The American Medical Association confronted some weighty issues at its annual meeting in Chicago in June 2003. In perhaps its biggest policy change on weight and health to date, the AMA recognized obesity as a disease. By changing obesity’s status from «a major public health problem» to a chronic disease, Dr. Patrice Harris, a member of the AMA’s board of trustees, said that the organization hoped to open up the range of medical interventions that could help the one-third of Americans now considered obese. It also opens the way for a range of expensive medical interventions and potentially mega-profitable new drug patents.

No matter how well you follow your diet or fitness routine, there is usually some cheating and lying involved — and not just fibs you tell about what you’re really eating when no one is looking. Most of us have tried at least one quick fix to drop weight for good — fasting, or eliminating certain foods and nutrients from our diets — only to gain the weight back, often packing on even more pounds. It’s a great rule of thumb to be suspicious of quick and easy weight loss solutions. «The biggest misconception is that doing something in the short term will have long-term results,»

You can consume hundreds or even thousands of calories more than you require without too much effort, and every time you do, excess calories are stored as body fat.However, losing weight requires a sustained daily effort and you can only cut back or burn off so much beyond your baseline requirements. Meaningful weight loss usually happens slowly over a long period of time with lots of plateaus along the way, something most of us don’t have the patience for.If it was easy, you’d see more people pulling it off.

To make matters worse there is a vast amount of misinformation on the internet regarding the process of weight loss, part of which is pedaled by companies selling their «novel diets» or «unique diet products» and part — by people who just «regurgitate» misleading information. So we decided to dispel the most common myths about weight loss to clear things out a bit.

Myth 1: Snacking is always a bad idea

The good news is you don’t need to starve to lose weight. The idea that you shouldn’t eat between meals is a myth. When your stomach starts rumbling, you probably hear a little voice in your head telling you not to ruin your appetite. But having snacks in between meals might actually help you eat less, and stave off the urge to overeat or binge later. In fact, dietitians often recommend that you have five smaller meals a day, instead of eating your calories all in one sitting.One of the main reasons snacking has a bad rap is because of the choices we make from, say, vending machine that are packed with chips, cookies, candies, and other delectable — and fattening — treats. If you tend to dive into a bag of chips when you’re hungry, try having nutritious foods instead — think moderate amounts of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, for example — and try to eat things you don’t normally have during mealtime.

Myth 2: If you eat and exercise consistently, you will never gain weight

You need to be willing to make lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments as you age, change, and grow. The fact is your metabolism slows down as you age. As a result, you often have to either eat less or exercise more to avoid gaining weight. The biggest change usually occurs around the age of 40. Your metabolism will continue to slow down more gradually over the years, so always keep your food and exercise plan flexible.When it comes to diet and exercise, the only thing that you can really be certain of is that there will be new weight loss schemes with every new day. By being kept informed — and raising your eyebrow when in doubt — you will be better prepared to navigate the never-ending supply of conflicting weight loss advice.

Myth 3: Single food diets really work

There are plenty of diets based on the belief that the digestive system can’t tackle a combination of foods or nutrients. Commonly, carbohydrates (such as grain foods) and proteins (such as meat foods) are said to «clash», leading to digestive problems and weight gain. The opposite is often true. Foods eaten together can help the digestive system. For example, vitamin C in orange juice can increase iron absorption from a meal rich in plant-based iron like beans and rice, lentils and other legumes.Very few foods are purely carbohydrate or purely protein; most are a mixture of both. The digestive system contains enzymes that are perfectly capable of breaking down all the foods we eat. Single food diets should be avoided.

Myth 4: Starving myself is the best way to lose weight

Crash diets are unlikely to result in long-term weight loss. In fact, they can sometimes lead to longer term weight gain. The main problem is that this type of diet is too hard to maintain. Your body will be low on energy, causing you to crave high-fat and high-sugar foods. When you finally give in and eat those foods, you will often eat more calories than you need, causing weight gain. Also, by eating a very low-calorie diet (below 1200 calories) you send your body into a starvation mode. What happens during the starvation mode is that your body starts preserving energy by lowering its basal metabolic rate, i.e. slows down its metabolism. As a result you not only feel miserable, tired and deprived — you also stop seeing any weight loss results!

