Are carbs bad for you? Should you be counting calories? What supplements should you be taking?
As personal trainers, we get a ton of questions about nutrition.
With social media cluttered with trendy food fads and diets, coupled with constantly evolving nutritional guidelines, it’s understandable why so many are confused about what to eat and what is optimal for health.
To help you differentiate fact from fiction, here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked nutrition questions out there.
1. What should I be eating to lose weight?
This is a difficult question, simply because there is no single answer. Everybody’s preference, goal, and metabolism is different: the best diet is the one that matches your specific physiology and something you can stick to.
In other words, there is no magical food or diet that helps you lose weight. Generally speaking, weight loss happens when you’re in a caloric deficit: when the number of calories you eat in a day is smaller than the number of calories you burn off. Thinking about your lifestyle and eating habits can help you identify small, sustainable adjustments to help reach your goals.
For example, if you’re eating out every meal and resorting to fast-food on a regular basis, habits such as meal planning can help you incorporate more healthy foods in your diet. If you love going out on weekends, try limiting your alcohol intake.
Adopting habits that you can keep for the long term is what is going to work. While going on restrictive diets will lead to faster weight loss, this process is harmful to your body and not realistic or sustainable in the long term.
2. Should I be counting my calories?
While counting/tracking your calories might be helpful for some, it isn’t for everybody. If you’re someone who gets overly obsessed with numbers or has a history of disordered eating, it’s best to stay away from calories counters.
Additionally, calorie counting can be wildly inaccurate. Calorie counts on food labels and in databases can be off by a significant amount. Additionally, if you’re eating out, it’s hard to know how many servings you’re consuming, leading to over- or under- estimation.
Instead of calorie continuing, using hand-size portion estimates might be easier and more beneficial. At each meal, the size of your palm determines your protein intake, your fist determines your vegetable intake, your cupped hand determines your carb intake, and your thumb determines your fat intake. Because your hands are generally scaled to your size, this method is a bit more tailored to each individual. Additionally, you’re getting proper portion sizes of your macronutrients without weighing and measuring your food all the time.
3. Should I be taking any supplements?
From protein powders to multivitamins, the market for nutritional supplements is huge, not to mention very successful: more than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements. While you may think you need supplements to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients, they are not an essential part of the diet.
It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need just by eating a varied diet. That being said, supplements can be useful for filling any gaps in your diet. For example, supplementing with vitamin D during the winters could have positive health outcomes.
You should discuss with a doctor what supplements you may need. However, rather than focusing on multivitamins and supplements to get your nutrients in, spend your money on real foods instead.
4. Are carbs bad for you?
No: carbs are not bad for you. They are what give you energy: carbs are your body’s preferred source of fuel and play very important roles in the body. However, there is a difference between refined, overly processed carbs and ones that are minimally processed.
As a general guideline, you should be fueling your body with the minimally processed carbs: keep in mind that the type of carb in your diet is more important than the amount. When you completely cut out carbs, your diet can start to lack key nutrients such as fiber, iron, vitamins, and minerals.
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