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Weight Loss FAQs Answered by Health & Fitness Experts
Maybe losing weight is as simple as "calories in, calories out," but you're not alone if you still have lots of questions! We asked two personal trainers, a Mayo Clinic M.D., two holistic health experts and a nutritionist to answer eight frequently asked weight loss questions that can help you make smart decisions for real, lasting weight loss.
1. Is it better to exercise at high intensity for shorter periods, or lower intensity for longer periods?
Experts say: A little of both or whatever works for you.
The best way to lose weight is to exercise consistently, says personal trainer and physical therapist Rick Olderman, “If a higher intensity workout leaves you unmotivated or exhausted, work at the intensity that will keep you coming back,” he explains. “Remember, weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Personal trainer Chris Freytag believes in the consistency theory as well, but is a big fan of high intensity workouts because “most of us don’t have the time to work out for long periods.” She points out that working at a higher intensity will burn more calories but working out at lower intensities burns more fat.
Both trainers are big fans of interval training, which means mixing high intensity exercise with low intensity (a.k.a. active recovery) exercise during your workout. “It gets results and keeps it interesting,” says Olderman.
2. Does strength training make you bulkier and gain weight?
Experts say: Not really, but it depends.
Freytag says unequivocally “No!” but Olderman says it really depends on your body type. “If you tend to be a person who bulks up easily, try higher reps with lighter weights,” he recommends.
Both trainers say bulking up is actually so difficult to do (think of all the grunting body builders do when they workout!), most women shouldn't worry about it. Freytag points out that women's estrogen levels inhibit bulking up, while testosterone in men makes it easier to build muscle mass.
Olderman does warn, however, that women who tend to bulk up may want to skip typical leg strengthening exercises like squats, lunges and leg presses. “Let your cardio program be your leg strengthening routine, because it’s enough to build muscle and will help you slim down,” he says.
It’s important to note, however, that strength training has far more benefits than drawbacks when it comes to weight loss. Most important is the fact that muscles burn more calories than body fat does at a resting heart rate. “The more muscle on your body the more calories your body turns through every day at rest,” says Freytag. “Adding more muscle to your body is going to increase daily metabolism or daily calorie burn, tighten and tone your flabby areas, and make you feel better and more capable.”
3. Does eating before bed make you gain weight?
Experts say: Depends on what you eat.
Weight loss does ultimately come down to calories in versus calories burned. So eating a small healthy snack late at night will not interfere with weight loss, unless you’re consuming more calories than you need for the day. But the experts we talked to point out that usually, those who get the urge to hit the fridge late at night are more likely to reach for something unhealthy — in large quantities.
“In my experience people tend to eat sweets late at night, and their good intentions go out the window,” says Suzanne Farrell, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. The trick, Farrell says, is to eat throughout the day so that you’re not tempted to eat at night when you’re more tired and your willpower is diminished.
“I always recommend that if you’re going for a late night snack, or if you need to take food with medication or something, you try to keep it to less than 200 calories. Once you go over 300 calories it’s like adding another meal.” Some healthy snacks she recommends include lowfat yogurt or cereal, or a lowfat Fudgesicle or pudding to satisfy a sweet tooth.
4. Does eating breakfast help you lose weight?
Experts say: Yes.
“There is no better way to get your metabolism moving than eating a healthy breakfast,” says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D. She explains that food actually increases your metabolic rate, and skipping breakfast can make your body think it’s going to be starved — sending it into "conserve" mode and slowing your metabolism down.
Research shows that people who consume breakfast regularly are at healthier body weights. Why? Not only will your metabolism speed up, but eating breakfast helps with appetite control. “If you skip breakfast, you tend to feel hungrier throughout the day,” says Farrell. “And once you get too hungry, you tend to choose less-healthy meal options.”
5. Do diet pills work?
Experts say: Nope.
“No diet pill can solve the problem of weight loss,” says Farrell. You might lose weight in the short term, but to keep if off you really need to make lifestyle changes. Furthermore, diet pills can have unpleasant or unsafe side effects.
If you’re looking for an appetite suppressant, choose high-fiber foods, says Dr. Gerbstadt. “High-fiber foods like oatmeal or whole grains make your stomach feel full longer, and protein stops you from being hungry sooner,” she says.
6. Are diet foods (i.e. lowfat, fat-free, low-sugar) healthy?
Experts say: Some.
The healthiest foods are the ones closest to how the food grows in nature, explains Dr. Gerbstadt. Furthermore, when people consume lowfat or low-sugar items (foods that tend to be more highly processed) they tend to eat larger portion sizes. And in some cases, eating a diet version of a food can trigger someone to overeat.
But in some cases, Farrell says, eating lowfat versions of foods are not only OK but healthy too. Lowfat cheeses and yogurts, for example, are still high in calcium. Additionally, if you tend to have a sweet tooth, eating a lower-calorie version of a dessert can help you stay within your calorie intake and help with your weight loss goal.
7. How many meals a day should you eat to lose weight?
Experts say: Three to six meals per day.
James Rouse, N.D. advocates eating five small meals a day and is adamant that you should not skip one. “This five meal ideal will keep your metabolism burning brightly, and your brain will enjoy a steady source of fuel,” he says.
On the other hand Ayurvedic expert John Douillard, D.C., Ph.D., recommends eating only three meals a day, without snacking, in order to encourage your body to burn more fat. “Between meals, your body burns fat, which is your stable, non-emergency fuel,” he says. “If you snack then, there is no need for your body to burn its stored fat.”
Farrell's take: Again, it’s the calories that count. Some people find that eating five to six smaller meals spread out over the course of the day is the best way to keep hunger at bay, while others find eating so frequently to be too challenging. Eating three larger healthy meals, without snacking in-between, is often easier for those with hectic schedules. Ideally, says Farrell, you should aim to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with two small snacks in between. But, it’s really a matter of what works best for you given your metabolism and lifestyle.
8. Will yoga help you lose weight?
Experts say: Yes.
Yoga and meditation have a tremendous potential to help weight loss, says Amit Sood,.M.D., internist at the Mayo Clinic. “The mindfulness that yoga brings, you keep that mindfulness, not only during the time you’re doing yoga, but you carry it through the day,” he explains. “When you’re practicing yoga, you create a disciplined lifestyle.”
Dr. Sood also points out that yoga makes you fitter and more flexible and therefore enables you to do more aerobic activity. “So, from a number of perspectives, a program of yoga with meditation incorporated in it is likely to help with weight loss,” he says.
In addition to the healthy lifestyle choices it encourages, yoga also burns calories. Depending on the type of yoga you do, you can burn as many as 180 to 360 calories per hour. Vinyasa, Ashtanga and other forms of “power yoga” or “yoga fusion” are the best yoga styles for calorie burning. But any style of yoga can help you lose weight because it will help you get more in tune with your body, which in turn will result in a healthier lifestyle.