Man having a table full of organic food,juices and smoothie

Going on a diet (or trying to diet, if we’re being honest) is the most popular New Year’s Resolution this year… by a long shot. Fitness has seen some pretty significant growth in the mainstream, but losing weight always seems to be the first thing people focus on.

That’s hardly surprising, when you stop and think about it. The average person has a very linear way of thinking about fitness:

  • Lose the Weight
  • Build the Muscle
  • Show off your results at the beach as much as humanly possible

But this speaks to a problem that exists in the average person’s understanding about fitness. No one’s blaming them. After all, so-called “educators” and “fitness gurus” have created this strange division between losing weight and building muscle.

Sadly, this is just a symptom of a bigger issue. If that was the only misconception that existed about overall fitness, I’d be done with this piece and getting back to more pressing matters, like creating theatrical adaptations to awful movies (my first project? Transformers: The Musical).

Alas, the robots will have to wait. There’s a fundamental flaw in the way most of us think about dieting. Dieting only works if you understand what you’re getting yourself into and plan accordingly.

Most people can’t “wing it” because… duh. It’s a lifestyle change. Is it going to be hard? Of course. But is it possible? Oh, for sure. So, without further ado, here are some of the most damaging misconceptions about dieting and losing weight.

Misconception 1: Dieting and Building Muscle Are Separate Challenges

Okay, this one actually makes a bit of sense, at first glance. If you’re trying to build muscle, you kinda have to make room for it, right? So, first work on getting rid of that excess weight (probably with some cardio) and then, once you’re skinny, just pack some muscle on! Right?

I can see how some people could easily think this. Fortunately for you, this particular myth has been disproved by studies, real-life examples, and basic science. It’s a good thing too because, wow, that process at the top sounds awful.

I want there to be no confusion about this, so I’ll be as blunt as possible: you can do both things at once. There is nothing written in your DNA that says you have to lose weight before you can build muscle. In fact, as crazy as it might seem, lifting weights is actually great for losing weight.

Traditional wisdom would have you believe that lifting weights somehow gets in the way of your weight loss by packing on muscle while you’re still dieting. In reality, you should almost always be lifting weights while you diet (the only exception being if your doctor tells you otherwise).

No one’s saying that you need to be training for a Strongman Competition. It’s just that weight training raises your basal metabolic rate (BMR). In its simplest terms, that means that your body burns through calories more quickly. The more calories you burn, the sooner your body has to tap into those fat reserves.

And that gets us the entire point of this section: cardio raises your metabolic rate while you’re doing it. Lifting weights keeps your metabolic rate elevated for up to 39 hours after you finish. I appreciate a hard worker as much as the next guy, but let’s try to work smart, too, guys.

Misconception 2: Quitting Cold Turkey Actually Works

Sigh. Somewhere along the line, people started to believe that you could give up poor food choices “cold-turkey.” Just wake up one morning and decide to cut out all that junk from your diet. As impressive as that might sound, most people won’t be able to do it. Not because it’s impossible (people lived without Burger King before), but because they bite off way more than they can chew.

The human body is an amazing thing, capable of adapting to just about any situation. The only thing it asks for? Time. Adapting to a change is about getting used to it. When it comes to dieting, you need to take baby steps.

Don’t give up junk food in January; that’s just too much temptation. Here’s what will happen (statistically): you’re going to spend all day telling yourself “no.” By doing that, you’ll use up mental will-power and eventually, you’ll crash and burn.

Instead of diving into the deep end, make small, meaningful change in your life. Force yourself to have a healthy breakfast every day. Once that becomes easy (and believe me, it will), take another step forward and have a healthy lunch until… well, you get the idea. Eventually, your body will get so used to eating healthy that you might not even enjoy the same foods you used to.

See, dieting isn’t supposed to be impossibly challenging. It’s just… challenging. But guess what? With the right approach, you can take control of your health and actually lose that weight once and for all.