It feels like the rules of weight loss change nearly every day. From which foods to eat and which to avoid to exercises you should never do and those you absolutely must do every single day to see results — how do you decide what's the best advice for you? Knowing what to do can sometimes be harder to figure out than knowing what NOT to do. Here's a spin on the usual tips, with advice from top experts on things you DON'T have to do (but think you do) to lose weight.
1. You DON’T need to do a lot of cardio.
If losing weight conjures up visions of hours of mindless treadmill workouts, you're in for a pleasant surprise. It's not an efficient way to lose weight, says Robert S. Herbst, personal trainer, coach and powerlifter. "When you just do cardio, your body slows down your metabolism to conserve energy (calories)." Instead, Herbst recommends a combination of interval training (alternating bouts of high and low intensity) and weight training. "These activities rev the metabolism because the body spends calories to repair and build new muscle as it recuperates from exercise," he says. The new muscle also burns more calories at rest, boosting your metabolism all day long.
2. You DON’T have to rely solely on exercise to drop pounds.
Exercise in and of itself isn't the key to weight loss. In fact, a 2016 study published in the journal Current Biology shows that our bodies adjust to higher levels of activity, resulting in a decline in weight loss — even a reversal — after a few months. "Exercise is not part of the weight-loss formula," says Wendy Scinta, M.D., president-elect of the Obesity Medicine Association. "Weight loss is all about what goes into your mouth." But don't let that stop you from working out. While exercise — especially strength training — won't technically drop the number on the scale, it can help you look slimmer, since muscle is denser than fat. Plus, exercise is important for your overall health.
3. You DON’T need to buy a particular product.
Believing any one product can help you lose weight effortlessly usually involves gimmicky infomercials, says Grace Albin, Miami-based fitness and Pilates instructor. "Don't waste money on products that promise you will lose weight while making no effort. The human body does not respond to tricks." Instead, focus on tried-and-true habits of healthy diet and regular exercise, she says. "It always comes back to the ratio of calories consumed versus calories burned." Ditto for workout routines. Instead of relying on a single type of exercise, cross-train by trying various ones. "The more you try, the more likely you will find a routine is that is fun and motivating for you," says Albin.
4. You DON’T have to strive for a six-pack.
Lean, mean, well-defined abs are synonymous with a fit body, but striving for them won't keep you motivated in the long run, says fitness instructor Grace Albin. "A commonality among people who have successfully shed pounds for life: They do it for overall health rather than just the aesthetic perks of having tight buns and a six pack." Exercise does more than flatten your abs and build your biceps. Exercise strengthens your heart, improves posture, increases bone density and generates endorphins in the brain, Albin says. "Likewise, a healthy diet is not just for looking good. Nutritious food wards off chronic illness and provides energy."
5. You DON’T have to give up gluten.
A gluten-free diet is often promoted as a great way to lose weight, but this is simply not true, says Kimberly Hershenson, a New York City-based therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. "The gluten-free diet is only healthier for people with gluten-related disorders, such as celiac or gluten intolerance." Those with celiac disease require a gluten-free diet because gluten causes an adverse, autoimmune reaction in the body that damages intestines and can lead to serious health problems. Gluten alone does not designate an unhealthy diet, Hershenson says. "The overall food choices one makes within the diet, whether it's gluten-free or not, are what is important."
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6. You DON’T have to skip meals.
Saving calories by skipping breakfast and/or lunch can easily backfire and isn't a recommended weight-loss tactic, says Richard Wilcock, exercise physiologist, personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach. "It's one of the worst things you can do. As soon as you skip meals, you get hungry. Hunger causes irritability and lack of concentration that's likely to affect your work and personal life as well as making you more likely to snack or overeat." Wilcock suggests eating five small meals a day. "This keeps you full, boosts your metabolism and reduces your snack intake." Be sure to keep portions small and focus on nutrient- and fiber-rich vegetables to keep you full between meals.
7. You DON’T have to overload on protein.
A food isn't necessarily going to help you lose weight just because it has protein in it, says exercise physiologist Richard Wilcock. "Protein has exactly the same amount of calories in it as carbohydrates (four calories per gram), and a food or product that's high in protein doesn't mean it's not also high in sugar. I regularly see protein bars that have more calories in them than a bar of chocolate." In terms of losing weight, it doesn't matter what combination of nutrients you take in, as long as the amount of calories consumed in a day is less than you burn, he says.
8. You DON’T have to abstain from fruit.
Many diet plans ban fruit due their sugar content, but this doesn't consider the type of sugar contained in fruit, says Valerie Orsoni, nutritionist, health expert and founder of LeBootCamp.com. "It's about how this sugar impacts blood sugar levels based on the fruit's fiber and water content. Fructose, the sugar contained in fruits, is actually absorbed slowly by the human body and does not cause a rise in blood sugar." Plus, fruit's fiber further helps slow down the absorption of carbohydrates during digestion, helps lower cholesterol and curbs hunger. "Fruit is therefore not a hindrance to weight loss at all, but can facilitate it," says Orsoni.
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9. You DON’T have to eat fat-free foods.
Banning butter and all fat and choosing fat-free versions of your favorite foods can leave you feeling deprived. "Studies have shown that dieters are most likely to stay on a diet if they get their fix in fat," says nutritionist Valerie Orsoni. "Otherwise the body feels deprived, and staying on track proves very difficult to the point that dieters end up quitting." Instead of going fat-free, Orsoni suggests enjoying the natural, "real" versions in moderation — you'll be more likely to stay on the path to successful and permanent weight loss. "Also, manufacturers of fat-free products tend to compensate for the lack for fat with lots of sugar," she says. "So the fat-free saving grace ends up working against you."
What Do YOU Think?
Are you trying to lose weight? What things are you doing or not doing? Or maybe you've already lost the weight. That's great! How did you do it? Did you follow any of the advice in this slideshow? Is there anything else you'd add? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments below!