Losing weight should be a priority for every person who is overweight or obese irrespective of their age. Similarly maintaining a healthy body weight is a constant undertaking. Both weight loss and weight management are due to the balance of calories – the calories consumed in foods and the calories burned through physical activity. There are various other factors that contribute to weight gain but in the end, being overweight or obese is primarily due to consuming more calories than required by the body on a daily basis.
There are new weight loss fads and slimming diets that are constantly emerging. Some are based on sound scientific principles while others are not. Similarly, some are very effective in assisting a person to lose weight. All too often though, there are fad diets that utilize extreme practices and may only help a person shed a few pounds for a short while but thereafter the pounds return and sometimes even a little more than the original weight. Poor decisions in terms of weight loss programs largely stems from misconceptions, myths and mistakes.
It is therefore important to speak to a medical doctor, registered dietitian/nutritionist and qualified physical trainer before starting any weight loss program. We take a quick look at some of the common weight loss mistakes and myths that often pose some of the major stumbling blocks in losing weight and keeping it off.
All carbohydrates are bad
In the modern diet, carbohydrates account for the majority of calories consumed when compared to protein and often even fats. There are many different ways in which carbohydrates are classified and this can sometimes be confusing. For the purpose of weight loss it is important to focus on the glycemic index of carbohydrates. Glycemic index (GI) is the measure of the degree to which a food will raise the blood glucose levels. As far as possible you would want to avoid high GI carbohydrates as it can plays a larger role than medium to low GI carbohydrates. The latter carbs are ideal, particularly those carbohydrate-rich foods with plenty of fiber.
Therefore not all carbohydrates are “bad”. Carbohydrates are actually a crucial part of the human diet. Ideally as much as 65% of your calories intake should be derived from calories but a suitable quantity of protein and even small amounts of fat are essential. Low GI carbohydrates raises the blood glucose levels slower than high GI carbs. The gradual rise and sustained blood glucose levels ensure that the glucose is utilized by the body’s cells rather than storing it as fat. Consuming protein and fiber with carbohydrates can also cause a moderate reduction in the glycemic index of the meal but as far as possible you should opt for medium to low GI carbohydrates.
Starving to lose weight fast
Starvation diets are a sure way of gaining weight in the long run. During periods of starvation, the alterations in the body’s hormone levels ensures that minimal calories are used to maintain life and as much calories as possible are stored in the form of fat. While starvation may cause moderate weight loss in the short term, most people who have access to food will return to eating normally again at some point. The body will then store as much of these calories as possible thereby leading to increased fatty tissue deposition and ultimately weight gain. In addition, starvation leads to low energy levels and makes it difficult to exercise – one of the best means to lose weight.
Calorie counting is impossible
Many people find calorie counting to be cumbersome and to some extent it can be at the outset. However, calorie counting is essential in any weight loss program and helps you correlate the degree of weight loss with your dietary habits. Reducing portion sizes is one way of reducing calorie intake but ideally a person should be aware of the calories that they are consuming in a day. Not counting calories on a daily basis and recording it in a journal is one of the biggest weight loss mistakes.
The average adult male should consume approximately 2,500 calories daily and for women it should be around 2,000 calories per day. When trying to lose weight, the calorie intake may be lower as part of a calorie-restricted diet. By learning to calorie count at the outset makes it simpler to become more aware about calories in the future. Eventually it becomes ‘second nature’ and you will make healthy eating choices in the future.
Fewer meals are better
This is another myth. In fact it is better to eat many small meals in a day than a few medium to large meals. By eating many small meals, you offer the body a constant supply of nutrition for energy production – not excess calories in a single large meal or two. In other words the body will not attempt to conserve calories in the form of fat if you eat several times in a day. Most of us are accustomed to the idea of 3 meals in a day but since most people are awake for at least 18 hours a day, the spacing of 3 meals may not be suitable for sustained energy levels. Ideally a person should eat about 5 meals a day – 3 medium-sized meals (breakfast, lunch and supper) and 2 small snacks in between.
Exercise is not always necessary
While weight loss is possible without starting an exercise program, it is difficult to lose weight and keep it off without adopting a more active lifestyle. The key in weight loss is the calorie balance. If you are trying to lose weight then you need to shift the balance towards more calories being utilized by the body than being consumed in the daily diet. Even by reducing calorie intake through foods, weight loss is slow without the added benefit of exercise. In addition, exercise increases the resting metabolic rate and muscle mass. Since the muscles are the largest calorie consumers, even at rest, it contributes further to the overall metabolic rate. This means that you body will burn more calories even when not exercising thereby shifting the calorie balance further in the green.
Alcohol is not fattening
This is untrue. Alcoholic drinks are packed with calories and ounce for ounce compare to regular cola in terms of calories. It depends on the type of alcoholic beverage and even the brand but overall alcoholic drinks can easily exceed your daily calorie intake with even moderate consumption. Consuming what may seem like ‘healthier’ alcoholic beverages such as cocktails mixed with fruit juices may not be the “less fattening” option. Moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits but in terms of weight loss, alcoholic drinks should be avoided. The odd drink or two in the week may not compromise a weight loss program but the problem that often arises is that with alcohol consumption, the ability to practice restraint with food is then impaired.
Water is enough for weight loss
Water has zero calories and may seem like the ideal sustenance during weight loss programs. However, water is not a food and does not provide any nutrition. Trying to stick just to water is as good as starving yourself. While it is important to drink sufficient water in the course of the day, water cannot replace food. With a “water diet”, the body undergoes the same hormonal changes as starvation and contributes to even greater weight gain once you return to a normal diet. The idea of flushing toxins out of the system or even burning more calories by drinking ice water are misconceptions. While you can possibly burn a few calories by drinking ice water which then has to be warmed to room temperature, the number of calories consumed in this way is almost negligible.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on January 31, 2013