1. The Less You Eat the More You’ll Lose
No, no, no, no, no! While it is true that if you eat fewer calories, you will shed some pounds, it is not a linear relationship. If you eat too few calories, you will enter starvation mode and your body will begin to think it’s in a famine. Your body’s reaction to this situation is to drop its metabolism and do everything it can to store fat (back in our caveman days, this was a useful and important thing for our bodies to do). This will actually slow your weight loss, and is not sustainable in the longterm. There are some great online calculators to figure out how many calories you need to enter an efficient and sustainable weight loss pattern. Generally, you need to eat more calories the more you weigh, and as you lose weight, you need to recalculate how many calories you should eat per day. A good rule of thumb is to recalculate your calorie allowance with each 10 lbs of weight lost. And yes, losing calories from your daily allowance with each 10lb lost is the worst incentive scheme in the world!
2. Workout Before You Eat/Workout Before the Sun Has Come Up
Yes… if you are an all-star olympian whose performance is already at 97%, and you’re trying to get that last 3% out of your athleticism. For us mere mortals, the best time to workout is when we are most likely to keep at it. If you’re an early bird, lucky you. I am not, and my workouts are in the evening. I lost 49lbs and counting with my sub-optimal evening workouts. I did go through a brief phase of working out in the morning, and according to my heart rate monitor, I was burning more calories that I would have for a similar workout in the evening. But it wasn’t sustainable and I quit. You are far better off burning 200,000 calories (50 lbs worth of weight) slowly over the course of six to nine months in afternoon workouts, than burning 400o calories in one week of morning workouts before burning out and quitting.
3. Workout Every Day
No, no, no, a thousand times no! You need a break for every reason possible. You will stick with your workout regime if you have days off to do other things, and strike a balance in your life with other hobbies and interests. And while you are indulging in your new-found love of macramé or philately, your body will be hard at work building muscle. It is a misconception that your body builds new muscles when you are working out. It doesn’t. Your muscles get micro-tears during vigorous strength exercises, and that triggers your body to build newer, stronger muscle during the recovery period. If you create new micro-tears on top of the old ones before the muscle is repaired, you will never build that new muscle. The micro-tears will just group together to form macro-tears, i.e. an injury. Make sure you get one day off a week at a minimum.
4. Do Thousands of Crunches Every Day to Drop Belly Fat
In a larger sense, this myth is applied to other body areas as focused fat burning, but the belly is the most popular one. Basically, the idea is that if you target strength exercises like ab crunches to a body area, you can target the fat-burning to that area too. Sadly, you can’t. If you want to get rid of belly fat, you need to do cardio and lose all your fat, and if my experience is anything to go by, the midsection is the last place to go. But it’s worth it for you health, your happiness, and your weight-loss. It’s hard to keep at cardio just for the sake of burning fat. Pick a cardio exercise that you enjoy doing, and let the fat-burning be an afterthought. If you want proof that crunches are not the way to go, grab your heart-rate monitor and do 20 minutes of ab-work and see how many calories you burn. Then do 20 minutes of running. I’ll bet you’ll burn twice, if not more, the calories running, and you need to lose calories to lose fat (fat IS stored calories). If you also want to do some core work to tone up your abdominal muscles in addition to your cardio, pick something less back-breaking than classical crunches. Like Red Hot Core, perhaps?
5. No Pain, No Gain
New mantra: Pain is pain! Evolution went through millions of years worth of trial and error to hook you up with a sweet brain that interprets pain signals from your body. To ignore that pain would be, well, just plain rude! If you want to be strong, healthy and lose weight in a sustainable fashion, you need to be on the same team as your body. And teammates listen to each other! As you learn to listen to your body, you will learn the difference between an exercise being difficult and feeling fatigued or injured. If you are fatigued, you need to take a break, because you are more likely to get injured in that state. If you are injured, you need to back off working the part of the body that is injured rather than pushing through. A good way to learn the difference between a workout feeling tough and an actual injury is to pick a low impact workout that you can modify to your needs. Even better, if you can find one that doesn’t leave you stiff and sore, you will have a better time keeping on the wagon, and staving off injury. If only such a workout existed!
