Chances are, you believe many things about weight loss that simply aren’t true.
It isn’t your fault: there’s a lot of terrible information out there.
Some advice is outdated, some is overly complicated, and some is just downright outrageous (tapeworm diets, balloons that inflate in your stomach to make you feel full, and the “cotton ball diet” are just a few examples – yes, those are all actual “diet plans” – and are really dangerous!).
In a previous article, I covered 15 Weight Loss Myths That Are Keeping You Overweight.
Here are 11 more.
Myth: Diet pills can help you lose weight.
Truth: Maybe trying the next “miracle” weight loss pill or potion will help you lose a little bit of weight, but at what cost? The weight loss is usually minimal and temporary, and most diet pills carry significant health risks. Dr. Melinda Manore of Oregon State University conducted a research review of a couple hundred studies investigating hundreds of weight-loss supplements in 2012. She found no evidence that using any product results in significant weight loss – and found that many may actually be dangerous. Manore explained her findings to Breaking Muscle:
“For most people, unless you alter your diet and get daily exercise, no supplement is going to have a big impact. I don’t know how you eliminate exercise from the equation. The data is very strong that exercise is crucial to not only losing weight and preserving muscle mass, but keeping the weight off.”
“What people want is to lose weight and maintain or increase lean tissue mass,” Manore said. “There is no evidence that any one supplement does this. And some have side effects ranging from the unpleasant, such as bloating and gas, to very serious issues such as strokes and heart problems.”
For more on why diet pills are usually a bad idea, give this no-nonsense report a read: No Gimmicks: Why Diet Pills Don’t Work.
What DOES work? Mostly, consistently eating healthfully and changing your habits.
Myth: Eating fat makes you fat.
Truth: The truth is – we need some fat in our diets, and here’s why:
1) Absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K: These vitamins are fat-soluble, which means that the body needs dietary fat to absorb them.
2) Omega-3s and omega-6s play roles in mood and behavior. They are the precursor to many hormones and chemicals produced in the brain.
3) Brain health. Your brain uses fat to make cell membranes and the protective myelin sheath that insulates your neurons.
4) Trans fats are pretty bad for your cardiovascular system, but monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats prevent heart attack and stroke. Good sources of monounsaturated fats are avocados, olives, almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, peanut butter, and olive and sesame oils.
5) Saturated fat is still a controversial topic, and for that reason, I believe it might be better to get most of your dietary fat from the sources listed in item #4. To learn a great deal more about saturated fat and genetic markers that may indicate reduced intake is a good idea, please see the saturated fat articles written by the good folks over at Gene Food. (Speaking of Gene Food, I recently ordered one of their DNA-based Custom Nutrition Plans and it was worth every penny. I was so impressed that I became an affiliate for them, full disclosure – so if you order a plan via my link, I will make a small commission).
All that being said – a word of caution about dietary fat: You CAN eat too much fat. If you consistently consume more calories than your body uses – even when those calories are from fat – you will likely have trouble with weight loss…and may even gain weight. As Examine.com explains, “Dietary fat is the macronutrient that can most easily increase your body fat“. They continue, “Dietary fat has a TEF of just 0–3% (of the three macronutrients, it requires the least energy to digest, relative to the energy it provides), and it gets stored with 90–95% efficiency (compared to 75–85% efficiency for carbs).”
When you eat carbs, your body can (in order of priority):
- burn them for energy
- store them as glycogen
- burn them off as heat
- turn them into body fat (last choice)
So, if you OVEREAT with carbs as your main source of calories, the excess MIGHT NOT translate as fat gain.
When you eat protein, your body can (in order of priority):
- use it for protein synthesis
- use it for many other metabolic purposes
- burn it for energy
- or, rarely, turn it into glucose or fat
So, like carbs, if you overeat with protein as your main source of calories, the excess MIGHT NOT translate as fat gain.
When you eat fat, your body has only two options:
- burn it for energy, if neither carbohydrate nor excess protein is available,
- or store it as body fat
Myth: Eating carbohydrates will make you fat.
Truth: Sweet potatoes, bananas, oranges, berries, oats, apples, beans, quinoa, and chickpeas are all high in carbohydrates. Do you think eating these foods will make you gain weight if they are consumed as part of an overall healthful diet?
