When it comes to diet and weight loss, everyone has a different opinion. Some people cut calories, some just cut carbs, and some don’t change anything but the times of day they eat. So, who’s right?
If you stood outside a gym and asked everyone who came out how they ate to lose weight, you’d get hundreds of different answers, even if they’re all rooted in the same principles. Some people will have found success with one thing that another group of people say leads to disaster.
The truth is, everyone has different rules and methods they’ve found success with, but not all of these methods are sustainable or effective. Many of these weight loss misconceptions are pervasive, so today I’m going to set the record straight so you can find healthy weight loss success.
3 Weight Loss Misconceptions vs The Truth
Calories In vs. Calories Out
Going back to our idea of asking everyone leaving a gym about how they lose weight, a huge percentage would say, “Simple! I just eat fewer calories than I burn each day.”
There are hundreds of calorie calculators online, your smartwatch likely keeps track of your calories in and out for you, and you likely keep a note of what you eat each day - it’s no wonder this idea is so pervasive.
What I’m going to say next will probably shock you: calories-in versus calories-out just isn’t how the body works.
The human body burns calories based on a wide variety of factors, including what you eat, your metabolism, and your current gut health. If it were simply down to calories-in versus calories-out, you and your teenage son would both be able to eat the same thing if you did the same amount of exercise that day and see the same kind of result.
But that’s not how it works.
In fact, if you cut your calories back so much that you’re not actually eating enough, your body will react by burning fewer calories in a day because it’s worried that you may not be able to get enough calories in the future. Remember, your body does not understand that you’re sitting thirty feet away from your well-stocked pantry or live a few hundred yards away from a restaurant. All it knows is you’re not getting enough, and that may continue.
So, to combat this possibility (especially if you continue to eat very little in an effort to force your body to lose weight) your body puts on weight and slows your metabolism. Instead of focusing so much on the number of calories you’re eating, focus on the quality of food, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress levels as best you can.
You Can’t Lose Weight Without Exercise
Let me start by saying this: exercise is so important for your overall health and wellness, especially when it comes to heart health and your mental health. That said, it alone will not help you reach your weight loss goals. You may have heard people say that 80% of your weight loss success is made in the kitchen, and that saying isn’t all that far from the truth.
Our metabolism, gut health, and diet play the largest role in successful weight loss. Despite what you may have been led to believe, burning extra calories won’t wholly offset poor diet habits.
Yes, doing exercise can help increase your metabolism and will most certainly help you feel energized and motivated toward reaching your weight loss goals, give you more muscle tone which can help you burn extra calories and feel more motivated by what you see in the mirror, but you won’t get the results if your diet is full of sugar and processed foods.
Weight Loss Success is Made in the Mind
Weight loss is most definitely a mental game - but not wholly. Weight loss is not just mind games or math, it’s a science. There’s a lot more going on in your body that may prevent you from shedding the pounds than you think.
Hormones are the most important aspect of your metabolism and may be the reason you are seeing the scale get stuck for days or weeks, or why you yo-yo back to the same number so often. The body wants to stay where it is - it will alter metabolism, digestion, and appetite to keep weight on. In other words, while your willpower will be tested, your body will be the one testing you, not just your resolve.
So how do you lose weight? The Truth
What You Eat is Paramount
What you eat is the most important factor when it comes to reaching your weight loss goals. You need to switch your diet from processed foods to healthy meals full of whole foods. When it comes to tracking, track your macros (macronutrients - protein, carbohydrates, fat) and plan healthy meals with lean meats (if you eat meat), fruits and veggies, and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water (around 2 liters a day is recommended).
Combat Stress and Get Enough Sleep
These are two points people typically feel like they have less control over, but they’re also two factors people underestimate the importance of when it comes to our overall health and losing weight. When you don’t get enough–or good enough quality–rest, your weight can change just as much as it does when your hormones affect it.
Of course, stress can not only affect our quality of sleep (and life), but it often leads to unusual eating habits and dietary choices. You may stop eating when highly anxious, but binge eat or turn to sugar for comfort when you’re mildly stressed or feeling depressed. It’s important to try to manage how you interact with food when your mental health is affected and even more important to try and manage how much stress and anxiety you feel in the first place.
There will be times in life when stress is unavoidable, but make sure you’re not amplifying it. Turning off the news, digital devices before bed, spending time with friends, family, and pets, and finding hobbies you can do to wind down and switch off are all good ways to bring your stress levels down.
2. Reach Out for Help
Body positivity is a great thing, but it shouldn’t make you feel that being overweight is something you can’t ask for help with or work to change. Being overweight is a medical condition and just like other medical conditions, you may need the support of medical professionals to manage it.
As I mentioned above, things like your hormones play a huge role in weight gain and loss and if you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know what needs to be fixed so you can reach a healthy weight. A medical professional can help assess all aspects of your health and give you the right advice and medications to support your progress.
Weight loss is not as cut and dry as some fitness professionals would lead you to believe: it’s not just calories-in versus calories-out and increasing your exercise. If you’ve been struggling to get the number on the scale to shift, reach out to a medical professional for support so you can ensure everything is aligned so you can reach your goals.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.