Read on for an excerpt from "Become a Fat-Burning Machine" below with 10 health myths that may be sabotaging your success.
LET’S HIT RESET
These 10 Myths Are Sabotaging Your Success
As I look back, it surprises me that I could be so off. Nearly every notion that I had was wrong. And yet, each of them was rooted in some sort of fact. I didn’t make it up, but my interpretation or application was wrong.
Here are the top ten myths that are sabotaging your success.
1. DIETS WORK. I’M THE PROBLEM.On most diets I tried, I initially lost some weight, but none of them worked on a long-term basis. I always thought it was my fault that I was overweight. I just couldn’t control my eating. The formula was straightforward: I needed to go on a diet (any diet) and stick with it. Then my weight problem would be solved. In my mind, the diets were all good. I was the bad one. I was the problem, not the diet. I had no willpower.
As I look back, there was no way that those diets were going to work beyond the start. I was a fat-storing machine. It wasn’t willpower. It was my body makeup. My body chemistry was set up in such a way that each diet was just making me fatter by making me more insulin resistant. If I was losing weight, it was because I was eating less in the beginning. But in reality, many of these diets were subversively teaching my body to optimize fat storing, rather than fat burning.Sure, I lost weight initially, but as soon as I went back to my normal eating, I ended up heavier than when I began.
2. A GOOD WORKOUT IS A SWEAT STORM.I like being active and don’t mind sweating, but I thought that in order to lose weight I would have to thoroughly soak my T-shirt and have sweat pouring down my face. I had this image that fitness for people like me was a boot camp drill sergeant screaming at me, shaming me and making me feel bad about myself, making me huff and puff. I felt inadequate enough about being overweight; did I really need some guy with 7 percent body fat telling me I could do better?Unfortunately, this idea has gained purchase in the culture, thanks to programs like The Biggest Loser. That’s the real shame.
But the idea has been around for a long time. Many years go, during a summer internship in New York, my boss heard that I was bothered by the weight I’d gained in college and how out of shape I was. He volunteered to be my trainer. I was young, so this didn’t seem weird to me at the time. I thought of it as a good way to spend more time with the boss, so I agreed. He took me to his fancy gym, and as soon as we got there, he put me on the scale. I was mortified to see what I weighed, and embarrassed that he knew as well. He spent the next few weeks making me run on the treadmill until I couldn’t stop sweating. It was truly gross. Afterward, he would take me to Papaya King, the local juice place in New York, and buy me a “healthy” banana shake to recover. I would burn off 300 calories at the gym and drink 500 calories as my recovery drink. Not good, but at the time I had no idea the sabotage that was happening. Needless to say, I gained weight that summer. My boss—maybe to save face—assured me it was muscle. I know better now.
Exercise and fitness were intimidating and off-putting to me. I never performed well. The idea of being tortured for even fifteen minutes, let alone half an hour, was just so unappealing. Constant agony, out of breath, falling behind everyone, drenched. Why would I do that?
THE RESET: I never liked the gym, and I still don’t. Exercise and being fit are all about personal choices. I found that I liked to exercise outdoors with goals in mind, and that’s why I started entering races. I liked to do a variety of sports, so sometimes I swam, sometimes I ran, other times I would bike and in the winters even ski. During one summer, I decided to keep fit by carrying my golf bag on my shoulder and walking eighteen holes.
The point is that fitness worked best for me when it fit into my lifestyle. Not the other way around. What did I like to do? What gave me pleasure? What was I good at? I had to enjoy fitness to keep at it. So simple, yet so true.
The conventional wisdom of long, slow workouts (and a lot of them) being the best way to manage weight loss was going to take a lot of time and bore me to death. The worst part is that it would have little to no positive impact. Burning fat actually requires mixing it up and ignitingyour body’s fat-burner.
I learned that short, high-intensity exercise not only utilizes fat for fuel, it also influences insulin reaction and helps build the networks of capillaries that will later assist in making your body a Fat-Burning Machine. Longer duration and less intense exercise utilizes a greater percentageof fat for fuel within a certain intensity range. The point is that both have a role. Just sweating isn’t the answer.
