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The Real Skinny on Hot (or Not) Fat-loss Fads

By Kelli Calabrese MS, CSCS, ACE and Christopher R. Mohr, MS, RD, PhD

Getting and maintaining a fit body takes work; thereís just no way to cut corners and be successful. However if you are confused by exactly how to go about attaining a fit and healthy body, you are not alone. Fortunately, nutrition and fitness experts, Kelli Calabrese, MS, CSCS and Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, are here to give you the skinny on todayís ďHot or NotĒ diet and fitness claims so you can stay on track to getting and keeping a lean, healthy physique.

Hot or Not? Eliminate carbohydrates to drop weight and firm up
Not: Carbohydrates have been demonized in the popular press. While refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, white rice, white bread, etc.) should not be the mainstay of your diet, whole grain and high fiber carbohydrates are an important part of any healthy weight management program. Think oatmeal, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, wheat berries, bulgur wheat, quinoa, and legumes. Think fiber, not carbohydrates. If itís low in fiber, it should be low on your list of choices.

Hot or Not? The only way to lose weight is to eat like a bird and drastically reduce calories
Not: While a modest reduction in calories is necessary to decrease overall body weight, reducing calories too drastically will cause you to lose your firm muscles. A good baseline for your ideal total caloric intake is to multiply your bodyweight by 11. Consuming less than that number of calories will result in weight loss.

Hot or Not? Drinking green tea may help speed up metabolism and enhance fat loss
Hot: Green tea extract may increase metabolism. A study published in 2003 in Obesity Research actually showed that people who were habitual tea drinkers for 10+ years had a 19.6 percent reduction in body fat compared to those who didnít drink tea!

Hot or Not? Eliminate certain fruits and vegetables, like carrots and bananas, from your diet because they are high in sugar
Not: Some fruits and vegetables are more highly concentrated with sugars, but no fruit or vegetables should be eliminated from any diet. They provide a rich source of nutrients that canít be obtained from any other foods.

Hot or Not? Supplementing with fish oil may enhance weight loss
Hot: Preliminary research presented in Obesity Research suggests that when comparing two groups of overweight women during a 3-week weight loss trial, those who supplemented with omega-3 fats had greater weight losses than those who did not. This study did not suggest an ideal dose, but most research suggests supplementing with approximately 1-2 g/day.

Hot or Not? Eating late at night makes you fat
Not--kind of: Thereís a caveat with this one. The problem is that most people donít make healthful choices when itís Friday night at midnight. If your late night options are pizza and beer, itís wise to pass them by. On the other hand, if youíre craving fruit, whole grains or lean proteins, long as you havenít already surpassed your calorie allotment for the day.

Hot or Not? Skipping breakfast helps keep calorie intake lower throughout the day
Not: According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in February 2005, total calorie intake and cholesterol levels were actually lower in women who ate breakfast throughout a fourteen-day period, compared with women who skipped breakfast. No need for a sit-down buffet each morning, but at least grab a yogurt, piece of fruit or granola bar for a quick on-the-go meal.

Hot or Not? Calcium increases fat loss
Hot: Recent research has suggests that those with higher calcium intakes have lower levels of body fat and lower body mass indexes. Calcium isnít independently responsible for this change, however; weight loss also requires a moderate reduction in calories. But since calcium is crucial for women anyhow, consider supplementing and choose foods high in calcium, like yogurt and other low-fat dairy sources.

Hot or Not? Supplements that claim to suppress cortisol levels aid weight loss
Not: Products sold on infomercials typically have little merit. Using these supplements will make only one thing smaller...your wallet. Donít fall for quick fixes, gimmicks, or trends; stick with proven mechanisms to lose weight.

Hot or Not? Eliminating fat from your diet is necessary for weight loss
Not--kind of: Reducing fat intake decreases the number of calories consumed, resulting in weight loss. But low-fat food items that are loaded with sugar are often higher in calories than the higher fat counterparts, so steer clear. Do limit saturated and trans fats, but do not eliminate fats like those from fish (see above), nuts, flax and olive oil.

Hot or Not? Fruit juice or other ďnaturalĒ products are a better choice than sodas and other calorie-dense drinks
Not: While fruit juices might offer some more vitamins and minerals, they are also a concentrated source of calories. Stick with water, flavored if you prefer, tea (see above) and other non-caloric drinks. Youíll get much more bang for your buck by eating calories rather than drinking them.

Hot or Not? Not eating after a workout will prolong the ďfat burningĒ effects from the exercise
Not: Eating after a workout is arguably one of the most important meals of the day (tied with breakfast). This meal will help refuel your body and help it repair itself prior to the next dayís workout.

Hot or Not? Strength training will bulk me up
Not: Genetically, women do not have the means to add large bulky muscle. Men build muscle easier because they have higher testosterone levels. Typically women need to use more resistance to increase their lean muscle mass and ultimately their metabolism.

Hot or Not? I can lose fat through exercise alone, without changing my diet
Not: The road to fat loss is a long, slow one if you exercise without making healthful food choices. A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition showed that reduction in the percent of body fat and total fat mass were significantly improved in those who combined diet with exercise.

Hot or Not? Aerobic Exercise will boost my metabolism.
Not: Think about marathon runners in the 60ís and 70ís. They have very little muscle and itís muscle which is responsible for driving your metabolism. Excessive aerobic exercise can burn up lean muscle. Strength training must be performed with aerobic exercise to maximize your metabolic boost.

Hot or Not? Liquid "cleanses" like the 48-hour Hollywood Diet are a great way to feel better in my clothes by the weekend
Not: The scale may be lower after 48 hours, but this transient weight loss will turn into weight gain once you eat real food again. You are also at risk for losing lean metabolically active muscle.

