In a world rich with knowledge about health, diet and exercise, there are still a surprising number of myths, mistakes and outright lies out there on the subject of weight loss.
Some of them are blatant, intentional deceptions, while others are seemingly innocent concepts that appeal to common sense. Either way, falling for any of these can hurt your progress and make losing weight a lot harder than it needs to be.
I've compiled just a few of these below, and I hope they will help you to better identify what is and isn't helping you in your ongoing quest to stay in shape.
MYTH: Avoiding carbohydrates is a healthy way to lose weight
While it’s true that cutting back carbs can be helpful in setting up your diet, the reasons are not as cut and dry as fad dieters would have you believe.
One of the reasons cutting carbs has grown in popularity is that many refined foods high in carbohydrates (such as crackers, white bread and hamburger buns) are essentially “empty calories.”
“Empty calories” is a way to describe any food that has moderate to high amounts of calories but few other nutrients the body needs. For example – a single snack cake could contain the same amount of calories as a plate full of steamed vegetables, but it lacks the vast amount of vitamins and minerals, as well as the ability to leave you feeling satisfied.
High carb foods like breads may average more calories per ounce than low carb foods like meats and vegetables – but they also tend to contain fiber and other unique nutrients that your body needs. According to the Mayo Clinic, carbs should make up roughly 55% of your daily caloric intake.
Ultimately your diet should be balanced, and contain a moderate amount of carbohydrates to maintain good health.
MISTAKE: Eating plenty of “SuperFoods” can increase metabolism and speed up weight loss.
“SuperFoods” have become a major buzzword in the health and nutrition community, but many people mistake the meaning of the term. When a food is labelled a “SuperFood,” this really just indicates that the vegetable or fruit in question contains large amounts of beneficial nutrients compared its’ calories. It is essentially the opposite of an “empty calorie” food.
Further, it is also true that some foods contain more vitamins, nutrients and compounds per calorie which promote healthy metabolic processes in the body.
The mistake is believing that eating nothing but a particular food for a certain amount of time will somehow “melt away” fat by “putting your metabolism into overdrive,” or that simply adding a certain food to your diet will somehow nullify the other calories you're already eating.
There is no magic serum to make you lose weight – in pill, juice or vegetable form. Ultimately, all foods contain either many nutrients and few calories, many calories and few nutrients, or something in between.
Your best bet – as always – is to eat a balanced diet containing many kinds of foods.
MYTH: Snacking is the reason you gain weight.
Make no mistake – your daily snacking habits absolutely could be making you fat.
The reason however has less to do with snacking itself, and more to do with the type and frequency of the snacks you choose. When done properly, snacking can actually benefit your weight loss plan.
The first step is to plan your meals and your day so that your snacks fall within the daily calorie goal you’re aiming for. The biggest pitfall of snacking is NOT planning on snacking.
The second step is to select snack foods that are high satiety, and low in calories and still fun to eat. Satiety is your body’s way of telling you that you’re not hungry anymore. Foods with higher fat content like avocados and tree nuts are excellent at this. Fruits are also a good choice, as they provide a sweet shot of energy to keep you feeling awake and on top of things.
Why is snacking a good thing? Think back to when you were a child. Remember being told “not to ruin your appetite”? This is exactly what you want to do!
As long as your snacks stay within your daily calorie goals and are spaced out appropriately, your body will ultimately feel less hungry throughout the day. This prompts less urgency at mealtime, so you’re less likely to over-indulge. The result is a more comfortable and more successful dieting experience.
MISTAKE: You have to starve yourself to lose weight
This could have been classified a myth, but in today’s world most of us realize that skipping meals and eating incredibly tiny amounts of food each day can hurt more than it helps.
Starving yourself to lose weight is actually one of the few known causes for weight gain among adults.
While portion control – that is, keeping your meals small – is important in weight loss, choosing healthy foods low in calories is equally important.
