Debunking common weight loss misconception with Twain Teo
(https://www.facebook.com/twainteo): Weight loss coach, Co-Founder of Elevate 360 (@elevate360fitness), Elevate Barbell Club (@elevate.bbc), Elevate Physiotherapy (@elevatephysiosg) and Type A Fitness Online Coaching (https://www.trainwithtwain.com/), former powerlifter and lifetime fitness enthusiast
General principle of weight loss:
The primary driver of weight loss is eating in a caloric deficit. This means that your caloric input, or the amount of calories you consume, must be less than your caloric output, the amount of calories your body burns. Even if you follow a certain diet, for example, the keto diet, a high-fat, zero-carb diet, the general principle of eating less than you burn still applies if you want to lose weight.
Misconception #1: Some people think there are “good” and “bad” foods.
Many people share this relationship with food where they think food is either strictly good or strictly bad. “Good food” encompasses highly marketed fitness foods like quinoa and broccoli while “bad food” refers to food often described as sinful like ice cream.
People think they can only eat “good food” to lose weight or be healthy; “bad food” should be avoided at all costs, and if they do give in to it, they have to exercise it all off after (it doesn’t work that way). A large part of what drives this notion of “good food” and “bad food” is a culture that is obsessed with losing weight and having the perfect body. The sea of misinformation out there, particularly on social media, doesn’t help either.
In reality, food just falls on a spectrum of how nutritious it is. Fruits and vegetables are more nutritious than ice cream, but this doesn’t mean you cannot eat ice cream if you want to achieve your weight loss goals - you can, as long as they fit into your “calorie budget” and you eat it in moderation. Your overall eating patterns define your well-being, not the occasional ice cream treat you indulge in.
So where should you start?
Eat a balanced diet. We need to eat enough vegetables and fruits, because that’s where we get our micronutrients and phytonutrients from. Protein is necessary for helping us rebuild cells and muscles. And finally, carbs and fats provide us with sources of fast-releasing energy and slow-releasing energy respectively.
Labelling food as good or bad leads tends to lead to a very restrictive and overly-emotional relationship with food. Eating food you think is “bad” may lead to feelings of guilt, which can in turn lead to stress, overeating and eating disorders. Seeing food as “bad” can also make them more desirable because you are forbidding yourself from eating it, which may lead to constant thoughts circling it, strong cravings and binge eating.
A key tool to use is the 80:20 principle. If you eat more nutritious food 80% of the time, then indulging in traditionally less nutritious food the other 20% will not deter your weight loss progress.
Misconception #2: Some people think exercise is the key to losing weight.
Did you know?
Exercises only contributes approximately 5 to 25% of the total calories you burn in a day. This means that if you consume 2000 calories a day, chances are that you’re only only burning a maximum of 500 calories per day through exercise even if you exercise your guts out.
Exercising is simply not an efficient way to burn calories. This is because it takes an exponential amount of effort to burn a significant amount of calories. As an example, if you want to burn burn 500 calories, (approximately one bowl of minced meat noodles), you have to run about 5 kilometres at a 5-minute per kilometre pace, which is pretty fast and intense by average standards. In this case, it might be easier and more efficient to simply eat half the bowl of noodles instead.
Burning calories through exercise can contribute to a caloric deficit, but at the end of the day it is not as efficient as making changes to your diet. It’s extremely difficult to out-exercise a high-calorie diet. Besides, exercising with the goal of burning calories makes exercise into a chore, akin to punishing yourself. Who wants that?
So what does exercise do then, if not burn calories?
Exercise helps stimulate your body so your body knows to retain important muscle tissue. In order to signal to your body to retain its muscles, you have to put them through some sort of resistance training. One of the most efficient forms of resistance training is to lift weights. Retaining as much possible as possible is important because muscles are more metabolically active, which means that they actively burn calories on their own.
If you’re trying to lose weight and eating less calories than you burn, your body will not have enough calories and have to burn either its stored fat or break down muscle tissue instead. By stimulating the muscle with regular resistance training, your body will realise that it needs to retain this muscle and break down fat instead.
Misconception #3: Some people focus too much on the weight on the scale.
Some people need not focus on their weight. You can figure out whether weight loss should be your goal by calculating your waist to height ratio. Simply divide your waist measurement in centimeters by your height in centimeters.
People tend to get overly attached to the number on the scale. Only those who fall into the category of obese (i.e. their weight to height ratios are above 0.6) should look at their weight as a main data driver as it can help track weight loss progress.
For those whose weight to height ratios are below 0.6, they should focus on building muscle and getting stronger. Building muscle may not change their weight; in fact, it may even go up, but then again these are not people who should be concerned about their weight anyway. Weight is a good data point to reference, but it is not an issue for them. They should focus on their health, strength and the functionality of their bodies instead.
Misconception #4: Some women believe they will become overly muscular if they do resistance training during their weight loss journey (or in general).
It is possible for women to build similar levels of muscularity as men, but the training requirements are different. In general, building muscle is not easy for both men and women. The reason many people think they will bulk up if they do resistance training is because they refer to extreme examples, like women who participate in physique competitions and dedicate their lives and a crazy amount of effort to looking the way they do. Not wanting to look overly muscular is a valid fear and preference, but the road to getting there is not easy.
In some instances, it is possible your body responds very well to resistance training and becomes very muscular, but this usually happens in people who have prior history and experience with muscle growth, like track runners who have been through many years of training that has built a foundation of muscularity in their legs. Most people, however, don’t have this foundation and won’t respond strongly.
Misconception #5: Some people think they are unable to lose weight because of their genetics.
Body composition is generally quite malleable. You will definitely be able to lose weight if you want to, even if your genetics are against you - for example, a rare thyroid condition like hypothyroidism can reduce your rate of burning calories by about 35-40%, but it is still possible to lose weight as long as you abide by the general principle of burning more calories than you consume. Genetics is a valid reason to consider when it comes to limitations, but this usually only applies when you’re competing in top-level fields. For instance, even though I am quite well-built, I will probably never win Mr Olympia, which is a professional men’s bodybuilding contest even if I take all the drugs in the world because I have very average genes. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t try entirely. After all, despite my very average genes, I’ve managed to come this far and build this amount of muscle, which is not bad at all. You can still make progress despite genetic limitations. You can still go from point A to point B (or wherever your potential leads you), even if you don’t make it to the Olympics. It’s the same with weight loss.