When trying to lose weight, it can be hard to sort through the myriad conflicting information. Should you give up dairy? What about the protein-packed, gut-healthy benefits of Greek yogurt? Here, a registered dietitian weighs in on 11 common weight-loss myths.
Weight loss is more than just calories in minus calories out and the idea there’s one quick fix for lasting weight loss that works for everyone is misguided. Individuals differ greatly in their bodies, lifestyles, emotions and life experiences (and that’s a good thing). However, this means what might have worked for your friend or loved one won’t necessarily work for you and hopping on the fad diet bandwagon often backfires. Instead, you should focus on adding healthy habits you’ll be able to maintain long-term.
Despite popular belief, carbohydrates do not inherently cause weight gain. When broken down they are very simply the body’s main source of energy. We need them and they can absolutely work with us, not against us, if we eat high-quality, complex carbohydrates that keep blood sugar levels stable and help boost recovery after tough workouts.
When cutting carbs from the diet, we tend to lose water weight that can create the illusion of fat loss. When carbs are reintroduced to the diet, the weight comes back as we store necessary carbs with water. This also creates a bloated feeling that leads us to believe carbs are “bad” or we do not tolerate them. However, if you include complex carbs like whole grains into your regular diet, the body adjusts accordingly and you’ll be less likely to overeat due to hunger pangs or cravings.
Messaging that equates various foods to the number of minutes on a treadmill you’d need to run to work the calories off is not a helpful mindset for weight loss or overall health. The same goes with the notion you need to “earn” your next meal by working out intensely first. This sort of thinking, even if unknowingly at times, promotes a disordered relationship with food and exercise and can severely stress the body. As a result, stress triggers inflammation hormones that can make weight gain more likely.
Unless you have food allergies, lactose intolerance or celiac disease, cutting out certain foods or entire food groups is usually unnecessary (despite what many diets out there claim). The body needs a variety of foods, including the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein), to function optimally. Switching the mindset from, “what should I cut out of my diet” to “what should I eat more of” is key to making sure you’re nourishing your body and getting essential vitamins and minerals.
Enjoyable movement can mean something different for everyone, but it’s also the secret to exercising regularly long-term. The sweaty, breathless types of workouts don’t always feel good to some people, and that’s OK. Walking, yoga, swimming, low-intensity cardio or playing in a fun sports league all count, too.
The notion you need to feel hungry during a weight-loss journey for it to work is rooted in diet culture, and is, more often than not, a hindrance. The physical feeling of hunger is the body’s way of telling us it needs some energy. Ignoring hunger often leads to overeating or bingeing at some point, when the body’s physiological need for food takes over. If you’re feeling hungry all the time, consider speaking with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional who can help you come up with an individualized plan.
The body is hard at work while we are asleep, and this is when our muscles can recover the most from exercise. Consistently choosing a workout over sleep does not allow the body to adequately recover, and can lead to lingering fatigue, muscle soreness and injury. A lack of sleep can also increase stress hormones in the body and impede weight loss.
The idea that eating after a certain time can cause weight gain is a common misconception. If your body is giving you physical hunger cues, it is telling you it needs some energy, and it doesn’t really care what time it is. While it’s important to honor these cues, it’s also helpful to look into the reasons hunger may happen later in the evening. Often times I find clients who do not eat enough during the day — perhaps they skip breakfast or have a tiny salad for lunch —– get very hungry in the evenings and tend to overeat. Recognizing this and prioritizing a well-balanced breakfast and lunch can help you make smarter choices in the evening.
Low-calorie versions of foods tend to have more additives in them to take place of the nutrients that make certain foods taste good and satisfying, like sugar and fat. This can result in overeating the low-calorie foods because the satisfaction factor just isn’t there. Indulging in the real stuff, like regular ice cream as opposed to a fat-free, low-calorie one, can surprisingly result in eating less overall because a small amount is much more satisfying. Just make sure to pay attention to portion sizes.
Polarizing foods as good or bad, and associating our own morality with it, can be detrimental to eating a low-stress, varied diet without deprivation. In order to ditch food guilt and have a healthier relationship with food, aim to put all foods on a neutral playing field. By knowing previously “off-limits” foods are available to you at all times, and that it’s more than OK to eat them when you choose, the power they have over you can greatly decrease. This often results in less overeating, less guilt and a naturally balanced diet.
It’s impossible to equate overall health to an arbitrary number on the scale or a person’s BMI (which is an extremely antiquated measure of weight in relation to height). We now know every body is different, and body size often has little to do with health markers like cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure. Lifestyle — diet, physical movement, stress, sleep, social connections — can have just as much an impact (often more) than what the physical body looks like whether you’re trying to reduce risk for chronic disease or feel your best on a daily basis. If the scale is bringing you more stress, consider other ways to track progress like how much energy you have and how you’re checking off new fitness goals like signing up for your first 5K.
Originally published March 2019, updated with additional reporting
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