Ask The Dr.

Dr. Frank Lipman dispels 5 common weight-loss myths. He’ll be sharing more insight at Purist’s Connect 4 ideas festival on August 15.
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Weight. Lots of people aren’t happy with theirs. Not everyone realizes that extra weight sets the stage for most of the problems we are all trying hard to avoid: obesity, diabetes, dementia, cancer…the list goes on. My advice? To minimize the risk of developing these life-wrecking problems, start taking steps to drop the excess, and by that I mean slowly, sensibly and safely. Bringing your body and your weight back into balance isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon run by many, on a road paved with old wives’ tales and misinformation. The following are a few anything-but-true myths that people with weight issues are still prone to believe, along with a modern-day reality check.

Your body is not a calculator. It’s an incredibly complex organism that needs proper hydration and food packed with minerals, nutrients and vitamins to function at its best. As fun as it may be for some dieters to do the caloric math, a daily intake of 1,500 calories of crap is not remotely nutritionally equivalent to 1,500 calories of greens, pasture-raised meats and colorful veggies. If you eliminate processed foods from the equation and make whole foods your default, foods that are naturally high in satiating fiber and healthy fats, your body will be less prone to overeating and you can toss the calculator away.

In other words, when it comes to calories, it’s the quality of the calories that matters. It’s about maximizing the nutrients per serving, and making sure there’s enough fiber, protein from healthy sources, and good fats in each meal to feel healthfully full and fueled. But can’t you lose weight on a trendy crash diet? Of course you can, but at a cost. Extreme diets are rarely sustainable, often lead to rebound weight gain and bring with them side effects like slowed metabolism, low energy, lowered immunity and even hair loss for weeks afterward—terrible trade-offs all!

The more you move, the fitter you will be, but not necessarily thinner. Movement, as much as you can squeeze into the average day, is essential. Most of us, however, were raised to believe that more exercise equals more weight loss, but that’s not the case. In fact, working out like a pro athlete (when you’re not one) can have the opposite effect. Overdoing it by wearing yourself out with a pummeling daily gym routine or hours on the treadmill stresses the system, thereby boosting the production of cortisol, aka the ‘stress hormone.’ Higher cortisol levels can promote insulin resistance, which encourages the body to hold on to fat, making losing weight a lot tougher.

And all that exercise will likely make you that much hungrier, so you’re likely to eat more. What to do instead? Learn how to exercise smarter—not longer or harder. Move more every day and throughout the day. Mix up your routine. Walk outdoors one day and lift weights at the gym the next. Alternate spin class with yoga and some high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Change up movement daily to keep your body guessing and your hormones in balance.

A little bit of everything is great in theory but, in practice, such a rational approach can be nearly impossible for those of us with weight issues. How much is too much can be tough to gauge. When sugar and refined carbs are on the menu, their addictive qualities can make resistance even tougher, if not futile, for all but the most determined weight warrior. So what’s the best strategy for those battling the weight beast? I like the multipronged approach: slashing refined carbs; dumping added sugar and processed foods completely; and keeping even naturally occurring sugars—like the kind in fruits and starchy veggies—to a minimum. Maybe that sounds challenging, but you’ll be filling upon healthy whole foods instead of poisoning yourself with small portions of processed ones (leaving you hungry an hour later). The biggest bonus of all? Ditching sugar and refined carbs often cuts carbs enough to force the body to burn fat for fuel (instead of sugar and carbs), which is ideal for those looking to drop the pounds.

Not true! When you eat matters, as does frequency, so ditch the multiple-mini-meal mantra that was all the rage a few years back. One of the best things you can do to help normalize weight is to practice intermittent fasting. A traditional rule of thumb is to allow 12 to 16 hours between dinner and breakfast; for instance, dinner at 7PM and breakfast at 7AM. What’s the payoff? A more efficient metabolism. Your body will do more with less of everything—lower blood sugar and insulin levels, less fat build-up and inflammation. Think of it this way: Since we burn calories more efficiently, with less insulin, during the day, that’s when we should take in most of our calories, instead of dumping them on the late-night dinner plate just as our calorie-burning machinery is winding down.

Unfortunately, those late-night noshes re-prime the insulin pump as we’re hitting the hay, making those calories less likely to be burned by our muscles—and more likely to be stored as fat. In other words, the battle of the bulge can be fought by ascribing to the old adage “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” Please note: “breakfast” just means break-fast; it’s your first meal after fasting overnight. Having that first meal later and your last meal earlier—that is, restricting the hours you eat to eight or 10—can be extremely helpful for weight loss.

In a word, wrong! Sleep matters. A lot. And it can help keep your weight in check, so snooze if you want to lose (weight, that is). Ever notice how when you’re burning the candle at both ends, weight seems to skyrocket? Not getting enough sleep, especially chronic sleep deprivation, causes hormonal changes that can slow weight loss or, worse, promote weight gain. Shorting yourself on sleep reduces leptin, the hormone that helps regulate bodyweight. Bottom line: Get your rest if you want to win at weight loss.