Have you heard about miraculous secrets to shedding pounds overnight? You might see these claims in ads or even hear about them from friends who swear by the results they’ve experienced. But be wary—in so many cases these commonly repeated weight loss myths are anything but the hidden key to reaching your weight loss goals.
Here are the top seven weight loss myths that could be wreaking havoc on your weight loss progress:
1. Myth: Fasting is a shortcut to weight loss.
Fact: Not eating a couple days a week has been touted as the quick way to drop excess pounds, but simply reducing your daily calorie consumption led to greater fat loss than fasting, according to a 2014 review of published research by scientists at the University of Illinois–Chicago. Moreover, a 2015 study published in the journal Nutrition Research concluded that spreading out your calories over six daily meals and healthy snacks helps you maintain more metabolism-revving muscle mass than you do when you deprive your body of food.
2. Myth: Low-carb (or no-carb) diets are best for losing weight.
Fact: Limiting fat in your diet is more effective at reducing body fat than limiting carbohydrates, report researchers at the National Institutes of Health. They compared the impact of low-fat vs. low-carb diets (with equal amounts of calories) and found that while total weight loss was comparable between the two diets, the subjects who ate less fat experienced greater body fat loss compared with the low-carb eaters. However, as we’ve said time and again, fat is not the enemy either, since healthy fats play an important role in your diet and in your body (get the 411 on fats here). A balanced diet that includes lean proteins, healthy fats and nutrient-rich carbs is your best bet when trying to lose weight. Just remember: Not all carbs are created equal. The high-fiber fruits and vegetables and whole grains in the SmartCarbs category of your Grocery Guide help satisfy hunger and keep you feeling full without causing spikes in your insulin levels or appetite.
3. Myth: “Low-fat” or “fat-free” foods are healthier than regular versions.
Fact: As we said above, healthy fats have a place in your diet. But, since fats weigh in at 9 calories per gram (carbs and proteins serve up less than half of this amount), over-consuming this nutrient (really, over-consuming any nutrient) may impede your weight loss progress. For this reason, many people have jumped on the low-fat food bandwagon. But it’s important to be informed about the low-fat products you’re choosing. Many processed, low-fat or fat-free foods contain added sugar or salt to enhance flavor and they often have even more calories than the full-fat versions. Your best bet is to stick to natural low-fat snacks, like fruits and veggies. When you do opt for low-fat foods, do your due diligence and read the nutrition label to determine if the lower fat comes at a higher sugar, sodium or calorie cost. (Need help interpreting a nutrition label? We’ve got you covered here). If you do opt for low-fat versions of your favorite foods, just be mindful of your portion sizes. Studies at Cornell have found that we tend to eat 50 percent more of foods labeled “low-fat” than the regular version of the product. Remember: “Low-fat” isn’t permission to eat an entire box.
4. Myth: If you exercise a lot, you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight.
Fact: Exercise is a healthy habit that can help you reach your weight-loss goals, but without reducing your daily calorie consumption your progress will be slow at best. First, you don’t burn as many calories exercising as you might think: For a person weighing in around 185 pounds, 30 minutes of moderate-paced walking burns fewer than 180 calories, says Harvard Health Publications. That’s the calorie equivalent of a little more than one 12 ounce can of soda. Second, a 2016 study published in the journal Current Biology found that your body begins to adapt to higher activity levels and may gradually burn fewer calories as a result.
5. Myth: To lose weight, you must get used to feeling hungry.
Fact: Your food choices dramatically affect how hungry you feel throughout the day. Foods that are high in protein or fiber, regardless of their calorie-content,tend to burn slowly and leave you feeling full longer. Even better, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reports that “increasing meal frequency appears to help decrease hunger and improve appetite control.” That is, eating more times a day not only reduces feelings of hunger, it helps you to control your appetite, which is essential to losing weight.
6. Myth: Snacking impedes your progress toward your weight loss goal.
Fact: For many of us, snacks can account for more than a quarter of our daily calories. But if you munch on nutrient-dense foods (high in vitamins, minerals and fiber and low in calories), you’re more likely to maintain a healthy weight, according to the results of a five-year study known as the “National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” It revealed that healthy snackers were less likely than non-snackers to be overweight or obese.
7. Myth: Certain “fat-burning” foods amp up weight loss.
Fact: Grapefruit, celery, coconut oil and other foods are reputed to have a “thermogenic” effect, meaning you literally burn more calories eating and digesting them than they contain. But many of these fat-burning ingredients are simply nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories and high in fiber or protein—just like most other fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are healthy components of your diet, but they don’t possess exceptional characteristics that make them better than others at helping you lose weight. A well-balanced diet that includes a wide variety of foods is the foundation of steady, sustainable weight loss. Read more about negative-calorie foods here.