While it is true that your body can run just fine on a low-carb diet (and even on a very low carb diet) you don’t NEED to drastically restrict carbs to lose weight. In fact, strictly reducing carbs can cause you to become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. And, for some people, grouchiness, fatigue, and constipation are unwelcome side effects of going very low-carb.
However…low-carb (25 to 150 grams of carbs per day) and ketogenic (50 grams or less per day) diets can be beneficial for people with certain brain disorders, including epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. Some people use them to help manage conditions like type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. And, they do often produce rapid weight loss…for a little while, at least.
The results of a large (year-long, 600+ participants) randomized clinical trial that compared low fat vs low carb diets for weight loss were published earlier this year. Here’s a summary of the findings, from Examine.com:
No significant weight-loss differences were seen between the low-fat and low-carb groups, and neither genetics nor insulin production could predict weight-loss success on either diet. There were also no significant differences between groups for most other health markers tested.
The results of this study contribute to a large body of evidence indicating that, for weight loss, neither low-fat nor low-carb is superior (as long as there’s no difference in caloric intake or protein intake).
Speaking of very low carbohydrate diets, by now you have SURELY heard all the hype about ketogenic diets. Many people swear by them, but many experts have expressed concerns. The following links are from respected sources. If you are interested in ketogenic diets, I’d recommend giving them each a thoughtful read.
What does this mean for you?
Well – what works best FOR YOU? What is sustainable FOR YOU?
The answers to those questions are what matters. I personally go a bit batty and get really bored if I restrict carbs too much. In fact, earlier this year I increased my carb intake to about 55% of my total daily calories, and I feel SO much better eating this way after years of spinning my wheels (with no results) on a low-carb diet. Oh, an important note here – my carb sources are all from whole plant foods – fruits, veggies, and some whole grains (no gluten).
But you may feel satisfied on a low-carb diet. Figure out what works for you, and be consistent about it.
Myth: If your weight loss progress slows, you need to eat less.
Truth: The answer to this is quite complicated.
First, be honest with yourself: Have you been sticking to your eating plan? Or is it possible that treats here and there are sneaking up on you? A cookie here, some French fries there…the rest of your child’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich…all those things add up. Are you tracking your food intake? If so, be sure to include every bite and every sip – it all counts.
If you are not wildly going off the rails, there are some possible causes of stalled weight loss.
As you lose weight, your energy needs (calories) may decrease, depending on how physically active you are. Metabolism is complex, and many factors influence weight loss, including your age, genetics, your body fat level, certain medications you may be taking, your gut health, hormonal imbalances, and other things that are beyond the scope of this article.
Are you super stressed? Elevated levels of cortisol – a stress hormone – can interfere with weight loss.
If you’d like to learn more about metabolism and how it is impacted by weight loss, here’s a great report to check out: Can eating too little actually damage your metabolism?
Are you only tracking your progress by weighing yourself? The scale isn’t the best measure of success, because it only tells you your overall body weight – and there are many components involved there. Your body is composed of two kinds of mass – lean mass (bone, water, muscle, and tissues) and fat mass (the squishy stuff). If you are exercising regularly (weight training, especially), it is possible you are losing fat, but gaining a bit of lean mass. This means the scale won’t reflect much change. For a more in-depth explanation of this (and better ways to track progress), please see Why You Should Ditch Your Scale.
If you think you are consistently doing everything right, but your weight loss isn’t progressing as you’d like, it may be time to consider hiring a coach (like me) to guide you.
Myth: You can spot reduce and lose fat from certain areas by doing specific exercises.
Truth: You can do sit-ups until the cows come home, but they won’t do you a bit of good unless your diet is right – abs are made in the kitchen!
Fat distribution varies per individual. Some of us carry more fat in our abdominal areas, for example, and some of us carry more in our hips and thighs (thanks a lot, genetics!).
Yale Scientific explains why “spot reduction” doesn’t work:
It turns out that there are a few basic physiological reasons why targeted fat loss does not work. The fat contained in fat cells exists in a form known as triglycerides. Muscle cells, however, cannot directly use triglycerides as fuel; it would be analogous to trying to run a car on crude oil. Instead, the fat must be broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids, which then enter the bloodstream. As a result, the fat broken down to be used as fuel during prolonged exercise can come from anywhere in your body, not just the part that is being worked the most.
Weight training can help you dramatically change the shape of your body. Muscle weight is good weight to have because it helps you look firmer and more fit. It’s also more metabolically active, so having more muscle can boost your metabolism and help you stay lean.
