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Gaining the upper hand on weight loss

Dieting myths debunked to prevent pounds from piling on

Gaining the upper hand on weight loss

By Gina Greene

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Warm weather has arrived, and many people are sweating it out. The seasonal ritual of trying to shake off blubber hidden by winter garb has begun.

Peeling off pounds has become somewhat of a tradition for many folks in spring. They're able to drop the weight, only to see it reappear. Neither lazy nor undisciplined, they have misconceptions about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Such misunderstandings kept Rochelle Pearl, 65, of New Orleans from losing weight for years.

"We have so much temptation around us, especially in New Orleans," Pearl said. "Everything is eating here." In fact, Men's Fitness magazine gave New Orleans the honor of being one of the fattest cities in the United States.

Most people equate losing weight with suffering, said Pearl's nutritionist, Molly Kimball of the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans.

"What they think they actually should be doing is way too strict, way too hard, and it will be impossible to stick with," Kimball said.

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Pearl said she never had a weight problem as a teen-ager. As an adult, she found herself overweight without the knowledge and skills to find her way back to her former self.

After several attempts to lose weight, Pearl finally was able to trim more than 50 pounds from her frame with Kimball's help.

Pearl said that she doesn't feel deprived.

"I don't even look at it as a diet. It's a way of life," said Pearl, who used to take in 1,000 calories a day -- in soft drinks.

"I resisted at first, but when I started listening, I started losing weight," she said.

For dieters such as Pearl, weight-loss myths abound. Kimball lists the following misconceptions that can hinder weight loss:

  • Things should be fat free. Fat-free items, however, often have as many calories as the real thing. And it's calories that count. Kimball instead recommends eating low-fat products.
  • Starving can help shed pounds. Kimball advocates eating something every four hours. "Every time they eat, they increase their metabolism for several hours," Kimball said. "The body goes into fat storage mode after about four hours."
  • Fruit juices are great for dieters. "Calorie for calorie, it's just like a soft drink," Kimball said. On the other hand, the nutritionist said she's never had to cut back on a patient's fruit consumption. "No matter how much fruit they eat, it's never interfered with their body-fat loss," she said.
  • Products such as rice cakes, pretzels, crackers and baked chips are good snacks. They'll leave people wanting more sooner rather than later, Kimball said. Fiber, protein and a little fat keep a person fuller longer, she added.
  • People can eat all they want if it's rice or pasta. No dice, Kimball said.
  • 'I'm taking time for myself'

    Pearl admits exercise is part of the solution. She "never really took the time," she said, convincing herself that her age excluded her from the needs-to-exercise group.

    "I always made excuses -- I had to do this; I had to do that -- but now I'm taking time for myself."

    Exercise is a great way to keep the pounds from coming back, said Dr. Chip Lavie, co-director for cardiac rehabilitation at Ochsner.

    People regain weight because they "don't ever continue to follow a diet forever," Lavie said, "and without exercise, the same thing that caused them to become overweight in the first place then is re-established."

    Lavie admits it takes a lot of exercise to lose weight. But a little can go a long way. "What about the person who walks two miles five days a week? That person, when you add it up over a year, is losing 10 pounds of fat," he said.

    This gradual pattern mirrors the way weight is usually gained, Lavie said, since most people gain a few pounds each year only to wake up one day and realize they've gone one pound over the line.

    Lavie has a few pointers for those wanting to make exercise a healthy habit:

  • People should start slowly. Being overambitious can result in injuries or sore muscles and make them less likely to stick with exercise, he said.
  • The amount and rate of weight loss depends on the individual. "The only advantage of losing it faster is that it makes the person feel better," Lavie said.
  • Those who are sedentary with risk factors -- such high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease -- should talk to a doctor before beginning an exercise program. However, walking is a safe activity for just about anyone.
  • You don't have to be a swimsuit model to be healthy. Lavie points out that "just a little bit of weight loss can produce pretty significant improvements" in a person's risk profile.
  • Lavie and Kimball agree a healthy diet and exercise program have a symbiotic relationship needed for a long life.

    Americans are heavier than ever, but more people such as Pearl are getting the message on how to lose it -- for good.


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