Weight-loss talk is heard too often these days. If there's a new fad diet going around, you hear about it and its so-called "successes." • Weight-loss success ought to be defined not by how much weight has been lost, but by how long the weight loss is maintained. • People who have had long-term success with weight seem to be relatively quiet. You don't usually hear, "I'm going on 10 years of managing my weight successfully," or "I haven't binged in 15 years!" • There are plenty of weight-loss myths that get in the way of weight-loss success. Here are some real-life examples, with names changed to protect patient privacy:
Myth 1: The Less You Eat, the More You Lose
Jeanie walked into my office sharing her frustration at a life filled with one diet after another. "I've tried every diet,'' she told me. "You name it, I've tried it." It quickly became clear that Jeanie subscribed to the myth that you have to keep eating less in order to lose more. Her diets became more restrictive through time. After years of such diets, her body had compensated for her starvation attempts by slowing its metabolism, making it more difficult for her body to burn fat and easier for it to store it. Without her realizing it, Jeanie's diets were contributing to her weight problem.
With education, Jeanie was able to restructure her thinking and behavior. She started to eat more often, stopped skipping meals, and avoided long periods without eating. She focused on nutritious meals that were satisfying, preventing extreme hunger and feelings of deprivation.
She learned to allow time for her body to start burning more again. After all, she had been abusing it for a long time. Those kinds of physiological changes don't happen overnight.
Once Jeanie understood how her body worked, she was able to give up the belief that the less you eat the more you lose. Then she started to gradually lose weight. By being consistent she made these changes part of her lifestyle and was able to manage her weight successfully.
Myth 2: If You Have a Busy Life, That's Exercise
George was a busy guy. His work kept him on the move. Through the years, his body had put on an unattractive spare tire. "I don't understand it," he said. "I'm busy all the time at work. Why can't I lose weight?"
George had confused busyness with fat-burning exercise. The type of exercise that burns fat is sustained activity that gets the heart pumping, creates deep but relaxed breathing, and lasts 30 minutes or more. Most of the busyness that George thought should be fat-burning exercise was stop-and-go activity.
George decided get up a half-hour earlier to get a run in each day. He started out slowly and worked up to running 30 minutes at a time. In addition, he used the run to decompress from the stress of work. Gradually, George's body started to show the fat loss he was looking for.
Myth 3: Carbs Make You Fat
Leni was a believer in the no-carb craze. She was proud that carbs never touched her lips. Never, that is, except when she binged on carbs several nights per week. "Why can't I control my eating?" she said. "I know I shouldn't eat carbs, but I lose control!"
Leni didn't realize that the reason she was bingeing was precisely because she was trying to eliminate carbs. Although some carbs are not very nutritious, they don't, in and of themselves, make you fat. If they did, all people who eat bread and pasta would be fat.
Leni loved carbs. Her stringent rule of no carbs was actually causing her to lose control by making her feel deprived. This psychological deprivation made her preoccupied with carbs. It's no wonder she lost control. Once she understood why she was bingeing, Leni was able to work on letting go of her rigid expectations, eat high-quality carbs and feel satisfied. Gradually, she regained natural control of eating, the binges stopped and she lost weight permanently.
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There are ways to lose weight, but only a logical approach will keep it off. It pays to take the time to be honest with yourself about approaches that are only perpetuating the problem and start down the right road to a life of leanness. Even if the weight loss is slower, it's not nearly as frustrating as losing and regaining the weight again and again.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or [email protected] Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at FatMatters.com.