Nour Zibdeh is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, speaker and author specializing in nutrition therapy and digestive conditions coaching. Bev Jedlinski is a certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist and yoga instructor for Storm Fitness. Both women offer their insight for a healthy summer as they challenge prevailing fitness beliefs.
Myth #1: You should generally count your calories and measure portion sizes if you want to lose weight.
Zibdeh: What you eat can speed up or stall weight loss, regardless of calories. An anti-inflammatory diet will help you balance your hormones and blood sugar, reduce pain in your joints and heal your digestive system, which will all help you lose weight long-term. In my practice, instead of recommending a general anti-inflammatory diet, I take a step further and customize my patients’ plans based on food sensitivity testing. Most of my patients, especially those who have been stuck in their weight-loss journey, are able to lose weight continuously without measuring portions or restricting calories.
Jedlinski: You must fuel your body with plentiful nutrition to provide sufficient energy and to ignite your metabolism. So many people eat the wrong things and are amazed to learn just how much they can actually eat when enjoying a diet rich in whole foods (not processed). In fact, most clients tell me it’s difficult to get all their calories in once they start eating real food, that they feel so much better and have infinitely more energy.
One of the most negative patterns we see is “Yo-Yo dieting” where severe approaches are taken to lose the weight, and as soon as the person returns to their regular way of eating, they gain it all back and more. With nutrition plans, there are times when specific programs work well for particular medical or dietary needs (such as thyroid issues, Celiac disease, food intolerances and more). There are definitely people who thrive on plans like Keto or intermittent fasting, just to name a few, that can be considered on a case-by-case basis. For the most part, I advocate a balanced nutrition plan abundant in whole foods with treats in moderation.
Myth #2: Fad diets or exercises are not sustainable.
Zibdeh: I actually never label a diet as fad just because it’s outside of mainstream nutrition advice. We’re all very different. As we learn more about nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics (sciences that examine how our genes affect nutrients and vise versa) and about the microbiome (bacteria and other microbes in our gut) and how it affects nutrients and health, we find that each person is going to respond uniquely to different ways of eating. For example, many dietitians and nutritionists label the ketogenic diet as “fad,” but there are enough people who follow it and lose weight, have fewer digestive issues, report more energy and improve their cholesterol numbers. At the same time, there are enough people who completely feel miserable and see a negative shift in their cardiovascular disease markers, despite following the same plan. I’ve even seen that with my private clients, and maybe that’s why nutrition advice can be very confusing and conflicting.
Being open-minded helped me in my professional development and allowed me to help more people with digestive ailments. If someone wants to try a new way of eating, I suggest that they do it for one to two weeks while observing how their body feels and deciding later if it’s going to work for them or not.
Myth #3: More gym time means more results.
Jedlinski: I don’t even use the word exercise in normal conversation or training; I consider it fitness and it should not feel like something tedious, but should be comprised of activities we enjoy and benefit from doing. In fact, I prefer to call it, “training for life” to keep us vibrantly healthy.
In truth, one hour a day three times a week is great for achieving a fit body and mind. The key is consistency. Rather than trying to change everything at once, the more successful approach is making small changes one by one that become habits you can incorporate into your daily life. It need not be a drastic overhaul, but a shift to making better choices such as drinking more water, walking a little further, eating more whole foods and taking it one day at time. There is no magic trick or hidden secret; it’s all about a healthy approach to fitness and nutrition that is sustainable for a lifetime.
Myth #4: Constant grazing boosts your metabolism.
Zibdeh: I’m a proponent of eating fewer, larger meals. First of all, I believe in intermittent fasting’s ability to boost weight and fat loss. One way of doing intermittent fasting is to refrain from eating for 16 hours (have dinner at 7 p.m. and eat a late breakfast or early lunch at 11 a.m. the next day). Second, when you graze throughout the day, your body will constantly produce insulin to shuttle glucose from your blood to the inside of your cells. Insulin is a fat-storage hormone and signals your body to stop burning the extra fat reserves. And you don’t have to eat sugar for your body to produce insulin—healthy whole grains like oatmeal, fresh fruit and yogurt will trigger an insulin release. And finally, since I specialize in digestive conditions, gut health is always on my mind. The muscles that make up your digestive tract contract through a series of motions that move waste, undigested foods and bacteria downstream through your gut. This cleaning movement needs three to four hours to be completed and gets interrupted every time you eat, which could lead to overgrowth of bacteria in the upper parts of the digestive tract instead of being swept away downwards.
Myth #5: Cardio is crucial to losing weight.
Jedlinski: I believe strongly in a combination of strength training, conditioning (cardio) and yoga, along with proper and plentiful nutrition. When it comes to weight loss, I believe nutrition is 80 percent of the battle. You’ve heard the cliche that you simply cannot outwork a bad diet, and it is true. Eating right is the No. 1 most important factor in losing and maintaining weight.
Incorporating strength training is critical as well to preserving healthy muscle mass and bone density. If we believe (and I do) that one pound of muscle burns an extra 50 calories a day while the body is at rest, this means our resting metabolic rate rises accordingly with our muscle mass. Cardio simply does not produce muscle, and too much can effectively cannibalize muscle. This is also an essential factor in functional aging, as we begin to lose muscle mass and bone density in our 30s and must work to maintain or even gain for a more active lifestyle to long extend our golden years.
That being said, cardio conditioning is important. Interval training (short spurts of high intensity movement followed by equal measures of lower intensity work) is very effective for fat burning. Cardio is a component of fitness training and weight loss, but it is not the key. Moreover, slugging it out with steady-state cardio on the treadmill for hours on end is boring and counter-productive, and not nearly as rewarding as other conditioning activities with much greater returns. Additionally, even short 15-minute walks are great for a bit of daily cardio and to keep our bodies moving and pumped.
Summer wellness philosophies
Zibdeh: Hydration is most important. Eat lots of vegetables with a lot of different colors. Eat colorful fruit too, but eat more vegetables. Smoothies are popular in the summer, and if you enjoy them, try new leafy greens like parsley or cilantro and add a high quality protein to your smoothies. If you’re up for dessert, only enjoy what you absolutely love and savor. Be active and keep on moving.
Jedlinski: Fitness is a lifestyle. A commitment to a fitness program can be completely transformative. It is an investment in you to live a happier, healthier and longer life being able to enjoy yourself, your friends and family, and your activities independently. It is not a temporary fix, a short-term solution or a sprint. It is an evolving journey, more like a marathon, one that should not feel anything like deprivation. Rather, a fitness lifestyle should bring you the joys of getting stronger, having more energy, increasing your capabilities, improving your flexibility and agility, reducing stress, enhancing sleep quality and generally flourishing. Fitness is both physical and mental, and there are endless benefits to your body and mind that will reward you for a lifetime to come.