3 Weight Loss Myths You Need to Break Up With
By Amber Lowry
With warmer months approaching, shedding winter weight is at the top of many people’s priority list. But before you reach for that 100-calorie snack pack or sacrifice hours of your life to the treadmill, let’s bust some weight loss myths perpetuated by mainstream fitness culture.
Myth #1: It’s all about calories
The modern paradigm for weight loss is calories in-calories out, meaning that if you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight. While this is true, it’s tough to know exactly how many calories you’re burning throughout the day. For example, did you know you can burn calories doing sedentary actions like watching TV? A measurement known as a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) gives insight into how many calories you are burning while at rest. The goal is to keep your BMR functioning at an optimal rate, allowing you to burn more calories even when you’re not working out.
It’s important to note that our BMR can be greatly impacted by factors such as hormone levels, stress and exercise. For instance, the thyroid is a key regulator of your BMR and malfunctioning thyroid hormones may contribute to weight gain. Even in the presence of a controlled calorie diet, these hormones can lower the effectiveness your BMR, which can result in obesity. Research published in Physiological Reviews states that our Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) is “remarkably sensitive” to our thyroid hormones, highlighting the importance of maintaining optimal thyroid functioning. Factors that influence the health of our thyroid include stress, environmental toxin exposure and heavy metals. Knowing this, it’s crucial to dethrone counting calories as the end-all of slimming down and focus on other influences like maintaining a nutrient-dense diet and regulating stress to keep hormones balanced.
Myth #2: Cardio is king
Another popular myth is that cardio is king when it comes to shedding pounds. When starting a weight loss journey, many people resort to overdoing cardio exercises like jogging. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with long-distance, moderate intensity cardio, this form of exercise can exacerbate a likely cause of weight gain: stress.
Long distance, moderate intensity jogging seems to increase cortisol, which is our bodies main stress hormone. While some amount of cortisol is necessary, excessive low-grade cortisol can contribute to weight gain, as well as inflammation. A study published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation found that moderate intensity exercise significantly raised cortisol, while low intensity exercise like walking may lower cortisol. This is most likely due to the ability of moderate intensity exercise to activate our HPA axis, which is a complex communication system involving the pituitary glands, the adrenal glands and our hypothalamus. This in turn releases various stress hormones, which can lead to weight gain. Research from the Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity also found that there may be a relationship between HPA axis dysregulation and obesity.
In short, if your goal is weight loss, your best bet might be sticking with low intensity, steady-state cardio combined with resistance training and a limited amount of high-intensity workout days. Note that while cardio has its rightful place as an important part of fitness, it shouldn’t be the only form of exercise you do.
Myth #3: Fat makes you fat
Remember when “fat free” was all the rage? It turns out that a diet void of fat contributes to a lack of rage in certain areas of life. Dietary fat plays several important physiological roles, one of which being helping to build certain sex hormones. This was evident in one study involving 39 middle-aged men consuming a high fat, low-fiber diet. After an 8-week dietary intervention that included the subjects abandoning their high fat diet and adopting a low-fat, high-fiber diet, subjects’ total and free testosterone levels decreased.
Besides the benefit that dietary fat has on hormones, fat also plays a role in vitamin absorption. Vitamins A, E, D and K are known as fat soluble vitamins, meaning that without adequate fat intake, your body will not be able to absorb and utilize these vitamins appropriately. Ensuring vitamin intake adequacy is a vital role in keeping excess weight off. Research shows that vitamin D deficiency for example, may be a risk factor for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Making sure to include healthy fats like avocados and wild-caught salmon in your diet while not eliminating any food group entirely is the best way to promote weight loss, as well as overall health.