I see many patients in my practice who want to lose weight. Weight that's been creeping up over time, that came with the last baby and never left, that feels uncomfortable in jeans, or that makes someone not feel like having sex with their partner.
Often, these patients they feel like they're doing everything they can to reach their goal, whether it’s to lose 50 pounds or 10 pounds. But no matter what they do, they are stuck.
One patient recently told me a story I’ve heard a lot. Her little sister eats nothing but pasta, ice cream, and steak, and is stick-thin and never has to worry about weight. It drives her crazy. Meanwhile, my patient practically sleeps at SoulCycle, because she lives in fear of not burning those 400 extra calories a day. And yet her weight keeps creeping up.
This patient is intelligent, educated, and clued-in to diet, but like many people I see, the myths she believes about weight are exactly why she can’t turn around the numbers on the scale.
Here are the 5 most common myths about weight loss I encounter, and a 4-step formula for getting past them and achieving your goals:
Myth 1: Weight loss is about calories.
“Calories in = calories out” is a lie. Not all calories are created equal.
Eating 500 calories of brussels sprouts is not the same as eating 500 calories of soda.
While the energy that can be measured in a lab from breaking the chemical bonds stored in 500 calories of brussels sprouts might be the same as from breaking the bonds in 500 calories of soda, what happens in your body when you digest and assimilate these two foods is a totally different story.
To eat 500 calories of brussels sprouts, you'd have to eat about 10 cups! These green veggies are packed with complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and other phytonutrients. They are metabolized slowly, and the calories contained are not entirely absorbed.
On the other hand, 500 calories of soda, the equivalent of two 20-ounce Cokes, come entirely from sugar. Those calories are easily absorbed, and when consumed, lead to an inflammatory hormonal cascade that is the beginning of diabetes, obesity, high triglycerides, and sugar addiction.
To anyone trying to lose weight I say, forget counting calories. It’s about quality, not quantity.
Myth 2: Weight loss comes down to cardio.
The metabolic boost you get after a short session of intense weight-lifting lasts up to 24-hours. By contrast, the boost from a long run lasts only a couple of hours. Spending hours on the spin bike might feel great and be an important balance in a sedentary lifestyle, but cardio doesn't equal weight loss.
In fact, for people who are stressed out all the time, too much cardio might be perpetuating that state and pushing their bodies to hold on to every calorie like it’s the last one it will ever see.
So, while cardio can be awesome, I recommend also finding a regular form of exercise like yoga, which is about unwinding and focus and gives the body a chance to come out of stress-mode. I also recommend lifting weights, which builds muscle, bone, and actually boosts your metabolism. For many people, adding in yoga and strength-training and cutting back on cardio tips the scale in the right direction.
Myth 3: To lose weight, you're gonna have to starve.
OK, yes, if you eat almost nothing, you'll lose weight. But most people can’t sustain that and they yo-yo, eventually becoming so tired from relying on adrenal hormones like cortisol for energy, that the fatigue becomes too much and they over-eat to compensate.
Healthy-skinny people eat real food in real quantities. They eat nutritious foods like whole fruits and veggies, plant-based fats, and lean protein, and they avoid the processed sugar and chemical crap that's widely available in our grocery stores.
Myth 4: Fat makes you fat.
Fat tastes great for a reason. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are critical for your body to function. These fats are the building blocks of your brain and all of your cell membranes, and certain kinds of fat, like Omega-3 fatty acids, keep inflammation down.
It’s actually the processed foods filled with refined sugars and grains that are absorbed quickly and stored quickly, which lead to a cascade of inflammation and ultimately to more fat storage.
Myth 5: Weight loss is about sticking to a plan.
I can’t tell you how many patients and friends I’ve seen grow weary of maintaining their constant vigilance over weight. The stress and self-loathing that comes with it is too much to bear. And strangely, when they do let go — when they start eating with nourishment as their goal, and start exercising to feel good, rather than to exhaust themselves — the pounds actually disappear. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s a much freer way to live life.
So if these are they myths, what is weight loss really about?
1. Eat, real, whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods that don’t cause inflammation.
It's simple: This includes as many fruits and vegetables as possible, moderate amounts whole grains, significant amounts of healthy fats, and some lean, grass-fed, free-range, hormone/antibiotic-free meat and eggs.
2. Avoid sugar and refined carbs.
Sugars and refined carbs are the drivers of inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and dementia. If you want to lose weight, have more energy, and slow the aging process, cut them out of your life as much as possible.
3. Detox regularly.
The most important things from which to detox are booze, restaurant food, processed food, and for many people, foods like gluten and dairy (to which they may be sensitive). I recommend doing a 10-day detox four times a year to reset your system, keep you on track, and reduce inflammation.
4. Find amusement and enthusiasm on a regular basis
When we operate from a place of seriousness and fear, our creations reflect that energy. When we operate from a place of ease and amusement in the moment, and genuine enthusiasm for what comes next, our lives reflect that much more positive and expansive energy.
When you think about creating the body you want, ask yourself how you'll feel when you have it. For me, one of the dancers in Pharell’s Happy video comes to mind! Once you feel it, sit with that feeling for a minute, and move forward from there.