When I first lost weight, some friends who hadn’t seen me in a while would compare my loss to someone else they knew who had lost weight. In this way, I learned that you could lose weight on a juice fast, carnivore diet, questionably legal pill, lima bean diet and origami diet. OK, I made that last one up (but in my defense, you probably could uncomfortably lose a lot of weight if all your calories come from paper foods.) Decades of writing on weight loss, combined with the dissemination of information through the Internet, has given unearned credence to weight loss and weight gain urban legends. I’ll go through some of those myths here:
1. Skip meals. This sounds like a viable strategy for losing weight. After all, it is based on the belief that cutting calories leads to weight loss. Cutting calories does lead to weight loss, but there is more to skipping meals than cutting calories.
This is especially the case when you skip breakfast. When you skip breakfast, you’re really skipping meals for at least half a dozen hours. Thinking it won’t have access to food, your body decides to enter starvation mode, wherein it actually slows down metabolism and holds on to fat stores. When you do eat, you tend to take in more net calories to make up for a lost breakfast.
If you’re a serial (get it?) breakfast skipper, or if your daily workout consists of running to catch the Unitrans bus after scrambling through your morning, think about planning your breakfast the night before, or setting aside a breakfast that’s easy to consume on the go.
2. “This will go straight to my thighs.” No, it will go straight from your mouth, down your esophagus, into your stomach. After enzymes digest the food, your body uses the nutrient breakdown in different ways. Excess energy derived from the food could end up in fat stores.
Even then, fat accumulation is a slow process. Your weight fluctuates most rapidly from water. Your actual fat tends to build (as well as shed) at a reduced pace. To gain a pound of fat, you have to eat 3,500 more calories than your body requires to meet its daily energy requirement. If you ate 500 more calories a day in excess of what your energy level demands, it would take a week for you to put one pound of fat on your body. That froyo isn’t going to increase your waist size permanently unless you eat it everyday on top of a full diet.
3. Lifting weights bulks you up. Hardly, and the truth is closer to the opposite. For most people, a little bit of weight training won’t turn them into the Governator. As it takes time to gain weight, it takes time to build muscle. In the mean time, strength training promotes fat loss because muscle tissue burns fat quicker than fat tissue. In other words, you should seriously consider adding strength training to your workout if you want to lose weight.
4. Certain foods burn fat. I know what you’ve heard about the grapefruit diet, but trust me on this one. No food burns fat. If a food promotes weight loss because it has more fiber (which helps streamline the removal of waste from your body), then that’s nothing revolutionary. Lots of foods have nutrient properties necessary to body function. Isolating the benefits from one is misguided, to say the least.
5. X workout will trim my Y. Your diet and exercise determine neither where fat is stored nor where fat is burned. Unfortunately, you don’t get to decide where your fat comes off first when you’re cutting back. Your parents decide that. Really.
Fat stores are genetically determined. People are predisposed to put weight on to certain sections of their body. A given workout cannot claim to give you a flat belly if you have fat all around your body. Likewise, beer won’t give you a beer belly. Too much food will accomplish that just fine on its own.
There are enough diet myths and workout fads to support every lifestyle, healthy or not. Similarly, there are enough pieces of advice that pass for common sense and serve to complicate our choices at the CoHo.
The good news is that your weight won’t be determined by the ridiculous smorgasbord of tips and tricks available on the Internet. But the bad news is that your weight won’t come down to miracle myths either.
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