5 Mind-Blowing Weight Loss Myths
BY: Abby Pollock | May 25, 2020 | 9 minute read
We take scientific methods and results into account when busting these myths.
I have some good news for you: almost all the unrealistic fitness myths you’ve been hearing are WRONG.
“You gotta do hours of cardio to lose weight” → Wrong.
“Tracking calories is the only way to know your daily intake” → Nope.
“I have bad genetics, no matter what I do I won’t lose weight” → Try again.
I’m here today to set the record straight on what worked to help me lose 20 lbs and keep it off for good.
Keeping it simple. The best plan for you is one you can stick to, just like the Made To Move It Challenge.
No massive life changes required. Just simple, easy-to-adapt changes to work into your daily routine and create a lifestyle that lasts.
If you haven't signed up – now is your time to join. Oh and did I mention it's free? Now, let's bust some myths.
MYTH #1: You need to track calories to lose weight.
Before we get into this, I want to make one thing clear: changes in weight come down to calories in versus calories out. A calorie is a made up concept to describe the energy in food. What “calories in versus calories out” really describes is your Energy Balance.
On the Energy In side of this equation we have all energy (or calories) coming from food, whereas on the Energy Out side, there’s a bit more going on:
- You’ve got your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which describes energy burned just existing as a human. This includes doing unconscious things like sitting and breathing.
- Then there’s the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) which describes energy burned by your body as it breaks down and digests the food you eat.
- Next, you’ve got the Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA), or the energy burned during structured physical activity like your regular workouts.
- And finally, there’s Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which describes energy burned during spontaneous activity, like fidgeting, standing up, or moving around during the day.
In order to lose weight, you need to be at an Energy Deficit, where you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming (meaning your energy out is greater than your energy in). The easiest way to achieve this is by adjusting some combination of your Energy In, TEA, and / or NEAT.
The thing is, TEA and NEAT can be hard to accurately measure and even the most popular activity trackers have been shown to be off.
A 2017 study, examined the accuracy of wrist-worn, sensor-based measurements of heart rate and energy expenditure: 60 participants of diverse age, height, weight, skin tone, and fitness level were selected to wear the devices while being assessed with continuous telemetry (for heart rate) and indirect calorimetry (for calorie burn). (1)
What they found was that while most devices measured heart rate accurately, none of the devices were accurate on energy expenditure, with even the most accurate device off by an average of 27%.
Long story short, it’s hard to measure Energy Out outside of a lab setting. Even with the most accurate of activity trackers and online calculators, calorie targets are only an estimate for what they think your Energy In should be. In most cases, it’s a “starting point” I wouldn’t always recommend starting at.
MYTH #1: Busted.
Consistently hitting a calorie target requires habits around eating the right amounts of the right nutrients, which oftentimes means adapting habits to your routine like:
- Portion control
- Eating mostly whole or minimally-processed foods
- Having a healthy routine around grocery shopping and food prepping
- Understanding your hunger and fullness cues
- Managing stress and emotional eating triggers
If you can’t consistently do all these things, consistently hitting a calorie target will be difficult.
The good news is that if you can get even one of these things down, you’ll reduce some mindless eating, and as a result you’ll reduce some calories in.
Sure, you might not hit the exact same calories day-to-day, but your body doesn’t recognize specifics; it only knows if you’re eating generally more or generally less and adapts your weight accordingly.
MYTH #2: Cardio is bad.
Spoiler alert: it’s NOT.
Looking at the Energy Balance Equation, consider what it would mean if you used the words “cardio” and “activity” interchangeably...
Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA) and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) are affected by the way you move.
Chasing your dog at the park? That’s 10 minutes of running.
Walking around the grocery store? That’s 20 minutes of walking.
Trying a new dance class? That’s 30 minutes of movement.
All these activities work your cardiovascular system and add to your daily energy burn, but we don’t think of them as “cardio.”
MYTH #2: Busted.
The fitness industry has given cardio a bad rep.
This is a very narrow view of what it means to be active and is counterproductive to your progress.
If you’re trying to lose weight, being more active is a great start and the easiest ways to be active often fall under the “cardio” umbrella. Think walking, starting an active hobby, or something as simple as taking the stairs.
When I lost the weight, I got back into running. Not for added “cardio,” but because it was a hobby that I enjoyed that also burns calories and has helped me maintain my weight loss.
Point is, “cardio” in and of itself is not bad.
MYTH #3: Cardio is for weight loss, and weights are for building muscle.
