One of the biggest motivators for many people to enter into the world of fitness and nutrition is the desire to lose weight. It’s a huge motivator, whether its due to self consciousness, a desire to slim down before an event, or maybe a doctor telling you you need to lose weight to stay healthy, weight loss remains a hot topic. And there’s certainly a TON of advice out there as to what works and what doesn’t. To help sort through the information overload, I present to you the ten biggest weight loss myths I could think of and why they’re simply either bad advice, or just not true.
1Weight loss diets are effective. This is a big myth, and I’m starting out with controversy right out of the gate here. I don’t just mean the crazy ones like a grapefruit diet that your parents or grandparents may have sworn by. I’m talking the popular ones too like the Keto diet, or Atkins. These are all ineffective diet methods because they’re not teaching you how to eat healthy over the long term. Sure they may help you drop some weight over the short term, but as soon as you stop following them because you’ve achieved your goal, you’ll return to the eating habits that got you to where you were in the first place and put the weight back on. Sustained weight loss means learning how you should be eating not just for a short term goal, but every day of your life, for the rest of your life. Once you dial that in, you’ll never need a diet that deprives you of certain foods in the name of shedding fat.
2Exercise makes you lose weight. Unfortunately, this isn’t true either. It can certainly HELP you to lose weight, but the only thing that causes weight loss is burning more calories than you take in. If you exercise like a crazy person, but then reward your hard work by eating a big ole greasy burger, or box of donuts, then unfortunately, you’re undoing your hard work and sabotaging your efforts. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you can’t out-train a bad fork.
3All fat is bad. This is a myth as well. As we learned about in my macronutrients post, our bodies need fats to stay healthy. It’s just important that the source of the fats is a healthy one – like avocado. Fat gets a bad rap because of the three macronutrent types – protein, carbs and fats, fat is the most calorically dense (9 calories per gram vs. 4 in protein and carbs). Also, the “bad” forms of fat – saturated and trans fats – have been proven to increase you likelihood of cardiovascular disease. So stick with foods that contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (shown to decrease disease risks) to give your body what it needs to stay healthy.
4Carbs make you fat. OK, carbs get a bad rap in the weight gain arena. Again, they’re a macronutrient that we need to stay healthy. where most people get into trouble is the type and quantity of carbs they’re consuming. Check out the post on sugar for a full rundown on carbs and even more. However, generally speaking, the problem with carbs is that in a typical western diet, we’re eating WAY to many of them. Get them under control, and ensure that most of your carb intake comes from complex carbohydrates – such as veggies and you’ll ensure that your body is getting what it needs, and your waistline is not growing as much.
5Weight loss occurs in a straight line. By “straight line” I’m referring to the number on the scale moving in one direction only. Simply put: it doesn’t. If you were to plot your weight on a linear scale, instead of looking like a wedge when you diet with the number dropping, it would resemble more of a heart rate monitor with lots of peaks and valleys from day to day. This is completely normal, and as long as the numbers defined by those peaks and valleys are dropping over time, then you’re on the right path.
6Adding fruits and veggies to a poor diet will melt the weight away. This one seems pretty straight forward when you actually stop and think about it, but many people will simply add healthy foods into what may already be a poor diet and expect it to make a difference in their weight. This may help the nutrition portion of your diet somewhat, but replacing a side of fries with a salad isn’t going to do much good if the rest of your meal is a burger (or two!) and a milkshake. You have to address the entire picture when trying to lose weight, not just spot fixes here and there. Weight loss is more about breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones than anything else.
7Salads are diet food. This is probably one of the most perpetuated myths in the dieting sphere. YES, salads can be a great place for healthy fibrous carbs, vitamins and minerals. But if you’re crudding them up with lots of cheese, sugary dressings and other “add-ons” found on many salad bars and entree salads on menus, then you might be better off choosing the burger and fries – calorically speaking. Say no to cheese and other dairy products on your salads, and request low cal dressings on the side to help bring these potentially nutritious options back in line.
8All calories are created equal. This is false, but might be tough to wrap your head around. I had a tough time swallowing this, because I realize that a calorie is simply a unit of measure (energy in the case of the calorie). So accepting this fact was like accepting someone telling me that all inches are not equal. And technically speaking, a calorie IS a calorie (yay, I’m right!), but the difference comes in how the body might use that calorie. For example, a calorie of protein can help increase metabolism, reduce your appetite and aid in improving the function of weight reducing hormones like GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin while simultaneously decreasing ghrelin – the hunger hormone. When thinking about calories in this manner, it becomes easier too understand the idea that not all calories are equal.
9Diet foods can help you lose weight. This is one of the most annoying truths in the nutrition world. There is a HUGE market for foods that are “Low Fat” or “Low Carb” that are advertised as “healthy” diet foods. The truth is they might be loaded with other things that may make them unhealthy. For example, many protein bars or health food bars aren’t much better than candy bars, and those healthy granola bars? Sorry to say, many are, glorified cookies. Just because a food is marketed as a health food, doesn’t mean that it’s good for your health. If it’s processed food, learn about macros and sugar and read the label. Better still, avoid eating processed foods.
10Weight loss means fat loss. Many people mistake the number they see on the scale for a representation of fat loss. The number on the scale is a great way to statistically track your progress when trying to lose weight, but a better indicator of progress is how your clothes fit, and the number of inches you’ve lost. One of the biggest fluctuations on the scale is caused by water gain or loss. This can occur simply by a day where your diet is high in sodium (causing water retention). It’s possible to see the number on the scale fluctuate by a few pounds up or down simply due to this one factor – lending credence to point #5 about weight loss not being linear.
Hopefully this clears up some confusion about weight loss. There’s a lot of information out there, a lot of which might be being cleverly peddled to sell you something. Do your research on anything that you think sounds suspicious, and make sure that you’re not spending time chasing something that won’t lead to results.
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