Three common weight loss mistakes

by Sanaz Cordes, MD

Having practiced as a physician for almost a decade, January marks the time of year when patients inevitably express interest in what they usually ignore the rest of the year: diet and exercise counseling.  Our persistent “suggestions” regarding nutrition and exercise are often ignored, but in early January, patients are usually ready to talk about lifestyle changes to lose weight and live healthy.

Three common mistakes made by those attempting to lose weight include:

  1. An overemphasis on cardiovascular exercise
  2.  Underestimating the importance of diet
  3. The exclusion of weight training

I’ve heard patients say: “I’ve been running 2 miles a day for the last 6 weeks, and I haven’t lost any weight!”  When probed about changes they’ve made in their diet, some would say they are cutting back a little on junk food, trying to eat more produce, reducing soda…etc.  Others would say that the increased cardio has boosted their appetite so much that they are consuming the same number of calories, if not more.

Disbelief (tinged with rage) ensues when I share that cardio is great, but it only helps you get 25% of the way to success.  Diet and weight training account the for remaining 75%. The protests and lamentations this triggers include: 

But, doesn’t cardio burn calories?  Won’t weight training make me big and bulky? If I’m running, shouldn’t I lose weight anyway? 

Sadly, the answer to all of the above is no.  Much like how a “get-rich-quick” scheme is not a good business plan, a “cardio-only routine” is not an effective weight loss plan. 

Researchers have been studying weight loss patterns for years.  Some consistent behaviors of among people who lose weight and avoid gaining weight back are:

  1. Planning their meals ahead of time
  2. Tracking calories
  3. Measuring food servings
  4. Exercising at least 30 minutes per day
  5. Incorporating weight training into their exercise plan
  6. Avoiding weight loss/diet products – such as diet pills

When asked about clients’ fear of getting big, bulky muscles with weight training, THRIVE Madison’s Fitness Director, Dre Nichols says, “Weight training builds lean muscle, and lean muscle burns calories – even at rest.  Cardio only burns calories while you’re doing it.  So, proper weight training combined with a calorie-controlled diet is the best way to lose weight and keep weight off in the long run.”

With so many options available today in most metropolitan areas, reaching weight loss goals and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is more achievable than ever.   There are affordable alternatives to shopping, cooking, measuring calories, and weighing out food portions.  Stressful trips to crowded gyms can be replaced with more affordable, convenient, and fun alternatives.  And harmful weight loss pills and fad diets can be left behind in 2017. 

Let’s make 2018 the year for healthy living.