Episode 60 Transcript – What We Wish More People Knew About Nutrition

Leah Higl (00:08):

Welcome to the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. I am Leah Higl, and I am here with my co-host, Aidan Muir. And today we are talking about things, as dieticians, that we wish more people knew about nutrition. So we have a little bit of a hefty list for you today, but we’re just going to go through it and talk briefly about the few things that we each wish people knew.

Aidan Muir (00:31):

I’m going to start off with one that we both decided on. So, off air, we decided we were going to come up with eight ideas, four of them separately, and then reconvene. And this one was something we both thought of straight away, and it’s basically that we wish people had a better understanding of energy balance, calories, and macros. And it seems really simple, and honestly very boring, but would be an absolute game changer, honestly.

Aidan Muir (00:59):

Because it means you don’t get misled as easily or you don’t go down the wrong path, spending a lot of effort on things that just don’t really matter. And this is just simple things, if we look at it being like calories have a large influence over what we weigh, we are no longer looking and seeing stuff on TikTok like, does lemon water lead to fat loss? Because, it’s like, how does that influence calories in, calories out, in any way?

Leah Higl (01:27):

A lot of fad diets would be put out of business if more people knew this.

Aidan Muir (01:30):

Yeah. 100%. And then just, once again, going down macros and stuff like that, would have people stop obsessing about little things that don’t matter and then prioritizing things that do matter a lot more. And that’s coming from a place that’s not judgmental, that’s coming from a place of being like, this stuff would just make things easier, just for everybody.

Leah Higl (01:47):

Totally. Number two is going to be the healthiness of food is context-dependent. So this is going to be my quick little rant of people calling foods either unhealthy or healthy, just on their own. I’m of the opinion that there’s no good or bad foods, it’s all about the context of your diet whether something is good nutritionally or not.

Leah Higl (02:12):

So, if you take, let’s say, Tim Tams, and you were to eat one after dinner every night, but the rest of your diet was predominantly whole foods and pretty high standard, I would say that’s still a healthy habit, that’s still a healthy diet. That doesn’t make that food unhealthy. But it’s when you take that packet of Tim Tams and that becomes your dinner, okay, maybe not the most nutritious dinner in the world. And that’s when that food becomes a little less nutritious, when you’re using it in that way. So just being mindful that food isn’t really unhealthy or healthy, it’s more about the context around it that makes it good for you or not so good for you.

Aidan Muir (02:54):

Yeah. And for a long time I’ve always thought that context is the hardest part communicating about nutrition. Just because I thought it was with nutrition, for a lot of people, that people just don’t see context, they just see black and white. But it’s clearly in other aspects of the world, people do just … they are black and white thinkers and can’t see shades of gray.

Leah Higl (03:14):

People just want a very clear answer to things. And I wish I could give people a clear answer sometimes, but most of the time it’s like, “Well, it’s this answer in this context, and this answer in that context. And it’s just going to depend on said context.”

Aidan Muir (03:27):

100%. So the next one that I think is an interesting one, but it is that rate of weight loss does not drastically impact likelihood of weight regain to the extent that people think it does. Almost everybody intuitively believes that slow and steady dramatically improves the likelihood of maintaining weight loss. And it makes a lot of sense, until you question it.

Aidan Muir (03:52):

One question I ask a lot of clients that kind of challenges this, before I talk about research or anything like that, is, “Can you name two people you know of in your life who’ve lost weight slowly and maintained that weight loss?” And it’s incredibly rare for people to answer yes to that question.

Aidan Muir (04:13):

I’m just talking observationally, before looking at research or anything like that. But I think the reason why people come to this conclusion is that we see people lose weight quickly and regain weight. And therefore, it’s the assumption that losing weight slower is probably more likely to work. We’ve spoken about it on this podcast before, but somewhere along the lines of 80 to 95% of people who lose weight regain weight. And it’s just like, the odds are pretty grim. And obviously you can make the argument that not many people lose weight slowly or try to go about it the “right way” or anything like that. But I just think weight loss is hard to achieve and maintain long-term anyway. And there is some research showing that people who lose a bit more weight over the first six months are more likely to maintain weight loss as well, which kind of challenges that.

