Seeing past popular dieting myths

Beth Roessner, The Desert Sun     April 30, 2014

All it takes is one new piece of information to place the dieting world into a frenzy. Instantly, this new finding becomes the Holy Grail of weight loss.

“Our weight and our health are such a large focus of our individual, personal experiences that we are always looking for that secret,” said Amber Seewald, bariatric program dietitian at Desert Regional Medical Center. “We’re always looking for that one thing that’s going to help us improve our health, lose weight or become more healthy in general.”

This puts people in a vulnerable scenario, willing to believe just about anything. Unfortunately, said Seewald, there isn’t a magic wand for weight loss or becoming healthy, aside from hard work and moderation.

Two easy ways to spot myths, Seewald said, are listening if it offers absolutes and if it “sounds too good to be true.”

Myths regarding nutrition can throw off a healthy lifestyle plan, but the right information can prolong success.

Here are the simple truths behind seven common diet myths.

MYTH: Low-fat, low-sugar and low-calorie products are a healthy alternative

REALITY: Despite providing a healthy jumping-off point for those struggling to reduce snack food intake, these products are generally loaded with artificial sweeteners and other chemicals.

“What (manufacturers are) looking to do is to reduce caloric consumption or reduce fat content,” said Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer, “essentially saying, the more fat and calories you have, the more weight you gain.”

But the processing of the food can actually alter the metabolism for the long-term and congest the liver, which can result in weight gain, said Sinsheimer, a naturopathic doctor based in Palm Desert. Processed foods often contain high fructose corn syrup, which can lead to weight gain.

“High fructose corn syrup actually has to be processed through the liver like alcohol does before it can be made available to the body,” Sinsheimer said.

When compared to 100 calories of pure sugar, 100 calories of high fructose corn syrup will make you gain 30 percent more weight, said Sinsheimer, because it’s hard for the body to process.

MYTH: Label your eating habits

REALITY: Health coach Tracy McCord doesn’t suggest labeling as a particular style of eater. Sure, some people work best on low-carb, paleo, vegan or vegetarian diets to lose weight, but she suggests to harbor a more inclusive-style of eating.

“You can do grapefruits or cabbage soup... or only protein on Thursdays, but eventually you’re going to say, ‘This just doesn’t work for me.’ ”

She prefers the Good, Better and Best model. At certain functions, a good option on the food table may only be available, but at home the refrigerator and pantry can be stocked with the best. It’s this flexibility that can help keep someone from feeling discouraged or bogged down by diet parameters.

This style of eating also help encourage intuitive eating, and nourishing the body based on signals. Listen to the body, she said, and learn the effects of certain foods. A 80-20 approach — 80 percent of calories from high-quality sources, 20 percent for wiggle room — can help keep a dieter on track.

“Intuitive eating is the most important, but to also not get obsessed with the food. Food is just fuel,” McCord said. “We tend to get obsessed with calories or ‘organic only.’ We tend to get locked into these boxes and it’s not helpful overall.”

MYTH: Counting calories matters most

REALITY: However helpful it can be to monitor calorie intake, the quality of those calories matters most to McCord. Consider a 300-calorie breakfast sandwich, she said, and then compare it to all of the fruits and vegetables that could be eaten in its place. Those healthy calories don’t need to be counted when density is considered. And, then it’s smart to see their effect on the body.

“I don’t know that a calorie is the same,” said McCord. “And we’re still learning what they are.”

A large portion of a salty food can cause bloat, where a large serving of grapes is not only lower in calories, but also hydrating and cleansing, McCord said.

MYTH: Eating fewer calories will increase weight loss

REALITY: A calorie-restrictive diet can help reduce the number on the scale, but when taken to the extreme a severely low-calorie diet can have lasting negative effects, said Seewald.

“Your body has a protective factor. If you start cutting calories you’re metabolism is also going to slow to an extent,” she said.

There is debate, Seewald said, of how many calories can be cut. Typically, she doesn’t dip below 1,200 calories on a daily basis, but under medical supervision it can achieve weight loss for some, but the body may fight back.

“Our bodies are designed to hold onto a certain amount of weight as a protective measure,” Seewald said. “Restricting calories will start working against you.”

Athletes can also be at the other end of the spectrum. Despite eating a healthy diet, they’re not attaining their ideal weight or achieving good performance because they’re not eating enough to sustain their active lifestyle.

MYTH: Stop eating after 8 p.m.

REALITY: The more calories eaten close to bed time leaves the body digesting well into the night. The bulk of calories, suggested Sinsheimer, should be eaten before 3 p.m.

“The more you eat your calories for fuel, and the more time you have to burn them, the better and more efficiently you’re burn and lose weight,” said Sinshiemer.

McCord agrees; during sleep the body naturally repairs itself and after a late, heavy meal the process won’t be able to begin. And, McCord added, it interrupts sleeping patterns.

Following the phrase “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” can provide some guidance, by putting breakfast as the most calorie-dense meal. Stacking meals in such a fashion can help maintain weight loss.

Fueling right throughout the day also means eating foods that support the lifestyle. A mainly-sedentary person who is able to get in their 30-minute cardio workout, may still gain weight if they’re consuming calorie-dense pastas, breads and sandwiches, Sinsheimer added.

“Carbs are really hard to burn off on the treadmill at night,” said Sinsheimer.

