With so much contradictory info out there, it’s hard enough losing weight without all the back-and-forth on what really works.
So, to help you cook up a get-skinny diet and exercise plan that does the trick, we asked wellness expert Dr. Frank Lipman, and top-notch fitness trainers David Kirsch and Dan Trink to debunk 15 common weight-loss myths.Find out the surprising things they had to say about cardio, carbs, and diet soda. We guarantee you’ll never look at Splenda the same way again.
MYTH: If you’re looking to lose weight, you should cut out all fats.
Think ditching fats is the best way to start dropping poundage? Think again: According to Dr. Lipman, fats aren’t what are making you flabby. “Fat does not make you fat — it is sugar, wheat, and refined carbs that do so because they cause the release of insulin, which leads to fat storage,” he says.
In fact, your body needs healthy fats in order to function properly. “Low-fat diets do not cause weight loss and the idea of limiting good fats in particular creates problems because healthy fats are crucial for healthy brain function, healthy eyes, joints, skin, and hair,” says Lipman. “It’s the quality of the fats that matter. Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, coconut oil, and salmon are great additions to any diet and eating small amounts at your meals will help you to feel satisfied more easily. Having said that, everyone should avoid altered, hydrogenated, or trans fats.”
MYTH: In order to slim down one area, you have to obsessively focus on it.
In theory, it makes sense that if you want to minimize your booty, you should focus your energy on exercises that target that part. Not true, says Dan Trink, a strength coach, nutritional consultant, and personal trainer at Peak Performance in NYC.
“While you can build muscle in an area by specifically working it, fat loss does not occur in the same manner,” he says. “Most people tend to lose fat in their faces first, but they certainly aren’t doing a lot of exercises for their face. The area in which you lose fat tends to revolve more around your hormonal state, genetics, and body type. Fat loss is also driven by nutritional choices much more than the types of workouts you’re doing. Unfortunately, doing 30 sets of the latest ‘butt blaster’ will not make you lose fat in that area any faster.” Sucks for your butt.
MYTH: If you skip breakfast, you’ll lose weight faster.
Not an early riser? Well, you might be causing yourself added poundage by skipping your morning meal. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is skipping breakfast,” says Lipman. “The first meal gets your metabolism going and sets the rhythm for the day. Skipping breakfast, eating a sugar-laden breakfast, or only drinking coffee sets your body up to crash later. Protein and fat are essential in the morning — we need those nutrients to keep us energized and alert. I think a shake or smoothie with protein and fat is the perfect breakfast food, because they’re quick and easy to digest, you get a good dose of healthy nutrients, and prevent cravings for sugary foods later.”
So what should your meal plan look like each day? “Lunch should be the largest meal of the day — your digestion peaks at mid-day, and [your meal] should include protein to maintain alertness. Dinner should be your smallest meal, because your digestion slows down at night. Many people have their only proper meal or their largest meal at night when their metabolism is slowest and that is not good for weight loss.”
MYTH: Drinking caffeine will help you feel full and keep cravings at bay.
We can’t even begin to count the number of girls we know who think that drinking tons of coffee will keep them from craving food. You need food in order to refuel your body, and actively trying to find ways to skip meals is only going to hurt you in the long run. “Caffeine is a powerful stimulant and it depletes the adrenal glands, which are what govern our stress response and help balance our blood sugar,” says Lipman. “Coffee (and sugar) act like stressors on the body and can also lead to adrenal fatigue. The way the body physically handles this stress is by being stingy about how it uses calories, storing them primarily in the form of fat around the abdomen.”
What does this mean? According to Lipman, this is a process that’s left over from our cavemen days, when stress meant a life-or-death situation, like being chased by a lion. Your body would go into fight-or-flight mode and released stored adrenals and cortisol to give you the added strength and energy you needed to survive. Problem is, your body hasn’t learned to distinguish the difference between a lion attack and a bad day at work, so it thinks every stressor is a life-or-death situation, causing you to store up those calories to give you energy to run for your life. “In those days, stress came in short bursts and there was a need to quickly mobilize energy production from the stored carbohydrates and fats,” he says. “Nowadays, [stress is] chronic, which is constant and leads to continual high cortisol, which makes us less sensitive to leptin, the hormone that makes us feel full, and then we eat more than we normally would.”
