At a recent get-together, I overheard a few friends talking about their weight loss woes. One said, “My problem is I have a gym membership and I never use it.” The other laughingly replied, “I work out every morning, but I can’t seem to lay off the ice cream at night.” The conversation reminded me of talks I’ve had with clients, who were convinced that if they could just change one habit, they’d be sitting across from me in very different bodies. And while it’s true that a small change can snowball into big results over time, some of the factors that get blamed as “the one thing” that’s preventing success wind up not being the real culprits. Here are four falsehoods I hear often, and why getting past them can finally lead to lasting weight loss.
It’s all about exercise
I’m a huge proponent of fitness. In addition to knocking down the risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, exercise reduces stress, improves sleep and mood, and helps build metabolism-boosting muscle. But, if you aren’t ready to become active, you can’t exercise for some reason, or you don’t get to the gym regularly, you can absolutely without a doubt still lose weight. In fact, a new study found that people who believe that diet is the primary cause of obesity weigh less than those who attribute weight troubles to a lack of exercise. Also some research shows that exercise may trigger you to unknowingly eat more, thus canceling out its weight loss effects. And on a day-to-day basis, the results you’ll get by subtly tweaking your meals generally require a lot less effort. For example, ordering your burrito “naked” (in a bowl rather than wrapped up in a flour tortilla) saves nearly 300 calories. To cancel that amount through exercise, you’d have to clock over 35 minutes on the elliptical.
If I could just stop eating (fill in the blank)
While I would never advise a client to eat ice cream daily, the truth is there is no food on the planet that is inherently fattening. Whether a food gets burned off or socked away in your fat cells ultimately comes down to how you eat it, and how much you consume. How much is pretty self explanatory–downing an entire pint of Chunky Monkey will obviously impact the scale far more than a few spoonfuls. But how you eat has to do with timing and combinations. Eating ice cream (which is high in both saturated fat and sugar), just an hour or so after chowing a bowl of mac n’ cheese for dinner (also high in saturated fat and carbs) will create far more of a fat cell feeding surplus than enjoying it after a meal of baked cod and roasted veggies. In other words, it’s all about the big picture–much like a budget, you can splurge a little, if you scrimp and save elsewhere. So if you can’t or don’t want to stop eating (fill in the blank), focus on changing how you eat it to create some balance. This kind of give-and-take can get the scale moving again, and help you feel a whole lot better, both mentally and physically.
It’s in my genes
There is no denying that there is a hereditary component to obesity, but I’ve helped people from heavy families lose 100 pounds, and I’ve worked with obese teens of overweight parents, who grew up to become normal weight adults. So even if you feel like just looking at a cookie makes you gain a pound, focus on what you can control. One recent study found that in people with “fat genes,” being physically active slashed the risk of obesity by 40 percent. Another study in over 1,000 pairs of twins found that the link between genetics and weight was twice as strong for siblings who slept less than seven hours a night, as opposed to those who got a solid nine or more. Bottom line: regardless of your genetic lot, your daily habits wield a great deal of influence over your weight.
If I was younger…
While it’s true that your metabolism loses steam as you “mature” (a 5-10% decline per decade starting at age 25), being older than a millennial is no reason to give up on weight loss. One study, which tracked the habits of women between the ages 50 and 75, found that not only were they able to lose weight, but their success had far more to do with their daily habits than the decade in which they were born. Those who kept food diaries lost about six more pounds than those who didn’t; the women who ate at least three times a day shed more than those who skipped meals; and those who ate lunch away from home at least once a week lost five fewer pounds, compared with those who dined out less often. Weight and age are both just numbers–what matters far more to how you look and feel is how you live each day.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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