Let’s talk the unending hot topic of weight loss. I think it’s something I should address because both clients, readers, and friends ask me often about what they can do to shed some extra pounds. I get it. It’s become increasingly frustrating for so many of us, especially women, to figure out how to lose weight. We are told by all different channels and media to eat less, exercise more, stop eating meat, go low carb, stop eating fat, take these detox shakes, swallow these weight loss pills… and it goes on and on. How are we supposed to know how to eat anymore?
Isn’t it interesting that our ancestors never had to struggle to figure out what portion size, macronutrient ratios, and supplements they needed in order to lose weight and stay healthy? In fact, obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases are all consequences of our modern diet and lifestyle. With an increasing number of people looking for ways to lose weight, it’s no surprise that we hear mixed messages and contradicting marketing gimmicks about the fastest ways to drop the weight.
After struggling with my own body image issues for years (I will do a post about this in the future) and finding out the hard way that “eat less, move more” method does NOT work, these are the 6 weight loss myths that I still see floating around today that drive me crazy:
1. Fat makes you fat, and low-fat diet is key to weight loss.
I think this is a myth that’s been dying out fortunately, but I still run into people who prefer to go for low fat or fat free products, or choose ground turkey instead of ground beef. It’s not surprising, since we’ve been brainwashed for decades that fat is the enemy and that eating fat makes us fat. When we eat low fat, we tend to eat high amount of carbohydrates (“Eat more whole grains!” Sound familiar?), which just break down into sugar in our body and contributes to blood sugar imbalance and feeling hungry all the time.
Fat is incredibly important for our health and it is an essential nutrient. It literally makes up the outer layers of our trillions of cells, it helps up keep satiated and kills our cravings, and it keeps healthy blood sugar levels stable. Without fat, we can’t absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are critical for optimal health. Cholesterol, which has been demonized for so long, lowers our risk of heart disease and is necessary for balancing our hormones and repairing damaged cells.
Of course, it matters where we get our fat. Quality fats from animals, butter, eggs, avocados, nuts, and fish help us nourish our body while decreasing inflammation. Remember: weight gain is a common consequence of inflammation in the body. Processed fats and hydrogenated oils only worsen our cravings by messing up our hunger cues which leads to overeating, and contributes to inflammation, insulin resistance, heart disease, and cancer.
2. Eating fewer calories will help me lose weight.
You’ve heard it before: All calories are not equal. 200 calories of broccoli will affect your blood sugar and nutrient levels drastically different than 200 calories of gummy bears. However, we still hold on to “calories are everything” mentality.
When you go too low in calories, coupled with intense exercise (as many people do to lose weight), your body can go into starvation mode. This means your body thinks that there’s not enough food, and as a survival mechanism, it starts storing fat. This behavior also promotes binge eating because you are hungry most of the time.
You need to eat plenty of food to keep your body nourished. Of course, calories do matter in context of the Standard American Diet (SAD), in which people are eating way too many hyper-palatable calories that are devoid of nutrients and actually promote inflammation in the body. However, when you turn to high quality grass fed meat, vegetables, fruits, and real food, you’ll be much in tune with your hunger cues. Your body KNOWS how to process and eliminate those foods, while it gets confused by hydrogenated oils, ultra-processed carbs, and ingredients we can barely pronounce so it stores these franken-foods as fat and clogs up the liver.
3. I can’t lose weight because I don’t have the willpower.
Being overweight and/or obesity is SO MUCH more complicated than just willpower. There are blood sugar imbalances, hormone imbalances, and gut disorders that are common in so many of these folks that impact their brain signals and chemicals. They have constant cravings and hunger because they may be resistant to leptin, a hormone that tells the brain that enough fat is stored so you should stop eating. Yeast or bacterial overgrowth can have you craving sugar constantly. Hypothyroidism is a growing epidemic that affects about 20 million Americans, and this can cause one to be overweight even when he or she is eating the right foods and exercising regularly.
