Eating Well | Weight loss myths

Written by by Laurie Syring, RD/LD. Posted in May

As warmer weather approaches, many of us are thinking about shorts and flip flops. Many of us are also feeling more than a little anxious about fitting into those shorts because of the extra pounds we may have packed on over the winter months. So we start scrambling to find a quick and easy fix to this dilemma, which makes us vulnerable to the myriad weight-loss fads and myths circulating out there—varying from a shot of apple cider vinegar every day to the Whole30 Diet.


Here are some of the most common weight-loss myths you might encounter:

“I just need to get to the gym”

While exercise is excellent and helps burn calories, it does not burn as many calories as you might think. That means it is easy to consume more calories than you burn and exercise alone won’t likely get you to your weight-loss goal. Exercise with the objective of getting stronger and fitter while making healthier food choices.

A gluten-free diet is best for everyone

A gluten-free diet is necessary for individuals who are truly gluten-sensitive and have the diagnosis of celiac disease, but there is no magic in avoiding gluten. Perhaps the real magic is when people who are avoiding gluten start making healthier choices—i.e., eating more whole foods and limiting the processed stuff.

Some people swear by the gluten-free diet, but do not fall victim to the empty calories found in the many gluten-free cookies, muffins, cakes, and refined-grain products. These have the same amount of calories as the regular versions.

Certain foods increase metabolism

Metabolism is the process of taking what we eat and drink and changing it into energy for our bodies. Many infomercials and magazine ads try to trick us into believing certain foods or products have metabolism-enhancing properties. Such claims are largely unsupported by science.

In reality, many factors affect metabolism, including age, body type, gender, and genetics. Increasing muscle mass through activity and strength training may help boost metabolism slightly, and some studies show that caffeine and chili peppers may have a similar slight effect on metabolism. However, much-touted supplements and foods actually show very little difference.

A calorie is a calorie

While it’s true that weight loss is always a matter of calories consumed versus calories burned, one could argue that not all calories are created equal. When it comes to calories, quality counts too. For example, eating 100 calories of cookies is not the same as eating 100 calories of apples or almonds. The idea is to eat more nutrient-rich foods and avoid nutrient-poor ones, such as cookies, cakes, candy, pop, and chips. Remember, no one has ever become obese from eating apples and bananas.

How many calories do you need to cut in order to shed those excess pounds? Well, weight loss varies from person to person, but in general, reducing your caloric intake by 3,500 over the course of a week will lower that number on the bathroom scale by around one pound. And keep in mind that weight-loss plateaus often happen when the body adjusts to the lower number of calories coming in. If you hit a plateau, it’s important to reduce calories again, bump up the intensity of your workouts, and, of course, drink water, water, water!

“If only I had some willpower!”

Some people think weight loss is a simple matter of choosing to stop eating so much. The truth is, many complex factors are involved with weight loss, such as genetics, metabolism, diet history, habits, and emotional issues. What’s more, if you try to eat too few calories or eliminate entire food groups, you’ll end up depriving yourself of favorite foods and start to crave them all the more, which sets you up for failure. Although some self-discipline and willpower are often needed for successful weight loss, a more important consideration is finding a support system and a program that keeps you accountable.

While these weight-loss myths never stop circulating, I would urge you to start ignoring them now! What works is following a rational eating plan. Research shows that a lower-carb and lower-fat eating plan, along with staying within your allotted calories and being more active, yields the best weight-loss results. Using a food journal or food tracker and weighing in just once a week—this can be done with a friend or family member—will also help keep you accountable. The key is finding a way that works for you and keeps you satisfied.❦

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