Do these 10 weight loss myths carry any weight?

Fitness guru and dietary specialist give the low-down on weight loss

With so many facts, myths, half-truths and we-do-not-know-yet-but-maybe studies about losing weight, it is hard to know which nuggets of information to take on and which to take with a pinch of salt. We speak to a fitness guru and a senior dietary specialist for the low-down.

"I can lose weight but maintain my breast size." False.

Ms Melissa Sarah Wee - a personal fitness coach with 15 years of experience and who is also a women's physique competitor - said everyone's body works differently when it comes to losing weight.

But as breast tissue mostly consists of fat, it is inevitable that you will lose some size when you are losing weight.

"Genetics also play a part. When some people put on weight, their breasts are the first to get bigger, while for others, it may be the tummy, legs or arms," said Ms Wee.

While you may have heard that you can maintain your breast size by doing pectoral exercises to keep them firm, this is true only to a certain extent.

Ms Wee said: "Body fat and muscles are different tissues. Breast fat lies on top of the pectoral muscles, so what you can achieve from training the chest is the illusion of a more defined cleavage as the muscles grow."

"Working out too much will make me a she-hulk." False.

Cardio exercises such as running, jogging and aerobics do not promote muscle gain.

As for lifting weights, Ms Wee said: "It is not naturally possible for women to build muscles the way a man does. It takes years of heavy lifting - two to three times your body weight - and eating more calories to actually build that much muscle."

"Cardio exercises is the fastest way to lose weight." True.

But if you want to keep the weight off in the long run, it is best to have weight training in your exercise routine.

Ms Wee said: "Weight training is what will help increase your lean mass, which in turn increases your resting metabolic rate - the more lean mass you carry in your body, the more calories you burn while at rest."

"Gruelling exercise is the only way to lose weight." False.

Weight loss is exercise and diet combined, and studies have shown that gruelling exercise can be hazardous.

Dr Lim Su Lin, chief dietitian of the National University Hospital's dietetics department, said: "Many of them end up with injury or joint problems."

"Cutting down on or cutting out carbohydrates will help shed the kilos." True.

As carbohydrates such as chicken rice, nasi lemak and char kway teow are also high in fat, eating less of them will likely lower overall calorie intake.

"However, I do not recommend cutting out carbohydrates completely as it may lead to inadequate intake of micro-nutrients such as folate, potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, C, B1, B6 and B7 in the long term," said Dr Lim.

"In addition, if you cut out carbohydrates but fill your hunger with high-protein and high-fat foods, it may elevate your blood cholesterol level and increase the risk of heart disease. Excessive amounts of protein can also stress your kidneys."

The key is to have the right kind of carbohydrates in the right amount.

Carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, beans, lentils and vegetables are rich in B vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, which helps us feel full for a longer period of time.

Choose brown rice instead of white, and whole grain bread instead of white bread. Also, go for wholemeal beehoon, wholemeal pasta or soba.

"Doing crunches will give me a flat stomach." False.

To achieve a bikini-worthy flat tummy, you need to lower your amount of body fat.

Ms Wee said: "Seventy per cent of your results depend on what you eat. You cannot out-train or out-exercise a bad diet."

Drink lots of water as most cellular activities, including fat-burning, require water to function efficiently.

Cut down on starchy food and sugary beverages, look to lean meats, fatty fish and eggs for protein and swop chips and chocolates for berries and nuts - preferably with skin.

"There are foods or supplement pills that help speed up metabolism and burn calories." Half true.

Dr Lim said there have been many studies done on foods believed to help with weight loss, such as green tea, chilli, caffeine, liquorice and turmeric.

But there are conflicting results and current evidence does not sufficiently prove that taking them will help with increasing metabolism and weight loss.

Dr Lim said: "In some of the studies, weight loss was observed when the subjects were also on a reduced fat and calorie diet, with exercise.

"Most of these foods by themselves are low in calories, so replacing high-calorie food and drinks with them cuts down on overall calorie intake.

"Drinking cold water helps with weight loss." False.

It does not matter if you drink cold or warm water - plain water has zero calories.

Dr Lim said: "If you take a lot of sugary beverages, say three cups a day, replacing all of them with plain water or sugar-free drinks such as green tea, plain coffee or plain tea will save you about 400 calories. Sometimes, doing that alone can help a person lose weight."

"Eating fruits after dinner makes me put on weight." False.

Fruits are rich in antioxidants and fibre, and they are good alternatives to desserts as they have lower calories.

"Switching to foods labelled as low-fat or low-sugar can help me lose weight." True.

The principle of a weight loss diet is to achieve a calorie deficit.

Dr Lim said: "Going for low-fat and low-sugar foods may help to cut down on calories, as fat contributes the most calories - nine a gram - while sugary food can be easily over-consumed. But you still have to manage your food portions.

"Some low-fat food can be high in sugar, such as flavoured yoghurt, and some low-sugar food can be high in fat, such as diabetic chocolate or cookies."

This article first appeared on 
Her World Online