MYTH: Eliminate eggs, carbs or milk for immediate weight-loss success

REALITY: However controversial those three foods are, Seewald firmly believes that restrictive diets are not the answer. For her, it’s all about the whole picture, which includes eating whole foods.

The low-fat craze took the country by storm in the 1980s and manufacturers created fat-free products that were lower in fat but higher in sugar. There was the Atkins diet boom that rejected carbs and increased protein and fat consumption. At one point, fridges were empty of butter and in it’s place was margarine. Now, more people are eliminating dairy or eggs.

“What the real answer is, is moderation,” said Seewald of those three foods. “Anything of too much is a bad idea.”

MYTH: Cleanses will boost health and speed up weight loss

REALITY: Cleansing can help jump-start a healthy-eating regimen, but there’s a lot of controversy over what that really means.

“The body has organ designed specifically for cleansing purpose: kidneys, liver and colon,” Seewald said. “Going on a very restrictive “cleansing diet” is not necessarily going to help you lose weight and aren’t even necessarily healthy.”

Seewald does see the advantages to certain kinds of cleanses as along as daily calorie goals are met and they’re done in healthy ways, but she doesn’t typically promote them. They go against the lessons of balance she teaches her clients.

The Master Cleanse, said Seewald, which advocates no food consumption, instead allows followers to drink lemonade made with lemon juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper for several days. There’s no scientific research to support such a lifestyle, said Seewald.

“Simply eating better, more fruits and vegetables, more whole foods and getting the processed foods out of our diet would do far better and will go much further to help us lose weight and improve our healthy than any type of cleansing diet.”


There's more to raw food than just salad

Beth Roessner, The Desert Sun     October 2, 2013

The words “raw foods” can conjure up images of uncooked eggs, rare steaks or crunchy uncooked vegetables. But despite this unappealing imagery, there is a lifestyle craze centered around uncooked foods.

With an emphasis on plant-based foods, this way of eating has become increasingly popular for those looking to lose weight, boost energy levels or simply eat more fresh foods.


It may take some extra planning and creativity, but raw meals can go beyond simple salads.

“The more alive the food is that you eat, the better you feel,” explained Dr. Karen Vizer, a Palm Springs-based lifestyle and wellness mentor. “What comes to us from nature ... is so much more rich in nutrients. It’s much more nutrient-dense than what you find in the middle of your grocery store.”

Increasing the amount of raw foods isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle change.

Vizer, who works as a health coach and has a background in nursing and chiropractics, has developed entrees, soups and even desserts so her clients don’t feel deprived. Foods like coconut meat can be suitable substitutions for shrimp in ceviche. Soaked cashews or macadamia nuts can become hearty cheeses or decadent cheesecakes. Ice creams can still be created with nut milks. Even grains, like quinoa or rice, can be consumed when soaked and sprouted. Vizer is currently developing a recipe for Thai lettuce wraps with a walnut-meat base.

“What if you could take avocado, cashews and macadamia nuts but partner these things up and create tacos, sour cream or cheese?” said Vizer. “There are ways that you can mimic things that you’re used to having that I guarantee will taste as good or better, will not be difficult and will be a whole new thing you can do.”

Preserving nutrients

As long as foods don’t reach internal temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit during preparations, they are considered raw.

At those temperatures, raw food proponents believe, the beneficial nutrients and enzymes are broken down and depleted. When consumed in their rawest state, an individual can reap the health benefits, which include higher energy, decreased inflammation and clearer skin.

“Just because it’s raw, does not mean it promotes health,” explained Tracy McCord.

McCord’s quick to note that there is a difference between a raw and living foods diet. Meats created from nuts, while containing some health benefits, are still laden in fat and calories. Those should be considered treats, she said. As a health coach and detoxification specialist based out of Bermuda Dunes, McCord emphasizes the importance of raw fruits and vegetables.

“You’re going to feel so much better when you understand the laws of nature and eat what’s natural,” McCord said.

Because McCord downplays the use of nuts, meals don’t have to consist of just salads. McCord recommends non-dairy smoothies made with coconut milk or water as a suitable breakfast option. For entrees, noodles can be replaced with julienned zucchini or rice can be made out of grated cauliflower.

Protein can be a topic of controversy and many people worry that while following a plant-based diet, daily protein requirements will not be met. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with amino acids, said McCord, the building blocks of protein. Seeds like chia or hemp contain protein and nuts are also good sources.

“The idea that we need a great deal of protein every day is a myth,” McCord said. “Too much animal protein is very hard on the kidneys and it will weaken the lymphatic system.”

Baby steps

The first few weeks after boosting the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting processed foods, there may be some adaptation needed. The body is detoxifying, said McCord, and it would be common to feel sluggish or bloated. Depending on the level of raw foods consumed, the detox period may be more extreme than others. It’s the cooked foods that slow the detox process down.

Some raw recipes do require some special equipment. A high-powered, multi-tray dehydrator is good to create dried snacks, or raw breads and crackers. It can even be used to warm up dishes. A high-speed blender like a Vitamix, is ideal to puree nuts and other foods smooth.

Vizer would not recommend for anyone to go 100 percent raw, because the risk of failure for those inexperienced is so high. Instead she encourages for someone to boost their raw food intake.

Although she’s not a doctor, McCord is a firm believer that through diet, many ailments can be lessened and even reversed.

“There’s a lot of people trying to sell you products that you don’t need,” said McCord. “All you need is a grocery store produce department.”