Every day new patients arrive at my office with a variety of health issues that need to be addressed — and weight problems are close to the top of the list. One of the things that always surprises me is the durability of the weight-loss myths that so many of us were raised on. Here are three of the most common weight-loss myths out there — and why they’re wrong!
MYTH # 1: But doc, my momma always told me — it’s all about counting calories.
THE REALITY: Your momma was wrong.
No disrespect to your mom, but the idea of counting calories as the path to weight-loss nirvana is a pretty outdated one. If you’re depending on the calculator to save you, you’re barking up the wrong tree — and probably also carrying around extra weight.
Granted, some people seem to find the sense of control they get from calorie counting helpful, but for most of us it’s an invitation to become neurotic about numbers and lose sight of the health-supporting power of actual food. To put it simply, counting calories is a great way to suck the joy out of eating and savoring good food.
On the other hand, if you ditch processed foods and sugar and simply focus on eating real, fresh whole foods, including nutrient-rich veggies and well-sourced animal protein, there’s no need to count calories! With nutrients, fiber, healthy fats, and protein to keep your belly full and blood sugar on an even keel, you’re simply not going to surpass your daily caloric max by, say, gorging on veggies — unless of course you’re drowning ‘em in must-avoid bottled dressings that are loaded with sugar, bad fats, and additives.
BOTTOM LINE: Quit counting calories and focus on the quality of the food on your plate in order to start shifting weight. More fresh, whole foods equals less weight over time (not overnight!).
MYTH # 2: To lose weight, exercise, exercise, exercise!
THE REALITY: Exercise delivers tremendous benefits, but weight loss isn’t necessarily one of them.
Perhaps it’s a vestige of our Puritanical past (or memories of Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda still dancing in our heads), but most of us are still convinced that exercising to the point of near-exhaustion is the key to weight loss. While exercise is a critical part of health and wellness and has untold number of benefits, the idea of burning calories via exercise is still stuck in the same calories-in-calories-out mentality. And, over time, depriving our bodies of calories can slow down our metabolism — which will cause us to gain weight.
Chronic overexercising can also elevate our body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make weight loss difficult. Instead, it’s important to exercise smarter in order to balance our hormones — yoga and interval training are great.
BOTTOM LINE: All this does not mean that exercise isn’t good for you. Regular exercise is fantastic for so many things, including strengthening your heart, maintaining healthy blood pressure, boosting mood, and balancing hormones. So, keep moving! Just don’t overdo it.
MYTH # 3: Eat everything in moderation, and you’ll lose weight.
THE REALITY: One man’s moderation is another man’s binge.
Everything in moderation is a nice idea, but for most people, that strategy simply doesn’t work when it comes to sugar and refined carbohydrates. Moderation is an especially lousy strategy to tame sugar intake for those who have a problem with weight, high blood sugar, or insulin resistance. The best thing to do is ditch sugar altogether because, like any other addictive substance, even small amounts can set people down the path of way-too-much. (There’s really no negotiating with sugar!)
Studies have shown that eating something sweet lights up the same pleasure centers in the brain lit up by heroin use. With something as intrinsically addictive as sugar it’s not a case of simply liking a sweet food — you’re in the insidious grip of a brain circuit-mediated compulsion. It’s a legal drug! The good news is, if you stop feeding the craving, you’ll be surprised how quickly it will dissipate, often in a matter of weeks.
Rather than attempting – and most likely failing— to be moderate about everything you eat, the best strategy is to be generous and enthusiastic with green leafy veggies, low-sugar fruits, healthy fats, and well-sourced proteins. Be rigorous and strict about your intake of bad stuff like sugar, processed foods, and refined carbs, eating as little of them as you can get away with. Even better, eliminate them. Remember, any kind of refined carb, whether it’s bread, pasta, or a bite-sized 3 Musketeers candy bar, turns into glucose minutes after eating. There’s no such thing as moderation once it’s in your bloodstream.
BOTTOM LINE: While moderation may work for some people without blood sugar or weight problems, it’s still not a recipe for good nutrition. Moderation doesn’t give you enough of the healthy, nutrient-dense foods you should really be indulging in, and it doesn’t cut you off from the foods you’d be much better off being done with altogether. My advice? To hell with moderation!
To get started on saying farewell to the foods that keep you fat, check out my 20 sugar-kicking tips.