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How to Start a Weight-Loss Program

Debunking Common Weight-loss Myths

Are your thoughts and habits keeping you fat? Believe it or not, the biggest obstacle to losing weight can be your own misconceptions about dieting. To see if your beliefs may be holding you back, read the following statements and decide which ones you believe are true. Then read the brief discussion after each statement to learn the facts, so you'll know what works and what doesn't.

If I skip breakfast or lunch, I will lose weight faster.

Eating fewer meals can actually lead to weight gain and added body fat. In fact, one study showed that people who skip breakfast have a four to five percent lower metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories to maintain vital functions when at rest) than those who do not. When you skip meals, your body fights back by slowing down the rate at which you burn calories. Believe it or not, you will lose weight more efficiently if you eat several small meals a day rather than one or two large meals.

As long as a food is fat-free, I can eat as much of it as I want without gaining weight.

Fat is indeed the most concentrated source of calories in our diet: A gram of fat provides nine calories, while a gram of carbohydrate or protein provides only four. So cutting down on the amount of fat you consume can be an efficient way to lower your calorie intake as well. However, just because a food is fat-free doesn't guarantee that it's low in calories.

As a matter of fact, when manufacturers remove the fat from a food product, they sometimes replace it with so much sugar that the fat-free product ends up providing more calories than the original product. And consuming more calories than you need -- no matter where they come from -- will cause you to gain weight. So while limiting dietary fat can be beneficial to your health and can be a simple way to trim excess calories from your diet, you must also keep tabs on-and reign in -- the number of calories you consume at the same time.

I want to lose weight, but unless I lose it fast and see results right away, I know I won't stick with the program.

If you lose weight fast (more than a pound or two a week), you are more likely to lose some muscle. Think of muscle as your body's engine. The larger the engine, the more gas it burns. If you lose too much muscle during weight loss, your engine becomes smaller and you need less "gas," or fewer calories, to keep it running. As a result, you'll actually gain weight if you eat the same number of calories that you previously consumed to maintain your old weight. Losing weight fast makes it harder for you to keep the weight off in the long run. Keep that in mind if you get tempted to switch to a fast-weight-loss fad diet or feel like abandoning your weight-loss efforts altogether.

I know that I can't eat at my favorite restaurants and still lose weight.

It's possible dine at any kind of restaurant today -- from fast food to five star-without compromising your weight-loss efforts. Granted, when you eat away from home, you may have less control over how the foods are prepared and which ingredients are used, but you can control which foods you choose and how much of them you consume. The secret is to know how to approach the restaurant challenge.

I have to give up "real desserts" to reach my goal weight.

You don't have to forgo your favorite foods or "goodies" to lose weight. Most people eat for pleasure as well as nutrition. If you love pie á la mode, just eat it less often and/or in smaller portions. Better yet, think substitution, not elimination.

I know the best way to lose my flabby stomach and thighs is to do sit-ups and leg lifts.

Actually, spot reducing doesn't work. When you lose fat, it comes from your total fat reserves, and you have no control over what part of the body those fat reserves will come from. Spot exercises can tone and strengthen muscles in specific areas. But, aerobic exercise -- such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or aerobic dance, for example -- is the best way to burn fat. The bottom line: You'll burn more fat from around your middle (as well as from other fat-laden areas) if you take a brisk 20-minute walk than if you do 100 sit-ups.

I would rather jump in the sauna and sweat off a few pounds than exercise.

You can't bake, sweat, or steam pounds off. Sweating without exertion causes only a temporary water loss, not a fat loss. The water lost will be quickly regained as soon as you have anything to eat or drink. And remember, sauna suits, rubber belts, and nylon clothes designed to make you sweat during exercise can actually damage your health. To avoid potentially deadly dehydration and heatstroke, it's important to replace fluids lost during exercise and allow your body's natural thermostat to regulate your temperature.

I will only feel successful if I reach my target weight.

Success means more than a number on the scale. It is an ongoing process that is rewarded each time you make a positive lifestyle change. So, don't be a slave to your bathroom scale. Put your time and effort into what really counts: keeping accurate records, and increasing your daily activity. Habits, not the daily fluctuations on the scale, will determine whether or not you achieve long-term success.

If I can't exercise strenuously for hours at a time, it really won't help me lose weight.

In general, experts agree that what's most important for improving health and controlling weight is replacing sedentary habits (like sitting in front of the television or computer) with activities that involve movement. All physical activity-whether it's running a track or a vacuum cleaner -- counts.

According to the government's latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2005), it's the total amount of time spent in active pursuits that's most important when it comes to weight control. Although 30 minutes a day can help lower risk of chronic disease, to really manage your weight, the guidelines say you'll probably need to gradually work up to getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week (coupled with a calorie intake that doesn't surpass your needs).

But you don't have to get that 60 minutes of activity all at one time. Putting in a few 10- to 15-minute bouts of physical activity throughout the day-such as before work, during your lunch hour, and after dinner -- will work just fine.

And what about intensity? Although vigorous exercise (fast-paced aerobic activities such as jogging that really get your heart pumping) will burn the most calories, you'll still lose pounds if you couple moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking) with sensible eating. Even housework and gardening chores that get you working up a sweat-such as raking the lawn, scrubbing the bathtub, or washing the windows-count.

I just don't have the willpower it takes to lose weight and keep it off for good.

Lasting weight control is a process that takes "skillpower," not willpower. By identifying your eating habits, using the remedies in this book, and thinking positively, you can tackle your weight and win.

In the same way you can have misconceptions about weight loss, you may also have misconceptions about your own body image. In the next section, we teach you how to assess your own body image.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.