Debunking 18 Weight Loss Myths
It’s frustrating, right? The promises, myths and ludicrous claims peddled by many popular diets, celebs and Insta-famous weight loss ‘gurus’ can make the prospect of trying yet another diet to lose weight as appealing as cutting off a finger and eating it with a side of kale.
I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.
Bad news first: despite what so many diet gurus claim, losing weight isn’t quick or easy, but the good news? It certainly can be done if you separate the myths and nonsense from what actually works.
In order to make your next (and hopefully last) weight loss attempt work, make sure you don’t fall victim to any of the nonsense below….
Myth #1: All Calories Are NOT Equal
This one is a bit confusing.
So let’s clarify one thing first – a calorie is a calorie. It is a unit of energy. Thefefore all calories ARE equal. To say otherwise is like saying 1-degree Celsius in Scotland is different from 1-degree Celsius in Spain.
HOWEVER, not all foods are equal in terms of calories. The macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) have a different effect on the hormones that regulate your appetite. There are also 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein and 9 calories per gram of fat.
In other words, there’s a scientific reason why 1200 calories worth of Haribo star mix doesn’t leave you feeling as full as a 1200-calorie mixed meal that includes lean protein, whole grains and a whopping big salad.
Studies have shown that eating more protein can increase your metabolic rate (this is called dietary induced thermogenesis), and helps get your appetite and satiety hormones in check.
Additionally, whole foods, such as fruits, veg, grains, pulses, meat etc tend to make you feel full on fewer calories because they take up more space in your stomach than heavily processed ones.
Myth #2: Just Eat Less & Move More
It is pretty common for people who have either never had to lose weight themselves, or have never worked with someone who has struggled with their weight all their lives, to make unhelpful remarks like “all you need to do to lose weight is eat less and move more”.
Many, many factors impact why someone may have obesity. Medical conditions, genetics, socio-economics, geography, food availability, up-brining, education, relationship with food, dieting history and many more factors (including ones that are completely outwith someone’s control) have an impact on body composition.
Additionally, many people who struggle to lose weight have dysfunctions with the hormones and biological pathways that are responsible for regulating body size.
For example, leptin is one of the hormones responsible for signalling to your brain that you don’t need to store any more body fat. However, many people who are obese are resistant to leptin. This means that even though they already are overweight, their brains are convinced they are wasting away.
Many of the aforementioned reasons why someone might struggle to lose weight are powerful and very difficult to overcome. But although difficult, weight loss often is not impossible, but it is often very challenging.
Myth #3: Eating Fat Makes You Fat
In the 1980s, fat was the dietary devil. Diet “experts” were all over the TV proclaiming that the key to losing fat, was to give up eating fat. The theory was that fat makes you fat as it contains nine calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates only contain four. So if you replaced fatty foods with low-fat carbohydrates, you would be slimmer and healthier. Easy, right?
Incorrect. First, your body needs fat. Dietary fat is a source of essential fatty acids that your body can’t make. You also need fats to absorb vitamins D, A and E.
It’s no surprise that the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet didn’t work for a lot of people. So what happened next? People tried the complete opposite…..
Myth #4: Eating Carbohydrates Makes You Fat
Back in with the fat, out with the carbs. Suddenly mounds of crispy bacon and big globs of butter in your coffee became health food and carbohydrates became the villain.
There’s a grain of truth in the low-carb philosophy and low-carbers love to tell you that research has found that eating fewer carbs and more protein can result in weight loss even if you aren’t specifically cutting back on calories.
However, this doesn’t translate into all carbohydrates being evil because in many of these studies the successes were due to the higher protein intake, not the lower carb intake. So when protein levels were matched in other studies, people on low carb or high carb diets tend to lose weight just as well as the other group, assuming calories are equal.
Refined vs Whole-Food Carb
Another reason why it’s daft to just count all carbs as the same is because whole foods that have a high carbohydrate content, such as quinoa, have been found to have numerous health benefits, such as improving blood sugar. Whereas, highly refined carbohydrates may contribute to increased disease risk and overeating. Additionally, much of the nutritional content of refined carbohydrates are removed during processing. This leaves you with food that is packed with calories but doesn’t contain many other nutrients.
One of the reasons that refined carbohydrates may be more likely to contribute to weight gain is that they usually do not contain much fibre either. With the fibre stripped away, refined carbohydrates are digested much faster than their whole food counterparts and cause more drastic changes in blood sugar levels.
The result is that when you eat highly refined foods, you tend to feel hungry again fairly soon afterwards. By contrast, eating a similar amount of whole, minimally processed foods may keep you feeling full for much longer.
