A healthy diet begins with a great breakfast. There’s just one problem: A good breakfast doesn’t guarantee an overall healthy diet. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the NPD group, nearly 90 percent of Americans now eat breakfast, and yet nearly 50 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. There are two things you should know about breakfast:
1. Timing isn’t as important as you think. You don’t need to eat immediately (or even within one hour) after you wake up. Your metabolism won’t be harmed.
2. Eating an early breakfast means you’re creating a bigger eating window (you eat for more total hours during the day), which might lead to more fat storage and more health problems, according to scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. If you eat your first meal at 7 a.m. and eat a late-night snack at 10 p.m., that’s 15 hours of eating—which might be more than your body wants.
The fad-free truth: No one meal is more important than any other. What matters most is total calorie intake, food selection (think salad versus Big Mac), and then how much time you spend eating each day. So if you don’t love breakfast, skip it. If you do, enjoy your morning meal but keep an eye on your feeding window to make sure you’re not eating more calories than you need.
We all know that dinner is the most popular meal to eat with friends and family, but most people think eating after dark is the cardinal sin of weight loss. Nothing could be more incorrect. Italian researchers compared eating earlier in the day (10 a.m.) to eating later in the day (6 p.m.) In that study, there was no difference in weight (pounds) lost, but the late eaters lost more fat. Several follow-up studies concluded the same thing—timing doesn’t matter. This statement from University of Oregon researchers sums it up well: “Eating too many calories causes weight gain regardless of when you eat them.”
The fad-free truth: Living in a world where you can’t eat at night and can’t enjoy food with your friends and family is restrictive and doesn’t adhere to any science-backed rules of weight loss. You won’t become fat by eating at night—that will only happen if you overeat at night. If you’re aware of how much you should be eating within any given day, you can place those calories in whatever meal works best for your body.
We know that when you eat, you burn calories. So about 30 years ago, one of the newest diet rules was that if you eat more frequently, you must burn more calories overall. Thus the “grazing” method was formed and a nation of people began consuming four to six small meals per day. One small problem: French researchers found that there is “no evidence of improved weight loss” by eating more frequently. They even went one step further to show that when it comes to the number of calories you burn per day (i.e. your metabolism), it does not matter if you graze or gorge, assuming that you’re eating the total number of calories you need to lose weight.
The fad-free truth: If you’re told to eat 2,000 calories per day, it doesn’t matter if it’s separated into five 400-calorie meals or two 1000-calorie feasts. (However, the composition of those meals does matter—that’s the science of dieting.) What works best for your schedule should determine the number of meals you eat. When Canadian researchers compared eating three meals per day to six meals per day, breaking the six into three main meals and three snacks, there was no significant difference in weight loss, but those who ate three meals were more satisfied and felt less hunger.
From Atkins to the Paleo movement, carbohydrates have been criticized more than all of the ladies on the Real Housewives shows—combined. Here’s the real reason why carbs get such a bad reputation: Up to 50 percent of the carbohydrate intake in the typical American diet is in the form of highly processed carbs and sugar. So when people say carbs are bad, they’re usually just talking about eating lots of sugar. But that’s not really fair to every other food that also is labeled a carbohydrate.
When compared to a typical American diet, a low-carb diet looks like the undisputed champ. However, when compared to a good carb-based diet that is low in sugar, refined foods, and gluten (like the “Japanese Diet”), the results are very different. Before 1991, when Japan was considered a carb-dominate society, diabetes and obesity rates were never greater than three percent of the population. If carbs in general were the enemy, with their high starch intake via rice and sweet potatoes, the Japanese would be the fattest, most diabetic and unhealthy population on the planet. However this was not the case, and their levels of obesity are a “problem” people in the United States wish they had.
The fad-free truth: Ignore the outdated “carbs are evil” diet rules. Your body needs carbohydrates. If you completely remove this essential nutrient from your diet, you could experience a down-regulation of the hormones that control fat loss, making it harder to have the lean, sexy body you want. A good general rule: Eat more carbs on the days you’re active and fewer carbs on the days you’re sedentary. And make sure most of your carbs come from whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.