Aidan Muir (05:06):

But I would more so make the argument that it’s not so much about the rate of weight loss in particular, outside of extremes of very, very slow or very, very quick, it’s more about what you do after or what you do as a transition step. That’s probably more important. But it’s a very nuanced discussion.

Leah Higl (05:22):

Yeah. And I think the thought behind it, I find, is kind of sound. And people think, “Well, if you lose it slowly, that’s you building – Good habits – those sustainable habits.” Which makes a bit of sense, but you’re like, does it actually translate to long-term weight loss better?

Aidan Muir (05:38):

Yeah. And this is one of my more unpopular opinions, but because I’m really big on this concept of phases and I’m big on this concept of: you shouldn’t diet forever, obviously, the habits you build while trying to be in a calorie deficit are not the same habits as what you need to maintain that weight loss.

Aidan Muir (05:53):

There is a strong overlap. And I think that is important. It’s good to exercise regular, it’s good to focus on vegetables, have a decent amount of protein, drink plenty of water, eat plenty of fiber. All those things really matter. But we’re also not striving to be in a calorie deficit forever. And the amount of carbs you might be eating or the amount of calories you might be eating, or whatever it is, is going to be different when you choose to maintain your body weight at the end of that journey or whatever. It makes a lot of sense to be focusing more on: what do I do when I need to maintain my weight? rather than just the rate of weight loss on the way down.

Leah Higl (06:27):

And just quickly to finish up, I feel like the drawback to slow and “sustainable” is the motivation factor when things move really slow.

Aidan Muir (06:40):

Yeah. Just so many variables. But- Yeah. That why I come back to the whole observation of everything.

Leah Higl (06:46):

Yeah. I really like that one.

Aidan Muir (06:46):

Yeah. It’s complex.

Leah Higl (06:48):

Yeah. So the next one is going to be that metabolism isn’t static. And I think the main reason I want people to know about this is just having some understanding of what we’ve talked about before, in terms of metabolic adaptation. So just knowing that your metabolic rate is a moving target that changes depending on how many calories you’re having or your energy intake. So that metabolic rate is a moving target, which means maintenance calories can be a moving target. So your body’s metabolism is going to adapt up to a higher amount of calories that you consume. And then when you consume less, or if you’re in a deficit, it’s going to adapt down.

Leah Higl (07:30):

And I think just having that very basic understanding of metabolism not being this one number all of the time can be really useful when we are talking about dieting and weight loss and all of that. So going back to our first one, I just think that’s something that people should know if they’re going to enter a diet. It’s just a good thing to have.

Aidan Muir (07:51):

Yeah. And it’s so much about why understanding calories and energy balance is so useful. Because I see people write, a lot of the time, “I’ve been in a calorie deficit for six months and I haven’t lost any weight,” or they’ll say that they’ve gained weight or they’ve whatever.

Leah Higl (08:05):

Yes.

Aidan Muir (08:05):

And it’s like, the definition of a calorie deficit involves weight loss. By definition, you can’t be in a calorie deficit for a year and not lose weight. What people mean is they’ve been in a predicted calorie deficit or they’ve been on a calorie calculator, or whatever it is. But that’s why knowing that metabolism isn’t static and it’s a moving target, and everything like that, and you’ve got to adjust based on what’s actually happening.

Leah Higl (08:27):

Yeah. And just because 2000 calories was a deficit four weeks ago or four months ago, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a deficit now or five years later.

Aidan Muir (08:37):

Yeah. 100%. And knowing that just eases a lot of confusion as well. It just makes things so much simpler. It’s one of those things, once you see it, it just clicks and you’re like, “Oh, it makes sense now.”

Leah Higl (08:48):

Totally.

Aidan Muir (08:49):

Whereas, without knowing that, it seems magical and just confusing.

Leah Higl (08:52):

Yeah. 100%. Yep.

Aidan Muir (08:55):

So the next one, from me, is the difference between 80% effort and 100% effort with nutrition only has a small impact on outcomes. And this is one thing, once again, that I just wish a lot more people would know because it makes life easier to achieve good results. Because so many people get caught up on striving for 100% effort, which involves a lot more sacrifice than 80% effort. And when they don’t achieve that level of perfection, they’re just like, “Ah, screw it. I’m just going to do whatever.” And then they provide very little effort or whatever.