What all this means is that carbohydrates can certainly be a healthy part of a weight loss diet if you are mostly consuming them as whole foods. If you love bread, instead of swapping your morning toast for a slice of bacon, consider switching out your white bread for a 100 % whole grain variety instead.
Myth #5: You Have To Eat Breakfast To Lose Weight
Breakfast skippers have been hounded for years about the ills of missing out on ‘the most important meal of the day’.
While some research has linked skipping breakfast with higher average body weights, other studies have also found no direct link between skipping breakfast and increased body size. They have also determined that the idea that eating breakfast fires up your metabolism is another myth. Oh and if you skip breakfast, your next meal doesn’t become more fattening either. If any of this were true then Intermittent Fasting (where a lot of people don’t eat until midday) wouldn’t work. Anyone who has lost weight due to IF is living proof that this is nonsense.
The link between eating breakfast and weight loss may instead be caused not by the actual act of eating breakfast, but because diligent breakfast eaters may be more likely to have other healthy habits that help them stay lean. People who eat protein at breakfast also typically have better eating habits and appetite control throughout the day too. If you are hungry in the morning, eat breakfast. If you are not, then skip it.
Myth #6: Popular Diets Usually Work
If you’ve tried any of the popular diets in the past and not successful kept the weight off, don’t worry, the problem is probably NOT you. About 85 % of people who lose weight regain it within one year. To add insult to injury, people who go on diets are more likely to gain in the future than people who don’t.
So does this mean that you simply can’t lose weight?
Not at all. The studies above are talking about diets as a whole. If you lose weight by eating nothing but cabbage soup for a week then yes, it’s fairly reasonable to expect that the weight loss won’t last. Similarly, if you go on a ‘juice detox’, the moment you start eating whole foods again, you’ll likely gain weight.
There is no doubt that weight loss is difficult for many people. However, it can be done. The National Weight Control Registry has been tracking people who have maintained a loss of two stone or more for at least a year since 1994. The registry now tracks over 10,000 people who have lost an average of more than four stone and avoided regaining it for at least five years. Common strategies employed by people in the registry include focusing on losing weight slowly, not cutting out food unnecessarily, exercising, eating a balanced diet etc. Essentially the people who lose weight, and keep it off don’t do the daft nonsense peddled on FAD diets.
Myth #7: If Your Programme Is Working, You Should Steadily Lose Weight
The number you see on the scales isn’t just indicative of body fat levels. Body mass includes your bones, muscles, internal organs and various other tissues. It also includes the weight of any food in your digestive system and fluids in your body. It is normal for body weight to change by small amounts from day to day. This is particularly true for women whose water weight may change significantly during their menstrual cycles.
This is why it’s often not a great idea to get stuck weighing yourself all the time. Many people are naturally discouraged when after a week of sticking to a programme, they suddenly see the number on the scale go up one day, down the next, up the next day and so on. Instead of just using the scales, seek other ways of tracking your progress, such as taking your measurements or keeping track of “non-scale victories.”
Myth #8: You Can’t Lose Weight Without Feeling Hungry
Depriving yourself of food to the point that you’re starting to think your co-workers look tasty is not a good way to slim down. Eventually, your intense hunger will drive you to the nearest vending machine or takeaway, and you aren’t likely to make healthy choices when you are famished.
Instead of living with intense hunger, eat a healthy snack or small meal between your main meals. Snacking is 100% fine if it’s controlled and/or planned. If you find that nothing healthy seems appealing, you are probably experiencing cravings rather than true hunger.
Myth #9: Cutting Out Gluten Will Help You With Weight Loss
Supermarkets are full of gluten-free products and there was a time when the gurus were making all sorts of claims that everyone should be eating them and ditching anything with a smidgen of gluten.
While avoiding gluten is necessary for people with celiac disease or an intolerance, it isn’t necessarily if none of these conditions apply to you.
However, if someone were to eat fewer biscuits, cakes, white bread or other nutritionally poor, gluten-rich foods, and instead ate more fresh fruit, vegetables etc then they would likely experience health benefits from doing so and in many cases would lose weight too. But this isn’t specifically because they’re eating less gluten, it’s down to the food choices as a whole.
Myth #10: If It Tastes Good, It’s Probably Unhealthy
Much of what people think about the flavours and textures of foods is learned. This is why certain foods are delicacies in parts of the world or even in different social or regional groups of people, while other people find those same foods disgusting.
If you think all healthy food tastes bad, then it is probably because you have become used to eating processed foods that are packed with sugar and salt to enhance flavour. If you give your tastebuds a chance to adjust and try some new recipes to learn how to enhance the flavours of healthy foods without taking shortcuts, you may find that healthy foods taste delicious.