This is where the “SuperFoods” and “empty calories” we discussed earlier come into spotlight. Eating a large, filling meal rich in vitamins and nutrients is always going to power your body better than a tiny meal with plenty of calories but nothing else of use.
The act of depriving yourself of food also triggers a physiological response in your body that is specifically designed for surviving starvation.
You may be aware that a lack of food is intended for a good cause – but your body doesn’t know any better. It will reduce metabolism, devote more resources to absorbing nutrients out of whatever food you still have in your system, and even cannibalize healthy muscles, organs and other tissues for needed nutrients to survive.
Many dieters who lose weight through starvation tactics end up losing significant amounts of muscle before being driven to failure and regaining the weight. With reduced muscle mass to burn energy effectively, the weight is gained back faster by a body trying to survive, and most of the regained weight will be fat.
MYTH: To see immediate weight loss results, you should focus entirely on an aggressive exercise routine.
There are certain cases where a daunting exercise plan combined with reduced calories is successful. The weight loss programs at CFS are a great example of this process working efficiently to strip away significant amounts of fat as fast as possible. These programs benefit however from our clients living on-site, and working full time under constant care and supervision of professional trainers.
For the typical dieting beginner at home who wants to successfully shed 10lbs, attempting to reproduce these results through intense exercise is a sure fire way to burn out and quit. It is also an excellent recipe for injuries. Furthermore, taking on an intense exercise program without incorporating a well-planned, calorie-controlled diet will usually result in weight gain.
When it comes to exercise, set goals that are reasonable and attainable. If you’re not used to walking long distances, don’t start off by hiking 8 miles cross-country. Do half a mile around your neighborhood for a while first.
The primary goal of exercising for weight loss is to prevent your body from reabsorbing muscle. While you can burn even more calories by working out more – and gain more muscle to use burning future calories in the process – that is a bonus, not a requirement.
In summary, weight loss can be fast - but losing 10lbs in a week is an extreme case result. In everyday life, weight loss should be approached gradually and steadily as a progressive lifestyle change.
As long as you ensure that you’re eating fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. That is a mathematical certainty.
MYTH: Eating healthy food is too expensive
It is true, to an extent, that healthy foods often cost more than their unhealthy equivalents. Bread for example: A loaf of plain white sandwich bread might cost a dollar, while a loaf of multigrain high fiber all-organic bread demands six dollars or more.
This is partially because quality foods cost more to produce. It is also however, because consumers looking to eat healthy have proven to large corporations that they’ll gladly pay high premiums for foods with catchy phrases like “all-organic” or “natural” or “gluten free” on the packages.
Take a stroll through the produce section of your supermarket however, and you’ll discover that most of the fresh foods you actually need to be eating are relatively inexpensive. Frozen foods cost even less, and are typically just as good as fresh. Dry foods like beans and lentils are absurdly cheap, and there are plenty of canned foods (tuna for example) that are affordable and good for you.
What about meats and dairy, you ask? Grass-fed or organic free-range options for meat, poultry and dairy do cost more – but you should be substituting portions of these with healthier ingredients in your meals anyway.
Ground beef for example, can be used far more sparingly if you add some lentils or black beans to the mix. Recipe calls for two eggs? Try using one egg and ¼ cup of applesauce.
That’s a major secret to weight loss by the way – learning to opt for different kinds of foods than you’re used to. Instead of baking a casserole, try whipping up some stir-fry. Craving a sandwich? Whole grain pita pockets don’t cost much more than their loaved counterparts, and tortilla shells are quite a bit cheaper in fact. Explore the options available, and you won’t find yourself stuck at the register with a $400 cart of groceries.
OUTRIGHT LIE: Diet or slimming pills are generally safe, and can help me lose weight without exercise or changes to my diet.
Ever dreamed about winning the lottery? Just imagine – scoring boatloads of cash that you didn’t have to break your back working for. What a concept! If you’ve ever bought a lottery ticket, you know that zesty feeling of hope that you get – right before they read off a completely different set of numbers than the ones on your ticket.