Aidan Muir (09:31):

But the difference between 80% and 100% effort, there is an impact on performance, how you feel, all of those things, but getting to 80% consistently … I think you should do 80% or 90% very consistently for a very long period of time before you even think about trying for 100%. Because even though there’s a small, small benefit, just think about the level of sacrifice, in terms of that would therefore mean never doing anything off-plan ever. It’s just so much more difficult and takes away from a massive amount of life, without much benefit.

Leah Higl (10:01):

Yeah. If you’re consistently pretty good, that’s so much better than being inconsistently perfect. Something I always like clients to know.

Aidan Muir (10:08):

Yeah. And this is obviously coming from a place of honesty, because it’s in my interest for nutrition to be more about perfection and stuff like that. It’s in my interest, as a dietician, for it to be more complex and everything like that. But the trick is, how do you get above 80% consistently? That’s the difficult part of this equation.

Leah Higl (10:28):

So the next one is actually related in a way, is that tracking calories is hard. So in my career so far … so working as a dietician, I’ve worked with a lot of people who enjoy tracking calories. And we do that while working together.

Leah Higl (10:45):

I have to say, I’ve met far more people who think they are really good at tracking calories, and are actually not very good at all, than people that do it really, really well. Tracking calories, whether using MyFitnessPal or whatever app you’re using, it does take a certain amount of fundamental nutrition and food knowledge to do accurately and it does take a certain amount of time to do. So whether that’s weighing your foods or knowing what options to choose in MyFitnessPal for different foods, and just being pretty accurate, is pretty important to the outcomes you get from tracking calories.

Leah Higl (11:23):

I think a lot of people go into it thinking, “This is the easy option. Everybody’s doing it. It must be a super, super simple solution.” And then they get frustrated when things don’t work for them or they’re just not getting the results they want. And I always say, “It’s so much harder than people think. So much more difficult.” Yeah, you can learn how to do it. But it is going to take practice and time for you to actually get something out of it. When you first start, if you have no nutrition knowledge, or very little, it’s going to be difficult and you’re not going to do it well. It’s a learning curve.

Aidan Muir (11:56):

Yeah. I think that, once again, is the best way to look at it in terms of … I’m yet to see somebody who starts tracking and nails everything 100% to start off with. It’s incredibly rare.

Aidan Muir (12:04):

I also look at it from the perspective of: I tracked for a decent period of time when I first got into nutrition. And I look back and still see that I made plenty of mistakes along the way as well, even though I thought I was doing stuff well and everything like that. But it’s important, just because a lot of people come into it with the confidence that they’re doing it perfectly. And then when weird things happen, as in they feel like they’re very full on a low amount of calories or they feel they’re eating way more or less calories than they should be in relation to their needs. But it’s just inaccuracy of tracking.

Aidan Muir (12:37):

And then the tracking calories is hard thing also has a double meaning in a way, where it still takes time as well.

Leah Higl (12:43):

It’s still a time … yeah.

Aidan Muir (12:44):

It’s still takes part of your day to do.

Leah Higl (12:46):

100%. Although, I love it in terms of the flexibility. I think it’s a great tool. I think a lot of people just get really frustrated with it because, well, you don’t know what you don’t know, so you don’t know when you’re doing things inaccurately. And because it’s portrayed as the easy way to approach things, you think you’re doing it well.

Aidan Muir (13:01):

Yeah.

Leah Higl (13:01):

So definitely not on those people to think that. I think it’s an easy assumption to make.

Aidan Muir (13:06):

Yeah. And from a positive perspective, everybody who I’ve had who has tracked, who had not previously tracked, they learn something useful from it as well.

Leah Higl (13:14):

Yeah. You can get a lot of good tips and tricks and you just learn a lot about nutrition.

Aidan Muir (13:17):

Yeah. So the next one I’ve got is that paying too much attention to headlines of studies reported by the media is silly. Pretty basic, but often they’re taken out of context, they’re just looking at the headline or whatever. I don’t know, that’s a cliche for people to say.

