10 Weight-Loss Myths You Should Stop Believing

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by SELF
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10 Weight-Loss Myths You Should Stop Believing

If only figuring out how to lose weight were an open and shut case. But if slimming down happens to be a goal of yours, you may have experienced the struggle of parsing through conflicting weight-loss advice. Should you go high-protein or high-fat? Cut the dairy, or make Greek yogurt a snacking staple? Here, experts explain the truth behind 10 popular misguided pieces of weight-loss information.

1. Myth: carbs will make you gain pounds, period.
Some people equate carbohydrates with weight gain because they bind water and can lead to bloating. You’re not truly getting bigger, but it can sure feel like it. The other reason people may see carbs as a nutritional adversary is because they can be so easy to overeat, which actually can lead to added pounds. To avoid that sneaky trap, fill your diet with complex carbohydrates like vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. “They often contain fiber and many vitamins and minerals, unlike simple carbohydrates found in white rice, refined sugar, sodas, and candy,” Ashvini Mashru, R.D., author of Small Steps to Slim, and owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts LLC, tells SELF.

2. Myth: indulging is off-limits.
The fact is that humans have increasingly long lifespans. Can you honestly imagine never touching your favorite food again for decades? It’s just not sustainable, which is why experts don’t advocate swearing off your most-loved treats altogether. “I strongly believe through personal and professional experience that all foods can fit into a healthy diet,” Samantha Finkelstein, R.D., founder of Nerdy Girl Nutrition, tells SELF. “If you’re really hungry for something, sit down with it, savor it, enjoy it, and move on.”

3. Myth: going gluten-free is clutch for dropping pounds.
If you don’t have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, adopting a gluten-free diet probably won’t do much in the way of lasting weight loss. You might see a change in the beginning because you’ll cut back on things like pasta, bagels, and pizza, but it’s likely not sustainable. “Over time, most people find ways to reintroduce these calories into their diets by way of ‘gluten-free’ products,” says Mashru. Those foods have what experts call a “health halo,” meaning they seem healthier than they really are thanks to a few well-placed buzzwords.

4. Myth: the number on the scale is the best marker of health.
So not true! “Weight may be one way your doctor or dietitian lets you know if you’re at risk for certain lifestyle-associated diseases, but even then it’s not always the most reliable indicator,” says Finkelstein. Someone who’s technically outside of the “normal” range weight-wise but has healthy habits can be less at risk for things like heart disease than someone in the “normal” weight range who doesn’t eat well or exercise.

5. Myth: low-fat and fat-free foods are automatically better for you.
“Many processed low-fat or fat-free foods have just as many calories as the full-fat versions, or even more,” says Mashru. To compensate for the loss of flavor and texture that occurs when you take away fat, they may also have added sugar, flour, salt, or other additives. “Read the nutrition facts on a food package to find out how many calories are in a serving, and also check the serving size to see if it’s less than you’re used to eating,” says Mashru.

6. Myth: exercise needs to be hardcore to count.
Working out comes in many forms, and not all of them will leave you breathless and drenched in sweat. “Exercise doesn’t have to be spending an hour at the gym. Just get moving,” says Finkelstein. “Take a dance class, go for a hike, walk the dog, or vacuum your house. It all counts!” So, yes, those late-night solo dance parties where you pretend you’re Beyoncé are well worth it.

7. Myth: there’s nothing wrong with cutting out entire food groups or nutrients.
While some people have issues like lactose intolerance that require eliminating food groups or nutrients, most people don’t need to go to those lengths. “A healthy diet is marked by variety, balance, and moderation,” says Finkelstein. “Your body requires fat, protein, and carbohydrates to function. Removing one of these components may lead to nutrient deficiencies, and may even hinder weight loss, as your body lacks what it needs.”

8. Myth: skipping meals is a great way to lose weight.
Eating less equals less calories, which equals weight loss, right? Even though that seems logical, that’s generally not how the human body works. “People who skip meals tend to feel hungrier later on and eat more than they normally would,” says Mashru. She recommends eating small meals throughout the day to keep your energy up, maintain stable blood sugar levels, and stay satiated so you don’t make impulsive food choices.

9. Myth: artificial sweeteners are the brilliant answer to your sugar cravings.
A healthy sugar substitute for zero calories sounds too good to be true, so of course it is. “A sugar craving is a biochemical reaction, and it turns out your brain can tell the difference between real sugar and the fake stuff even when your taste buds can’t,” says Finkelstein. So when you try to tame a nagging sweet tooth with artificial sweeteners, you might actually eat more of the treat because your craving isn’t getting satisfied. “It’s also important to remember that just because something is sweetened with artificial sweeteners doesn’t mean it’s calorie-free,” says Finkelstein.

10. Myth: you can eat whatever as long as you exercise.
It’s all about balance. “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet, and you can’t out-diet a lack of exercise,” says Finkelstein. “Maintaining a healthy body is about leading a healthy lifestyle that is fed by real food and prioritizes physical activity.” Refer back to number three and remember: that includes room for indulging!

