Do you have some excess fat you’d like to lose? You are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 70% of adults over the age of 20 are overweight or obese, meaning they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or greater. Whether to look better, feel better, reduce risk of disease, or just improve overall health, many people want to shed some pounds. Unfortunately, there’s a plethora of misinformation out there that has people confused, overwhelmed, discouraged, and unchanged. This article may challenge some of your long-held beliefs about fat loss, so I encourage you to read on with an open mind. Understand that just because you’ve accepted something as truth for many years, doesn’t mean it’s actually true. Now, let’s break down a few common fat loss myths.
Myth #1: Eating 6 small meals a day promotes fat loss and is superior to eating 3 larger meals.
Who’s heard this one before? You’ve probably heard, “Eating every 2-3 hours will speed up your metabolism,” but that’s not exactly true. At the end of the day, weight loss (or weight gain) comes down to calories in versus calories out. If you consume more calories than you expend, you will gain weight. Eating every couple of hours can help to control hunger, and may help you to feel satiated throughout the day, but it does not have any significant effect on your metabolism. In fact, depending upon what and how much you eat, “mini-meals” throughout the day may actually cause you to store more fat!
Every time you consume food, your blood sugar level rises, causing insulin (the fat storage hormone) to be released. If you eat every couple of hours, this means your body is constantly releasing insulin, so it becomes harder to burn fat. In order to decrease insulin sensitivity in fat cells, it’s beneficial to control insulin spikes during the day. So, if you prefer to eat 5-6 smaller meals in a day, be mindful of the foods you are eating at each meal. Foods high in carbs and sugars have the greatest effect on insulin levels, so I recommend not consuming those with every meal. But if you prefer to eat only 3 meals a day, that’s fine too. I always tell my clients, find what works best for your lifestyle, because that’s what you’ll be able to sustain.
Myth #2: Late night eating causes weight gain.
Although research has shown correlations between the two, correlation does not equal causation. As mentioned before, we have to look at total calories in versus calories out. The problem isn’t how late food is consumed; the problem is the amount of food that’s consumed. Late night eating is often emotional eating (stress, boredom, sleepiness, etc.), which often leads to overeating. Because our willpower is not as strong in the evening, it’s harder to say “no” or limit ourselves, especially if we are tired or have had a stressful day.
It’s important to also consider the types of foods people typically grab in the late night hours. Usually, you’re not reaching for a bowl of steamed veggies at 10:00 PM, right? It’s probably ice cream, cereal, and other carb and sugar-loaded, high calorie foods. Because there’s little nutritional value to these foods, it’s easy to eat and eat without feeling full. Something with protein and/or healthy fat, like a handful of nuts, a hard-boiled egg, or Greek yogurt, would be a better option for a late night snack. Eating before bedtime won’t cause you to gain extra fat, as long as you are within your total calories for the day.
Myth #3: Eating fat makes you fat.
The “low-fat” craze still has many people avoiding dietary fats, due to fear of gaining body fat. Our bodies actually require essential nutrients contained in dietary fats. Not consuming enough will negatively impact your hormones, your mood, your body composition, and the way you look and feel. I recommend at least 30% of your total daily calories come from healthy fats. Some of my favorites include avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butter, and coconut oil.
Foods that contain healthy fats are higher in calorie because one gram of fat contains 9 calories, while a gram of protein or carbs each contain just 4 calories. For this reason, it is important to watch your portion sizes. But because dietary fats break down slowly in your body, they will keep you feeling full longer. When you opt for a “low-fat” version, you may be saving a few calories, but at what cost? When products are stripped of fat, it’s usually replaced with sugar or additives to make the food taste better. Opting for the full fat version will give your body greater nutrients, and you will feel more satiated with a smaller amount.
Myth #4: Doing high repetitions with light weights is the way to get toned.
Getting that toned look requires decreasing body fat while increasing muscle. When training, all rep ranges have a purpose, but performing 20+ repetitions of an exercise won’t necessarily “tone” your muscles. To change your body composition, you must gradually increase your training volume (reps x sets x weight). I recommend training with heavier weights in a moderate rep range of 8-12. You want the last 2-3 repetitions to be challenging. If you can complete all 12 reps with ease, it’s time to increase your load. You have to put the right amount of stress on your muscles in order for them to grow. Be aware that in the beginning, your muscle gains may happen faster than your fat loss, causing some initial weight gain. But as you increase your muscle mass, your body will learn to burn fat more efficiently (see Myth #5). This is why it’s important to trust the process.
Myth #5: There are “fat-burning” exercises.
Burning fat comes down to one thing: metabolism. There are a few components that contribute to your total daily calorie burn, but I want to focus on just one – your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate. Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns at complete rest and is responsible for the vast majority of your total daily calorie burn. So, how do you increase your BMR, or your resting metabolism? How can you burn more calories while at complete rest? It’s actually quite simple! Your BMR is largely determined by the amount of fat versus muscle you have in your body. Fat in your body burns very few calories when compared to muscle. The more fat you have, the more fat you’ll gain. The more muscle you have, the more fat you’ll burn. So, are there special “fat-burning” exercises? No. Through resistance training, you can build muscle, which will help you to burn fat more efficiently.