So, long story short: Your adrenals are already overworked enough, as it is, and the more caffeine you drink, the worse you are going to make things, which will only increase your weight gain in the long run. Put down the latte — it’s for your own good.
MYTH: Doing crunches is the best way to get toned abs.
Good thing this one is false, because we’ve always been rubbish at sit-ups. “All the crunches and planks in the world are not going to do anything if you’re not following a sensible diet, so the first step to flat abs is watching what you eat,” says celebrity trainer David Kirsch. “After that, it’s a question of repetition. Focus on your belly, on feeling the burn. Less can be more: fifteen perfect crunches are better than 50 sloppy ones. I love crunches, planks, obliques with a stability ball, and reverse prone scissors, to tone up your abs.”
MYTH: Diet soft drinks and foods are a good way to cut calories.
We know the Diet Coke devotees are going to freak out on this one, but according to Dr. Lipman, those diet drinks are actually worse for you. “Replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners in diet sodas and foods is a diet disaster,” says Lipman. “Aspartame — found in NutraSweet, Equal, Diet Coke, Crystal Light, and some chewing gum — is a dangerous food additive that some studies have shown to have toxic effects.
And, though Splenda claims to be made from sugar, it is made by chlorinating sugar. This means if you use Splenda, you are essentially dumping chlorine in your coffee (Ed’s note: Um, ew). Recent studies have shown that aspartame may actually stimulate appetite and bring on a craving for carbohydrates.”
Dr. Lipman says the main problem with more low-calorie or fat-free foods is that they are usually processed, and you should be eating more whole foods, not empty processed foods, if you want to lose weight. “It is the quality of nutrients that is important, not whether a food is low-fat or low-carb. Get good quality carbs and fats into you — these nutrient-dense foods are energizing and will make it easier to lose weight. I try get my patients away from this obsession with calorie counting or looking for fat-free foods (which are often loaded with sugar).”
MYTH: Crash diets are safe, as long as you only do them in the short term.
Yeah, they call them crash diets for a reason — because they crash and burn your metabolism. You may think that doing them in the short term won’t hurt you in the long term, but that’s wishful thinking. “Although crash diets often work in terms of losing weight quickly, it is not the best way to lose weight, particularly if you want to keep the weight off,” says Lipman. “Not supplying your body with nutrients may affect your metabolism, which will slow down as a protective mechanism, because it is not getting the nutrients it needs to function.”
So where do cleanses fall on the crash diet spectrum? “A cleanse can have all the negative effects of a crash diet if it does not include nutrients in the juices, food, or supplements to assist this functioning too,” he says. “A healthy detox is not a crash diet — it is a way of removing foods that commonly irritate the system but at the same time uses juices, foods, and other nutrients to nourish the system and support the body’s own detoxification system, like the Be Well Cleanse. A good cleanse is an entry point into a healthier way of eating in the long term, making you aware of food sensitivities, how you feel when you avoid certain foods, and how good you can feel when you eat healthily.”
MYTH: You have to work out for at least an hour in order to see any benefit.
Thank god this one isn’t true, because we find it hard to find 5 minutes in the day for exercise, let alone a full hour. “In fact, working out for a full 60 minutes may be too much for a lot of people,” says Trink.
“It’s more important to focus on effort and intensity, rather than focusing on the clock. If you focus on getting a lot of work done in a short amount of time, you can really make your workouts challenging and reap huge benefits. Try a circuit style workout where you rotate between five or six exercises with minimal rest in between. Go through that circuit three to four times and your heart will be beating out of your chest before 20 minutes pass.” We love a good shortcut, especially when it gives us great results!
MYTH: All-natural diet supplements are totally safe and effective.
Remember ephedra? Everyone was all excited about it a few years ago because it was a “natural, healthy” weight loss supplement. Then the FDA banned it when fatal cases were reported. Lesson: Just because it’s natural, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy or safe.
“Many of the diet supplements that are used are stimulants, because they can speed up metabolism, but they also have other negative effects on the body, so I don’t recommend them,” says Lipman. “But supplements in general are good and I do recommend them – like multivitamins, fish oil, vitamin D, and probiotics.”
MYTH: Just do a ton of cardio and the weight will practically fall off.