Aidan Muir (13:34):

But something that I think is worth thinking about is … it’s not like conspiracy theory obviously, but it’s like, what is the goal of an article? What is the goal of a headline or whatever? Headlines are written in a way that’s in the interest of the companies for you to click on it. The more clicks they get, the more advertising money they get. That is an incentive, in a way that’s just like, okay, well they’re only going to post stuff that’s interesting for two reasons. One, that incentive that I just talked about. But two, they’re only reporting stuff that’s newsworthy. And it’s like, if a research paper came out saying, “Vegetables are good for you,” does that make the news? Of course it doesn’t make the news. If a research paper comes out saying, “Vegetables are bad for you,” …

Leah Higl (14:19):

That would be front page news.

Aidan Muir (14:21):

… that would be newsworthy. It’s just a no-brainer that, firstly, by reading those studies or looking at those headlines or whatever, there’s already an inherent bias based on the incentive for what is going to make the news or whatever. It’s only going to be there if it’s newsworthy and everything like that. And yeah, so they’re only really there if they’re interesting, often counter to the rest of the body of evidence or anything like that. Or if it’s on a new topic and something that has not been studied that much before, so that’s why it’s interesting.

Aidan Muir (14:50):

Obviously we take an interest in individual studies, but what we care about far more is the whole body of evidence. That matters way more than an individual study. And the way I would personally think most people should approach this is: take note of the headline, think it might be interesting, decide whether it’s worth you looking into the topic further, and then if you are interested look into the topic further. Rather than just-

Leah Higl (15:17):

Take that as gospel.

Aidan Muir (15:18):

Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. Just looking through it with a tiny bit of a skeptical lens, basically.

Leah Higl (15:23):

100%. So the last one for today is a little bit boring, but it might be interesting to some people, and that is reduced gut symptoms … so IBS symptoms … is not always equal to improved gut health. And the only reason I really want people to know this is just because some of the fad diets that claim to be good for gut health. So things like the … I mean, not that the low FODMAP diet is a fad diet, that’s an evidence-based one that you would do if you had IBS. But the low FODMAP diet can reduce IBS symptoms, and it’s pretty good at doing it. But overall, following the low FODMAP diet actually reduces the variety of your gut microbiome. And overall, your gut health is worsened by following a low FODMAP diet for an extended period of time.

Leah Higl (16:14):

So already you can see the duality between, okay, reduced gut symptoms is occurring but your gut health is actually getting worse. So it’s not always, one is equal to the other. An extreme example of this would be like the carnival diet. Now, that’s a bit more of a fad diet, where it takes the extreme example and in terms of it takes out all of those foods that are common triggers for IBS. So all of those plant foods, all of that fiber, that can cause things like gas, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, et cetera, takes all of those out. And a lot of people find that their IBS symptoms are reduced in doing so. But we know having a diet so low in those plant-based foods, again, is not good for your overall gut health.

Leah Higl (16:58):

So going back to the reason why I want people to know that, is because things are marketed to improve gut health … things like the carnival diet, diets that reduce the amount of plant foods that you’re eating, other kind of diets that just reduce other food groups that are usually good for gut health … and say that, “Hey, it’s good for gut health because it reduces gut symptoms.” But it doesn’t mean the two are always equal.

Leah Higl (17:23):

I know that’s kind of complex, but I just think people conflate the two so much that it can get really confusing to the average consumer that doesn’t really know much about gut health. And it can really seem like those two things are the same.

Aidan Muir (17:36):

Yeah. And it’s just because there’s a bit of overlap, but they’re not the same.

Leah Higl (17:40):

There’s a bit of overlap, you can improve your gut health and that might reduce your gut symptoms. So sometimes it can go in that direction. It’s just, sometimes, it is also the opposite direction. And I think just being aware that, whilst there is overlap, they’re not always related in the way you think they would be.

Aidan Muir (17:57):

For sure. So let’s wrap-up there. So this has been episode 60 of the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. And, as always, if you could please leave a rating or review, if you have not already, we would greatly appreciate that.