So you want to shed some kilos. Are you prepped to sweat or starve? How soon can you lose the weight and how long can you stay lean and mean? Let HealthAnswers straighten out the fibs and facts of the theories on weight loss you've been bombarded with.
Dr Michael Chia
School of Physical Education
Fat Fib #1: "If you have slow metabolism, you cannot lose weight."
Fact: While recent research has shown that some people may have greater difficulty in losing weight, increasing daily physical activity, even in small amounts, can help make a difference in your metabolic rate. If you make a conscious effort to eat smart and do more physical activity, you can easily reduce your weight by encouraging your body to burn more calories.
Way to work out: Use exercise to speed up your metabolism. The more active you are on a daily basis, the more you will get your muscles active and the more calories you will expend. Remember that muscle consumes more calories and will result in higher metabolism even when you are at rest.
Fat Fib #2: "When you are walking for weight-loss, you need to walk fast enough and sweat for the exercise to be effective."
Fact: When you walk fast, you will expend the calories at a faster rate but the fast walk may also wear you out, and discourage you from doing more. Sweating is just a thermoregulatory response to maintain your body temperature within a narrow physiological range when you are exercising in a hot environment. You also sweat when the heat generated by the body whilst exercising exceeds a certain temperature threshold. The most you lose is water and some salts, the fat won't ooze out!
Way to work out: Walk as quickly as it is comfortable for you. If you walk slowly, take longer and more frequent walks in order to expend more calories. Try to walk everyday, even if it is just a few minutes. Take PRIDE (Personal Responsibility In Daily Effort) in walking!
Fat Fib #3: "If you have overweight parents, you're sure to be overweight too."
Fact: The truth is that 80 percent of young people who are born into families where the parents are overweight will become overweight. However, the family environment is also responsible. Such young people may have inherited the poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles of their parents.
Way to work out: Stop blaming your parents. You cannot choose your parents but you can certainly choose to be healthy. You can choose to lead a physically active lifestyle despite your genetic inclination to be overweight.
Fat Fib #4: "The fewer calories you consume, the more weight you'll lose."
Fact: Only to a small extent. The benefits of caloric restriction quickly reach the point of diminishing returns. "Starvation diets" will cause the body's metabolism to slow down drastically reducing further weight loss. Your body actually adjusts to the decreased amount of food you are taking. You may find you have less energy for the more physically taxing tasks of daily life - such as lifting your grocery bags - and may become more irritable.
Way to eat: Eat a balanced diet. Being over-restrictive in your diet means you'll lose out on essential nutrients. If you don't feel satisfied or full, you may crave to eat more. You will be preoccupied with food.
Fat Fib #5: "Since muscle weighs more than fat, you shouldn't build muscle when you want to lose weight."
Fact: While it is true that weight for weight, muscle weighs more than fat, muscle tissue is metabolically more active than fat tissue, that is, muscle tissue uses more calories than fat tissue, even at rest. For maximum fat loss, combine weight training with aerobic training. Weight-training also has the advantages of building bone mass, strengthening your heart, and making your body look more firm. After all, always remember that muscle is compact while fat is voluminous!
Way to work out: Add strength training to your fitness routine. Even 15 minutes of weight training three to four times a week can build the calorie-burning muscle that you need.
Fat Fib #6: "It's easier for men to keep weight off than it is for women."
Fact: Men only have an edge when it comes to losing unwanted kilos, but they are not better off than women at keeping the weight off. Research shows that in weight reduction programs, men lose more weight than women do. That's usually because they have more muscle mass and less fat to begin with.
Way to work out: It is pointless to compare yourself with another person, whatever the gender. It doesn't mean that all women are meant to carry excess baggage around the hips! Find an exercise and eating plan that is appropriate for you, and do some strength training to build up your muscle advantage.
Fat Fib #7: "The best way to lose weight is to eat only three times a day."
Fact: Frequent small meals keep you from feeling too hungry and help you to maintain your energy levels. Large and infrequent meals can make you feel sluggish. The most unsuccessful dieters tend to starve themselves all day and then binge at the dinner table.
Way to eat: Eat often but allow yourself only small portions. Choose healthier choices like fresh fruit and unsalted nuts. These are power-packed with fibre and nutrients to boost your immunity level.
Fat Fib #8: "Over time, dieting is more important than exercise in a weight-loss programme."
Fact: Exercise can be the difference between permanent and temporary weight-loss. Exercise and a sensible balanced diet provide the most robust strategy for any weight-loss programme. You cannot have one without the other.
Quick fixes such as liquid diets, high-protein diets or fruit diets will make you appear to lose a lot of weight - and water - over just a few days. But the losses are not permanent, the moment you start eating normally, the extra kilos pile back on.
The best long-term strategy is to build the muscle mass to raise your metabolic rate. A fit person can weigh as much as an overweight person because of the muscle mass she carries. Because of exercise, the fit person has a higher metabolic rate, which allows her to burn more calories even at rest - compared with the overweight person. That is why the fit person can actually eat more and still keep her weight down.
Way to work out: Constant dieting as a habit can stop you from enjoying your food, a basic pleasure in life. What an unsatisfactory way to live! It's a better strategy to fit in an exercise programme. It may take time weeks and months before you notice results, but these results of a trimmer body can give you a sense of confidence. Needless to say, the sense of well-being that comes with working out can help you to beat the blues!
Fat Fib #8: "If you could lose some weight, you'll be so much happier."
Fact: For severely overweight people who are at risk of certain lifestyle diseases like hypertension and type II diabetes, the risks can be reduced with weight loss. But if you are slightly overweight, you don't have to lose it all to enjoy good health.
Way to work out: Weight loss should not be the primary objective. Rather, you also should aim to lead a physically more active life with a sensible eating habit.
Every little bit does add up - whether you choose to run a marathon in six months' time, or just want to better manage your diabetes. Exercise can even boost your mental health by helping you to stave off depression, anxiety and stress. Eventually, you
will feel more confident about taking on more responsibilities in life.
- Michael Chia. Health Education for Schools in Singapore (in review).
Date reviewed: 23 May 2000