If you are struggling with your weight you are not alone. In fact, approximately 68% of American adults are overweight, and 34% of those adults are considered clinically obese.[i] According to the New York Times, many of the so-called “facts” about obesity and weight loss are actually mere speculation.[ii] Before attempting to embark on another unsuccessful diet, read on to separate the weight-loss facts from the weight-loss fiction.
Myth #1: You Should Choose “Low-Calorie” or “Low-Fat” Food Products
You are likely to end up consuming more calories by choosing low-calorie or low-fat alternatives to your favorite foods, because:
- a) These foods are not as satisfying, so you end up eating more in order to feel satisfied
- b) You justify consuming large amounts of these foods because they are lower in calories per serving
If you are trying to lose weight your diet should consist of whole, unprocessed foods – the type that are found in nature and packaged foods should be reserved as an occasional treat. When you do choose to indulge, consume the food that your are really craving instead of trying to subdue that craving with a low calorie alternative, which is likely to leave you unsatisfied.
Myth #2: The Amount of Calories in Your Food is What Matters the Most
Calorie counting is counterproductive for two reasons. First of all, many people worry only about the caloric content of the food that they eat and ignore the nutritional content all together, which is a big a mistake. According to the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, the most important step you can take when tying to lose weight is not to cut calories but to avoid the intake of processed and packaged foods.[iii] The school explains that your body has a built-in mechanism to control your appetite, and when you are consuming a healthy diet, your body will intuitively know when you have had enough and you will no longer have the desire to overeat. Also, processed and refined foods are stripped of essential nutrients which is problematic because nutrient deficiencies result in food cravings.[iv] In addition, many processed and packaged foods contain large amounts of sugar or unhealthy additives such as MSG, which can increase your appetite and encourage you to overeat.
Myth #3: All Fats Are Bad For Your Waistline
Fat is a vital micronutrient and you simply cannot survive without it. Your brain is composed of 60% fat and depriving your body of fat will have a profound effect on how you think, act and feel. Also, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, which means that cutting out fat from you diet will result in a deficiency of these important nutrients. In addition, fat helps to fill you up and keep you feeling satiated longer, so you end up eating less. [v] Fats also help to keep your blood sugar levels balanced which is important because fluctuations in your blood sugar can lead to strong and intense cravings and poor food choices.[vi]
Not all fats are created equally however, and when it comes to loosing weight and staying healthy the type of fat that you consume is very important, states Joey Shulman on Canadian Living website.[vii] Hydrogenated fats and trans fats found in fried and greasy foods as well as many processed and baked goods are unhealthy. They will add to your overall caloric intake and increase your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. As such, these types of fats should be severely limited and only consumed as a rare treat. Instead, you should emphasize healthy fats, which include the monounsaturated fats found in foods such as avocados, almonds, seeds and olive oil.[viii] Omega-3 fats are also extremely healthy and good sources include soy, flaxseeds, walnuts, and cold water fish such as tuna, mackerel, sardines and trout.
Myth # 4: Exercise is a Good Way to Achieve Rapid Weight Loss
Although regular exercise should be a part of any weight loss regime, exercise alone is unlikely to provide you with rapid or substantial weight loss. In order to lose one pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories. An hour of aerobic exercise or running will burn-off approximately 400-600 calories, and an hour of walking will burn a mere 200-300 calories. This means that in order to burn off just one pound, you will have to run for 7 hours or walk for 14.[ix] In addition, high intensity exercise such as running tends to increase your appetite and you may end up consuming extra calories afterwards, resulting in a negligible amount of total calories lost.
This does not mean that you should give up on exercise all together. Resistance or strength training exercise, will help you to increase your muscle mass and consequently to boost your metabolism, which is beneficial because you will burn more calories even on days when you don’t work out. Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio” workouts is also helpful. It will increase your metabolism during and for a few hours after you workout, and overtime it will lead to weight loss, so long as you don’t overindulge after your workouts.
Myth #5: Becoming a Vegetarian is a Good and Healthy Way to Lose Weight
It is possible to be healthy and lose weight when eating a vegetarian diet, however becoming a vegetarian specifically to lose weight is not a good idea. Meat contains important nutrients such as iron, zinc calcium, B12 and protein, and you need to be cautious as a vegetarian to make sure that you are still receiving adequate levels of these nutrients. Also, the protein in meat helps to fill you up and curb cravings, and if you are a meat-lover, eating vegetarian meals can be unsatisfying and result in overeating. Moreover, many vegetarians do not actually eat a lot of vegetables and fruits; they instead fill-up on unhealthy, processed foods, which is obviously not beneficial for weight loss. As oppose to becoming a vegetarian, consider cutting out high fat and highly processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon and sausages and instead consume lean, healthy meats such as chicken, turkey or lamb. Red meat, with the fat trimmed off is an excellent source of iron and protein, and it is also ok, when eaten in moderation.