3. YOU HAVE TO BE HUNGRY TO LOSE WEIGHT.I always equated weight loss with hunger pains. If my stomach was roaring and my mind was consumed with cravings for the food I couldn’t have, I was doing well. If I was dreaming of the next time I would eat, I was doing well. I was conditioned to believe that you couldn’t lose weight unless you could feel the emptiness in your stomach. Feeling full was a recipe for guilt. It probably meant you were cheating.
I would brag to people about the meals I was skipping. Being hungry was a badge of honor that I proudly wore on my chest. I loved to skip breakfast or “work through lunch.” But I could always feel it, and by the time I got to the next meal, I was ravenous. Like a killer whale going through a school of fish, I would eat everything I could as fast as I could. Denying myself food just set me up to overeat—and usually with the wrong foods. When you’re starving, you don’t take the time to make a nice salad!
THE RESET: Now I realize that I should feel satisfied by the food I eat, and if I am not, I should eat something more. Being hungry is exactly the wrong feeling for sustainable weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. It is what I eat that is key. I could not eat something that would trigger myinsulin and make me even hungrier.
I need complex carbohydrates loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, combined with fat and protein to engage my Fat-Burning Machine. My morning had to begin with a great breakfast or I would sabotage the rest of the day. I started to plan fat-burning snacksto keep my energy high, hunger low, and eliminate fat storing.
Eating frequent small meals and snacks throughout the day is much better for me than eating fewer larger meals. Frequent meals keep my hormones at a stable level and my Fat-Burning Machine running.
When blood sugar is stabilized, the body releases insulin to utilize food as fuel, rather than to store it as fat. Exercise combined with the wrong food choices causes hunger, stunts insulin release, and encourages fat storage.
4. HEALTHY FOOD ISN’T YUMMY.Looking back, I must have completely made this one up based on the conventional wisdom perpetuated by the food industry. It was merely a rationalization of why I ate some foods and didn’t eat others. And yet, so many people believe the same thing. I know that I am not alone.
It had nothing to do with the taste or texture of food; it had to do with my palate and what I was used to eating. Truthfully, what is more disgusting than potatoes, fried in oil with salt? But I loved them. Sometimes, I would order a club sandwich and double fries. I couldn’t get enough, and the more I ate, the more I wanted.
I had to have rice or pasta with every meal that I ate. It seemed like it was balancing everything out. I was sabotaging myself every night. Who knew?
THE RESET: It took some time to change the food I liked. I literally had to train my palate to like fresh vegetables. How? By eating them and preparing them in ways that were enjoyable. At first, I only liked carrots. To the point that I turned orange I ate so many. Gradually I became moreadventurous and moved on to broccoli, cauliflower, even the dreaded Brussels sprouts. Now I like them.
5. FRUIT IS NATURAL, SO IT MUST BE GOOD FOR YOU.While I never really liked vegetables until recently, I have always loved fruit. All types of fruit—apples, oranges, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas, strawberries. In the summer, my favorite meal was a huge fruit salad. I would buy whole watermelons, chop them up, andjust eat them throughout the day.
How bad could it be for me? Even if it is sweet, the sugar in fruit is natural, not processed. God-given from the tree or the vine, right? I thought I should be able to eat it in unlimited quantities. After a workout, I would love to have a juicy red apple or two (or three). It would taste so good, quench my thirst, and help me recover. When I was training, I was told to eat bananas to prevent cramping and to facilitate recovery. Little did I know that bananas were loaded with sugar andwere sabotaging the impact of my workouts and making me hungrier.
THE RESET: The more fruit I ate, the hungrier it made me. The sugar levels in fruit were triggering my fat-storing machine. While some fruits have less sugar than others, eating fruit made me want more fruit. I’m not saying that you have to eliminate fruit. It has its place. But it’snot the abundant cornucopia we think it is. (See the list of high-sugar, medium-sugar, and low-sugar fruits on page 81.)
6. WEIGHT LIFTING WILL MAKE YOU BULKY AND HEAVYI have naturally broad shoulders and a barrel chest. When I gain weight, one of the first places I see it is in my chest. Fear of bulking up made me very reluctant to try any sort of weight lifting.
