I don't believe exercise and nutrition should be all about weight loss but there's no denying that carrying extra weight can have an adverse effect on our bodies and it can also be an indicator that we aren't living our healthiest life.
We see ads on tv and social media promoting ways to 'lose fat fast' but it's important to know when these tips and tricks are flat out wrong or when they could be detrimental to not only our results but also to our health.
When it comes to healthy eating and exercise, the results will always vary from one person to the next but these common myths are (generally) untrue*...
1. Cardio is king. Cardio is super important and if you're training for an endurance event then it should be a strong focus in your training program BUT when we are talking about weight loss, it's not necessarily the only way or even the most effective way to lose fat. Strength training will raise your heart rate and help you to build lean muscle mass which is the key to increasing your metabolism long term. Strength training will also increase your caloric burn when you've stopped exercising as your muscles need calories to recover and grow. A balanced exercise program with adequate strength training, cardio and recovery like stretching and yoga is going to be the most effective way to lose fat without losing muscle mass. If you're doing strength training and cardio on the same day, start with your strength workout and finish the session with some cardio intervals to make sure you have enough energy to lift weights without compromising on your technique.
2. Carbs are the enemy. Carbs are certainly not the enemy but they do need to be consumed in moderation to ensure we aren't overeating and converting the leftovers from glycogen to fat. We know that if we eat anything in excess, it can cause us to gain weight but for some reason, carbs get the worst wrap (no pun intended). I don't like calorie counting diets as a general rule but doing a bit of research on how many carbs, proteins and fats you should be consuming each day is a great way to learn how to eat for your body type. Plus you might be surprised how small a portion really is! The healthiest sources of carbohydrates are unprocessed or minimally processed and include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans so these are a better option as opposed to white breads, pastas and cereals. Depending on what type of activity you do day to day, your body will require a certain amount of carbohydrates so if you're unsure about this, see a nutritionist and find out what you need to support your body without eating in excess.
3. Walking is enough. If you're carrying a lot of extra weight, walking is going to shift some kilos and it's always a safe starting point for someone new to exercise however there will come a point when you will need to do more. I'm not dissing walking as a legitimate form of exercise and I add it to my daily routine to keep up my 'incidental fitness' but walking will not be enough to build muscle mass and balance out a high calorie diet. I believe strength training is super important for everyone as it protects bone health, builds muscle mass, improves our body's biomechanics and helps to manage chronic diseases such as obesity. Strength training can be done in so many ways and it doesn't necessarily mean lifting like Arnie. I used to teach strength classes with a group at a gym and one of the class members was 89 so there are suitable ways to build muscle for every age and fitness level including exercises without using anything but your body weight. Don't get me wrong, walking is great for the mind and body so keep up your steps every day by tracking them on a smart watch or pedometer.
4. If you exercise you can eat whatever you want. WRONG!...on so many levels. Coming from a personal trainer whose livelihood depends on people needing to exercise, I'm going to make a confession... exercise isn't enough to lose weight. Workout out will speed up the weight loss process and build lean muscle mass to improve your metabolism, plus of course we want to be strong and fit BUT fat loss is alllllll about your nutrition. If you're carrying extra weight, you could change your diet and see results without even stepping into a gym. FACT! Research says it's 20% exercise and 80% nutrition that gets the results but if you need some help in both areas, I would start with changes to your nutrition first and then slowly introduce low impact exercise as the weight starts to shift. Don't try and do it all at once or you'll burn out.
5. Move more and eat less. If you eat less calories and do more exercise, you will lose weight BUT we need to look more closely at this. Calorie restriction will help you lose weight in the short term but it's not sustainable so when you're told to eat less and you start cutting out meals or replacing meals with shakes then it can become unhealthy and unsustainable. The expression should really be 'move more and eat more of the good stuff.' We need to look at what we are eating as well as how much we are eating. Often it's not about cutting calories, it's about balancing our calories so we eat more whole foods and less processed foods. Be cautious of any diet that has you restricting your calories to the point of starvation.
6. Eating first thing in the morning is important for fat loss. Every person is different and we all require different calories to fuel our body. Some people need to eat first thing in the morning if they have low blood sugar, are pregnant or work a very active job but it's not for everyone and it doesn't necessarily have an impact on whether or not you will lose weight. I agree that your first meal of the day (break-fast) is the most important meal of the day because the right foods will stabilise your blood sugar, give you adequate energy and prevent sugar cravings later in the afternoon but this doesn't mean you need to eat as soon as you wake up. Some people function better fasted in the morning (like me) which has also been proven to have many benefits other than weight loss. Focus on your first meal of the day being a wholesome one with protein, fibre and good fats included but if you don't like to eat first thing in the morning, then don't. It doesn't always matter what time you break your overnight fast and every person is different so do what works for your body.
7. Cutting out food groups will help you lose weight. Now if by food groups you mean sugar then yes it will but cutting out gluten or dairy as a way of losing weight is no good. If gluten and dairy make you feel crappy or you're eliminating them from an overall health stand point then I'm all for it but if you're doing it to lose weight, it's a hard no from me. Any elimination diet for weight loss purposes is not sustainable. It might help you lose weight in the short term but unless you're willing to stick with it... forever... this is not a long term solution to weight control. Ultimately we want a diet that we enjoy eating, that makes us feel good and that gives us adequate energy to get through the day so if this is dairy free or gluten free for you then that's totally cool but don't mess with elimination diets for the wrong reasons.
For most of us, our weight will fluctuate throughout our lifetime. Holidays, having babies, stress and changes to our health are all reasons we may gain a little weight but don't freak out if it happens. Weight gain can be a good reminder that we need to change things up but it's not the end of the world so step back and evaluate how you can safely and effectively lose the extra fat without sabotaging your long term health or happiness.
Here's to a happy and balanced you,
*Please note I am talking about the general population and those with thyroid conditions or any other condition that affects weight is not my field of expertise and should be discussed with a GP.