Do you remember how old you were when you stopped believing, you know, in all of the “holiday” myths?
I’m not talking about the man in a sleigh that slides down chimneys with toys. I’m talking about the gadgets, gimmicks and snake oils that are sold to the unfortunate masses around “New Years Resolution” time, all in the name of “fat loss.”
If you’re still a believer, you’re undoubtedly in a state of permanent frustration with the “magical” fat-loss pills, programs and potions that have resulted in a lifelong roller-coaster ride with body weight and body fat.
It’s not your fault. Shysters tirelessly exploit our emotional triggers, getting us to buy “detox” systems, bogus exercise theories and other “magic beans.” After the holidays, they know we’re vulnerable, so they ramp up their efforts.
Today it’s time to shun the shysters and stop the frustration of believing in the imaginary, and start taking action with real, tangible solutions for long-term, sustainable fat loss.
Here are three fat-loss myths to stop believing now.
Myth #1: Commercial “Detox” and “Cleanse” programs are effective for eliminating unwanted body fat.
Behavior change is at the root of taking steps to improve one’s health. Furthermore, sustainable behavior change is what provides the opportunity for long-term results.
After weeks, months or even years of indulgence, many people feel a need to nutritionally “repent” for their wrongdoings. After “toxifying” and “dirtying” their system, they wish to “detox” and “cleanse.”
For many people, identifying toxic health and lifestyle habits can be a powerful first step in creating change. In fact, if a “detox” or “cleanse” program addresses behavior change from this standpoint and helps create a realistic, sustainable, alternative approach, it can be a powerful long-term fat-loss tool. However, claims that any commercial pill, tea, food or extreme diet is primarily responsible for ridding the body of “toxins,” thus aiding in long-term fat loss, are completely unsubstantiated.
In other words, they’re a complete, unadulterated myth.
According to a review of the available data on commercial detox methods published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics in 2015, “No randomized controlled trials have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of commercial detox diets in humans.”
Despite the lack of research or scientific evidence supporting any claims, paid celebrity endorsements and brilliant marketing continue to push people’s emotional triggers, getting them to buy into the myth. These types of commercial programs often result in temporary weight loss due to caloric restriction and dehydration (most commercial programs include a laxative).
Consider someone you know who has lost weight and kept it off for more than two years. What do they attribute their success to? Odds are, their answer has nothing to do with pills and potions and is in line with the overwhelming data supporting sustainable lifestyle changes related to diet and exercise.
“Our bodies do a great job detoxing themselves, explains registered dietitian Dr. Chris Mohr. “Fortunately, our kidneys and liver do this really well. Drinking more water, eating more fiber and moving more will stimulate the body’s natural detoxification process. By sweating, breathing and going to the bathroom more often, you can detox your body without spending a penny on these false products created by unscrupulous marketers.”
If you feel you need to “clean up your act,” put your energy into decreasing the number of “toxic” habits in your life while increasing your body’s natural detox capacity with improved nutrition and more movement.
Myth #2: Eating fat makes you fat.
It’s easy to create the false association that the fat we see on our plate must automatically turn to fat in our body. As a matter of fact, this notion has been supported (but unsubstantiated) by mainstream “health” organizations for years.
It’s true that fat does have more caloric density per unit (9 calories per gram vs. 4 calories per gram for protein and carbohydrates). Therefore, high-fat foods do have more calories per unit weight. Increasing overall caloric intake generally is associated with weight gain. Therefore, eating too much fat—or proteins or carbs for that matter—can make you fat.
However, it appears that when total caloric intake is taken into account, diets higher in fat do not necessarily contribute to increased body fat. In fact, many researchers are discovering the opposite effect. According to Dr. Walter Willet, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, “Dozens of studies have found that low-fat diets are no better for health than moderate- or high-fat diets, and for many people, they may be worse. Over the past 30 years in the U.S., the percentage of calories from fat has actually gone down, but obesity rates have skyrocketed.”
Of course, it is important to recognize that not all fat is created equal. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Journal of Pediatrics, fat intake from natural sources such as fish, nuts and some types of meat can actually improve your fat-loss mechanisms.
Again, it’s important to note that fat does carry more calories per unit of weight. Many have interpreted the relatively recent shift in recommendations for fat intake as a green light to over-consume. It’s still important to be aware of overall caloric intake.
Myth #3: Abdominal exercises eliminate abdominal fat.
“Six-pack abs” are the physical representation of most people’s fat-loss goals. Again, using a flawed but reasonable logic, you may bleieve that if you want fat to disappear around your stomach, you need to work the muscles in that area.
While including abdominal exercises in a resistance-training routine is part of a balanced program, these exercises have little to no effect on abdominal fat. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, an experimental group performed abdominal exercises five days per week for six weeks and displayed no difference in abdominal fat composition compared to the control group (who did nothing).
A primary reason for this is that the body does not “spot reduce” fat stores. In other words, it doesn’t use the fat stores that are closest to the muscle for fuel. When the local energy inside the muscle dwindles, a signal is sent out to the body to get fuel from somewhere else. After an extended period of exercise, fat stores become a primary supplier of fuel. However, there’s no specified area of the body these fat stores are broken down.
Unfair, but true.
Additionally, most abdominal exercises don’t involve a large enough cross-sectional area of muscle to merit a high level of perceived exertion. In other words, they don’t require much energy utilization so they don’t burn many calories. It’s important to understand that exercises that utilize major muscle groups such as the legs, back and chest can have more impact on decreasing belly fat than traditional “ab” exercises.
Be sure to make heavy (for you) squats, deadlifts, presses and pulls part of your exercise routine.
Finally, the abdominal muscles lie under a layer of fat. Fat is stored energy. If you want to see the muscles hiding under the layer of stored energy, well, don’t store so much energy! Modify your diet and exercise patterns to get rid of what you don’t need.
“Six-pack abs” are largely the result of the foods you eat, not the work you do at the gym.
Whether these myth-busting revelations burst your fat-loss bubble or re-affirm what you already know, you’re now armed with the knowledge to shun the shysters and reward yourself with real results.