Weight lifting also looked very hard. All of those weights! It was intimidating, to say the least. I cringed listening to the grunting and groaning that people made when they were lifting. I hated the slamming noise that the weights made. It seemed very scary for me.
There was no way I would be able to do this myself. I would need a trainer to show me the ins and outs, and I could only picture an image of the trainer barking at me.
Having said that, when I did go to the gym, I did enjoy the machines—the crunch one that you did for your abs, the shoulder press with cool grips and bars, and the hydraulic lift machine that helped me do a pull-up (couldn’t remember the last time that I did one of those before I was a Fat-Burning Machine). The problem was, I just couldn’t really figure out how it fit into my life and therefore was able to dismiss it.
THE RESET: Once I started lifting weights, beginning with small hand weights, I noticed that instead of making me bigger, adding weights to my workout made me stronger and more toned. I was able to reshape my body with weights. Strength training builds muscle and improves quality of life. I also found out that muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Fat-Burning Machines run more efficiently with strong muscles, particularly a strong lower body. I never really liked doing lunges and squats, but they work long after my workout is finished—even when I’m sleeping!
The key challenge was how to fold strength training into an aerobic program—or how to fold an aerobic program into strength training. I needed to combine the two. Doing too much of one or the other wouldn’t work.
I found that strength training was of equal importance to aerobic training. Aerobic training works to improve the cardiovascular (heart, blood vessels) and the pulmonary (lungs) systems. Strength training improves muscular strength, balance, and coordination. Strength training is important to bone density, so that I don’t become feeble and brittle.
7. BITES, LICKS, AND TASTES DON’T COUNT.I love to have just a bite or a lick of something. Some of the things that I ate were worthy of a taste—a delicious piece of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, hot bread fresh out of the oven, guacamole with crisp, salty nacho chips.
Other less worthy things came straight off my kids’ plates—macaroni and cheese, cold pizza, or baked ziti that they left after it had seen better days. It didn’t really matter if the food was good or not. I would eat indiscriminately. I was of the mind-set that it was easier to eat it off their plate than throw it away. I justified it by saying it was “just a taste.”
I thought, what was the big deal? Those bites, licks, and tastes were too small to make a difference or have impact. After all, I wasn’t eating the whole plate—I was just nibbling or sampling. There is a big difference. Notably, I never wanted to have a taste of healthy foodslike zucchini or plain Greek yogurt. My tastes always involved something sweet or high in carbohydrates. Again, it came back to my palate and brain being impulsive for those types of foods.
I see this at the supermarket, when they put out food for people to taste: a piece of pound cake, a cracker with a cheese spread, a taste of pasta, or tiny sausages with mustard. The stores aren’t stupid—they know what they are doing. They are spiking your insulin to make you hungry so you will buy more.
THE RESET: No matter how harmless my bites, licks, and tastes seemed at the time, they weren’t worth it. They were never satisfying. I always wanted more, and they destabilized my hormones. They sabotaged all of my good work. No matter how balanced I had eaten the rest of the day, it could all be undone by one bite (that was never really one bite anyway).
8. A HEALTHY DIET MEANS AVOIDING FAT.I totally bought into the idea that I had to eliminate all fat from my diet. I started buying nonfat foods. I stopped eating cheese. I found the fat-free versions of mayonnaise, yogurt, and cottage cheese. If it said “fat-free,” I was in. Even avocados were to be avoided. For my salads, only balsamic vinegar would do. As a result, I was starving all the time, particularly if I was exercising more.
Also, most of the processed food that is supposedly low in fat is high in carbohydrates. Just the opposite of what I was trying to do.
THE RESET: Fat around your gut is bad, but fat in food is not necessarily the enemy. I found that I had to keep the levels of fat up in my diet to feel full and satisfied. Fat provides energy and improves your health markers. It is fat in combination with highly refined carbohydrates orplain sugar that turns off your Fat-Burning Machine.
