7 Common Weight-Loss Myths Debunked
Last Updated: Nov 10, 2014
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It’s always good to question commonly held ideas or beliefs that are touted as facts. Sometimes “facts” are not facts at all, but just ideas that are repeated again and again by influential groups so that over time they’re believed to be facts. This is true when it comes to diet and weight loss. There are many perceived “facts” that are actually false, and by believing some of these you may be holding yourself back from achieving your true weight-loss potential. Read on to learn about seven myths about diet and losing weight.
MYTH #1: A SMALL BEHAVIOR CHANGE = LONG-TERM WEIGHT LOSS
Common weight-loss advice is to make small changes to your day to get you to move more or eat less so that these changes will reap significant weight loss over time. Walking an extra mile per day will burn 100 calories, and, in theory, this would lead to almost 50 pounds of weight loss in a five-year time span. But in reality, research shows that on average this kind of behavior change only yields about 10 pounds of weight loss because changes in body mass at the same time alter your body’s energy needs. In order to make meaningful changes to your body, you can’t rely on one small change compounding over time. Instead adopt many little changes that build on each other. The synergy of numerous small changes will transform how you eat and move and lead to meaningful weight loss.
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MYTH #2: SNACKING = WEIGHT GAIN
Snacking may seem like a weight-loss foe -- a good way to overdo it on the calories and hinder weight loss -- but it doesn’t have to throw a wrench in your weight-loss efforts. Snacking accounts for more than 25 percent of our total calories, so if done right, it can actually improve the overall quality of our diets (adding more fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.) while also helping to subdue our appetites and keep us from overeating at meals. In one 2009 study, researchers reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2004 and looked at adults and patterns of skipping meals and snacking. The researchers found that among all adults (meal skippers and non-meal skippers) snackers were less likely than non-snackers to be overweight or obese. Another 2011 study found that snacking was more prevalent in groups of women who were of normal weight or had recently lost weight compared with overweight women. If you’re smart about your snacking, it doesn’t need to negatively impact your weight.
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MYTH #3: YOU MUST SET REALISTIC WEIGHT-LOSS GOALS
This seems like good advice, doesn’t it? Set realistic weight-loss goals so that you don’t get too frustrated and quit when you don’t reach your unrealistic goals. However, how realistic or unrealistic your weight-loss goals may be has little impact on how much weight you lose. One study looking at 302 women actively losing weight found that while people’s weight-loss goals were on average 24 percent too high, it didn’t hinder weight loss. In fact, more aggressive weight-loss goals were associated with greater expected effort and reward and ultimately greater weight loss after 18 months. Another study with 1,801 people found that the more unrealistic the weight-loss goal, the greater the weight loss after two years. Don’t be afraid to set aggressive weight-loss goals -- just make sure they’re healthy ones. You’ll probably be more motivated to succeed!
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MYTH #4: EATING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES IS THE SECRET TO WEIGHT LOSS
Eating more fruits and vegetables is a key strategy for boosting weight loss because they are foods that generally have a high water and fiber content and low calorie content per gram. But eating them doesn’t guarantee weight loss. In one study, participants increased their fruit and vegetable intake up to 10 servings per day but didn’t lose any weight. In a 2014 study, researchers reviewed the data from more than seven studies on the association of fruit and vegetable intake and weight loss and found that it had no impact. The good news is the participants didn’t gain weight, but they didn’t lose weight either. While you’ll likely improve the overall quality of your diet, you will not lose weight by simply adding them to your diet without replacing other calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods or without strategies to increase energy expenditure.
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MYTH #5: YOU MUST ASSESS YOUR MOTIVATION LEVEL BEFORE STARTING A WEIGHT-LOSS PROGRAM
If you think you need to lose weight, then just get started. The time will never be perfect, and you’ll likely never be completely ready. It is becoming common practice for health professionals to assess one’s readiness for diet change, but the results from several studies totaling almost 4,000 people found that a person’s level of readiness has little impact on the amount of weight loss or sustained success. It seems that the only barrier of entry that you need to get over is starting. If you are ready enough to start your weight-loss program, then do it. Don’t overthink or overanalyze your plan, just make it happen. Your ability to stick with your weight-loss plan is really the key. Even if you don’t know much when you start, you’ll figure out what you need to know as the days progress and you start to lose weight.
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MYTH #6: YOU CAN EAT AS MUCH AS YOU WANT ON A LOW-CARB DIET
One of the purported benefits of low-carb diets is that you can eat as much as you want, but this is actually a very common misconception. Low-carb diets are high in fat and protein, two very satiating components of food. Because of this, participants in low-carbohydrate diet research studies are rarely given reduced calorie targets, but are instead advised to eat until satisfied, and that advice is enough to control calories and elicit weight loss. But there is a big difference between eating until “satisfied” and eating as much as you want. High-fat foods, commonly consumed on low-carb diets, are high in calories, and overconsumption is easy if you don’t listen to your body’s own satiety signals. When it comes to weight loss, controlling calories is of primary importance, while manipulating macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fats is important but secondary.
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MYTH #7: THERE ARE FAT-BURNING FOODS
Every day a new list of “essential” fat-burning foods -- from celery to coconut oil -- is touted. The truth is that the list of foods that actually increase your body’s ability to burn calories is extremely short and limited to only a few items like green tea and hot peppers, the latter needing to be concentrated into supplement form to have any significant effect. Most foods that bear the fat-burning claim are low in calories and carbohydrates, high in fiber and/or high in protein. These foods possess characteristics that support controlling calories and hormones that can optimize weight loss, but they do not actually stimulate your body to burn more fat. In the case of a food like coconut oil, its thermogenic (i.e., burning fat through increasing heat production) properties do not burn enough calories to overcome the calorically dense nature of the food.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Did you believe any of these myths to be true? Have you dispelled any of these myths through your own experience? What other common weight-loss myths are out there that you feel should be included? Please share your thoughts with us below.
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