Myth: Weight-loss diets are boring, I’m always going to be hungry, and I’m going to suffer the entire time.
Truth: If you are miserable and feel deprived when you are trying to lose weight, you are doing things wrong. Very wrong. There’s no reason at all to feel that way! Surely there are healthful foods you enjoy. Make a list of them. Get creative. Visit sites like Pinterest and collect recipes that appeal to you. Variety is the spice of life, right? Play around with seasonings. Make colorful salads with fun toppings like almonds, seeds, and dried fruit. Commit to trying a new vegetable every week.
Myth: I can eat what I want – even sugary, low-nutrient foods – as long as I do it in moderation.
Truth: This is a controversial topic. While many would argue that totally eliminating certain foods is a bad idea, I’m not so sure. Are there treats that you are prone to binging on? I know I can’t keep a lot of chocolate around because I’ll be tempted to eat all of it in a few days. If a food is a trigger for you, it might be best to avoid it. Also, some foods DO have more nutritive value than others. That’s a fact, whether we like it or not. Fill your diet with a variety of flavorful, nutrient-packed foods and chances are, over time, your cravings for the other stuff will diminish.
Myth: If I cut gluten out of my diet, I will lose weight.
Truth: Going gluten-free does NOT guarantee weight loss – in fact, it wouldn’t be hard to GAIN weight while following a gluten-free diet if you consume gluten-free junk foods like cookies, cakes, crackers, and bread. No substitutions for gluten-containing products are necessary, as those foods are usually highly processed anyway. Beware of the “gluten-free” labels that are popping up on products all over stores – many of those products are junk foods, loaded with sugar and other things you don’t need in your diet. For more on gluten and possible reasons to avoid it, please see Everything You Need to Know About Gluten.
Myth: Drinking diet soda is fine and will make weight loss easier.
Truth: Diet sodas have actually been shown to increase cravings and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Some studies have shown a possible link between diet soda consumption and weight gain. There are several possible reasons, as I explained in Do You Need a Reason to Stop Drinking Soda? Here It Is.
Regular sugar triggers satiety (a sense of fullness or satisfaction), but artificial sweeteners do not – they confuse our bodies and weaken the link in our brains between sweetness and calories, which can lead to weight gain and cravings for sweeter and sweeter treats.
And, it is possible that yet another mechanism is involved. One study showed that artificial sweeteners actually changed the gut bacteria of mice in ways that made them vulnerable to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance – both of which can lead to weight gain. And other research suggests that artificial sweeteners are associated with a drop in the appetite-regulating hormone leptin, which is a hormone that inhibits hunger.
Other studies have also linked the consumption of artificial sweeteners to diabetes and gut microbe balance.
If you have a soda or sugary drink habit (regular, or diet/reduced-calorie) and want to kick it, you’ll find tips and tricks to make the process much easier here: Think Sugary Drinks Are Safe If You Are Not Obese? Think Again.
Myth: Losing weight is hard and I’m too stressed out to deal with it right now. I’ll do it later, when I’m ready.
Truth: Hmm, is it possible that your desire to lose weight and improve your health is one of the things that is causing you stress? There is never going to be a “right time” to get started. How many times have you told yourself you’ll wait to start a plan until ___ or ___ happens?
Just do it. Start now. Three months from now, where you will you be? Still waiting for “the right time”? Or… 15-30 pounds lighter, more energetic, and much happier than you are now?
Myth: Being too ambitious is detrimental – you will become frustrated and give up.
Truth: There is nothing wrong with setting high goals for yourself. But, be realistic about the time and effort it will take to achieve them. Losing body fat isn’t necessarily difficult – it just requires consistency. That’s what trips a lot of people up. We tend to be all-or-nothing beings. One slip-up, and we give up…instead of immediately getting back on track. Focus on the things you are doing right and the “non-scale victories” – all the positive changes you have made so far that have nothing to do with what you weigh. Are you eating more veggies? Drinking more water? Sleeping better? Is your energy level increasing?
For a lot more on setting goals and changing habits, see Five Powerful Ways to Change Your Thoughts and Habits and Reach Your Goals and Stoicism: How This Ancient Philosophy Can Empower You to Improve Your Health and Your Life.
Want to join my online community? Check it out here: All About Habits group for motivation and inspiration
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