Advice about how to lose weight is everywhere: on the internet, in print publications, by word of mouth, and on television.
Some of it is true and may help you shed those unwanted pounds, but much of it isn’t based on evidence, and may even sabotage your efforts.
These are the top ten myths when it comes to losing weight.
1. Choose “Diet” Foods For Success
Marketing strategies are powerful, and it’s tempting to believe that sticking with food manufacturers claim can help with weight loss is the key to success. In fact, many programs involve picking certain foods or purchasing foods from the program in particular.
It’s important to remember the bottom line for them is making money, rather than helping you meet your weight loss goal. Because of this, many companies will push for you to buy their food, even if it doesn’t help you lose weight any more than any other food.
Claims and labeling may be misleading, and the more you see on package labels claiming a product is healthy, the more cautious you should be.
If a processed product claims to be “fat-free,” “low-fat, “gluten-free” or “weight-loss friendly,” check the label to see what’s in it. Even beverages claiming to be helpful for weight-loss may be loaded with sugar and other undesirable ingredients.
Many companies will call their food “low-fat”, but then load it up with sugar. This is because fat is largely what makes food taste good. With the fat gone, they use sugar to make it more palatable. But, this sugar is worse for you than most fats!
All in all, you just can’t trust most companies when it comes to choosing healthy foods. You need to do your own independent research when shopping.
2. Fat Makes You Fat
Since body fat is fat we have stored, it sounds logical that limiting fat would contribute to weight loss, but that’s not the case.
While there are certain circumstances where eating a diet high in fat can contribute to weight gain, fat in itself is not inherently wrong or bad when it comes to losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight.
Combine generous quantities of fat with a diet heavy on the junk food, high in carbs, and rich in calories, and you’ve got a recipe for fast weight gain.
However, high-fat diets low in carbs can be an efficient way to drop excess pounds. Study after study shows this to be true. (1) Don’t be afraid to include quality fats in your diet plan. You need them for good health.
Of course, the type of fat matters. Omega-3s are far better for you than trans fat or even omega-6s. Most animal products contain omega-3s, while veggies contain omega-6s – including vegetable oil, which you should avoid if possible.
3. Carbs Make You Fat
The key is choosing the right carbs to include in your weight-loss diet or maintenance plan; refined carbohydrates like white flour and sugar, along with other processed foods can cause weight gain. This is because they will be digested very quickly, which will make you hungry faster. This will cause you to eat more calories, which will increase your weight.
The carbohydrates in whole foods, like those humans have eaten for hundreds and thousands of years, aren’t the problem and can be part of a healthy diet. Whole grains and other unprocessed carbohydrates contain lots of fiber, which slows down your digestion and helps you stay full.
4. Calories Are Calories
Calorie counts represent the amount of energy contained in food. But foods with the same number of calories don’t affect your body in the same manner.
Different types of food trigger different reactions, activating various metabolic pathways in the process of calorie assimilation. The hormones released in response, including those that regulate hunger, can vary greatly.
Calories from fat, carbohydrates, and protein each affect the body in different ways. For example, substituting protein calories for carb and fat calories are proven to reduce appetite and cravings, rev up metabolism, and optimize the release of hormones involved in the regulation of weight. (6, 7, 8)
This is largely because protein takes a long time to breakdown, causing your body to use more energy digesting it. Plus, because it sits around in your gut longer, you’ll find that you stay fuller for longer, decreasing your cravings and the amount of food you eat.
5. Move More and Eat Less
While it’s a biological fact that in order to lose stored fat, more calories must be burned than the amount being taken in, it’s not that simple.
Obese people who follow this advice usually end up gaining back the weight they lose; fundamental changes on psychological and biological levels are also required for long-term success. (9)
Changes in perspective as well as behavior are also integral. Telling someone suffering from obesity to exercise more and eat less food is very much like advising an alcoholic to drink less, or a depressed person to get happy.
While moving more will lead to weight loss, many obese people may have difficulties with this. It is essential to focus on long-term lifestyle changes instead of just exercising more or eating less. Otherwise, your chance of relapse is high.
