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Believing popular misconceptions can keep you from taking the right course of action to reach your goals, says Julia Valentour, MS, program coordinator and media spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. Blaming a plateau (or a gain) on any of these half-truths will keep you stuck in your rut and derail your motivation. Here, 10 of the most pervasive diet-related rumors and the real scoop on how to hit your goal weight for good.
1. “Strength training will bulk me up.”
First, let’s tackle the myth that a pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat. A pound is a pound is a pound—whether it’s made up of muscle or fat. That said, muscle is denser than fat and takes up less room, so two women who weigh the same can look much different if one has a higher ratio of lean muscle mass to fat, says Valentour. “Muscle weight is a good weight because you look firmer, smaller, and more fit. It’s also more metabolically active, so just having more muscle will boost metabolism throughout the day to help keep you leaner.”
It’s important to incorporate strength training into your routine so you burn calories at an optimal rate all day long—and using heavier weights could help maximize your efforts. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that working out with heavy weights even for as few as 3 to 6 repetitions increased exercisers’ sleeping metabolic rate—the number of calories burned overnight—by nearly 8%. That’s enough to lose about 5 pounds in a year, even if you did nothing else!
2. “I exercise every day, so I can eat whatever I want.”
The sad truth: Even if you work out religiously, going to yoga several times a week and sweating it out in Spinning, it’s not a license to eat as much as you want and still expect to lose weight. This may seem obvious, but the desire to reward a workout well done is natural; after all, you endured those endless vinyasas—you deserve an extra slice of pizza (or three), right? Not if you’re trying to lose weight.
“You can outeat your workout,” says Valentour. Even though you burn calories and fat when you exercise, it’s often not as much as you think—or what the readout on the treadmill tells you.
Valentour recommends eating 250 fewer calories per day and aiming to burn an extra 250 calories a day; that creates enough of a calorie deficit to achieve an average weight loss of a pound a week.
3. “It’s harder for women to lose weight than for men.”
Okay, this one has some basis. Biologically, men are built with more lean muscle mass (the compact, tight muscles that keep metabolism humming) than women are—meaning his metabolism is working at a 5 to 10% higher rate (even if he’s the same height and weight as you) when you’re lying on the couch together. Annoying, isn’t it?
Another biological challenge women face is that we generally have more body fat than men do, and our bodies are more inclined to store it. On top of that, women lose about 1/2 pound of calorie-burning muscle mass a year during perimenopause and sometimes a pound a year during menopause. With the deck stacked against you, why bother trying to fit back in your skinny jeans?
You can do something about these problems, but it’s going to take some work—and sweat. Add strength training to your fitness routine at least twice a week to shed fat and build lean muscle mass that will fire up your resting metabolism.
4. “All calories are equal, so it doesn’t matter what I eat.”
Ever since you learned what a calorie is, you’ve been told that they’re all alike: Whether you eat 500 calories’ worth of celery stalks or crème brûlée, your body will burn or store them equally, right? Wrong. New science shows that when it comes to weight loss, calories are nowhere near alike.
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