Myth 5: Healthy foods are more expensive

In fact, healthy foods are not necessarily more expensive than their unhealthy alternatives. You’ll typically pay more for a high-fat, high-salt ready meal than you would if you had bought fresh ingredients and made the meal yourself.Plus, buying food at a local farmers’ market is usually cheaper that paying the «surplus» for the packaging and advertising budgets of the packaged foods at a supermarket.

Myth 6: Foods labelled «low fat» or «reduced fat» are always a healthy choice

Be cautious. Foods labelled «low fat» have to meet legal criteria to use that label. Labels such as «reduced fat» do not have to meet the same criteria and can be misleading. A reduced-fat snack should contain less fat than the full-fat version, but that doesn’t automatically make it a healthy choice: it could still contain a lot more fat than, say, a portion of fruit. Low-fat foods also sometimes contain high levels of sugar, which negates the effect of the reduced calories from fat in the «low-fat» product.

Myth 7: Drinking water helps you lose weight

Water does not cause you to lose weight, but it does keep you hydrated and might help you snack less. Water is essential for good health and wellbeing. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger — if you’re thirsty you may snack more. The Department of Health recommends that we should drink about 35 ml of fluid per kg of bodyweight, every day. However, drinking more water without making any other adjustments to your diet won’t make you lose weight.

Myth 8: Everyone gains (and loses) the same way

In 1990, Canadian researcher Claude Bouchard wanted to test the idea that everyone gains weight in exactly the same way, so he asked 12 sets of male identical twins to overeat by 1,000 calories a day while limiting their physical activity to just 30 minutes. To ensure they stuck with the programme, he locked them in a room and carefully controlled every morsel they ate for 90 days.Bouchard predicted that by the end of their stay, each of his volunteers would gain 24 pounds. But that’s not what happened.Some sets of twins gained as little as 10 pounds while other sets added nearly 30 pounds. The twins in each set gained virtually the same amount of weight, but the difference in weight gain between unrelated sets of twins was threefold and their pattern of fat distribution differed by sixfold.This shows the importance of consulting with a trained professional who can assess and adjust your weight management programme to suit your own individual profile. You can contact Amrita for a free naturopathic consultation now — just write us an email on graham@amritaretreat.com.

Myth 9: Dining out on a calorie budget is nearly impossible

Yes, eating out can be stressful sometimes as there are so many tempting mouth-watering but extremely calorie-dense menu options available. However, practically every restaurant has a number of veggie side-dishes, vegetable soups and salads available. Even McDonalds has a salad and carrot sticks nowadays! Just remember to ask for the salad dressing on the side (separately) and ask the waiter not to bring you the bread basket in the beginning so you don’t get tempted. Also, before ordering, ask for a special sheet with nutritional information (calories and macronutrients). If they don’t have it printed on the menu they should have it on a printed A4 paper for clients’ references on demand. Make smart choices according to your common sense and the nutritional info provided.

Myth 10: Natural or herbal weight loss products are safe and effective

A weight loss product that claims to be «natural» or «herbal» is not necessarily safe. These products are not usually scientifically tested to prove that they are safe or that they work. For example, herbal products containing ephedra have caused serious health problems and even death. Newer products that claim to be ephedra-free are not necessarily danger-free, because they may contain ingredients similar to ephedra. Note: Amrita’s products DO NOT contain ephedra or any similar acting ingredient.You can check all the ingredients we use in our products here. In any case you should talk to your health care provider before using any weight loss product.

Myth 11: You can’t lose weight while eating your favorite foods

In order to lose weight, you need to expend more calories than you consume. Theoretically it is possible to eat any kind of food you want and lose weight if you create a calorie deficit overall. In practice, however, you should balance the «healthy» foods and the foods you really like but which are not nutritious and calorie-dense (i.e. the «bad» foods).We suggest a 80-20 rule: 80% of your diet should consist of natural unprocessed nutritional foods (fruits, vegetables, lean protein, eggs, skimmed milk, plain yoghurt, unrefined vegetable oils, nuts, unrefined whole grains) and 20% can come from not-so-good foods (cookies, chocolate etc.). This is important because if you only eat junk food even in small enough amounts to lose weight your body would go into a metabolic havoc, become nutrient-deficient and this will create huge problems for your health and metabolism in the long run, making you gain weight eventually and become sick. On the other hand allowing yourself to eat «bad» foods once in a while is important so that you do not feel «deprived» and miserable — feelings that almost in 100% cases lead to bingeing / «falling off the wagon»/ «yo-yo dieting» — which does way more damage to your health that a small cookie once in a while. Remember — balance is the key to health & happiness!