—By Zahra Barnes

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17 responses to “10 Weight-Loss Myths You Should Stop Believing”

  1. Tommy says:

    Nr. 8 is most likely not a myth.

    I’ve seen many studies that show’s intermittent fasting can help with weightloss, but pretty much none showing that “eating small meals throughout the day to keep your energy up, maintain stable blood sugar levels, and stay satiated so you don’t make impulsive food choices.”.

    Could you share some sources of that?

    • clg says:

      I don’t have sources but I think it’s simply more complicated than true/false. If you “intermittently fast” but then gorge at Burger King, you haven’t achieved much. If you eat small meals of pretzels and cheese all day, you probably won’t reap the benefits. Then there’s the influence of individual metabolisms, of course!

      • Cameron Ladd says:

        Count me as an intermittent fasting success story as well. I don’t have anything to eat until late afternoon early evening. I’m hungry enough that I eat more than I otherwise would then, but not enough close the caloric gap. So I end up with a net lesser amount of food eaten.

        It’s not for everybody, but I encourage people frustrated by being on the endless diet-go-round to consider it.

    • AB says:

      I agree. If I don’t eat breakfast and then go on to have reasonable portions for the rest of the day, I’ve saved 100-300 or so calories. I often find that eating something small first thing in the morning (like a banana) will lead to me being hungry earlier than usual for lunch, so it backfires. I also find that those “small meals” are less satisfying and take more time to prepare.

      • RunStopGo says:

        That hungry feeling you are getting is just metabolism kicking in, it’s an important bodily function. That’s why breakfast is called the most important meal of the day. Bananas aren’t the best thing to start with either, try eggs, filling, and also happen to be a superfood. 100-300 calories isn’t a huge difference if you just walk for parts of a day.

      • KB says:

        While I agree that skipping meals may help reduce your calorie intake, I think the point they’re trying to make is that it’s not good in the long run. Having smaller meals throughout the day, along with physical activity like walking would probably be a much better lifestyle

    • xanth18 says:

      I’ve been intermittent fasting (16 hours a day) for almost a year now, and I can tell you for a fact that it’s helped. After the first week or two, the hunger associated with the time you’re awake and fasting also goes away.

  2. pismopal says:

    Man is designed to eat when food is available and fast in between. Fasting is good for you. Metabolism does not slow down when you skip a few meals..no science to that idea.

    • Travis Aaron Rogers says:

      I don’t see a reference to somebody’s metabolism anywhere in this article. You’re sparking an argument with literally nobody.

    • GK says:

      For people with thyroid/metabolic resistance, its a nightmare. I cannot fast (oh I wish I wish) due to hypoglycemia. I eat a no sugar, lo carb, higher protein and lots of veggies, diet for years…and never lose a pound, its maddening. I exercise eat very healthy..my numbers are great, I feel good but wish to (%^&*#..) I could just lose ONE pound. If I do not eat I actually gain=…why because my metabolism goes into starvation mode and conserves and converts everything to stored fat. Unless one knows from a medical standpoint what it is like to BE a thyroid patient…one has no idea what it is like to do everything right constantly and never lose. I have been on most of the great weight loss systems and taken ONE year to lose 5 pounds religiously following whatever system. They are good systems for normal metabolisms!! The day I find one that is SPECIFICALLY for thyroid patients I’d probably spring real money for it. I am just managing staying healthy and trying not to stress about it. Al I woud want to lost is 10 pounds…a mirage!! Stress can also trigger cortisol problems and defeat any diet efforts.!!

  3. BS says:

    Let me get this straight….are you saying there are people out there that actually believe some of these myths are real???

  4. Ang says:

    My problem with #2 is that articles that endorse “controlled indulgences” tend to ignore a very major factor for many people- the mental/emotional/addictive component to what we tend to indulge in and why. This is very real and while it definitely needs to be addressed by each individual often these indulgences while trying to lose weight can derail the process. I’m currently avoiding these trigger foods while in weight loss mode and trying to work on a better relationship with food so that when I do get to maintenance (which is way harder for me than weight loss) I am in a better place to learn how to incorporate my “treats” into my life.

  5. Bianca lynn says:

    Count me as a success story of 5-6 small meals a day. I’ve lost 70 lbs since last March. I’ve adopted it as a lifestyle instead of just doing it when I feel the need to drop weight. Someone told me a couple of years ago. “You’re so pretty,” I told her thank you and that I just wanted to lose the weight I had gained during pregnancy. She told me to not even try because we’re never going back to our high school weight. Now I’m 10 lbs lighter and 3 pant sizes smaller than when I was in high school. I exercise daily and try to keep my eating at a 90% healthy that way I can still indulge(note: not OVER indulge) in the foods that I like the other 10%.

    • Roger B says:

      Five to six small meals a day is an excellent way to lose weight and to control hunger.

      And if you do this for several weeks it creates a situation where if you do fall off the wagon it’s hard to do damage because it becomes difficult to eat a lot at any one Meal.

  6. Kevin says:

    I’m glad someone finally called out myth number 7! Vegetarians and vegans are a malnutrished bunch.

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