6 Misconceptions about Fitness and Weight Loss
Sunday, January 18, 2015
LifeTime WeightLoss in Exercise, Exercise & Weight Loss, Metabolism, Paul Kriegler, exercise mistakes, fitness, myths

With all the focus on dietary intervention, fitness can get short shrift in weight loss discussions.

Misunderstandings abound, and too often people tend to apply an "all or nothing" exercise approach.

When we accept that fitness is a requirement for lasting fat loss (not to mention basic health), how do we decide on a plan that will genuinely work for our weight loss efforts?

What are the mistakes to avoid, the beliefs to adjust - not to mention the strategies to employ? Check out these 6 most common misunderstandings about the role of exercise in fat loss and the corresponding truths that will put your weight loss journey on the road to sure success. 

Myth #1: It takes at least an hour of exercise per day to get in better shape.

Many people wait to start a new fitness or weight loss journey until they can manage carving out an hour per day on their calendars. I’ve even been guilty of this in the past. My background as a distance runner shaped my thinking (for a while) that any run shorter than five or six miles was just a recovery run – akin to lounging on the couch. Oh, how inaccurate…

In reality, any short exercise session – even a few minutes - has the potential to positively impact your metabolism for several hours. 

Will you need to exercise for an hour or so per day to get in stellar shape? Sure, maybe eventually. However, if you’re not exercising consistently enough to change your body right now, starting with 60-minute bouts isn’t by any means your only option to get going. Ditch that mindset, get up right now and do thirty body weight squats

There, you’ve “exercised” once today. 

Myth #2: The only way to burn fat or get fit is to do lots and LOTS of cardio.

This assumption is completely false, and it’s sad that so many people believe it to be the case. The total volume (amount) you need to accumulate for better fitness or to stimulate fat loss will differ based on your starting point.

If this week you accumulated about 3 hours of total activity, in all likelihood next week you’ll need slightly more - say an additional 30 minutes (10-20% increase anywhere throughout the week) to stimulate fitness adaptations or continue fat loss. In other words, if you do the same exact amount (volume) and intensity week after week you will inevitably plateau at some point. Gaining fitness and losing fat both require periodic adjustments to exercise volume (and intensity) – to a point….

In my experience as an athlete and coach, most people can handle about two to three weeks of increasing volume before they need a “flat” or “down” week – a period of time when the training stimulus (volume) is either held flat or decreased to allow the body to fully recover before they need to respond to the next few weeks of ramping up exercise volume.

For beginners, I like starting with 20-30 minute sessions of light to moderate intervals 4 days per week. That’s plenty to build from in the next several weeks. 

For more experienced exercisers or for those who’ve been exercising to try to lose weight for several months, I usually cap their cardio at 5 hours per week and address other variables to stimulate fitness or fat loss changes (read on for more on this). Any more than that is utterly worthless unless long-distance competitions are your intention.

The bottom line is this: you don’t need a ton of “cardio” to be fit or ditch fat. You just need to find your minimum effective dose and build from there. 

Myth #3: Lifting heavy weights will just make you bulky and won’t result in weight loss.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard clients say this, I’d be writing this blog (or not) from an exotic location instead of a standard cubicle. In reality, lifting heavy weights requires a lot of metabolic work, which is why your muscles will fail halfway through one of the reps or you’ll be left winded after the set. Lifting heavy literally brings you to the brink of your physical and metabolic abilities.

Then you rest

If, during the resting phase (between challenging workouts that bring you to muscle failure) you intentionally stuff your face with excess calories, have excess anabolic hormones in your system (testosterone mainly) and stimulate plenty of insulin (by eating plenty of sugar), maybe you’ll get bulky – meaning you’ll gain both fat and muscle tissue. 

What’s more likely to happen if you lift weights that are heavy (relative to your current strength or fitness capacity) and eat relatively well (balanced meals, enough protein, and no intentional over-eating) is you’ll maintain or grow small amounts of lean tissue while you lose fat. Your lean tissue will adapt to have a higher tolerance for metabolic work and/or strength, and any increase in metabolism as a result of lifting (which can be significant, mind you) will be fueled at least in part by stored energy (fat tissue). In other words, for most people, lifting heavy things doesn’t make them bulky – it simply makes them more fit and less fat

Myth #4: Exercising hard is the best way to burn calories to lose weight or get fit. 