Myth 12: Eating after 8 p.m. causes weight gain

It does not matter what time of day you eat. It is what and how much you eat and how much physical activity you engage in during the whole day that determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight. No matter when you eat, your body will store extra calories as fat.

Myth 13: Lifting weights is a bad idea if you want to lose weight, because it will make you «bulk up»

Lifting weights or doing strengthening activities on a regular basis can actually help you maintain or lose weight. These activities can help you build muscle, and muscle burns more calories than body fat. So, if you have more muscle, you burn more calories—even sitting still. Doing strengthening activities 2 or 3 days a week will not «bulk you up». Only intense strength training, combined with a certain genetic background, or steroids (God, forbid!), can build very large muscles.

Myth 14: Nuts are fattening and you should not eat them if you want to lose weight

In small amounts, nuts can be part of a healthy weight loss programme. Nuts are high in calories and fat. However, most nuts contain healthy fats that do not clog arteries. Nuts are also a good source of protein, dietary fiber, and minerals, including magnesium and copper.

Bottomline: The key to weight loss

The best way to lose weight is slowly, by making small, achievable changes to your eating and exercise habits. Aim for a healthy waist circumference of less than 94 cm for men and less than 80 cm for women.

Suggestions for safe and effective weight loss include:

  • Don’t crash diet. You’ll most likely regain the lost weight within a few years or even months.
  • Cut back on refined sugars (especially sugary drinks).
  • Increase your intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, and wholegrain breads and cereals.
  • Consume less alcohol.
  • Eat less takeaway and snack foods.
  • Exercise for approximately 30 minutes on most days of the week. Introduce more movement into your day — try to include 30 minutes of walking daily.
  • Don’t eliminate any food group. Instead, choose from a wide range of foods every day and choose «whole», less-processed foods.

Research suggests that losing ½ to 2 pounds a week by making healthy food choices, eating moderate portions, and building physical activity into your daily life is the best way to lose weight and keep it off. By adopting healthy eating and physical activity habits, you may also lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.

More weight-loss tips:

  • Take a standard serving out of the package and eat it off a plate instead of eating straight out of a box or bag.
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV or while busy with other activities.
  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Pay attention to what you are eating and fully enjoy the smell and taste of your foods.
  • Eat slowly so your brain can get the message that your stomach is full.
  • Take seconds of vegetables or salads instead of meats or desserts.
  • Try to eat three sensible meals at regular times throughout the day.
  • Skipping meals may lead you to eat larger portions at your next meal.
  • When cooking in large batches, freeze food in single-meal-sized containers that you will not serve right away. This way, you won’t be tempted to finish eating the whole batch before the food goes bad. And you’ll have ready-made food for another day.
  • When you do have a «treat», eat only one serving, eat it slowly, and enjoy it!
  • Keep a food diary. Through your diary, you can become aware of the times and reasons you eat too much, and try to make different choices in the future.

Tips when eating out:

Research shows that the more often a person eats out, the more body fat he or she has. Try to prepare more meals at home. Eat out and get take-out foods less often. When you do eat away from home, try these tips to help you control portions:

  • Share your meal, order a half-portion, or order an appetizer as a main meal.
  • Stop eating when you begin to feel full. Focus on enjoying the setting and your friends or family for the rest of the meal.
  • Take half or more of your meal home. You can even ask for your half-meal to be boxed up before you begin eating so you will not be tempted to eat more than you need.
  • Avoid large beverages, such as «supersize» soft drinks. They have a large number of calories. Order the small size, choose a calorie-free beverage, or drink water with a slice of lemon.
  • If you stop at a fast food restaurant, choose one that serves salads, or order the small burger with lettuce and tomato.
  • Have water or nonfat milk with your meal instead of a soft drink. If you want french fries, order the small size.
  • When traveling, bring along nutritious foods that will not spoil such as fresh fruit, small cans of fruit, peanut butter and jelly (spread both thin) sandwiches, whole grain crackers, carrot sticks, air-popped popcorn, and bottled water.
  • Do not fall for the «supersized» menu offers — while it may seem like a good value, you’ll end up with more food and calories than you need.

Author: Graham Rowe, Chief Naturopath of Amrita Luxury Wellness Retreat

Like our articles? Try our Home Wellness Programmes!