If you’re one of the millions of Americans who are trying to slim down, lose some weight or just find a healthier way of eating, you may have fallen victim to this kind of click-bait nonsense:
“Dr. Schmozz’s 10 Natural Weight-Loss Tricks”
“Easy Fat Loss With (insert weird food name here)”
“Eat/Drink/Do This Every Day and Watch the Pounds Fall Off”
It’s okay, don’t beat yourself up. It’s easy to fall prey to someone’s sneak bull$#&t attack when you take on the challenge of getting leaner, healthier and fitter.
Unfortunately, there are lots of people willing to lie to you to try to either get your money, your “likes” and “follows” or to get you to spread their nonsense via your social media pages.
There are also lets of well-meaning idiots in the health and fitness space. There are also people who really believe the crap their telling you. But I digress a bit…
I’m going to give you a single piece of advice that changed my approach to my health and fitness and has changed the approach of virtually every client I have ever worked with, whether they are athletes or busy moms and dads.
Enjoy the process, don’t fixate on the product.
Another way to say it is: it’s about enjoying the journey, not rushing to the destination.
Now, that isn’t saying that you can’t sometimes speed the journey a little by adjusting some things along the way. But fitness tweaks is a topic for another day.
Right now, let’s shed some light on the nonsense of some of these weight loss “hacks,” shall we?
Let’s focus on the big ones, in no particular order.
1. Skipping meals – This is a common “trick” that people use when trying to cut a few pounds very fast. Sure, if you skip a meal a day for a week and are sure to eat your normal amount at other meals, you’re likely to drop a pound or two for the weekend. But at what cost?
Because you are feeding your body an insufficient quantity of calories (energy,) your brain will act to slow your metabolism to match the energy being put in the body. It will also stimulate your hormones to make you hungrier. So, when you do eat, your system will want more food and you are more likely to binge at some point. Add being cranky and tired all the time to this formula and the temporary weight loss is just not worth it.
2. Focusing on more or more intense exercise – Do you really enjoy a “killer workout?” You know, the kind where sitting on the toilet the next day is like medieval torture? If not, then you probably need to think about pairing exercise and proper diet to achieve your goals.
There’s nothing wrong with a tough workout. But tough is relative. When you show up at the new boot camp in town and everyone else has been there for 3 months or more, don’t worry about keeping up with them. Focus on getting the most out of you without wrecking the rest of your week. Remember, when it comes to workouts and exercise, challenging is a relative phrase.
Volume and frequency of exercise are also to be watched. Many people who begin an exercise program as part of an effort to lose weight simply overdo it in the beginning. Remember, sustainability matters.
You won’t out-train a bad diet. Pairing intense exercise with a diet full of sugars, processed foods and garbage won’t get you to healthy and lean. It will likely lead you to (another?) a dead end.
In my nearly 2 decades as a fitness professional, I’ve seen hundreds of people not out-train a bad diet, but still over-train themselves right into a program-ending injury or illness.
3. Drinking green tea, eating coconut oil or drinking apple cider vinegar – Green tea is a great drink. It’s delicious, anti-oxidant-laden and can aid in hydration. It’s impact on the metabolism, however, is minimal. Not non-existent, just minimal. A 2018 study concluded that “the metabolic effects of matcha should not be overstated.” (1)
Coconut oil is also awesome. It can tame frizzy hair, improve your skin quality and is terrific for cooking. But it is a calorically-dense fat that should be used sparingly in cooking and recipes.
As for apple cider vinegar, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, I guess if you drink enough of it, you’ll feel sick and not want to eat, so maybe you’ll lose weight.
4. Wearing a fitness tracker – Yeah, I know, everybody has one or wants one. But no magic happens when you strap one on. You’re going to need some goals and a plan to follow them. Those don’t come with the tracker; they’re sold separately, so to speak.
Multiple studies back this up. (2, 3) That doesn’t mean they’re useless. There’s just no automatic effect on weight loss. If you utilize the food journaling tools and track your caloric intake and output, they can help you see when you are in caloric deficit – an important baseline for weight loss.
5. Going Gluten-free – Everybody seems to be gluten-intolerant these days. Except, they’re not. Well, some people are, but they’re in the minority. For them, being gluten-free is a matter of avoiding feeling like crap all the time.
Most likely, that’s not you. In truth, however, going gluten-free might still cause you to lose some weight. Maybe. But there is a problem.
When you go gluten-free, your entire gastrointestinal tract will change. You may lose the ability to process gluten all together. So, when you go back to eating gluten in any real amount, you will have developed a gluten sensitivity. And that is not a side-effect we really want, is it?
6. Employing the “Cabbage Soup” (insert single food name here) diet – These are possibly the most ridiculous diet concepts ever. Eat nothing but Cabbage Soup (or whatever) for some random number of days and you’ll lose weight.