If you’re feeling like all that endless running on the treadmill doesn’t seem to be doing much, you’re probably right: According to Trink, long bouts of endless cardio are a very inefficient way to lose weight. “Once your body gets good at performing cardio, it gets more efficient at using less energy to perform that same amount of work. Meaning, the more you perform cardio, the fewer calories your body uses,” he says. “Also, with cardio, once you step off the treadmill, the calorie burn is over.”
So what’s a better option? Trink recommends resistance training because building and sustaining lean muscle mass burns more calories, and those extra calories are being burned 24/7 to keep all those extra muscles fed. If you still insist on the treadmill being the focus of your workout, Trink says to stick with interval training, which involves bouts of short, intense exercise, followed by longer rest periods. “Interval-type cardio has been shown to increase metabolism for over 36 hours after you step out of the gym. A combination of proper nutrition, resistance training, and intervals is not only a great way to lose weight, but also to end up with the body that you want,” says Trink.
MYTH: Cut out meat and eat only veggies to lose weight quickly.
While going veggie seems like a good idea, it’s not the only way to lose weight. If you like meat, eating it won’t cause you to gain weight, so there’s no reason to cut it from your diet. “I recommend staying away from processed meats like cold cuts, hot dogs, sausage, and any factory-farmed meats,” says Lipman.
“To lose weight, one must cut back on foods that trigger insulin release, because it is the insulin that encourages fat storage. Having foods that don’t trigger insulin release, like protein and fats, is the best way to lose weight, so you can include grass-fed meat, chicken, and fish in your diet along with lots of veggies.”
MYTH: The best total body workout is running.
Running is great for your lower body, but you don’t get nearly enough of a workout on your upper body. Also, it can be murder on your joints, so you might end up sidelining yourself with aches, pains, or injuries.
Instead, Kirsch recommends you try a rowing machine. “Minute for minute, you burn the most calories while working your legs, butt, core, arms, and back,” he says. “That machine is a calorie incinerator. However, not every machine works for everyone. Pick something that works for your body so you can stick to it for the full 45 minutes. You can up the intensity as you get stronger and more fit, but really block the time out of your schedule and dedicate yourself to the process.”
MYTH: It’s better to snack all day than to eat regular meals.
Dr. Lipman says that this is a myth for some people, but not everyone. “I don’t recommend grazing all day. However, I do see that many people do well with 5 small healthy meals a day or 3 meals and 2 snacks. This helps to keep blood sugar steady, and keeps you from craving sweet, sugary snacks.”
See how your body reacts to different meal schedules — if you find yourself really hungry between meals, it could be that your body prefers smaller, more frequent meals. Just make sure the meals that you are getting have the necessary lean proteins and fiber-rich foods that will keep you feeling full.
MYTH: Switching to whole grains will help you lose weight.
If we were to believe the recent bout of pro-grain commercials on TV, we’d think that whole grains were the secret to dropping pant sizes. Yes, switching from processed grains to whole grains is definitely good for your health, but Dr. Lipman believes that cutting wheat and gluten from your diet completely is the healthiest thing you can do for your system.
“Whole wheat has a high glycemic value and stimulates insulin release with fat storage. My experience has been that eliminating sugar and wheat have been the most important factors in weight loss. I recommend cutting out wheat altogether — eliminating gluten and wheat in particular is an under-appreciated strategy for losing weight.”
But don’t go grabbing the sprouted grains, cornmeal, and rice pasta just yet: While Dr. Lipman says these gluten-free carbs aren’t as bad for you as wheat, they still trigger insulin release, which will trigger that fat storage. For the ultimate health and weight loss benefit, he suggests replacing the wheat with veggies, grass-fed meats, wild fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and some beans instead — you’ll get the carbs you need without all the negative effects.
MYTH: Lifting weights is only for people who want to bulk up.
While you may have fears of looking like the Hulk if you pick up a dumbbell, adding weights to your fitness regimen is actually key for helping build a sleeker physique. “The female body is not made to bulk up,” says Kirsch. “Unless you’re genetically unique, you don’t have the testosterone for huge biceps.” Adds Trink, “Putting on muscle mass takes a lot of time and work. Plus, you need to be eating a surplus of calories to put on substantial size. Lifting weights is really for people who want to increase bone density, lose weight, add lean muscle mass, correct muscular imbalances brought on by sports or lifestyle, remain injury-free and live longer, healthier lives. People shouldn’t fear weight training; they should fear being sedentary.”
Illustrations by Isabelle Rancier
Click HERE to read more from Refinery29.