Lasting weight loss is about lifestyle change, not just doing cardio. Even if you enjoy it, doing hours of cardio to lose weight is like a dog chasing his tail.
Think about it like this: In order to lose weight, you need to burn more energy than you consume. But, when you do a lot of cardio, this cranks up your hunger and you eat more. So, you might be burning more calories, but you’re also eating more of them right back.
A 2017 research review showed that the relationship between physical activity and energy intake looks something like this (2):
- At low physical activity levels, energy intake is increased because appetite control is all over the place.
- Then, as you increase your physical activity levels, appetite control improves.
- The problem arises when you increase your physical activity levels to the extreme (as we often do when trying to lose weight). At this point, appetite increases to the extreme as well.
All of this only worsens the cycle of getting on track and falling right off.
You get motivated, do a ton of cardio, and get really hungry as a result of the extra activity. By the end of the week when you’re exhausted, hungry, and feeling like you’re all out of willpower, you fall off track.
You stop the cardio. You stop the workouts.
Now you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum, still hungry, eating more without burning more. Doing all that cardio may actually have set you up for gaining weight!
MYTH #3: Busted.
A more sensible approach is to create habits around activity that support your lifestyle long term. My advice is to:
Move in a way that will benefit you now…
...by burning calories and contributing to your energy deficit.
Find ways to work activity or active hobbies into your everyday life doing things you love. If you hate the treadmill, don’t run on the treadmill! The key is that you should be able to do this every day without making up excuses to get out of it.
Move in a way that will benefit you long term...
...by supporting a strong metabolism.
One of the best ways to maintain your metabolism as you lose weight is by increasing (or maintaining) your lean body mass through resistance training.
Lean body mass is directly correlated to your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR):
The greater your lean body mass, the greater your BMR, and in turn the more calories you burn just sitting, breathing, and existing as a human. You’ll maintain results over the long term more easily if you’re burning more calories overall.
MYTH #4: If you’ve never been fit, you never will be.
Whether it’s someone else telling you this or your own brain… this is tough to deal with.
Before losing 20 lbs, I spent over a year spinning my wheels; I knew what to do, I just couldn’t stick with it. I’d get on track and fall right off, stuck in that cycle. Over time, that chipped away at my confidence not only in fitness, but in myself. I felt like I had tried everything and so I started to wonder if it was my body type, genetics, or something else entirely that was wrong with me.
There are a couple ways to address this. Looking at the PHYSIOLOGICAL:
Body type was a concept that originated in the 1940s from a psychologist named Dr. William Sheldon. He hypothesized that body size and shape helped determine personality traits such as assertiveness, aggressiveness, shyness, and sensitivity.
This was not a concept designed to inform nutritional choices but to observe something completely unrelated. Unsurprisingly, his theory proved wrong, but the body types have stuck around as a way of describing someone’s fat to muscle to bone ratio.
- Ectomorphs are described as being thin, narrow, fragile, and lacking muscle
- Mesomorphs are described as being lean, strong, and athletic
- Endomorphs are described as soft, big, and thicker
A key misconception here is that your body type is your body type and that cannot change, which suggests that we each have some sort of “set point.” The current body of literature on "set point" is limited. While we know body weight is the result of some combination of genetics and environment, it’s unclear how much each component contributes to body weight and our ability to maintain it.
What we do know is that BMR can vary by up to 15 percent for people of the exact same age and weight, that BMR decreases with weight loss, and that your metabolism is adaptive.
This is where that “set point” theory comes in.
So, when does your body start to compensate? Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer that will apply to every person in every situation. This is why I think it’s equally important to consider the PSYCHOLOGICAL side of weight loss.
MYTH #4: Busted.
If you believe that because you’ve never been fit, you never will be, then you’ll experience everything in life through that lens. You’ll find a way to prove yourself right because even this painful belief feels safer than not knowing what life looks like on the other side.
This is why I take issue with the idea of body types: They’re an oversimplification of human beings that restricts us to one of three narrow categories and limits our perception of what we can achieve.
While genetics will play a role, you can control your actions and as a result change your outcomes. No matter your current body type, progress is possible and you can do it. You just have to start.
MYTH #5: You need to do this all at once.
After reading all of this, I know it can feel like a lot.
There’s so much to think about, and it’s that overthinking that always keeps you from getting started in the first place, right?
MYTH #5: Busted.
The truth is, you don’t need to do this all at once. You can start with one win you aim to check off daily - one habit to start building your confidence - until you’re ready to take on another.
Take it slow and trust the process. You got this.
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