Diet pills work pretty much the same way the lottery does – except the lottery gives you better odds.
We live in a world that is becoming increasingly overweight – at least if you live in a first-world country. In the United States alone, roughly 66% of us are at least overweight, and 33% are either obese or morbidly obese. We all know the risks associated with obesity – but most of us don’t want to do the work it would take to get back in shape.
This makes roughly half of Americans prime targets for another group that wants something for nothing – sellers of diet pills. Promise something impossible, name your pill something with “lipo” in it, sell your pills on late night tv via a credit card subscription service nobody knows how to cancel, and rake in the cash. When the backlash comes, you’ll be long gone, working in a new office under a new name anyway.
Think I’m not being fair? Consider this: Best case, the only ingredient in most diet pills that could have any positive effect on your weight whatsoever is caffeine. Worst case, they may contain ingredients that are actually dangerous.
MYTH: Buying only “low fat”, “light” or “reduced fat” foods is an easy way to lose weight
First, note that the legal requirements for a “low fat” label don’t directly correlate with the product being healthy – it just means the product has somewhat less fat (as much as required by law) in it versus the original version.
Second, a “low fat” label on a product has no relation at all with the number of calories or sugar content of the product. If you made Twinkies with a third less fat content, you could sell them as a low fat food.
Third, fat itself is not entirely bad. Some foods contain quite a lot of beneficial fats, and are completely good for you. A healthy, balanced diet will include a modest amount of fat.
Lastly, when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to just assume that reducing the amount of fat you eat will reduce the amount you store – but this is not how the body works. Fat is stored in your body when you consume more calories than you burn. The source of these calories doesn’t especially matter in this equation – if there are more coming in than going out, you’re going to begin storing the excess as fat. It’s just that simple.
MYTH: Losing weight quickly just means it will come right back
If you’ve ever gone on an intense diet and lost some weight over a few weeks only to gain it back a month later, you’re not alone. This can happen for many reasons, and one solution is making small, subtle lifestyle changes that cause you to gradually lose weight over time.
However, that is just one solution. A solution that comes with its’ own set of pitfalls. Feeling like you’re not accomplishing anything after 2 weeks of your new plan, for example, can make you give up entirely.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with losing weight quickly. Yes – you can lose too much weight, too fast. But as long as you’re losing no more than 2-3 pounds per week, you shouldn’t be worried about that.
Instead, make sure you have a plan in place to maintain your new weight when you reach your goals. Hitting your target weight is not an objective to reach and then go home. You might increase your calorie intake to match your burn rate or cut back on your workout routine – but never quit entirely or you’ll be back to your old habits and your old weight faster than you realize.
LIE: All those other trendy diets didn’t work for you, but this latest new one will!
Even if you’re wise enough to avoid the “miracle pills” sold on late-night tv, the prospect of trying out a new diet that seems to be all the rage right now can be tempting. After all – many of the fad diets, juice cleanses and detox plans that crop up are not directly attached to any sales team with an over-active credit card processor – so why would they lie to you?
A lie doesn’t need to be highly profitable for an unscrupulous organization to still catch on and go viral – a quick browse of your Facebook feed this morning can likely prove that. Also, many of them were developed by well-meaning individuals, and may indeed moderately help you lose weight.
The trouble starts when you begin eating a diet of only cabbage, cutting entire food groups out of your diet, or follow other odd instructions that seriously impact your nutritional balance. Nutritionists are often horrified at the bizarre fad diets that spring up, and for good reason. While it may be possible to lose weight by removing all grains and seeds (for example) from your diet, it’s hardly a healthy approach.
The best choice is to take fad diets with a grain of salt, and stick to eating a balanced selection of foods that provides the full range of necessary vitamins and nutrients to keep your body in peak condition.
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