December 5, 2019

Sugar is the New Heroin & Other Diet Myths that aren’t actually True.


Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this website is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that. ~ Ed.


“Eating with smaller plates will help reduce the amount eaten and, therefore, will help with weight maintenance or loss.”

Except, they found plate size didn’t impact food intake noticeably. 


We, as a community, as a nation, have familiar diet tropes around eating that we seem to accept without much issue. Like, smaller plates, eat less—that makes sense intuitively. 

Except these shared beliefs, when put to the test, aren’t correct. Most of us don’t know that. 

The holidays inspired my line of thinking. People sitting over their Thanksgiving turkey, eating on the red tablecloth with laden plates, discussing how they wouldn’t eat the day before to make up for the meal, or had to start their new diet in January. It’s the usual, unfortunately triggering talk for an individual who struggled with an eating disorder

It’s a bit frustrating for me that people don’t know that what they’re saying isn’t right—that’s not how bodies work—or that they can eat and not worry about it. They believe these falsehoods because they’ve never experienced an alternative explanation. 

Because that’s how the industry does nutrition: we accept something because someone fit-looking says it, and we go from there. 

Or that one nutritionist friend we have says something to us, and we go with that, even though nutritionists need no credentials to have the label. Dietitians are the only people with a regulated title in the realm of nutrition, and they practice evidence-based medicine. 

But few people know that. The only reason I do is, heh, well, the aforementioned eating disorder thing. 

Another one of those things we’ve heard that are false? The whole “sugar is addictive” bull-crap. 

People are terrified of carbs, sugar, and “hyper-palatable foods” because media highlighted a study discussing how rats overate and gained weight rapidly on such foods. I mean, it caused me to avoid foods for a while. 

One thing we didn’t know about that study? 

The rats were starved and restricted from food. 

So, of course, they were going to overeat on the next available food item. People will eat beyond fullness on any food if restricted, hungry, or starving. Our brains are wired for survival. If we are in a famine, the food that provides the most energy is going to be the food we eat a lot of, for our body believes we need to store fat to survive. 

This is a reason the whole “eat fewer calories” doesn’t work in weight loss, and about 95 percent of diets either cause weight cycling (up and down but back to similar weights) or return to a higher weight than when the diet started.

Not everyone can “be skinny and have abs.” Genetics matter, weight set point matters, and biggest of all, the way the diet industry is structured works against our biology. 

Eating less means we burn fewer calories via thermogenesis or heat production to conserve energy. It means we move less, so activity-related energy production decreases. Or hypothalamus shuts down other unnecessary things, and weight loss plateaus. We get frustrated, we don’t know what we are doing wrong, and we can’t be skinny like that girl over there. 

That makes sense. We are eating less, hungry all the time, yet can’t lose weight. We are expending all this effort with no reward at the finish line. And if we eat more, we might gain weight, even if it’s less than what we were eating in the past. 

That’s because the body adapts to prevent starvation. If we continue to eat more, those adaptations sort of turn down, and we can typically eat again and maintain weight. 

Weight isn’t an “I’m too weak to stick to a diet” issue. It’s not a “loses the battle with the fork,” as I’ve heard said. Those statements are false. We are biologically wired not to starve, and so it’s never about the strength of an individual or their morals. Those statements also blindly assume that we, as people, if left without restraint, would eat ourselves into oblivion. 

That’s also not a thing in most people. In individuals who do eat compulsively, trauma is probably the driver, and that is another conversation entirely, and again, not about their weight. That type of eating is more about coping. 

Most individuals won’t eat blindly.

When eating intuitively, we have a set point weight our body likes to chill at, and this is what will most likely happen, even with all the fancy, yummy foods we have now. They do cause fullness too; it’s not just about the amount of food. More food isn’t always better. 

Also, the obesity epidemic is not really a thing, so we don’t need to be worried about body size as much as we do. 

This whole “idea” of an epidemic happened when the healthy upper limit was arbitrarily changed from a BMI of 26.9 to that of 24.9 “because the numbers were easier to remember.” That’s it.

So medium-bodied people were all of a sudden overweight or obese, not to mention athletes as well. The scale itself isn’t an indicator of the health of an individual because it’s not based on research. There is nothing to say that the BMI of overweight or obese is itself harmful. 

Some research says falling into the overweight category prolongs life. 

Our current recommendations around diet and weight change aren’t based on evidence. The research shows most diets fail, yet doctors recommend them. 

It’s more than a tad troubling. There’s hoopla popping up regularly about vegan diets being the best for prevention of disease and that they are getting enough protein (but are they?), or that paleo is the next big thing. 

And it’s not that complicated. We don’t need a fancy diet to fix all our problems, since some of them aren’t problems at all. 

That plate doesn’t make a difference. Choose the big plate, choose the small plate; we’ll all end up eating about the same amount of food anyway. 

And before jumping into that diet for New Year’s? Look at its evidence, not its case studies. Take a look at the outcomes for most diets. When we do, what we find is intuitive eating and practicing acceptance of health at every size has the best outcomes in terms of health and life satisfaction. 

And luckily for us at Elephant, my friend Kelsey wrote a great piece on what intuitive eating is. So, maybe for the new holiday, we take a look at trying that out instead? 

I know I am. 


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