Fact or fiction: fat is bad for you
Fiction: While it might have a bad reputation, fat plays an important part in your bodily functions. It acts as your body's reserve tank and helps regulate your body temperature, protect organs and serve as a spare source of fuel. In particular, the body needs omega-3 fatty acids, which help control blood clotting and build cell membranes in the brain, as well as providing protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. You can get omega-3 from fish, flaxseed, walnuts, some vegetable oils – such as soybean and rapeseed (canola) oil, and some green vegetables, like spinach and Christmas Day-favourite: Brussels sprouts.
However, foods that are high in saturated fat do contribute towards weight gain. Butter, lard, chocolate, cakes, pastries and meat products, including sausages and pies, should all be eaten in moderation. On average, men should eat no more than 30 grams of saturated fat a day, while woman should eat no more than 20g a day.
Fact or fiction: you lose weight when you burn more calories than you consume
Fact: Eating high-calorie foods requires a lot of exercise to burn them off. It sounds simple, but if you don't know how many calories are in a particular food it can be difficult to judge how much exercise you need to do. Some foods that are surprisingly high in calories include cereals with dried fruit and nuts, and salads that add cheese, croutons and creamy dressings. Bananas, mangos and plums are also high in calories, as are starchy vegetables like sweet corn and potatoes.
Recognise any of the above foods in your diet? If so, you'll probably need to up the ante when it comes to exercise. Try out our daily calorie needs calculator to find out your recommended daily calorie intake. It uses your weight, age, height, gender and activeness to determine your basal metabolic rate – the base rate at which your body consumes calories – and the average daily calories you need.
Fact or fiction: you can lose fat in one specific place
Fiction: While you can target the muscles you want to tone when you exercise, this principle doesn't really apply to fat loss. For example, doing sit-ups won't specifically help you lose belly fat. Instead, whatever fat you lose when you exercise is lost throughout the body in a pattern that is determined by various factors such as age and genetics.
To shed those pounds, you need to burn calories. So if you're self-conscious about your love handles or pot belly, then running is better than doing crunches and sit-ups simply because cardiovascular exercise is a more efficient way of burning calories than targeted weight training. Don't discount lifting weights though, it's important to maintain your muscle tone – or you will lose muscle along with fat as you lose weight.
Fact or fiction: Don't believe everything your weighing scale tells you!
Fact: It's difficult to track fat loss with a weighing scale alone. Registering weight gain doesn't necessarily mean you've been stuffing yourself – it could very well be due to the fact that you've been working out. Muscle is about four times heavier than fat, which is why many athletes are heavier than they look because of their muscular bodies.
To make sure that you get as accurate a reading as possible from your scales, try and weigh yourself each week on the same day at the same time – preferably in the morning. Make a note of your weight, and after four week calculate the average. Subtract the average from your starting weight to get a more accurate gauge of how much weight you've lost. (Do note that fluids can affect your weight, since two glasses of water (about one pint) is about 450 grams of weight. However, your body will efficiently get rid of any fluids that it doesn't need.)
Fact or fiction: carbohydrates make you fat
Fiction: Some diets are based on the belief that "carbs make you fat". But while cutting carbohydrates from your diet may result in short-term weight loss, it's the excess calories found in sugar and saturated fats that make you gain weight. Eating the right carbohydrates – and by this we mean those nutrient-rich, complex carbohydrates found in wholegrain products and brown rice – can help you stay in shape. They take longer to digest, fill you up quickly, keep you feeling full longer and provide energy when you exercise.
However, there is an important distinction between complex and simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are rapidly digested and release sugar quickly into the bloodstream. Examples include white bread, honey, pastries and biscuits. Simple carbohydrates are best eaten before exercising, but eating too much can leave you unfilled and prone to energy highs and lows.
Fact or fiction: consistency is key to weight loss
Fact: Don't be swayed by all those celebrity diet stories. What works for them may not necessarily work for you as metabolism rates vary (not to mention they have a team of stylists and personal trainers who create tailored fitness programmes for them.) A more effective way of losing weight is to re-examine your dietary and lifestyle habits.
Firstly, do a bit of research to find a weight-loss plan that fits your lifestyle, and consult a doctor before you start. Then make a commitment to achieve a weight loss goal, but don't be afraid to fail and give yourself room for error. Finally, make sure that you keep going, even if you have setbacks. Practice is key to most things in life, and weight loss is no different.