A healthy, fit person looking at a pile of cookies sees it MUCH differently than an overweight person who is struggling with hormonal issues with a compromised gut. It drives me up the wall when I see people who are so judgmental of those who are heavier or can’t say no to dessert. They have ZERO clue what these people are struggling with everyday. It’s NOT about willpower. You have to tackle your health issues you are having FIRST, before beginning to think about how to lose weight.
4. I would lose weight if I exercised harder and more frequently.
Yes, exercise is very important, especially in a world where many people are not moving enough. However, there are many of us who are spending hours at the gym, running a marathon, or going to a cycling class 7 days a week. Exercise is extremely beneficial for so many reasons, but it’s also causes stress in the body.
Most people in the modern world are walking around carrying chronic stress from work, family, traffic, finance, friends, and the list goes on and on. When you are especially stressed and you go into an intense exercise for hours, your stress level spikes up even more. Guess what happens then? Inflammation. Weight gain. Hormonal imbalances.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors only had to exercise for a prolonged amount of time when they were being chased by tiger, and as a survival mechanism, this is when the body shuts down digestion, the immune system, and logical thinking. In the modern world, we are walking around with this amount of stress constantly, because our body perceives every type of stress in the same exact way.
Until your health issues are resolved and you get your stress under control, I always encourage gentle movements for the body like walking, yoga, and Tai Chi. And when you do start exercising more intensely, try explosive exercises like sprinting, lifting, and HIIT workouts, which are MUCH more effective with weight loss without putting your body through an unnecessary stressful state for a long period of time.
5. It’s just about diet and exercise.
As you can guess by now, diet and exercise are not the only components that factor into or weight. In fact, I honestly believe that sleep and stress affect us even more. Our hormonal shifts from lack of sleep and/or stressful times are so much more impactful in how we digest food, how much fat we store, and how well our hunger cues work.
I have talked about my hypothyroidism before. It’s been 6 months since I found out that that was why I was having difficulty losing weight and having more energy. The ONLY things I’ve changed since then was prioritizing sleep, practicing self-care and stress management and incorporating meditation. Oh, I also stopped exercising intensely because I realized my symptoms were much worse with stress. I’ve lost about 6 pounds in the past 6 months just from those changes only (that’s a lot for my 5’1″ frame) and I feel like I can manage my symptoms so much better.
There are people I know who eat anything they want and don’t exercise much, but they are still healthy without any digestive or weight issues. There has been a common theme in these folks that I’ve noticed which is: they are really easy going, don’t stress about the small things, happy, and they sleep really well. Of course, this isn’t always true, but I think it’s definitely something to think about. Prioritize first on managing your stress and sleeping more, and all other things like diet and exercise become so much more easier to tackle.
6. The number on the scale tells me how healthy I am.
We rely so much on the scale, and let it affect our mood for the entire day. The scale does not tell the whole story. Our bodies are so complex and our weight can easily fluctuate with water intake, hormonal changes, muscle mass after working out, and our sodium intake. I used to weigh myself everyday and get down on myself if I weighed 2lbs more than the day before (didn’t matter that I had Chinese food the night before… doi). How dumb is it to let that arbitrary number ruin our self image, and what is that doing to our stress levels?
If you want to be more accurate and realistic about your weight loss progress, get a measuring tape to monitor the measurements of your waist, hips, bust, and even arms and thighs. I would suggest you do this no more than once a month, because when you do it right, weight loss doesn’t come overnight. If you can’t keep yourself from using the scale, I suggest you also weight yourself about once a month at the same time of the day.
And if you really want to do it right, STOP MEASURING. Go with how your body feels. Do you feel bloated after you eat certain foods? Are you tired and drained after a workout? Are you stressed throughout the day because you only slept for 4 hours the night before? What can you change and tweak to feel better? Once you are more in tune with your body and work toward your HEALTH, instead of JUST weight loss, you’ll find the inflammation subside and the extra pounds you were holding on to will naturally shed off.