I’m not saying your trainer is a liar or a bad person. It’s just that when it comes to certain issues about how diet and exercise actually affect the human body on a cellular level, many personal trainers don’t know exactly what they’re talking about. Or they do know what they’re talking about, and they continue to talk and take your money.
So before you take everything your trainer says at face value, and feel ashamed that no matter how hard you work out, your body isn’t turning into what your trainer promised you it would, ask yourself these three questions:
1) Does your trainer happen to have a PhD, Master’s, or at least a Bachelor’s degree in Biology that includes courses in Human Physiology?
2) Can your trainer talk to you in detail about the process of aging at a cellular level, especially about what’s happening to the skin on your arms and above your knees?
3) Does your trainer know how and where in the digestive system fat/protein/carbohydrates are absorbed and what happens to them once they hit the bloodstream?
I would bet not.
As someone who was FORCED to spend SIX painful years STUDYING and RELEARNING and MEMORIZING the basic science of the human body (all of my colleagues out there who made it through a pyramidal general surgery program and had to obtain high scores on the “In-Service Exam” to keep their jobs feel my pain), I am fully prepared to go head to head with your trainer who shames you by telling you that if you just keep doing the workouts they prescribe, and eat the way you’re supposed to, they can fix those things about your body that you hate.
So below are the five most common myths that every patient of mine with a trainer has been shamed into believing. I am sick of hearing them and I am here to set the record straight:
- “If I just keep working out, this will go away.”
If you’re generally overweight, yes. Fat will burn off in general and you will get thinner. But if you are at a reasonable weight for your height and build, and you are working out and taking care of yourself, and there is muffin top/bra fat/saddle bags/inner thighs that you’ve had your whole life or developed after pregnancy or menopause and just won’t budge, IT WILL NEVER GO AWAY. Unless you are twenty pounds underweight. And who has time for that?
Because while you can tone designated muscles, you cannot spot reduce your body with exercise. (ie) Running isn’t going to necessarily get rid of fat from your legs. Rowing is not necessarily going to get rid of fat from your arms.
Fat is simply a form of energy storage. Elements of Carbon, Oxygen and Hydrogen (yeah, remember that periodic table from eleventh grade chemistry?) are broken down from the food you eat and bonded together into lipids (the building blocks of fat.) Lipids are stored in fat cells. The thing is that you don’t get to pick which cells will be used for storage. When your body needs energy, it breaks those bonds and releases the energy (like gasoline in a car) from wherever it is programmed to do so. Not necessarily the part of the body you are exercising. If you want to target an area of fat, that’s a lipo, possibly a Coolsculpt, or at least a Vixen.
So for example, if you lose ten pounds, your body could use the stored fat in your face and breasts, and you could wind up with deflated boobs and a sunken, older-looking face and still have thick arms. In fact, if you’ve had thick arms your whole life, I can almost guarantee that they will stay thick.
- “If I work out my legs it will tighten the skin.”
The skin is a waterproof covering of your body. It is made of collagen and elastin and other building blocks whose names are too technical to get into here.
The main thing to understand is that the skin does not participate in your exercise regimen. It can tighten as a healing response to direct injury from things like lasers and peels. It can look better after treatment with non-invasive “skin tightening” machines like Velashape and Exilis, though long term results are still questionable.
So, contrary to popular belief, the skin does not tighten with exercise.
- “Well, then I can build up my muscle and fill out the loose skin.”
That might be true if you started taking steroids. Take a look at the skin you want to fill out and how much you have to pull it to make it look tight. Do you really want your muscles that big? And chances are, you wouldn’t be able to get them big enough without taking some questionable supplements.
In most situations where skin is really sagging, a skin excision procedure (tummy tuck, thigh lift, arm lift) is necessary to get the result you want. For the abdomen, a tummy tuck can be a good option if you are okay with the scar hidden beneath your underwear line, as the tradeoff for having tighter skin.
On an arm or leg, the scar would be hidden in most positions, but still present. So, unless you have had massive weight loss, and can’t live with the extra skin anymore, I am not recommending thigh lifts and arm lifts.