Hot or Not? If celebrities endorse it, it must be good
Not: Do not be fooled by celebrity product endorsements. The actors or models did not attain their fit bodies from the quick, easy ďmagical solutionĒ touted. Like you, they also had to invest hard work and dedication.

Hot or Not? If a food label reads ďlow carbĒ or has a low number of net carbs, it's good for me
Not: If your tongue has to do gymnastics to pronounce the ingredients on the label, itís likely not in your best interest to let it past your lips. If a food comes in a box, bag or wrapper, it should be low on your list of choices. Select foods that are closer to their natural state (fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, yams, etc). Food quality is key.

Hot or Not? I can trust restaurant menus to be truthful when they describe items as low-fat, low-calorie, heart-healthy, etc.
Yes: The FDA governs the claims on restaurant menus. However, be sure you pay attention to the serving sizes. Order with caution.

Hot or Not? All calories are created equal
Not: Protein, carbs, and fat give your body an approximately 25percent, 10percent and 5percent metabolic boost, respectively. Meals should contain a combination of all 3. And because all macronutrients are not created equal, focus on lean proteins, whole grain carbs, and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil and almonds.

Hot or Not? If I resistance train while on a very low calorie diet, I will preserve my muscle mass
Not: A study published in the late 90s concluded that 4 weeks of resistance training did not prevent or reduce the decline in muscle and resting metabolic rate associated with a very low calorie diet. Moral of the story: starving yourself will work against you when trying to lose weight , especially if you want to look fit and healthy.

Hot or Not? I havenít worked out in awhile so my muscle has turned to fat
Not: Muscle and fat are two completely different systems. One cannot convert to the other. To build lean muscle mass, a stress must be imposed on the muscles (i.e. through strength training) combined with a balanced diet including enough protein and calories to support muscle growth. To lose fat, a negative caloric deficit must be imposed which should ideally come about through a combination of reducing calories and increasing activity.

Hot or Not? To lose more fat, exercise at higher intensities
Hot: A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition concluded that a significant loss in body fat occurred in a group that exercised at a high intensity (80-90percent of maximum heart rate), while no significant change in body fat was found in the lower intensity group which exercised at 60-70percent of maximum heart rate, even though there was no significant difference in total work between the groups. But remember, it takes time to build up your capacity to work at high intensities and it is uncomfortable to maintain it for any length of time.

Hot or Not? Iím too old to add resistance training?
Not: A study conducted by Dr. Wayne Wesctott showed improvements of over 400 percent in strength for a group of 14 nursing home residents whose average age was 89. No matter what your age--35 or 85--resistance training is beneficial!

We invite you to digest these facts and apply them to your training and eating to achieve a lean, firm and fit body. Be encouraged by this information and use it to your advantage.

Hot or Not: If I hire a personal trainer, I can have a body like the ones on the covers of fitness magazines
Kind of: Those who work with a personal trainer, see better results than those who go at it alone. Realize that you can overcome trouble spots and genetics to a certain degree, but you may never look precisely like the cover models. Strive to be the physical best you can be.

Hot or Not: One fast food meal is enough calories for the day.
Yes Ė But: A typical fast-food meal (double cheeseburger, soda, fries, and a dessert) can contain, at 2,200 kilocalories, enough energy to power a 120-pound person through an entire marathon, however, to maximize the thermic effect of food, you want to spread your calories out throughout the day, eating every 3 Ė 4 hours. Of course your food choices should also come from more nutrient rich foods.

Hot or Not: I can reduce the number of fat cells on my body through diet and exercise
Not: We are all born with a certain amount of fat cells. At any given time there is a surplus of calories fat cells will swell to a maximum capacity and new fat cells can be added. This is especially true during puberty and pregnancy. Once a fat cell is developed, it can shrink, but will never away unless surgically removed. (Pollock & Willmore, 1990).

Resting fat metabolism is lower in women than in men
Hot: When adjusted for differences in lean body mass men have a higher metabolism than women. (Nagy et al., 1996; Toth et al., 1998). So ladies, donít be discouraged when you start a diet and exercise program with your male counterpart and they see results faster!

For women, the hips and thighs are more prone to storing fat than the abdominals
Hot: Women tend to have a greater number of alpha receptors in the hip and thigh regions (Blaak, 2001). This favors the storage of fat, as opposed to the mobilization of fat, in the hip and thigh region. The reverse is also true such that when the body is in a negative caloric state it will take fat from the hip and thigh areaís last, but when in a positive caloric state, it will put fat on the hips and thighs first.

Hot or Not: Time spent watching television is the one behavioral variable most predictive of obesity.
Hot: TV watching is far more likely to lead to obesity and diabetes than any of the other sedentary behaviors. (Hu and Gortmaker). When people watch TV, not only are they not burning many calories, they are likely consuming the least healthful of high calorie foods like chips, cookies and ice cream.

Christopher R. Mohr, MS, RD, PhD is a is a consultant, author, and freelance writer. He is a consultant for Discovery Health Channel and the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association and has worked with supplement companies to provide research and or formulations for dietary supplements. He is on the Advisory Board for Men's Fitness, and has also written nearly 500 articles for consumer publications. or contact him at

Kelli Calabrese MS, CSCS, 2004 Personal Trainer of the Year - Online Training. Kelli is a 20 year fitness industry leader. She has 3 fitness related degrees and 24 Fitness, Nutrition and Lifestyle related certifications. Kelli is the former Lead Fitness Expert for eDiets and eFitness and remains a regular contributor. Kelli is the author of Feminine, Firm & Fit - Building A Lean Strong Body in 12 Weeks She has transformed thousands of bodies just like yours. She is available for phone coaching, online training, grocery shopping tours, seminars, and media opportunities. For more information go to
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