Think about your past for a moment…. Have you ever done a killer workout that torched 1000 calories or more? Pretty awesome, huh? I bet you couldn’t wait to do it again the next day – you know, to feel that pride at kicking all those calories to the curb.

I hate to break it to you, but judging the quality of your workout based on how heavy your sweat towel is at the end is in most cases a bad idea

What happens to your appetite when you exercise your way into a serious negative calorie balance? Is your body typically satisfied with the same old food intake after these extreme physical torture-fests? 

In my experience, the higher intensity and/or longer duration one’s workouts are, the harder it is to control appetite and food choices. This pattern leads me to believe there are internal mechanisms our bodies consistently use to compensate for any extreme changes in physical activity. As a result, those hyperintensive bouts of exercise don’t end up delivering the outcome you imagine they should.

This brings us back to the minimum effective dose idea. Our bodies don’t change because we assault them with insanely intensive exercise sessions. It’s true that gaining fitness requires regular physical challenges and that losing weight requires a shift in our energy balance or energy partitioning (how we store energy). However, we aren’t always rewarded with more extreme fitness gains or fat losses if we pressure our bodies with calorie-torching exercise bouts that leave us burned out. 

The exercise session is the spark that ignites the increasingly hotter metabolic fire to burn around the clock. It, in itself, isn’t the only chance to burn off energy. Again, fitness and energy storage patterns change when we nudge our metabolism occasionally, not when we punish our physical and metabolic capabilities.

Myth #5: Getting fit or losing fat will require you to count your calories.

False! Counting calories is, in all honesty, a waste of time for most people to perform for more than a week or so. The fact is, many calorie counting applications are riddled with inaccurate information. Plus, the calorie information on food packages can have up to 20% variance from the true, measured amount. Your "100-calorie snack pack" could be 80 or 120 calories, and no one would get in trouble except for you. It’s absurd (mostly).

Do you need to be in a calorie deficit to consistently lose weight or fat? Yes. Do you need to count calories to achieve that? Not for long. 

On the other hand, keeping track of why, how, what, and when you’re eating is a GREAT idea. It helps you see which eating habits and food choices need to be altered. You can increase that awareness easily without counting calories. In fact, taking pictures of your food before you eat it can be a better way for many people to establish or continue healthier eating habits (social sharing of photos is completely optional). 

Besides, there’s this general but illuminating truth. Instead of manipulating daily calories, swapping some refined carbohydrates for minimally-processed protein or healthy fat (caloric value being equal, mind you) spontaneously reduces food intake to then control calorie intake naturally. Yes, our bodies have natural energy control mechanisms that allow us to regulate weight when we’re not bombarding them with “edible products” that override our innate hunger and satisfaction mechanisms.

Myth #6: You’ll do it alone.

Call me a pessimist, but statistics support this claim. Self-directed weight loss and fitness programs (as a whole) are not very successful. Just as the best business leaders in the world didn’t necessarily stumble into their positions of power without guidance, accountability, or support, you probably won’t land on an exercise or eating strategy that will get you through every twist and turn of the journey without some level of outside input. Every great achievement has probably been supported by some behind-the-scenes mentor, cheerleader, or consultant. Barely anyone stumbles upon great fitness or lasting fat loss solely of their own accord. 

Technically, even guided programs have a pretty abysmal success rate most of the time. Considering this and everything else you’re contemplating, only hire a Fitness Professional who can literally show you reproducible results (success stories) and who speaks about the benefits of partnering with them for the entire length of your program. When you’re interviewing a potential Fitness Professional, see if you hear genuine empathy for your challenges from them as well as firm confidence from your own intuition that this person is the right partner for you in your journey.  

In the end, you’ll probably need someone who will guide you and learn with you, measure what’s important during your process, celebrate your successes and partner with and push you to overcome your obstacles. That’s a tall order to fill all on your own.

A final misconception I’ll leave you with is that getting fit or losing weight must be expensive – in terms of both time and money. Let me put in a good word for the investment returns here. The process itself may seem pricey and time consuming on the surface, but when you calculate the actual value you’ll come to possess as you cross your finish line, it’s immeasurable. Just ask one of the many thousands of successful Life Time Weight Loss customers. They will tell you their achievements were worth every bit of investment - from dollars to hours to sweat. The difference can change your health’s - and even life’s - trajectory. 

Thanks for reading. Are you interested in learning more about targeting your fitness efforts for minimum effective dose - and optimum weight loss success? Talk with one of our Fitness Professionals today. 

In health, Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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