PS that pic above is our Thai Salmon Foil Packets recipe. If you’ve not made it yet, click here for the full recipe.
Myth #11: You Have To Do a Lot of Exercise To Lose Weight
Some people think that weight loss is all about doing a hardcore workout. However, studies have shown that combining a moderate amount of exercise and calorie restriction is five times more effective than just trying to exercise away excess body fat.
The current NHS guidance recommends adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity every week.
Myth #12: You Can Speed Up Your Metabolism by Eating Certain Foods
Your metabolic rate is determined by physiological factors such as age, sex, body size and genetics.
While it is true that some foods affect metabolism because they require more energy to digest than others, it’s such a teeny tiny impact that is pretty much insignificant and certainly not able to be measured outside of a lab. Therefore, most products or foods marketed as being “metabolism-boosting” have no scientific backing for their claims, and in pretty much 100% of cases are complete horse sh*t.
Myth #13: A Vegetarian Diet Is Best For Losing Weight
Some research has found a link between vegetarian diets and lower body fat, reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure.
However, simply eating a vegetarian or vegan diet will not guarantee you will lose fat. As always, it comes down to calories.
A diet that consists mostly of whole foods, such as beans, pulses, vegetables and fruits, may be a good way for some people to slim down due to the fact many of these foods are typically low in calories.
However, a vegetarian diet could also easily consist of high-calorie choices, such as a lot of eggs, cheese and nut butters. Eating more plants and less meat is generally a good plan, not just for our own health, but for the planet too. But in order for it to be sustainable it’s probably a smarter move to just committing to eat more plants initially instead of trying to go 100% vegetarian from the get go.
Myth #14: There Is One Best Diet That Works for Everyone
The data from the National Weight Control Registry shows that the successful slimmers in the registry lost weight using a variety of methods, and most reported having tried more than one type of diet before finding the one that worked for them.
Rather than sticking to the diet your mum or your best mate swears works, give yourself the flexibility to find an eating plan that works for you. Some people love intermittent fasting, others can’t stand skipping breakfast. Some folks find it easy to ditch carbs, others prefer including them with each meal. We’re all different, and that’s 100% fine.
Myth #15: You Can’t Drink Alcohol If You Want To Lose Weight
It makes sense that if you want to ditch a beer belly, you have to ditch the beer.
However, as with anything else, what you drink and how often you drink plays a role. Alcohol contains a lot of calories and not much in the way of nutritional benefits. If you are trying to lose fat, regular drinking may get in the way of your progress.
However, you don’t have to completely give up alcohol. Most people can enjoy the occasional drink without derailing their weight loss progress. Again, it all comes down to calories and being mindful of what you’re eating.
To give some context, I dieted down to single-digit body fat for a natural bodybuilding competition and included at least one beer every week right up until the show.
Myth #16: Fitness Trackers Are an Effective Tool for Losing Weight
Fitness trackers have become a popular tool for people trying to slim down or otherwise improve their health. However, while trackers have proven to be useful for counting steps and tracking sleep, studies have found that they don’t do such a great job helping people lose weight.
If they help keep you moving and get you outside, that’s great, but don’t pay too much attention to the ‘calories burned’ feature as it’s often pretty inaccurate.
Myth #17: Eating at Night Makes Is Fattening
You’ve probably been told that if you want to lose weight, you should stop eating after 6/8/10pm etc because it will just sit in your stomach when you sleep and turn to fat. This is garbage and there is no evidence that late-night eating is particularly bad for your waistline. Instead, the correlation is likely due to the types of food people tend to grab late at night when cravings strike. As always, it comes down to the total amount of calories someone eats per day, no specifically when they eat said calories.
However, eating too close to bedtime can harm the quality of your sleep, which may lead to an increase in cravings throughout the day. If you find you are hungry at night, try eating a healthy snack, instead of reaching for something sweet or salty.
Myth #18: You Should ALWAYS Set Small Goals
The truth of this advice is that the types of goals you should set depend on what motivates you. If setting a big, long-term goal encourages you to keep going, then set that goal. If big goals feel overwhelming but you are motivated by hitting short-term goals, then stick to smaller goals.
Some people do best by combining the two approaches and setting both long-term and short-term goals. Experiment to find what works best for you.
Let Me Help You Reach Your Weight Loss Goals
If you are tired of all the fad diets, weird foods your kids won’t eat, complicated shopping lists or simply feeling like a failure when the latest gimmick doesn’t work for you, we can help. The best place to start would be to click below to get a FREE 7 day fat loss plan.