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.
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Member Comments

Note to self: Read more on cortisol and leptin. Report
good points Report
Some good information that really addresses some if my frustrations. I would like to improve my sleep patterns. Report
Thanks! Report
I went to see an endocrinologist last night...primary physician said I had a sluggish thyroid (below range)..9 months to heave the advise of a paramedic..see a thyroid Dr. (endocrinologist)
; 2) My sugar level recently been spiking as well(sugar has always been 92 even after meals not more than 102); I have a family hx. of belly fat(apple shape)..hence, Dr. Elia K(Bayridge, Brooklyn) is testing cortisol(stress hormone)...metabo
lic syndrome occurs in people as they age causing Diabetes..belly fat is a visual indicator of type 2 Diabetes. ...(cortisol occurs 4 hours upon waking, low lighting, low stress, no texting, avoiding toxicity helps). Dr. Oz doesn't eat breakfast..or eats when he's hungry..not to tangent, I do have a 10gm protein smoothie before leaving house..1/4c yogurt, .5cup of 40 cal almond milk, 1/4 scoop protein powder/whey)...I try to hold off eating or having coffee for 4 hours/cortisol time. 4) Always carry my go to protein for workday i.e, soup/2oz chicken/spinach/b
oullion, 6gm sugar yogurt-yoplait/15
g protein, tuna-peppered on salad/rice vinegar/apple cider vinegar-belly bloat, 5 cherry tomatoes, 4 kalameta olives, 2 pickled beets(probiotic), cup of coleslaw/1tb beans/1/4c yogurt, apple cider v..tasty..but preference. Sleeping 7-8 hours...lost 3# this week. 5) Weight ball side to side during grid lock traffic/no time for exercise ;-) sorry tmi Report
Great points. For me, it was important at the beginning to work on changing only one or two things at a time. While I kept all the healthy aspects in mind, I didn't want to overwhelm with too many changes at once. It worked for me. Now I keep them all in mind and work to have a balance. Report
I've tried diet pills a couple times when I had really lost touch with myself and food control. And it was miraculous of course. But when one goes off the pills there is a bad rebound effect. This last time I regained 70 in a year. So now I am coming down from 289, just fixing little habits. Currently wrestling at 261 with holiday temptations everywhere, but every pound lost (almost 30 this year) I did through thinking about it, reading and learning, tracking foods and effects, getting diagnosed now with diabetes and not wanting to take insulin shots, learning most especially that I can be imperfect and not throw it all away or "start over." So I guess I am saying that while diet pills are humane in a way, taking away the "pain" of hunger at first, if you are eating correctly for your body and situation, then in a few days or weeks, you naturally aren't as hungry. Like - it doesn't even make sense to eat foods that make you hungry and agitated when you are supposed to eat to quell hunger. Right?

It's the same as - When my sugar is elevated I am voracious, and before I was monitoring my blood sugar, this equated to feeling like I had "low blood sugar" and must eat something. And the excess sugars would be sent to fill up the fat cells. So there is a good pay off for testing and regulating that and really quelling the hunger by not stimulating it in your own body with blood sugar raising foods, even if you are not "diagnosed." Having a blood sugar meter reveals how food affects you and which ones create cravings and which not.

So needless to say I am no longer on the diet pill band wagon, because there are no short cuts to un-learning all the weird stuff we thought was "normal" growing up. Like, here's a cookie instead of a hug. Try to go for what you really want and need. And take small conscious steps. Being older the slowness would bother me because I don't feel endless time like when i was young, but I'd rather pass really having learned this stuff and doing a good job with it every day than the misery of uncontrolled wei... Report
The only issue I have is sleep deprivation. I haven't sleep well for 25 years. I don't think that's going to change. And there isn't really anything I can do about it. Report
Why Shouldn't I exercise in the fat burning zone? Report
It just kills me that people still fall for the diet pill trap. I would love to have the pounds melt off fast too but even I won't go that route. It's too bad that they aren't regulated.
Good grief! I've broken every "rule" in the book. Is it any wonder I'm fat! ACK! Report
My metabolism is almost non-existent. No wonder ,.. Unfortunately, I've spent a lifetime breaking all the rules. Report
I love the SP program and I really appreciate the time and energy devoted to providing good information to the members so my comments are about content and not about the good people that contributed to this article.

I strongly agree with three of the four mistakes. I do take exception with the blanket comment that exercising in the fat burning zone is a mistake. When I walk I cannot walk fast enough to get my pulse above the fat burning zone due to a surgically repaired left knee. I've dealt with it since 1963 and have finally reached the point where I can no longer run due to the knee. I'm 70.

I understand that I cannot get the speed to raise my pulse but can walk hilly routes and keep increasing the incline on the treadmill to get the best workout I can. I know it takes longer to burn calories at my speed but it works for me and I know there are other Sparkpeople who have to do the same thing.

I would agree with you that working out in the fat burning zone isn't ideal but I strongly disagree that it is a mistake for all people.

Lew Report
That is SO true about diet pills. They killed my mother. She was on that Dexatrim, and it gave her a stroke. So I don't go near that aisle in the store. Report


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