Weight loss is a challenge for just about everyone, and for those few who don’t have a problem staying trim, usually, their trouble runs in the other direction. But it stands to reason that so many would struggle to be slimmer because our bodies are optimized to live in conditions of scarcity- so our systems are geared towards driving us to seek out high-calorie foods, even when we aren’t hungry. Today, we are rarely exposed to scarcity in western society. But the urge to constantly seek food, even when we don’t need it, is still with us. The unsurprising result is that we have trouble staying trim. So the cards are stacked against us, and unfortunately, a great deal of myths and misconceptions about weight loss have cropped up over the years, and the fad diets are full of them. If you are running under the impression that any of the following misconceptions are true, you can easily pack on the pounds and not understand why.

1. Desserts are off limits

In medical weight loss, we sometimes turn to addiction psychology, where we learn that the brain has a mechanism known as the reward pathway. This is a nervous structure that gives us pleasure when we do something that is favored by our ancient biology. Eating sugar is a prime example because sugar is calorie dense- we crave it. Refraining for too long from doing something the reward pathway favors causes a kind of tension to build up over time. This is why binging happens. It’s better to allow yourself small and infrequent treats to release some of this tension. Total dessert abstinence, coupled with an all or nothing attitude, will cause most diets to fail. [1]

2. It’s all or nothing

The all or nothing attitude goes part and parcel with the attitude that desserts are forbidden. The misled dieter believes that desserts are forbidden because she is convinced that dieting is an all or nothing proposition. It absolutely is not. Included in this attitude is the idea that a little weight loss isn’t good enough. While it’s good to want to be as fit as possible, refusing to give yourself credit for small amounts of weight loss deprives you of a reward structure that you will need to motivate you as you progress. Remember the reward pathway. It’s not just a trigger for binges, it’s also your path to training your brain to behave better. Reward yourself for all of your small and short-term gains, as they are all important steps on your journey to a slimmer you. [2]

3. Exercise and eat what you want

Suppose I told you that you were about to have house guests for a week and that they made messes all day every day- but it’s okay because they also spend thirty minutes every day cleaning. You wouldn’t be too pleased with that arrangement, would you? It makes about as much sense to eat a slice of cake every day and justify it by going to the gym regularly. If the houseguest analogy doesn’t rattle you, suppose someone told you that you can spend as much as you like on clothes because you have a job. Dieting is an uphill battle, and just because you’re making the climb doesn’t mean you can afford to fall back. There should be one word for diet and exercise because one without the other isn’t much good. [3]

4. Amount of food vs type: one matters more

It’s natural for us to want to simplify things. After all, the world is an infinitely complex puzzle, and we couldn’t function if we paid attention to every nuance all the time. Because a healthy diet is much more than a simple calories-in/calories-out proposition, we really need to pay attention to the subtleties in order to stay fit. Many people believe they can eat as much as they want as long as it’s healthy, and many believe the opposite. While it’s better to put on weight by eating nutritious food, you can still get fat that way. It’s true, you can eat more healthy food and stay slim, but you cannot fully discount either food type or amount and still expect to fit into those old jeans. Your body may be a machine, but it is a supremely complex machine, with supremely complex needs. [4]

5. Skipping meals is a shortcut

Fasting is usually a mistake. Remember the reward pathway. If you build up too much deprivation stimulus, eventually, you will snap back and binge. Skipping meals can be tempting, but studies show, it’s ineffective– and it can be dangerous, especially if you have a regular fitness routine. If you aren’t replacing those important building blocks you will break down muscle, connective tissue, and bone- for a start- which can lead to injury. Some injuries can be internal and hard to detect- and that’s dangerous. So going hungry is not a great alternative to dieting. You’d be much better off having a light meal with some good nutrients like protein to keep those important supportive structures strong while trimming off the unwanted fat. [5]

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