Expert Solutions: Metabolism Mistakes

There is a lot of misinformation out there about dieting and exercise.  People DO want sustainable results, but many can’t judge the difference between quick fixes and the legitimate, permanent strategies for losing weight. Common mistakes may include: skipping meals or snacks, working out on a empty stomach, shunning certain foods or food groups (carbohydrates for example), yo-yo dieting, and not lifting weights for fear of "bulking up".   So, what are the TOP metabolism mistakes? How do these mistakes affect a person’s progress or overall health, and why do people keep falling into these traps?
Mistake #1: Using Diet Pills
JEN (SparkPeople Community Leader)
I get a lot of "Ask the Expert" questions about diet pills.  I think most people know that they shouldn't take them long term, but don't really understand why.  Many times they think it's okay to give them a jumpstart to losing weight, or just to keep them from feeling hungry all the time.  They don't realize they can accomplish this through the food choices they make and how they space their meals throughout the day.  I would have thought that there has been enough negative press about diet pills that everyone would know to stay away from them, but apparently the power of advertising is stronger!
BECKY (SparkPeople Dietitian)
I'm in the nutrition field, and weight loss supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry, with little controls. One can become a millionaire within weeks, and then the FTC and the FDA may shut them down—for a while—until they rephrase their claims on a fancy new bottle with a sexy spokesperson.
NICOLE (SparkPeople Fitness Expert)
I agree with Jen and Becky about the diet pills.  For someone with average nutrition knowledge, these claims are easy to believe.  Most people don’t even question effectiveness, and they assume that since it’s on the shelf it's has to be safe.
I think there are a couple reasons people will take these pills. One, they do not understand or know that the FDA does not regulate them, and two, the word "natural" makes them think it is safe. In fact, the word “natural” isn’t regulated either, so anyone can put it on their label.
Mistake #2: Severely Restricting Calories
It seems like severely restricting calories is just something that people are accustomed to. When you're about to go on vacation, you "diet" (starve) because "that's what people do." It's common to think "well, if cutting 500 calories will take off a pound a week...why not cut 1000 or more to lose more weight in the same amount of time?" 
Sadly, in a society focused on appearance, beauty, and bodies, people feel overwhelming urges to "do whatever it takes" to reach their goals, sacrificing their health to get the body they want, because they rate that as something much more important than health and longevity. 

It would be nice if metabolism was as simple as balancing a checkbook—you put in so many calories, spend so many, and you can predict exactly what your balance will be. But it isn’t that simple. By eating too few calories, you actually change your body’s rule and priorities, making it harder to lose weight—especially fat. When your food intake goes down too low, your body slows its metabolism in an effort to reduce calorie expenditure to match intake, and protect your energy reserves (fat). You might still lose weight, but it will come from the wrong places (like muscle and organs) while it holds onto fat to preserve your energy reserves until the “famine” ends. That’s not what most people have in mind when they set out to lose weight.
Mistake #3: Exercising in the “Fat Burning Zone”
Another common myth is that it is good to exercise at lower intensities so that you are in the "fat burning zone".  I have even heard people say that their personal trainers told them to work out this way, which is another reason people shouldn't believe everything they hear!  A lot of cardio machines also have the picture of the "fat burning zone" on the machine, or have "weight loss" programs, which most people figure is what they need.  Then they get frustrated because their progress is so slow and don't understand why.
Mistake #4: Focusing on One Thing at a Time
JOE (SparkPeople Fitness Coach)
Metabolism includes many different variables: sleep, nutrition, fitness, stress management, etc., all of which work together to help the body function at a higher level. There seems to be a tendency to work on one thing at a time, with the idea that once you’ve "mastered" that one thing, you can move on to the next one. Unfortunately, losing sight of the importance of the “other” areas keeps you from seeing improvements. We may fall into this trap because of things we were taught at a young age—to focus on one thing at a time. 
DEAN (Behavioral Psychology & Stress Management Expert)
Speaking of sleep, there is a large and growing body of research showing that even mild sleep deprivation has adverse effects on metabolism. There are several pathways involved here, but one of the main mechanisms appears to involve leptin and insulin (hormones associated with appetite). Apparently sleep deprivation generates the same biological state as sustained calorie deprivation: high night-time cortisol levels, which in turn leads to insulin resistance and decreased concentrations of leptin (the appetite-suppressing hormone released by body fat). In effect, your brain starts thinking you're in the middle of a food scarcity situation, and turns your appetite up several notches, and reduces your need for sleep even more so you have more time for foraging.