Belfast PT and nutritionist Alan Waterman busts the most common weight loss myths.
Your mate Dave, Sharon from Weight-Watchers, that celebrity you saw on a television programme once. Undoubtedly, over the years you have probably had numerous people offering somewhat conflicting advice as to the most effective way to lose the weight you want.
In fact, nowadays, you can pretty much find out what you want to know just by clicking a button- it really is that easy!
But, it’s also risky.
With so much information so readily available, how are we meant to know what of it we should believe?
With so many myths which continue to be perpetuated within the diet and fitness industry it can be difficult knowing what is right and wrong and, I’m sorry to say, you have probably been lied to more than you realise.
Check out 6 of the biggest weight-loss untruths you’ve almost certainly heard, and why you shouldn’t choose to believe them.
1. Go low-carb for the fastest weight loss
There’s no doubt that a low-carb (ketogenic) diet can help us shift some weight, but the truth is that a ketogenic diet is really no more effective for weight loss than any other type of diet. Regardless of the breakdown of a diet, in terms of how many grams of protein, fat, or carbohydrates we’re eating, the key element to losing weight is successfully creating a calorie deficit, i.e. consuming fewer calories than we are burning. A diet can be high/low carb, high/low fat, etc, but so long as we are in a calorie deficit, we will still manage to lose weight- there’s no need to eliminate carbs to achieve this.
Yes, we can absolutely lose weight without eating carbs, but it will be because the change in diet has somehow caused us consume fewer calories, therefore creating the required deficit, and has nothing to do with the removal of carbs themselves.
Typically, people will see a rapid drop in bodyweight within the first handful of weeks after going carb-free, but due to the fact that carbohydrates cause the body to hold water, this loss in weight will be majoritively water-weight, not body fat. As soon as we begin to eat carbs again, we will quickly regain most of that lost water-weight.
2. You’re not losing weight because you’re eating too few calories
'Starvation mode' is a relatively common explanation for difficulty experienced when trying to lose weight. This is supposedly when, while following a low-calorie diet, the body refuses to lose weight as it is not being fed enough calories. It’s also not true. Our bodies need to be in a state of starvation to see us losing weight- that’s what a calorie deficit is!
In most cases, when we are convinced we are experiencing starvation mode, we have instead just managed to slip out of our calorie deficit. This is typically due to an underestimation of how many calories we are consuming, an overestimation of how many calories we are burning, or a combination of both. If we lack consistency in our diet approach which, while attempting to follow very low calorie intakes, many people will, then those higher calorie days can often be enough to undo the calorie deficit we had managed to create through our lower calorie days. Sounds unfair, but it’s true!
We do naturally experience a slight decrease in metabolism as we lose weight, but it is never enough to prevent us losing further weight, in fact, it usually just contributes to the undoing of our calorie deficit. Decreasing our intake, or burning off more calories, is usually enough of a solution to push us back into the required deficit, to continue losing weight.
3) Sugar is making you fat
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is no one food or food type which inherently contributes to our weight loss/gain, it is our calorie balance which does.
Sugar can make us gain weight, but only if our intake of it manages to push us over our calorie needs for the day. Sugar, a carb,ohydrate, contains 4 calories per gram. If our total intake of calories from sugar fits within our calorie requirements, then no, we don’t need to worry about it affecting our weight loss. In theory, we could eat nothing but sugar and still lose weight, although I wouldn’t recommend it!
Although there is a relationship between sugar and our body’s production of the hormone insulin, which can cause us to store bodyfat), we can also store body fat without insulin. Hormones play a role in our ability to lose weight, but are less important than the role of calories. For weight loss, creating a calorie deficit should be our main focus, not aiming to keep our insulin levels low.
4. Protect your metabolism by not skipping meals
Ever heard that we should be eating every 3-4 hours to keep our metabolisms primed, and to prevent us from storing bodyfat? Yeah, don’t worry so much about it… In fact, it’s been shown that our metabolisms do not begin to even suffer mildly until after over 60 hours of fasting, and that we may even see a slight metabolic increase over slightly shorter periods of fasting. Micromanaging aspects of our diet, such as the timing between meals, means we fail to see the woods for the trees- if weight loss is our goal, then (once again) creating a calorie deficit should be our main aim, above anything else. Some dietary methods, such as Intermittent Fasting, actually encourage longer periods without food, as for many it becomes a much easier, more convenient way to reduce their calorie intake each day, given the fact that it restricts the timeframe in which they can eat. It’s not a suitable approach for everyone (particularly those with a background of eating disorders,) but it works well for many, and without them running into any issues regarding metabolism.
5. Do fasted cardio to burn more fat
Training before we’ve eaten sounds like it should be a sure-fire way to help lose weight- after all, we’ve no fuel in our body, so it would make sense that we would start to burn through all that stored energy in body fat! However, this doesn’t carry through so well in theory. We could do all the fasted training we want, but unless it is helping us create a calorie deficit, we’ll not benefit from it. Regardless of having trained fasted, or after having eaten, both methods can help us lose weight, but only if they contribute to putting us our required deficit.
Another major question is the sustainability of training fasted, as many of us don’t enjoy it and feel our performance suffers for it. Sustainability largely boils down to the convenience and enjoyability of the method we choose. Training fasted may provide some initial results, but if we hate doing it, we won’t sustain it for longer than a short-term period, so we won’t maintain our results from it either.
It’s important to note that we do not need to do any cardio to lose weight so long as we can create a calorie deficit without it, but if we do decide to include it, we should aim to do so in the way we feel is most sustainable - fasted or otherwise.
6. Eat smaller, more frequent meals to boost metabolism
This is actually half true, as our metabolisms do show a slight increase every time we eat, but this increase is proportional to the size of the meal we eat; smaller meals mean a smaller increase, while larger meals result in a larger one. Across the course of the day, the difference between the two is essentially non-existent and we experience the same metabolic increase by following either method.
As with training fasted, the sustainability of our chosen meal frequency will play a bigger role in our weight loss attempts than the number of meals themselves. Many will try to find the time to eat eight times a day, but experience difficulty with sticking to the method and ultimately fail. Choosing a method which suits us and our preferences offers a greater chance of success, as we will have a much greater likelihood of sustaining it long term, whether that means us eating three, six, or eight times a day. Oh, and of course, we have to make sure it helps create our calorie deficit too!
You can also download your free chapter of my upcoming book 'Fitness BS'.