Shedding excess pounds might just be one of the most common health goals around, but that doesn’t mean that achieving lasting results is straightforward. Read on to demystify the most common weight loss myths.
Myth 1: Eating fat makes you fat
Fat in the diet has been blamed for years as the main culprit when it comes to gaining weight, and it makes sense. After all, fat is highly calorie-dense, providing 9 calories per gram compared to only 4 calories per gram for protein or carbohydrates.
But there is some research that suggests that a low-fat diet may be less effective than a low-carbohydrate diet. In one study, 119 participants were placed in either a low-fat diet group or a low-carbohydrate diet group. The low-carbohydrate group were instructed to consume no more than 40 g of net carbs per day, while the low-fat group were instructed to consume less than 30% of their daily energy intake from total fat and 55% from carbohydrates.
By the end of 12 months, the low-carbohydrate diet group lost an average 7.7 more lbs and 1.5% more fat mass than the low-fat diet group.
This conclusion challenges a popular myth that fat is what causes weight gain, indicating that low-carb, high-protein diets may actually be more effective than low-fat diets at maintaining weight loss up to a year.
While this may be the case, it is still critical to pay attention to the fat in your foods, as not all fats are created equal. High-calorie, processed junk foods laden with harmful trans fats and saturated fats can significantly contribute to your total calorie intake, which will lead to weight gain - and beware of “reduced fat” and “low-fat” foods too. They may have less fat, but they often sneak in excessive sugar and salt.
Instead, go for heart-healthy foods rich in omega-3, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados, walnuts, salmon, and ground flax seeds. These “good” fats are shown to reduce triglycerides, lower LDL cholesterol, and boost protective HDL cholesterol.
They provide essential nutrients your body needs while keeping you feeling full. Omega-3 fats may even help speed up your metabolism for losing weight along the way, as one 2015 study that evaluated the effects of omega-3 rich fish oil on metabolism showed. When 24 women aged around 66 years old were either given 3 g per day of EPA and DHA fish oil or an olive oil placebo for 12 weeks, researchers found that those who supplemented with fish oil saw an increase in resting metabolic rate by 14%, energy expenditure during exercise by 10%, and fat burning during exercise by 27%. No changes were seen in the olive oil group.
Myth 2: Skipping breakfast is helpful for losing weight
Breakfast may or may not be the most important meal of the day, but one thing appears certain: it is doubtful that skipping it will help you with weight loss.
The thinking is that simply cutting out the first meal of the day is an easy way to lower overall calorie intake, but the research shows that doing so to lose weight is not a slam dunk.
One study followed the eating patterns of participants over twenty years and found that those who skipped breakfast throughout their lives into adulthood had an average 4.63cm larger waist circumference compared to those who never skipped or only skipped during adulthood.
Another more recent study analyzing the results of 45 previous studies concurred with this finding, showing that for both children and adults alike, either forgoing breakfast daily or even only sometimes is consistently associated with a 44% to 48% increased risk of overweight and obesity, as well as a 31% increased risk of obesity in the abdomen.
One possible explanation? The authors suggest that skipping breakfast can modify a person’s appetite by decreasing satiety, or a sense of fullness, which may lead to overeating throughout the rest of the day to counteract hunger. One particular study showed that eating a breakfast meal in solid food form, rather than drink form, that provides at least 350 calories and 30 g protein may be enough to enhance satiety leading to a reduction in appetite.
Myth 3: Dieting works
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 49.1% of U.S. adults tried to lose weight in the last year, with as many as 62.9% of Americans attempting to diet by eating less food - in other words, by restricting their daily calories.
This is sobering news, especially since overwhelming evidence shows that diets are nothing but a temporary fix that rarely work for keeping weight off in the long term.
In fact, a new study demonstrates this disappointing truth. Researchers assessed the weight loss results of 22,000 overweight or obese adults following 14 popular diets for an average of six months. The results showed that diets did result in an average loss of 10 lb after six months, but after 12 months, an average 5.6 lb to 7.8 lb came back on. In other words, the 10 lb weight loss was not sustained, and most of the weight crept back up.
Why is this the case? It could be that highly-restrictive diets are too difficult to follow, leading to low adherence from the get-go. Lower-calorie foods may be less appealing, making them challenging to embrace, and some people might also work out less as they take in fewer calories. Plus, as fewer calories are consumed, the body adapts by slowing its metabolism, leading to less weight loss.
Myth 4: Weight loss supplements can help you shed pounds
Americans shell out a shocking $2.1 billion a year on capsules, tablets, liquids, powders, and bars - many of them unlicensed and unprescribed - all touting claims of reducing appetite and fat absorption and boosting metabolism in the name of losing weight.
Unfortunately, these fat busting claims for the majority of supplements are simply not backed up by evidence. Even worse, they can be downright dangerous for your health, prompting the FDA to warn the public against them due to mixtures of hidden, harmful active ingredients that can lead to injury or even death. Specifically, supplements contaminated with heavy metals or enriched with higher than normal concentrations of ingredients are associated with dementia, brittle bones, cognitive limitations, liver damage, and kidney disease.
Microbial and heavy metal contamination, adulteration with synthetic drugs (including drugs banned from the United States), substituting herbs, and fraudulently specifying ingredients on the label have all occurred
Heavy metals can cause dementia, cognitive limitation, brittle bones
There are many instances where the herb named on the bottle was not the same as the herb in the product (tablets, capsules) or where active ingredients in dietary supplements were enriched with higher than normal concentrations of certain natural or synthetic constituents hepatotoxicity, nephropathy, and 43 had reached end-stage renal failure
Myth 5: Snacking is the enemy of keeping slim
For many, the belief that indulging in snacks is a surefire way to derail their healthy eating plan is real. But like other things in the world of health, the validity of this belief is not quite cut-and-dry.
One study found that its subjects who were at a healthy weight ate more sweet and salty snacks that were at least 50 calories than those who had lost weight, and that those who were overweight ate the fewest snacks. In other words, there does not seem to be a relationship between eating frequency and gaining weight after all.
There are actually many good reasons to snack between meals: keeping hunger at bay staves off irritability and frustration, helping you to better stick with eating healthy foods, maintaining your energy, and managing your calories more effectively by preventing overeating at mealtime.
Of course, it is important to remember that it is not the snacking itself that leads to weight gain, but the type of snack that is what makes all the difference. Nix the processed snacks and keep your snacks nutritious, emphasizing lean protein and fruits and veggies like Greek yogurt, berries, nuts, or carrots with hummus between meals.
Losing weight: here’s the bottom line
There is no way around it, losing weight and keeping it off can be frustrating and feel like a never-ending uphill battle. Calories are readily available all around us, making it that much more challenging to stay on track.
Remember that there is no miracle cure or magic bullet for reaching and sustaining a healthy weight. If a method seems too good to be true, chances are good that it is.
Your best bet? Shift your mindset. Shift away from the diet mentality and instead pivot toward long-term behavioral lifestyle changes that align with your overall health goals.
Healthy lifestyle habits should include eating unprocessed nutrient-dense foods, limiting refined grains, sodium, and sugars, exercising most days of the week, and prioritizing quality sleep.
Doing these things might possibly lead to weight loss as a natural byproduct, and will do wonders for your general health.