Myth #1: Diet is more important than exercise for losing weight.
“Eat less and move more” is often used to describe the complicated relationship between diet and exercise. In reality, the key lies in trying to tip the energy balance scale with a combination of both reducing food intake and increasing activity. Trying to lose weight while only paying attention to one of these factors will be hard to maintain long-term and leaving proper nutrition or exercise out of the picture has its consequences.
- Muscle mass loss: When we lose body weight by cutting calories, we focus on losing fat mass but we are also losing muscle mass at the same time. Here’s where exercise comes in. Studies have shown a slowing of muscle loss whenever physical activity is part of the weight loss plan.
- Keeping the weight off: This is where exercise is really our partner. Once the weight is off, maintaining high levels of physical activity (upwards of 225-250 minutes/week) seems to be important when it comes to KEEPING the weight off.
Myth #2: If you work out, you can eat the calories that you burn.
Ask yourself, “what is the goal?” Let’s face it, some people definitely choose to use exercise as a way to burn more calories so they have “more room” for food later. In fact, many popular food tracking apps will automatically give you more calories for being active. However, this strategy is not generally recommended during active weight loss.
If the goal is to create a calorie deficit with diet, we need to be accurate and consistent with calculating food intake. This is not always easy to do. Over time, you may find yourself overestimating activity and underestimating dietary intake. It is important to remind yourself that you are only selling yourself short by doing this. Accuracy with tracking will ultimately lead to more progress over time. Naturally, there will be inaccuracies when trying to track your exercise and food intake, whether you realize it or not. This is why it’s important to be accurate with what you can control. There is no need to add another variable to the picture.
Myth #3: In order to lose weight you have to exercise a certain way.
Many people may fall into the trap of thinking that you have to exercise a certain way in order to lose weight effectively. Moderate to vigorous intensity exercise is recommended, but overall our goal is to work towards a total volume of physical activity. Achieving that volume can be done in a variety of ways (no single exercise mode is perfect) and more importantly, the individual person needs to be considered.
- What does the person like to do when it comes to activity?
- Does the person have any injuries? Are they ready for high-intensity or long bouts of activity?
- How much time can the person realistically commit to weekly gym workouts?
All physical activity burns calories and the “ideal” form of cardio is different for everybody. Consider building physical activity into the entire lifestyle and not just at the gym in order to maximize the overall volume. Even a one-minute activity break can be a move in the right direction. The new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans support the approach that “every minute counts.”
Myth #4: Everything has to change immediately.
Starting an exercise plan and completely changing your diet at the same time can be very difficult to adapt to when initially starting a weight loss journey and it can be taxing on the body and the mind. This is one reason why some people quit weight-loss strategies early. In order to be successful at adopting a healthy lifestyle, it may be better to start off slowly and well-planned. There are many ways of accomplishing this, below are some of the possibilities.
- Stacking behaviors: One option is to start by conquering one weight loss behavior at a time. This can be referred to as the ‘trigger behavior’ – success in one area can fuel motivation and self-efficacy in another. This can be different for every person, so starting with diet or exercise comes down to what the person feels most comfortable with.
- Start low and go slow: Extreme changes are often hard to adhere to and difficult to maintain. We have to celebrate the small successes around developing positive patterns like taking a 10-minute walk each day at lunch, or meal prepping food for half of the week. These patterns early on are very important as they help to build a foundation for maintaining positive eating and activity habits for the long haul.
- Make a ramp-up plan: With ramp-up planning, you set short-term goals that strategically introduce the next positive layer of weight-loss behavior. For example, your initial goal might be 100 minutes of activity spread across one week. Then every two weeks, activity minutes climb by 25 minutes a week. With this strategy, there is a steady progression over time until you reach your end goal.