There are certain things that fitness seekers believe that make personal trainers sigh.
There are others, though, that make them want to bang an 85 pound dumbbell on their heads.
Unfortunately, weight loss misconceptions tend to fall into the latter category. Some think that any meal is acceptable, as long as it is accompanied by a salad. Others think that some people are biologically incapable of losing weight, and have done the internet research to prove it. Still more think that eating a hot dog and a grapefruit will spark a fat-consuming chemical apocalypse in the bellies that will leave them trim, toned and glistening.
Cue the dumbbell.
Fortunately, these errors are easily corrected by looking at one valuable resource—credible research conducted and published by experts. Forget the internet. Forget your second cousin who took a spin class. Let’s take a look at a few of the most egregious fat-burning misconceptions, and bust them so that you can know how weight loss really works.
"I Can’t Lose Weight."
There are those who claim that they biologically cannot lose weight. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that while only around 20 percent of overweight individuals are able to maintain weight loss for longer than a year, it isn’t because of biology.
The study cites “dietary disinhibition” as the main factor in weight loss failure. This means that the percipients in the study simply chose to overeat. Also a factor was “toxic environments,”—surroundings that strongly encouraged sedentary lifestyles and chronic overeating.
Nowhere does the study cite biological factors.
Instead, memorize the one true statement that will cut through all the lies: calories in must be less than calories out. We must burn more calories than we consume.
If you eat 2,000 calories in a day, and burn 3,000, you will lose weight. If you eat 4,000 and burn 2,000, you will gain weight. This is how our bodies work.
Some people do have a harder time losing weight due to health conditions, but this is due to fluid retention or the inability to move and exercise, not an inability to burn fat.
Take this truth and—forgive the pun—run with it. Embrace it. Rather than chafing at it, rather than searching for excuses, let it set you free.
You can lose weight, plain and simple. With a good diet and exercise plan, it’s possible.
"Certain Foods Burn Fat."
You may have heard of something called the chemical reaction diet. There are many variants, and they're all over the internet. This diet promises quick and easy weight loss by following a few simple steps that often involve a hot dog, a grapefruit, a tea bag, a pentagram, and an image of Michael Jackson.
Okay, so perhaps there’s no pentagram or Michael involved, but you’re no more likely to lose weight using hot dogs earl gray, and citrus.
That’s nothing more than wishful thinking.
The simple truth is that there are no foods that burn fat. The closest you might come is eating celery, which has 6 calories in one stalk—you might burn 1 calorie eating and digesting it.
The thing to remember is this: all food contains energy and we count that energy in calories. You won’t lose weight when eating a large pizza just because you have a salad on the side.
Instead of searching for these miracle foods, stick to good nutrition and a dietary plan. You’ll lose weight and get all of the nutrients you need. You can’t go wrong with that.
When personal trainers claim that diets don’t work, fitness seekers tend to look at them askance. But it’s true—they don’t work.
Diets, by their very nature, are temporary. They last for days, weeks, and sometimes months. They get us into the mindset of “I just have to reach my goal weight, and then I can eat again”.
That mindset is what’s keeping you from losing weight. Remember the 20 percent of people who succeed at their weight loss goals? Those people succeeded because they kept eating well and exercising forever.
Imagining that you can simply stop and not gain the weight back is, again, wishful thinking.
But when you replace 10-day fad diets with permanent, healthy habits, you can lose weight and keep it off for good.
So don’t fall for what’s temporary. Stick with habits that will last you a lifetime.
"Snacking is Bad."
At some point in your life, your mom, sibling, or significant other probably told you to stop snacking or you’d get fat. You’re about to be able to throw some facts at their faces!
Now, we’re not talking about chips and honey buns and entire sausages as snacks. We’re talking about fruits, vegetables, and high-protein snacks.
Research has shown that snacking on healthy items between meals can help manage hunger and reduce binging.
Mayoclinic.org recommends eating no more than a 100 calorie snack that contains lots of water, fiber and nutrients, and has comparatively little fat. The water and fiber will keep you feeling full without excess calories, and so things like fruits and vegetables make ideal snacks.
High protein snacks can, similarly, leave you feeling full, but keep an eye on those calories—they can quickly add up if you’re eating something like meat or nuts.
The key to this is not keeping unhealthy snacks in the house. Get rid of them, and stock up on things like apples, oranges, kiwi, celery, hummus, and cans of tuna. Make your house a safe place to snack between meals.
After you’re done desperately pillaging the cabinets for that one bag of chips you might not have gotten rid of, you should work up enough of an appetite to munch on a kiwi.
"Thin is Healthy."
This final misconception is for those of you who, on your way home from work, smugly pass the gym in the night, smirking as you wonder at the miraculous metabolism that has allowed you to avoid putting on weight and having to sweat with the YMCA peasantry.
The final truth is: thin does not mean healthy. In fact, it can be quite the opposite.
The strange twist to this weight loss story is that you can be thin on the outside and obese on the inside.
Thanks to MRI technology, doctors have found that people who are sedentary, regardless of whether they are fat or thin, have large deposits of fat between their organs. This type of fat is called visceral fat.
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
This fat, which produces various chemicals and hormones, can cause inflammation of the organs, leading to early degradation.
Remember those crash diets we talked about? Yo-yo dieting, combined with an inactive lifestyle, actually causes the body to store this deep fat.
So what’s the cure? Exercise, of course!
Becoming more active can help get rid of all kinds of fat, but visceral fat is especially susceptible to being burned off.
It’s almost like your body doesn’t like having toxic fat stuffed between its organs.
"Read, Think, Act."
If there’s one thing you can take away from this, it’s the importance of thinking and being intentional about your health.
Don’t just rely on internet articles and anecdotal evidence. Do your research and find credible sources of information. Ask the experts. Work with an ACSM certified fitness trainer.
Above all, avoid wishful thinking, which is the bane of all weight-loss efforts. Losing weight and getting in shape is hard work, and it will always be hard work.
But it’s work that will leave you feeling better than you’ve ever felt in your life. It’s work that will extend the years you have left. It’s work that you’ll, in the end, be proud of.
So don’t let yourself be fooled by all the false information out there. Remember how weight loss really works, and you’ll be well on your way to a better you.