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