Since the dawn of the fitness movement back in the 1970s, many myths and misconceptions surrounding fat loss have abounded. And now there are myriad "one size fits all" strategies for fat loss. But if you can tell fact from fiction, you have a better chance in succeeding in your efforts.
I believe that it's all about metabolism, and how to resurrect it from the dead in many cases. Here are a few of the "myths" that bug me the most about losing fat:
· Dieting burns fat. The most common approach to losing body fat is to d-i-e-t. If it's not done properly, then the only thing that you will lose is your metabolism. It is a proven fact that if you diet and restrict your calories below what your body needs to function on a daily basis, you will experience a dramatic and sustained reduction in your metabolism. This means that your own body's ability to burn fat comes to a screeching halt.
It also means you most likely will end up storing more body fat as a direct result of your "diet" program. Talk about a plan backfiring!
You must eat your way to a leaner body. That's right — you must eat more to lose more. In fact, the science of body typing also shows us that it's not only the amount of food you eat, but also the types and their effect on your metabolism that really counts.
The bottom line is you must eat, and you must eat often. Meal frequency is vital if you want to lose a lot of body fat. Eating five or six meals per day keeps your body's metabolic rate high and allows you to lose the excess body fat without losing lean muscle.
· Fat-free means calorie-free. Many people tell me they swear they eat a low-fat or no-fat diet, yet they are puzzled because they keep gaining weight.
Supermarket shelves are lined with low-fat or fat-free dairy products, desserts, snack foods and just about any other item you can dream of. But are these good food choices if you're trying to burn body fat? No. Fat-free doesn't mean calorie-free, or that these foods are even good for you.
The fat-free label grew popular when the public became concerned about dietary fat intake and the scare of high-cholesterol readings. While these foods don't contain much fat, most of them are loaded with sugar, salt, chemicals or artificial products.
Without even knowing it, you can be consuming large amounts of empty carbohydrate calories that are converted right to body fat unless you plan on running a marathon several hours afterward.
To make matters worse, most people read "fat-free" on the label, eat larger quantities of what they think is a good food choice, don't exercise and end up getting heavier.
· Do lots of aerobic exercise to burn fat. I hear from so many men and women who have failed to lose weight and body fat doing aerobic exercise that if I didn't know better, I'd begin to believe that exercise is a worthless investment of time and energy.
But when you understand how aerobic exercise works in the fat-loss process — and why it should be combined with strength exercise to be most effective — you'll see how you can experience great dividends from your efforts.
Strength exercise accelerates the fat-loss process by maintaining your body's most important metabolic regulator — your muscle. Muscle is the most active tissue in the body, requiring a constant source of fuel to keep it functioning properly. When your nutrition is correct, it will use your excess body fat as fuel, sometimes 24 hours a day.
The magic of aerobic exercise is to combine it with the appropriate type and amount of strength exercise so that your body can enhance the natural enzyme system that causes body fat to be released from storage and fed to the muscles for fuel. A pretty neat system, don't you think?
Don't misunderstand: I believe that aerobic exercise is crucial; walking happens to be my preference. However, to lose weight and body fat, you must also strengthen your muscles.
· "Spot reduce" those trouble areas. I cringe when asked, "What exercises can I do to get rid of the fat on my stomach?" When I patiently recommend strength-training exercises for all the major muscle groups, then comes the disappointed face because the perception is, "I won't be concentrating on my problem areas" and "Why can't I spot-reduce these areas with exercise?"
The spot-reduction myth suggests localized exercise reduces fat stores in certain "trouble areas" of the body. For example, to decrease fat around your middle, you might think you could do a large number of sit-ups.
As attractive as this may sound, increasing a specific muscle's activity does not decrease fat in that area. If anything, it may build the muscle under that fat, causing your fat to appear to protrude even more.
Dazed and confused? Don't be! Just remember to follow a few basics if you want to lose some body fat: Always eat enough calories to support your metabolism so that your own metabolism burns your excess body fat. You can't starve off fat; you have to burn it off.
Rita Bryan is president of Genesis Personal Fitness of Newtown.