As we age, our skin just gets crappier. Childbearing also takes a toll. No matter what we do, it loses elasticity that we cannot get back.
If you stayed out of the sun when you were younger, you’re ahead of the game. But chances are, unless you are fortunate enough to have amazing genetics (which really plays the biggest role in having “tight skin”) after your mid-forties you are probably constantly bemoaning the skin on your body.
My personal solution: Spray tans
If you really have money to burn, you could do weekly Velashape treatments for the rest of your life.
But for most of us, (myself definitely included) when it comes to the skin on our bodies, in general, we have to GET OVER OURSELVES. And do the best we can. Look the best we can for our age.
We need to accept that our days parading around in a tiny bikini and getting checked out by every guy at the hotel pool may be over. That’s okay. Hopefully by now we have other, more important things going on.
Because really, besides feeding our egos, what did getting superficial attention from a bunch of strangers actually do for us, anyway?
- “If I keep working out my core, my abdomen will be flatter, and I’ll get a six pack.”
I’m talking about that situation that we all have after a certain age—that your abdomen is flat in the morning but as soon as you eat or drink something, it starts sticking out.
Even if you haven’t had kids, as we age, our abdominal walls become looser. It’s not the muscle, it’s the tissue around the muscles and holding everything together (the fascia) that is loosening. Again—loss of tissue elasticity. Like your skin, your fascia does not participate in pilates.
You can definitely make your abs muscles stronger, and you can learn to keep them tight and held in, but the fascia can’t tighten itself. And sit-ups do not flatten your abdomen.
So if you’re really doing everything you can to be fit and healthy, and your abs muscles won’t get flatter, and you still can’t see them, the answer is one of two things:
A tummy tuck with plication of the deep abdominal wall (permanent suturing inside like an internal corset)
Liposuction to get the fat off your abdomen so you can uncover the muscles underneath that you’ve been working so hard on. Remember, you cannot spot reduce fat (see myth #1)
- “If I cut down on the carbs I will lose weight.”
Weight loss is not rocket science. It’s first grade math. Although these days, kids are probably doing this kind of math before they hit kindergarten. Energy in, Energy out. All food gets broken down to simple sugars, amino acids and lipids—that’s sugar, protein, and fat. Calories are a measurement of energy in the food that you eat. Like money—it doesn’t matter how you get it, green is green. Whether it comes from sugar, fat or protein, a Calorie is a Calorie.
So don’t get caught up in the good carb/bad carb thing. All carbs get broken down to the same basic simple sugars by the time they hit your bloodstream.
If you are trying to lose weight, you need to have your energy intake be less than what you are expending.
It’s not WHAT you’re eating, it’s HOW MUCH of it.
Most of us are not completely honest with ourselves about how much we are eating. Especially if we go out to a lot of dinner meetings. Those appetizers sitting there…and it seems like you’re not eating that much because there’s still so much food left on the table.
Unfortunately, it is much easier to put energy into your body than it is to get rid of it. Running four miles barely burns off a bagel. So, unless you are a professional athlete training for the Olympics, or Natalie Portman preparing for Black Swan, most weight loss has to do with HOW MUCH YOU ARE EATING—not necessarily WHAT you are eating—and not how much you’re working out.
If you feel that you are dieting and exercising and not losing the weight that you want to, the best way to get a handle on it is to start recording into your phone notepad whatever you eat throughout the day. It sucks, but things add up quickly.
So those are the main self-deprecating quotes I hear from women who can’t seem to meet their workout goals. Whether it’s a trainer telling them, or they are telling themselves these things, they are inaccurate.
To be clear, I am not advocating body contouring or skin tightening procedures as a replacement for working out and keeping a healthy diet. Addressing resistant areas of fat is a supplement to–and should only be performed–in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle.
If you are already taking care of yourself, having a procedure that targets a certain area might even give you a kick-start if you are stuck at a plateau.
For instance, wouldn’t you be more motivated to work out and eat less if your thighs didn’t rub together while you’re on the treadmill, or you didn’t have to keep re-arranging your LuLu Lemons to keep your muffin top or post-baby sagging abdominal wall skin from getting exposed? Those are legitimate concerns.