Common Weight Loss Myths Busted
Weight loss advice is so common (and contentious) now. There are competing opinions everywhere. Count calories, count carbs, low fat, high fat, super-foods, fasting.
I say, forget about “who’s right” and let’s focus on “what’s right.” What gets results is what I’m focused on.
I’m going to tackle the top ones I come across in my practice.
Myth: Calories cause weight gain, and fewer calories are the path to weight loss
This comes with some truth. Calories are important for weight loss. If you eat and absorb a ton more than you use, then your body will store some for later. Calories matter.
But they are not the “be-all and end-all” of weight loss. They are important, but they are the symptom, not the cause. Let’s think about the reasons people eat more calories. Focus on the causes.
People eat too many calories, not necessarily because they’re hungry, but for emotional reasons. They feel sad, lonely, or bored. Tired or stressed. Sometimes it’s simply a habit to walk in the house and grab a couple cookies. Or maybe it’s a celebration so treat yourself, right? All these feelings interact with our gastrointestinal, nervous and hormonal systems; all of which influence our calorie intake.
In my previous post I spoke about the blood sugar roller-coaster that occurs when we eat simple carbohydrates. (CLICK HERE to refer back for a better understanding of blood sugar fluctuations) Let’s look at an example. Say you’ve had a tense day at work, or your kid was up all night and you are functioning on no sleep. What will boost you up? That chocolate chip muffin is calling your name. Some quick energy and besides, you deserve it, its been a long day. Sound familiar? Its just this once. Well this innocent little muffin has now spiked your blood sugar, insulin is secreted, blood sugar drops down low and now you are hungry and tired again. The cycle begins. Now you need more energy. How about that afternoon chai latte? You get the boost, followed by the crash and the cycle repeats. In this example, emotion drives hunger, the food choice triggers a hormonal response, which drives hunger again, which triggers emotion, hunger, hormones. See where I’m going here? So yes, calories matter but equally important are the emotional triggers as well as the hormonal responses from our food choices.
Myth: “Eat less move more” is good advice
Don’t get me wrong, I am all about regular movement (my clients can back me up on that) But more is not always better.
The premise of this is based on calories in minus calories out equals your weight. So, eat fewer calories, and burn off more calories. Simple (because human physiology is a simple math equation, right?).
There are so many factors involved in creating the perfect environment for weight loss that this general advice can be limiting. As an example, in my younger years, there was a time where I would workout 3 hours a day believing that the more activity I did, the leaner I would be. Well, guess what. It didn’t work. My body would not let go of the extra weight I was carrying because my diet was not on track. Severely limiting your caloric intake while simultaneously upping your activity can cause your body to emit the stress response and not use stored fat for fuel.
Another thing that I commonly see is people going into the gym and continuously doing high intensity workouts day in and day out negating things like proper form and adequate recovery. In today’s world seems like everyone is busy and stressed. It’s the first response when you ask someone how they are doing. Busy and stressed. This needs to be factored into the equation of a training program. If you are constantly stressed, then you come in for a workout where technically you are adding stress to the body, you may become victim to over-training. You become fatigued, you are sore all the time, you are not recovered from your last workout and you still feel the need to push harder, burn more calories, train more to get more results. This in my opinion, is not the right approach. Stress, in all its forms, needs to be balanced out with recovery activities for your body to respond the way you want it to. Adding in a day or 2 of restorative work such as yoga or a walk in nature is a crucial component to a balanced training program. Calming the body and creating an environment for healing. These activities are also extremely helpful to reduce the stress response not only to our physical body but for our mental and emotional health as well. I believe in balance in all we do. With training, work hard, but recover even harder.
Even if people can happily and sustainably follow this advice (which they can’t!); it completely negates other factors that contribute to weight problems. Things like the causes of overeating as we mentioned above. Not to mention our genetics, health conditions we’re dealing with or our exposure to compounds that are “obesogenic.” (causes obesity)
Myth: A calorie is a calorie
This one drives me nuts. So forgive me if I go on a bit of a rant here.
A calorie is not a calorie. What is more important than the specific energy value to a food (that is technically what a calorie is) is the effect it has on our body chemistry. How is that calorie nourishing our cells? What nutrients does it contain? Or what nutrients is it depleting from my body to metabolize it? How does it affect my hormones? How does that hormone response affect my appetite, my mood, my energy and mental clarity?
I often use the example of 100 calorie snack pack of Cheetos. So yes, there are only 100 calories in this package. Seems like good choice if you are aiming to lose weight, right? Well what does that 100 calories bring you? Not much from the way of healthy eating I can tell you that. Bright orange chemical “cheese” covered Styrofoam sticks. Zero nutrition, it likely will spike your blood sugars and consequently your insulin leaving you hungry again in 20 minutes. Now let’s compare that to an apple with a small handful of raw almonds. Similar caloric intake but now you are taking in fiber, Vit C, Potassium, Calcium, Healthy fats and protein. You body is given nutrients to function better, your blood sugars do not spike, you feel more satisfied and receive longer lasting energy. A much better way to spend 100 calories don’t you think?
Putting on my Nerd glasses now, science has also confirmed several caloric components of food differ from others. For example, the “thermic effect of food” (TEF) states that some nutrients require calories to be metabolized. They can slightly increase your metabolism, just by eating them.
For example, when you metabolize protein you burn more calories than when you metabolize carbohydrates. Proteins and carbohydrates both have 4 calories/gram; but, the TEF of protein = 15–30%; and the TEF for carbohydrates = 5–10%. So your body burns more calories to breakdown protein rich foods vs carbohydrates by up to 25%.
Another example of a calorie not being a calorie. Different fats are metabolized differently. Medium chain triglycerides (fats) (MCTs) have the same 9 calories/gram that other fats do; but they’re metabolized by the liver before getting into the bloodstream and therefore aren’t utilized or stored the same way as other fats. This explains my love for coconut oil.
Myth: Buy this supplement/tea/food/magic potion to lose weight
Here’s the bitter truth. Some of you may not want to hear it, but here goes. There is no magic pill for weight loss. No supplement, tea, food, or other potion will do the trick.
There are 1000’s of products that make these claims, and they’re full of garbage (or shall I say, “marketing gold?”). The only thing you will lose is your money (and possibly your hope). Detox teas will do nothing but deplete you from water and the moment you start eating normal again you will regain any weight lost. I do not believe in any weight loss supplementation. Full disclosure here, I have tried most of them. Again, in my younger years, I fed into the misinformation that was surrounding me. I spend more money than I could on products I didn’t need to look a certain way. Ridiculous right? I know that now and it was all part of my own wellness journey to now be able to help you. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t believe the ads with the airbrushed models. The money you considered spending on that fat loss super pill, invest it in a nutritionist, a trainer, a book to help you learn how to better care for yourself or a wholefoods meal plan. All of those are better investments in your health. There is a reason most people who lose weight can’t keep it off. The real magic is in adopting a sustainable holistic and healthy approach to living your life. What you need is a long-term lifestyle makeover, not a product.
Weight loss is hard. I get it. I’ve been there. It takes time, patience and consistency. By taking the time to understand your body and preparing whole foods meals, having patience with yourself when it feels difficult or you fall off track and the consistency to keep going, I promise it’s worth it. I do believe it’s easier than we make it out to be. We humans like to over complicate things. But with some simple guidance we can all create the life we want in the body we desire and energy to live fully.
To lean how to create your specific road map towards a healthful life, CLICK HERE for a free consultation call. Nutrition consulting can be done in person or online for convenience.