6. Eat Breakfast to Lose Weight
People who eat breakfast are usually lighter than people who don’t, (10) but experts believe this is because breakfast-eaters generally embrace healthier habits than breakfast-skippers.
In a recent 4-month study focused on this with more than 300 men and women, results showed no significant weight changes occurred regardless of people’s habits. (11)
Similar conclusions were reached in a trial testing the effects of breakfast and eating more, smaller meals on metabolism. (12)
Furthermore, those who practice intermittent fasting often do not eat breakfast. However, this is associated with many health benefits and weight loss. As you can see, breakfast is not necessary for weight loss.
There are a few foods that have a positive effect when eaten at breakfast. For example, eating eggs in the morning can reduce the amount of food you eat for the rest of the day – likely because they are high in proteins and fats that keep you full.
Pay attention to how you feel in the mornings, and follow your instincts. If you eat breakfast, choose a high-fat, high-protein food instead of your usual oatmeal.
7. Taking Supplements Will Help A Lot
They might help a little, like most supplements. But 80% of it will be diet and exercise.
Unfortunately, most of them have very little effect; the best weight loss supplements available on today’s market may result in modest weight loss of 5 pounds or less over a few weeks’ time.
When people spend money on weight loss supplements, they want the pills to work so badly, the placebo effect kicks in and they become hyper-aware of food choices; in addition, they are usually more motivated to follow a weight-loss diet to justify the cost of supplements.
Overall though, the supplements aren’t going to do all the work for you. It will take quite a bit of exercise and diet to help you lose weight at a reasonable rate.
8. Obese People Are Always Unhealthy and Thin People Are Always Healthy
However, some obese people enjoy good metabolic health, and some thin people suffer from diabetes and heart disease. (15)
How extra weight affects health depends greatly on where the fat is carried. Abdominal fat has a significant negative effect on health, much more so than fat carried in the hips or evenly distributed on the body.
Furthermore, your diet will also play a huge role. A skinny person that eats nothing but junk food is likely going to experience health problems. High sugar diets are going to increase your chance for diabetes, whether you’re obese or not.
Of course, many of the changes that help you lose weight also help decrease your chances of various health problems.
9. People Who Are Obese Have No Willpower
Biology affects a person’s chances of becoming obese much more than making choices and sticking to them.
The disorder is complex, with a number of variables on both genetic and physical levels. These include medical conditions like depression and hypothyroidism, as well as hormonal issues that can affect biological pathways involved in weight regulation. (16, 17)
Here’s an example: the hormone leptin signals the brain to either store fat or burn it, and when leptin resistance develops, the body gets a starvation message. It’s nearly impossible to ignore these biological survival orders. (18)
Eating habits are driven by both biochemistry and physiology in a complicated dance that has virtually nothing to do with choices and willpower. This makes it extremely difficult for the obese to lose weight and keep it off.
10. Losing Weight is a Matter of Following a Weight-loss Diet
The statistics for long-term weight control are grim: 85% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back within a year or less. (19)
Dieters are actually more likely to gain weight in the future than those who eat what they want. (20)
Instead, it is far easier and healthier to focus on eating better in general, instead of just losing weight. This includes cutting out added sugars and processed carbohydrates. Most Americans eat more carbs than they need to, so shift your focus a bit over to the healthy fat side of things.
11. Calories In, Calories Out
It is true that a caloric deficit is necessary to lose weight. However, this isn’t the only factor. Even if you eat very few calories, you may not lose weight at all. This is especially true if you jump down to a very low diet right away.
Furthermore, as we have previously discussed, focusing solely on the number of calories you’re eating does not take into account the odds of you continuing the diet.
Sure, you may be able to eat an extremely low-calorie diet to lose a few pounds quickly, but you will not be able to stick to that diet and will quickly gain it all back.
Instead, the focus needs to be on life-long changes. Learn how to cook veggies so that you like to eat them. Experiment with different physical activities to determine what you like – not just what is going to burn the most calories the fastest.
