Whether you’re in sundresses in the UK or stripping off on the beach on holiday, it’s natural to think about the shape you’re in at this time of year. And if you’re not 100 per cent happy with the way your body looks, it can be tempting to latch on to the latest quick fix – often a demanding or difficult diet or workout regime.
The good news, though, is that while there’s no magic bullet, shifting those extra kilos really doesn’t have to be a drag. To prove it, we’ve busted five common weight loss myths.
1. I need to focus on my belly fat
Registered dietitian Helen Bond says: ‘We’ve all read about wonder diets that promise to give us flatter tummies. But where you carry weight is largely determined by your genes and gender and you can’t reduce fat in targeted areas. That said, when you lose weight all over, it’ll be more noticeable from your ‘trouble spots’.
‘For the ultimate fat-burning boost, eat a healthy, balanced diet and control portion sizes. Also, do a combo of aerobic activity, such as HIIT, running or swimming, and include strengthening exercises such as lifting weights or using your own body weight in exercise, like push-ups and lunges. Each week aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise and do strength training at least twice. It’s not rocket science but it’s the best way to slim down all over, including around your belly.’
2. Exercise doesn’t equal weight loss
Trainer Julia Buckley says: ‘If you want to shed fat, you need to change what you eat – there’s no getting around that. But exercise burns calories, so if you’re looking to shed fat it makes sense to do more of it.
‘Also, adding muscle tissue to the body with strength training is the way you can increase your metabolic rate – which means you burn more calories, all the time, both while exercising and at rest. That will help you both lose and maintain a healthy weight, without having to be so vigilant about what you eat all the time. Working out makes your body more sculpted and shapely, too.’
3. I should avoid carbs to shift pounds
Bond says: ‘The latest scientific evidence confirms people who eat foods rich in starchy carbohydrates actually find it easier to control their weight. Carbs can fill you up and prevent hunger, and gram for gram they have half the calories of fat.
‘You should get around half your daily calories from carb-rich foods. But go for wholegrain versions like brown rice and wholewheat pasta – they retain most of their fibre and nutrients, unlike the refined white versions, and will help keep your digestive system healthy, preventing a bloated tummy.
‘Watch portion sizes: have a tennis ball-sized serving (around 150g) of cooked pasta, rice, noodles, couscous or other grains; one handful or five level tablespoons (30g) of wholegrain breakfast cereal; one potato the size of a computer mouse (180g); one to two slices of wholegrain bread.’
4. Diets never work
Bond says: ‘ Banning favourite foods, cutting out food groups or following a plan that is so low in calories it leaves you feeling hungry is unlikely to work for long. And if your ‘diet’ has a finish point, you can slip back into old eating habits and regain the weight.
‘The best weight-loss plan simply involves taking in fewer calories than you need. By eating a little less or exercising a little more, your body starts to use up its fat stores.
‘A sensible weight loss is 1-2lb a week. To lose 1lb (0.5kg) of fat, you need to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories – the equivalent of reducing your calorie intake by 500 calories a day. But your eating plan needs to be sustainable long term, with a rich variety of natural whole foods and less processed ones.’
5. Weight gain is inevitable after 40
Buckley says: ‘After around 30, your body starts naturally to lose muscle tissue at a rate of about 3-5 per cent per year. This affects your strength level and body shape and slows your metabolic rate, which means you’ll have to take in fewer calories to maintain the same body fat levels.
‘But you don’t have to start restricting your calorie intake – exercise is the answer, specifically strength training in the gym. Exercise with the heaviest weights you can manage for a maximum of 10-15 reps. Bear in mind age itself isn’t the only reason people can find it harder to stay in shape as they get older. You may have less time, due to work and family commitments, compared to your twenties. So it’s important to have a realistic workout plan.’