Originally published in The Times Herald Record September 15, 2010
In Part 1 of my series on misconceptions about weight loss, I discussed three common mistakes people make: following fads; eating what is theoretically healthy, rather than what is healthy for them as a unique individual; and being a slave to the scale.
Here are three more common weight-loss pitfalls.
Mistake 1: Stop eating carbs
The first thing most people do when they go on a diet is cut carbs. But what happens when you eliminate carbs? You feel cranky, hungry and deprived, which sets you up to boomerang right out of your good intentions. Not only that, but also low/no carbs gets you off-track hormonally and metabolically.
You need to eat carbs — every time you eat. What you don’t need is carbs in the form of processed and refined foods, junk foods, sugars and alcohol. Complex carbs from “real foods,” such as vegetables and fruits, should be included in every meal and snack — that is, every time you eat. Add protein and healthy fat for perfect metabolic balance.
Mistake 2: Count calories
Does anyone really believe that 1,120 calories from a Vanilla Kreme Filled Doughnut and a large Coffee Coolatta have the same effect as two scrambled eggs, oatmeal with butter, tea with honey plus 4 ounces of chicken, a sweet potato, a serving of broccoli — and I’ll have to throw in a 450-calorie slice of apple pie to bring all that up into the same calorie ballpark? Don’t you think those might differ in terms of the quality of fuel you give your body and brain? Do you think you might be hungrier again, soon after having the doughnut and coffee, and need another big sweet boost? Do you think they might have different impacts on your focus? Your energy level? Your metabolism? Your appetite? Not to mention your long-term health?
Allowing yourself to eat whatever you want within a certain calorie limit does not work. Weight loss is 80 percent what you eat, but it’s the kind and quality of the food, not just the number of calories.
Mistake 3: Do lots of cardio
This may work in your 20s, but it definitely doesn’t work once we get past the prime reproductive years. Cardio breaks your body down and puts it in a stress state: Biologically, we can’t distinguish between running on a treadmill and running from a saber- toothed tiger.
The best way to exercise is high-intensity interval training: short all-out bursts of no more than a minute. Why? Because when we do that, we cue our body to produce human growth hormone and testosterone, and those are “building” hormones, vs. cortisol, which is a “breaking down” hormone. Think sprint, not marathon.
As for walking, I’m all for it. Do it to get some sunshine, exercise the dog, say hi to your neighbors and get yourself moving, but don’t expect to lose much weight or body fat that way.
Tip #1: Don’t Skip Food Groups!
Any plan that has you eliminating or drastically minimizing any macronutrient — protein, carbs or fat — is not only not going to work in the long run but also is unhealthy!
The key is learning to balance: Strive for a balance of lean protein, a little healthy fat, and carbs from “real food” (rather than processed or packaged food) each time you have a meal or a snack.
Never eat carbs alone or protein alone.
Tip #2: Balance Exercise, Too
Although I have helped many clients lose fat and gain muscle simply from nutritional changes, exercise is essential to maintain health as we age.
You don’t need hours in the gym, but you need to find activities that work your body hard, that you enjoy and that you will do consistently. An ideal combination would mix interval training, some balance and flexibility (such as yoga or Pilates) and some strength training, either with your own body weight (such as push-ups) or dumbbells.
Tip #3: It’s Not A Bank Account
It simply doesn’t work to “overspend” then “budget” when it comes to food. That only damages your metabolism, slowing it further, and signaling your body to become ever more efficient at storing fat. That’s exactly the opposite of what you want.
A meal is correctly balanced for you when you are not hungry again for 4-6 hours, with no cravings. If you can do that consistently, your metabolism will begin to improve.