Myth # 6: Skipping Meals is a Good Way to Lose Weight
Many people try and lose weight by skipping meals such as breakfast, as an attempt to reduce overall caloric intake. Others will compensate for eating a high calorie meal by skipping their next meal. Skipping meals sets you up for strong cravings and intense hunger and can make it difficult for you to make healthy choices and control portion size when you do eat. According to the New York Times, trying to battle your body’s innate calorie counter is futile because even the most strong-willed dieters are likely to end up compensating for calories lost on one day or meal by consuming extra calories at the next.[x]
Skipping meals is also counter productive because it puts your body into starvation mode. When your body senses that it is starving, it slows down your metabolism, and you burn less calories. For optimal weight loss, you should eat three small meals and three small snacks a day. Many people are overwhelmed by the idea of eating 6 times a day, however a snack is not meant to fill your stomach, it is simply meant to provide your brain and body with a source of fuel, so that they can run optimally. A banana, some carrots, or a handful of almonds are all examples of good snack choices. By eating regularly throughout the day, you will increase your metabolism, and also have more energy, so that you can burn additional calories at your next work-out.
Myth # 7: If You Want to Lose Weight, Don’t Eat After Eight
It is your total calorie intake and expenditure that determines whether you gain or loss weight and the time of day that you eat does not matter. The reason why this advice may be helpful to some is because it reduces the overall amount of calories that they consume. Many people, especially those who skip meals end up overeating or making unhealthy food choices late at night and not eating after eight prevents this. If you are hungry, have a healthy snack and avoid eating it in front of the television.
Myth # 8: Eating Carbohydrates Will Make You Fat
Eating too many calories makes you fat, and whether those calories come from a carbohydrate, protein or fat source is irrelevant. The reasons why many people lose weight on a carbohydrate restricted diet, is because most packaged and junk foods contain carbohydrates, and removing these foods, which are often high in sugar and fat, results in a lowered net caloric intake. Also, many carbohydrate dense foods, such as white bread and white pasta are processed or refined, which means that you they have their fiber removed. Without the fiber, you do not get the benefit of feeling full from consuming these foods, and this can result in overeating.
If you are trying to lose weight, instead of cutting out carbohydrates, cut out refined carbohydrates. Emphasize whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice and other unrefined grains. Beans and legumes are other good sources of carbohydrates that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.
Myth #9: Diet and Exercise are the Only Important Components of Weight Loss
Sleep is an often overlooked, critical component of weight control. Studies have found that inadequate sleep increases the levels of ghrelin in your body, which is the hormone that stimulates hunger and cravings for carbohydrate rich foods. Sleep deprivation also results in a decrease of leptin, which is the hormone that makes you feel full. Consequently, not get enough sleep results in an increased appetite and energy intake. To make matters worse, a study published in the October 5, 2010 edition of “Annals of Internal Medicine” found that sleep deprived individuals on a calorie-restricted diet, experience a greater breakdown of protein from their muscles and lowered overall fat loss.[xi] In order to keep your appetite under control, reduce cravings and increase the fat burning capacity of your body, it is recommended that you sleep between 7 and 9 hours a night.
Myth #10: Lifestyle Modifications Alone Are Enough
Modifying what you eat, how often you work out and how much you sleep may result in temporary weight loss, but if you are an emotional eater and you do not address the underlying cause of your overeating, you are likely to regain that weight. According to Tsakos in her book “The Weight Battlefield,” excess weight is only an outer effect of a deep inner problem.[xii] There are many emotional and psychospiritual factors that determine your food choices and ultimately your weight. You learn to associate food with love, happiness and comfort because celebrations such as birthdays and thanksgiving often center around food. You also may have learned to associate food with positive emotions because as a child your parents rewarded you with ‘tasty treats’ for good behavior. Therefore, when you feel lonely, sad, upset or any other undesirable emotion, you turn to food as a subconscious attempt to comfort yourself, states Tsakos.
Many health experts recommend keeping a daily food journal for 2 weeks to help you to identify emotional eating triggers. This involves writing down everything that you eat, scoring how hungry you were at the time, and jotting down a word to best describe the emotion that you were feeling e.g. happy, stressed, anxious, sad or bored. Once you are aware of the emotions and situations that cause you to overeat you can be proactive and set-up healthy alternatives to eating such as calling a friend, going for a walk, or simply breathing deeply and being in the moment. Finally, if you have unresolved issues from the past that are driving you to overeat, self-help books, journaling and meditation can all help. Sometimes these tools aren’t enough however, and you may need to seek the guidance of a therapist. Professional therapy can help you to resolve the issues of your past so that you can obtain the body that your desire and maintain it throughout your future.
- i http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm
- ii http://www.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-obesity-ess.html
- iii The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition; “Nutritional Symptomatology”; Danielle Perrault; 2007
- iv The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition; “Nutritional Symptomatology”; Danielle Perrault; 2007
- v http://www.canadianliving.com/health/prevention/eating_fat_to_lose_fat.php
- vi The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition; “Nutritional Symptomatology”; Danielle Perrault; 2007
- vii http://www.canadianliving.com/health/prevention/eating_fat_to_lose_fat.php
- viii http://www.canadianliving.com/health/prevention/eating_fat_to_lose_fat.php
- ix http://www.nutristrategy.com/caloriesburnedwalking.htm
- x http://www.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-obesity-ess.html
- xi http://www.annals.org/content/153/7/435.abstract
- xii “The Weight Battlefield”; Lisa Tsakos; 2001