â€œLose the kilos but keep your breast sizeâ€ and 9 other weightloss myths
With so many facts, myths, half-truths and we-don’t-know-yet-but-maybe studies pinging around telling us what to do and eat in order to shed some weight, it’s hard to know which nuggets of info to take on and which to take with a pinch of salt.
To satiate our hunger for the truth, we speak to a seasoned fitness guru and a senior dietary specialist for the complete low-down.
Unfortunately, this is not scientifically or physically possible. There is no such thing as maintaining breast size while losing weight.
According to Melissa Sarah Wee, a personal fitness coach with 15 years’ experience who’s also a women’s physique competitor, everyone’s body works differently when it comes to losing weight. “Some people drop body fat in certain places first before there are noticeable results in other areas. This is because of how our fat is distributed,” she says.
As breast tissue mostly consists of fat, it’s inevitable that you will lose some size when you’re losing weight. “Genetics also play a part. Notice how 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,” Melissa explains.
While you may have heard advice that say you can maintain your boob size by doing pectoral exercises to keep them firm and lifted, Melissa says this is only accurate to a certain extent.
“Building up the pectoral major (chest muscle) will not keep breasts ‘firm’. That’s because body fat and muscles are two different tissues. Breast fat lies on top of the pectoral muscles. So what you can achieve from the results of training the chest is the illusion of a more defined cleavage as the muscles grow,” she says.
Working out too much to lose weight will make me look like a she-hulk
Cardio exercises like running, jogging and aerobics do not promote muscle gains, so you don’t have to worry they’ll make you look bulkier.
“However, doing too much cardio a day, say two hours or more, can cause your body to break down lean mass for energy. In the long run, this can lead to a reduced metabolic rate and cause your body to look flabby or ‘soft’,” says Melissa.
Neither would lifting weights cause you to look like a she-hulk. “It’s not naturally possible for women to build muscles the way a man does. It takes years of heavy lifting – by that I mean two to three times your body weight – and eating more calories to actually build that much muscle,” she says.
Cardio exercises, not resistance or weight training, is the fastest way to lose weight
True – if you’re looking at short term goals.
However, if you want to keep off the kilos in the long run, it’s best to incorporate some weight training into your exercise routine. Melissa says: “Weight training is what will help to increase your lean mass, which in turn increases your resting metabolic rate. This means the more lean mass you carry in your body, the more calories you burn while at rest.”
Gruelling exercise is the only way to really lose weight
Weight loss is really a matter of exercise and diet combined, and studies have shown that gruelling exercise can be hazardous to health.
Dr Lim Su Lin, chief dietician of the National University Hospital’s dietetics department, says: “We have seen too many cases whereby a person relies on just gruelling exercises to lose or control his weight. Many of them end up with injury or joint problems, and when this happens they start to put on weight as they continue to eat the same amount they ate when exercising strenuously.”
Cutting down or cutting out carbohydrates will help shed the kilos
For pure weight loss, it’s likely to work. Dr Lim says that because carbs like rice are staple foods in many cultures and some – like chicken rice, nasi lemak and char kway teow – are also high in fat, reducing their consumption will likely lower your overall calorie intake.
“However, I don’t 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. Studies have also shown that bad breath, muscle cramps, diarrhoea, general weakness and rashes may occur on a very low-carb diet due to the ketone-inducing effect,” says 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 risk of heart disease. Excessive amounts of protein can also stress your kidneys and likely worsen the kidney function of anyone with a pre-existing kidney condition,” she adds.
Cutting down or cutting out carbohydrates will help shed the kilos
The key, then, is to have the right kind of carbs in appropriate amount in our diet. For example, carbs such as wholegrains, fruits, beans, lentils and vegetables are rich in B vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre – the last of which enables us to feel full for a longer period of time. Choose brown rice instead of white, and wholegrain bread instead of white bread. Ditch the instant noodles and go for wholemeal beehoon, wholemeal pasta or soba instead.
Dr Lim’s suggestion for keeping tabs on calorie and carb intake? Download the Nutritionist Buddy (nBuddy) or the nBuddy Diabetes app from Google Play or App Store. “NBuddy is a local mobile app developed specifically to help overweight people lose weight. NBuddy Diabetes is for those with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, but can also be used for weight loss or for people who want to watch their carbohydrate intake. The app calculates the individual’s calorie and carbohydrate requirement and prompts when a meal exceeds them. It will evaluate the suitability of foods chosen and provide immediate prompts, and suggest culturally appropriate food alternatives if what you’ve chosen isn’t the best for you,” she explains.
Doing regular crunches will give me a flat stomach
To achieve a bikini-worthy flat tummy, you need to lower your amount of body fat. This is done through a sensible nutritional plan and regular exercise. Melissa explains: “Seventy per cent of your results depend on what you eat. You cannot out-train or out-exercise a bad diet.”
For starters, drink lots of water as most cellular activities (including fat-burning) require water to function efficiently. Cut down on starchy foods like rice, pasta and potatoes, and sugary beverages. Look to lean meats, fatty fish and eggs for your protein intake, and swop chips and chockies for berries and nuts (preferably with skin) if you need a snack.
There are foods or supplement pills that help speed up metabolism and burn calories
Dr Lim says there have been many studies done on a variety of foods believed to help with weight loss. These include green tea, chilli, caffeine, licorice and turmeric. However, there are conflicting results about their effectiveness and the current evidence does not sufficiently prove that taking them will help with increasing metabolism and weight loss.
“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 and so replacing high calorie food and drinks with them cuts down on overall calories intake. For example, if you replace all your sweetened drinks with green tea, it will work because you are indirectly also cutting down your sugar and calories intake. On the other hand, if you continue to eat unhealthily and go above your daily calorie limit, no supplements or functional foods will help you prevent weight gain or shed extra kilos,” says Dr Lim.
Dr Lim explains: “If you take a lot of sugary beverages, say three cups per 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.”
Switching to foods labeled as "low-fat" or "low-sugar" can help me lose those niggling few kilos
As Dr Lim explains, the principle of a weight loss diet is to achieve a calorie deficit. “Going for low-fat and low-sugar foods may help to cut down on calories, as fat contributes the most calories (nine per gram) while sugary foods can be easily over-consumed. But you still have to manage your food portions. Some low fat-foods can be high in sugar, like flavoured yoghurt; and some low-sugar foods can be high in fat, like diabetic chocolate or diabetic cookies,” she says.