There are so many things screwed up with this idea, I’m not sure where to begin. Suffice to say that after “X” weeks on a diet like this, you’ll be knee deep in pizza, cheeseburgers and cake to satisfy your messed-up food cravings. And the weight will come back, laughing all the way to your thighs, stomach and butt.
7. The “No Carb Diet” – First, this is virtually impossible unless you eat absolutely nothing but beef, chicken, fish, pork, etc. I mean, not one iota of anything processed, no veggies, no fruits and absolutely no breads, pastas or grains of any kind.
We’ll drop by and pick you up for dialysis in a few days.
True client story. A former client of mine was a salon owner in his early 50’s. He wanted to cut some fat and shred up for a beach vacation. He went on an ultra low-carb diet. Literally about 10-20 grams a day. This was against my advice, but he claimed to have a dietitian friend, yada, yada.
One day, he comes in to the gym where I worked. His skin was somewhere between yellow and orange! He’d been eating so few carbs that his skin changed color. It was a sign of a form of protein toxicity. Needless to say, we changed his diet immediately and he “fired” the dietitian!
As someone who uses a flexible ketogenic diet for my own fitness, I can tell you cutting all carbs simply doesn’t work. Your energy levels will tank, your workouts will suffer and your hormonal system will go crazy. You will either end up binging on carb-laden foods or having your kidneys shut down. Don’t do this, it doesn’t work.
8. Transformation Challenges – Lots of gyms and training centers run these. Lots of people do them – over and over. Have you ever asked yourself why the same people return to these challenges repeatedly? If they’re so effective, why do people keep going back to lose the same weight over and over?
Because they don’t work. The focus is on a result, not on changing habits for the long-term. Many people don’t get past the first week, often because they don’t see immediate results and DO see others getting off to a very fast start.
Even for those who do succeed in one of these, they often gain some or all of the weight back and return, only to find out that losing the weight gets progressively harder each time they do. Jump in one of these if you want to challenge yourself, but don’t pretend it’s a real answer to your weight loss and fitness needs.
9. The Juice Cleanse – UGH! You drink juice for a week (much of which is sugar-laden; welcome to insulin hell!) You lose a few pounds. Great. Now what? Are you going to only drink juice for the rest of your life?
I know, they all sound healthy. You “juice” all those fruits and vegetables to “concentrate” the nutrients in them. You know what you’re not getting? Satisfaction, real food and fiber. Juicing takes the majority of the fiber out of the fruits and veggies. So you pour the sugar over your teeth, but don’t chew any food. This short-circuits an entire hormonal pathway that signals satiety. It’s science.
You also lose out on satisfying your body’s need for protein. Plant proteins are great, but there is tons of research showing that our bodies prefer the enzymatic and amino acid profiles in animal proteins. But again, an argument for another day.
Want the goodness of fruits and veggies? Then eat them!
10. The “Master Cleanse” – You live on a concoction of water, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and maple syrup for a period of 3 to 10 days. Mmmmmmmmm! Aside from sounding atrociously boring and gruelingly uncomfortable, it doesn’t work. Unless, of course, your goal is fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headaches and maybe even some diarrhea thrown in for good measure. Then, the Master Cleanse is for you.
It deprives your body of essential nutrients, including protein, which can lead to muscle loss. Less muscle means you burn fewer calories and less fat, remember?
It’s basically a starvation crash diet. Doing that once probably won’t hurt you, but repeating that particular brand of torture (crash diets) can hurt your heart and increase the risk of a heart attack.
11. Filling up on water – There is no “magic” amount of water that will help you lose weight and keep it off. Yes, hydration is important. Yes, water is the best way to hydrate. But no, drinking a gallon a day is not a guarantee of weight loss or fat loss.
That being said, increasing your water intake will not hurt. If you are eating a ketogenic diet or a low-carb diet, you may be eating little or no fruit or other water-dense foods, so it’s good to add some exogenous intake. If you’re increasing your exercise, consuming more water will help keep your energy levels up, speed recovery and allow you to train a little more intensely.
12. Virtually any “cleanse” – We covered two of these already, but let’s cover the more general topic. Cleanses, or “detox diets” don’t work. Period. I don’t care if it’s a food-based cleanse or one from a “nutrition” company. They don’t remove toxins like the literature claims. You may lose some weight in the short-term. But there’s a big problem.
No “cleanse” program will teach you how to eat for life!
If you want to change your physique, you need to address your habits. Exchanging one set of crappy nutrition habits for a short-term starvation diet masquerading as a “cleanse” (another set of crappy nutrition habits) isn’t the answer.
By now, I’m sure you’re asking “what SHOULD I do to lose weight?” That’s a very fair question. I’ll be offering some advice on how to create and sustain a fitness and nutrition lifestyle that will help you get the body you want, have the healthy life you want – and KEEP IT!
But for now, this simple advice to get you started.
Enjoy the journey.
Be present to your activities and decisions.
Forgive yourself for your errors, including believing the “hacks,” both human and literary.
And last, keep the faith and keep after it!