Debunking 3 Common Weight-Loss Myths

Why service members should avoid fad diets
Fad diets are not the answer to sustainable weight loss. (Lance Cpl. Crystal Druery/Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego)

I have had an alarming number of emails that asked similar questions about quick weight loss through diets, diet pills or profuse sweating. Here is one email question that I would like to discuss in order for others to understand the facts and myths of healthy weight loss.

"I was looking at your website on how to lose weight. I have been running with a sauna suit to lose weight and want to lose about 20 pounds in 2 weeks. Is that even possible?"

First, a healthy amount of weight loss is 2-3 pounds a week. Some health professionals lean more toward 1-2 pounds a week as a healthy amount of sustainable weight loss. So, no, dropping 10 pounds a week is not possible in a healthy manner.

Sure, you could do it, but it is all water weight. I remember at SEAL training, during a six-mile ocean swim in December, most of my class lost 10-12 pounds in less than four hours. But we gained it all back as soon as we started eating and rehydrating.

Here are some myths of weight loss and a discussion on how to lose weight, keep it off and get healthier at the same time.

Sweat suits

For decades, many people have used sweat suits, garbage bags or saunas to lose weight quickly. You will lose weight in the form of sweat, which is water and electrolytes, but you will gain it back as soon as you eat again or drink water. This myth seems to have spread through the wrestling, boxing and other sports gyms, where people need to lose a few pounds to make a weight class.

But sweating excessively has no useful purpose in health weight loss. The dangers of sweating to lose weight are severe. They include overheating (heatstroke), extreme loss of electrolytes (kidney damage/death) and other cardiovascular-related emergencies.

The diet pill

The only way to lose weight is to burn fat by reducing caloric intake, exercising more or a combination of moderate eating and exercise. There is no pill that can help you burn fat or increase your metabolism while eating chips and soda on the couch.

Sure, some pills can reduce your appetite, but if you want a healthier version of a natural hunger suppressant, just drink more water. Try 3-4 quarts a day.

Your body needs water to burn fat. Sweat too much water out, and your body will first have to make adjustments for its dehydration by retaining water and fat.

Fad diets

Fad diets are popular because they promise rapid weight loss. However, fad or crash diets do not allow the body to burn fat calories as you would think. They actually produce a net loss of lean muscle mass, water and stored energy. As a result, most people on such diets become tired and have a hard time finding the energy they need to exercise.

You have to burn calories through cardiovascular activity, such as walking, running, biking, swimming or even household chores. Lifting weights or doing calisthenics burns calories and spikes your metabolism to build lean muscle and stronger bones. You may not see a weight loss immediately, but you will see inches lost, because muscles take up less space than fat and weigh more. But the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest.

Try my free "45 Day Beginner Plan" (PDF) to get started on weight loss. This will help you with ideas on how to eat moderately and burn calories without having to take pills, sit in a sauna or starve yourself.

Some recommended websites are Diet And Nutrition from the American Heart Association. The National Institutes of Health, the Heart Diseases Prevention Page and the Nutrition Page are loaded with interesting information about health and fitness.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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