Studies have shown that those who focus only on calories tend to choose low-nutrient, low-calorie foods like rice cakes and egg whites. Instead, you should focus on choosing calorie-dense foods. These foods will help you feel fuller, which will make you eat less and lose weight – even if those foods have more calories in them (23).
12. Small, Frequent Meals are Better
There is a theory that eating smaller meals throughout the day may boost your metabolism, and therefore help you lose more weight. However, there are no studies to back this up.
The only time eating more meals would be helpful is if you have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and IBS. Still, eating more frequent meals will not necessarily make you lose more weight even in these cases.
You can eat meals however often you like. If eating fewer meals works better for you, go ahead and do it.
13. Processed Sweeteners are Better
There has been a rising interest in low-calorie, sugar-free foods in the last few years. Often, these are touted as “healthy” and good for weight loss. However, this is not necessarily true.
Let’s be clear: diets high in sugar are linked to weight loss. Sugar is not good for you in most cases, especially added sugar. But, foods containing artificial sweeteners are also linked to health problems.
For example, artificial sweeteners are linked to negative effects on your gut bacteria and can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. They can cause blood sugar dysregulation, which can increase your risk for diabetes even more. Furthermore, those who eat artificial sweeteners still crave sugar, which leads to worse dietary decisions (24, 25).
14. Macronutrients Matter Tons
In recent years, the diet world has shifted to macronutrient ratios. Many believe that macronutrients play a huge role in your health and weight, but this has never been proven by evidence. It is likely that this is simply the next fad diet.
While it is important to consume all the proper macronutrients, it is even more important to choose healthy foods. Selecting rice cakes to keep your carbohydrate intake low does not help anything. Drinking a protein shake every day to increase your protein intake is not the point.
Instead, you want to choose unprocessed, healthy foods – even if that means not eating the exact ratio of macronutrients your macro coach told you to. Many who focus only on macronutrients tend to eat highly processed foods, which is not good for your health or weight loss.
Eat natural, real foods as much as you can.
15. Starchy Veggies are Unhealthy
There has been some debate in recent years that starchy vegetables like potatoes are unhealthy. However, many of these foods actually contain tons of nutrients.
For example, potatoes include high amounts of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium – all of which are an important part of a healthy diet.
While there are less calorie dense veggies you can choose, starchy vegetables are by no means a bad choice, especially if you’re choosing them over grains. Plus, they’re more filling than rice and pasta, which will lead to you feeling more satisfied after meals.
16. Following a Very Low-Calorie Diet is the Best Option
Many people take the “calorie-deficit” explanation to whole new levels and eat very few calories. While it is true that cutting calories can reduce your weight, this does not mean that you should go to extremes.
If you don’t eat enough calories, you may experience metabolic adaptation, which will prevent you from losing weight. Furthermore, some health effects can develop as well.
While very-low-calorie diets may encourage weight loss in the short term, they are nearly impossible to stick to over a long period of time. This inevitably leads to dieters quickly gaining all their weight back (26).
If your body had adapted to eating very few calories, you may find yourself gaining weight even more rapidly than you would otherwise.
Those eating very few calories also reported a reduced metabolic rate, increased feeling of hunger, and changes in their fullness hormones – which set them up to eat even more food when they go off of their diet.
As you can see, it is much better to eat moderate amounts of calories and instead focus on eating healthily. Low-calorie diets can help you lose weight on the short-term, but they set you up for failure further down the road.
17. Calcium Supplements Are Important When Dieting
There are some people out there that claim calcium supplements are necessary when you’re losing weight to prevent brittle bones. But, this is not true in the least.
If you’re focusing on eating a healthy diet, you should be getting all the calcium you need from your diet. Of course, those who focus on calories or macros may find themselves missing out on key nutrients, which is likely where this myth came from.
If you are deficient in calcium, it is a much better choice to focus on dietary sources of calcium, instead of taking supplements. Again, the focus should be on eating healthy, not the number of calories you’re eating.
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Summary: The best avenue to success when it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is to change relevant lifestyle factors and allow weight loss to happen as a natural side effect. This includes eating in a healthier manner, getting good sleep, and becoming more fit.