6. Strength-training Will Bulk You up Like a Man!
Nope. Do you have any idea of the science that goes into body-building for men? Everything they eat has to be perfectly prescribed and timed. Their workouts are grueling, involve weights you don’t see in a normal gym, and takes year and years. A big clue that bulky muscle is not something you accidentally gain comes in the pervasiveness of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in the body-building world and other sports. For women, it’s even harder, because you have to go against your body’s natural inclination to gain fat – for nursing our young – and force it to gain muscle for hunting and gathering, which Evolution decided was “Men’s work”. As a more personal example, I have been trying to increase my shoulder strength for months. I have been doing the toughest DDP workouts six days a week, I have held plank for 20 minutes. I have been doing pull-ups. And this is the “bulkiest” pose I can muster:
7. You’re Too Old to Start
Shhhhh… don’t let DDP hear you say that. DDP’s wrestling career didn’t start until he was 35, and didn’t even take off until he was 40. He wasn’t introduced to yoga until his mid-forties, and he was in his fifties when DDP Yoga took off in the form of the Arthur video that brought most of us in. That said, I understand how it feels to think you’ve missed your chance. Most of the fit and healthy people we see in magazines, on TV, in the sporting world are not legally old enough to have a beer, which works out well because they are too goddamn perfect to ever drink something so carb-loaded! Eventually, we start to believe that health and exercise are reserved for the young. I was 33 staring at my fat body in the mirror, with chronically injured knees and no energy to even stand up straight, never mind do a push-up. I’m blessed that I gave it one last shot, because I mentally decided that was all I had left in me. But there is no reason that I couldn’t have started later. DDP started later. So did Terri. And Arthur. And Jake. And Stacey. And [Your Name Here]?
8. You Need to Do Long Workouts
“I’m going to workout for SEVEN hours today.” Okay, good luck with that! This approach offers you all the injury potential of not taking a rest day (see #3) without having to wait a whole week. Working out to the point of fatigue will cause you to lose good form, and you risk injury and burnout. Also, much like not eating properly, you will force your body into survival mode. Your metabolism won’t allow you to burn fat efficiently and you won’t be losing as much weight or gaining as much muscle as you would if you have spread the workouts over the week. Needless to say, you won’t be able to sustain this pattern very long.
The length of time you spend working out should be commensurate with your experience and strength level. If you have never worked out before, a twenty-minute workout will be all you need. A good way to monitor if you are overdoing it is to use a heart rate monitor. If you find you are struggling not to exceed your maximum rate, you may be overdoing it. If you are struggling to get over your minimum, you may need a harder or longer workout. People who run ultra-marathons or climb Everest don’t just wake up and do it, they spend months building up to those endeavours. Don’t do the at-home equivalent of an ultra-marathon without building up to it!
On a personal note, the vast majority of my weight loss occurred when I was doing Energy, Fat Burner, and Strength Builder, i.e. workouts ranging from 25 to 40 minutes. I didn’t start the hour-long workouts in DDP Yoga until I was a few months in. As long as you’re using more calories per day than you are consuming, you will lose weight.
9. The Science of the Fat-burning Zone
This point is more about ignoring the myth than debunking it. The science of the fat-burning zone is somewhat controversial, but you should still use your heart rate monitor and aim for it during your workouts. Here’s why: while you you may burn more calories per hour in the upper end of your target zone or in your anaerobic zone, you are running your body too hard. As DDP says, it’s the same as putting the pedal to the metal and driving your car in the red. Sure, you’re going get there a lot faster, but you’re not going to have the same level of control, thus risking a crash-and-burn, and the engine is going to burn out a lot quicker. Your body is an engine, and your heart rate monitor is your tachometer. You should aim to be in the 3000-4000 rpm range on your car’s tachometer if you want it to last, and you should aim to workout your the fat-burning zone to make your body last and your workout regime sustainable.