It is more beneficial to blend the diet based on activity and exercise. This blend may well change from meal to meal, depending on your activity. For example, begin with a diet that is 35 percent fat, 35 percent protein, and 30 percent carbohydrate. As your activity level increases, you may find you need to add more carbohydrates and decrease fat or protein.
9. IT IS BETTER TO CHEAT IN THE MORNING SO YOU CAN BURN IT OFF.No one is perfect. I certainly wasn’t. Everyone strays. For me, bagels with cream cheese were a huge temptation. Or ice cream. I had heard somewhere if I was going to go off my plan, I should do it in the morning so I could spend the rest of the day “working” it off.
But it never seemed to go that way. Once I cheated in the morning, my metabolic syndrome kicked in and I was hungrier all day—especially craving rich carbs and fat. And, psychologically, cheating early set me up with a rationalization to cheat for the rest of the day. I would think, well, I had a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, how bad can this cheeseburger be at lunch or maybe just a small bowl of this delicious spaghetti Bolognese at dinner?
I could never stop cheating once I started. I would be hungry all day long, with huge cravings for food that could only be satisfied by carbs. It was so weird. On most days, I wasn’t even tempted, but once I started I couldn’t stop. I wondered if this is how alcoholics felt. Was I so addicted and susceptible to sugar and carbs that they could have this impact on me?
And yet, the next day I would wake up and it would be back to normal. This insatiable appetite for carbs never carried over from day to day.
THE RESET: So, I had it completely wrong. If I was going to cheat, breakfast or lunch was exactly the wrong time because of the domino effect it would have on the rest of my day. It didn’t matter if I could burn off my calories. I couldn’t get my insulin stabilized, no matter how much exercise I did. The truth is that you can’t overcome a bad diet through exercise alone. Exercise can help make your body more fit, but it will not promote weight loss.
If I was going to treat myself to ice cream or pasta, it was much better to do it at dinner. The benefit was that I had less time to compound the problem I was creating for myself, and the next day I could be careful.
10. A DIET IS MISERY—ALWAYS.I always believed that when you are on a diet you have to suffer. You know the expression—“no pain, no gain.” If you actually like the food that you are eating on your diet, you will eat too much of it and it won’t work. I think this idea goes back to my past when I tended to binge on food. Once I started with a bag of potato chips, I wouldn’t stop until it was done. If I ordered Chinese takeout, I had a bad habit of finishing it all, no matter when I became full.
So my logic was that an effective diet involved foods that I didn’t actually want to eat. I figured if I didn’t like something, I wouldn’t be tempted to binge on it.
But why did I have to suffer? Was it possible to actually enjoy the new foods I was eating so I wouldn’t miss the old foods so much? I didn’t want to live my whole life hating what was on my plate.
THE RESET: You have to like the food that you are eating if you want to have a sustainable lifestyle. Meals are an essential social part of our lives. You don’t want to be the one at the dinner party miserably nibbling on a lettuce leaf. If you don’t like the food you are eating, you are depriving yourself of one of the great joys of life. You will also not be able to stay on the plan.
Instead of denying yourself, find foods that you like on the plan. When I started eating to become a Fat-Burning Machine, I found so many new foods that I loved and now look forward to—my creative egg white omelets in the morning, the inventive salads with chicken that I have for lunch, and dinners that use fish and vegetables and other fresh ingredients, blending flavors and textures in a mouthwatering way. I love the excitement of going to different restaurants and discovering amazing dishes that I never would have ordered before. It forces me to be more aware of the benefits and the consequences of different meals. And the payoff is that I can love what I’m eating without guilt or fear of sliding back.
There are probably other misconceptions lurking out there. Maybe you have some of your own. You can recognize them by their rigid absoluteness and by the fact that they don’t stand the test of real life experience. Remember, your goal is to live your life, not to put on a straitjacket. I think you’ll find that once you hit reset on your old notions, you’ll feel an exhilarating freedom—and also relief. There’s nothing worse than following a path that you know from past experiencedoesn’t lead to your goal. This time when you start, you’ll be armed with science and truth to get you where you want to go.
Now, let’s get started.
Excerpt courtesy "Fat-Burning Machine" by Mike Berland with Gale Bernhardt (Regan Arts 2015)