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Debunking the Most Common Weight Loss Myths
Published on September 22, 2021 and last updated for accuracy on August 13, 2022
The prominence of health and body-image standards in society has truly impacted the way people view nutrition and diet. This has led to multiple health fads, weight loss plans, and diet formats that promise stellar results within a short amount of time, and with only minimal effort! It is no doubt that skepticisms have arisen towards these fads. After all, some of them do propose drastic weight loss with only minimal lifestyle changes.
Nevertheless, it is important to separate fiction from fact, and it is more essential to know the premise behind these weight loss plans and whether or not they align with the modern research and technology of nutrition before hopping onto a trend with a poor backbone of supporting evidence. If you are looking to learn more about these fads, here are six health claims you might have heard of that actually turn out to be myths.
1. The universality of calories among processed and whole foods.
FALSE: Not all calories are the same, whether from processed or whole foods. By definition, calories are simply a unit of measurement for the amount of energy that a certain food item contains. Furthermore, each food item contains different combinations of the different sources of calories.
A calorie of energy can come from either of these sources:
- Proteins: protein-rich food include meats, eggs, and dairy.
- Carbohydrates: rice, fruits, vegetables, wheat and other grains are rich in carbs.
- Fats: fatty foods include dairy, bacon, red meat, potato chips, etc.
As there is a difference in the source of calories, so is there with the way the body naturally reacts with it. If we’re talking processed foods versus whole foods, processed foods are typically more calorie-dense and nutrient deficient, whereas whole foods contain the other necessary things such as fiber and other micronutrients.
With processed food being processed and intentionally modified, the body naturally finds it easier to digest, spending less energy for less processing time, and intaking the excess calories that these foods contain. Whole foods on the other hand, contain fiber and other nutrients that prevent the body from overconsuming calories. Additionally, whole foods such as organic fruits and vegetables consume more energy in digestion as it takes longer to break down and process, thus, making whole foods a more viable option for a pound-shedding diet.
2. Determination is the only way to lose weight.
FALSE. Your perseverance doesn’t exactly determine whether or not weight loss will be evident for you. Biologically, our bodies are fashioned to retain body fat for a variety of purposes.
Centuries ago, the human body primarily hung onto excess weight in order to withstand harsh environments such as cold temperature, or as an energy reservoir for surviving famines, food deprivation, and vigorous activities such as hunting and travelling on foot. Modern studies, on the other hand, suggest multiple functions of body fat that are still evident to this day, namely:
- It serves as a protective cushion for the other organs in the body
- It serves as a coat of insulation towards low temperatures
- It is an energy reservoir that stores calories, which is always in demand in the human body, as we humans naturally have a higher calorie requirement compared to other organisms that are roughly the same size as ourselves.
With that being said, you may be determined to shed off excess body fat, but your body may be thinking otherwise. It is quite normal for the human body to maintain a “default” state of balance, so if it does undergo drastic changes such as a rapid weight loss, the body naturally aims to revert back to its default state, making the person experience hunger sensations more often.
Of course, concerns especially involving weight and body fat percentage are different for everyone, as no two people have exactly the same lifestyles, eating habits, physical activity, and health footprint. This also means that certain people have slower metabolisms than others, making them more vulnerable towards weight gain. Even so, human metabolism generally decelerates with age, which implies that our body will eventually have difficulty shedding pounds regardless.
Michael Greger, M.D. highlights that “The battle of the bulge is a battle against biology,” and that weight gain is absolutely normal especially for people who consume mostly food with high fat and calorie content, because of the body’s natural programming to respond to these types of food in that way. Additionally, weight-related diseases like obesity cannot merely be treated with determination, but rather it is with the help of multiple factors such as medicines, exercise, diet, and other methods encouraged by a health professional that provide the best outcome to remedy this.
3. Carbohydrates and fat: the ultimate enemy.
FALSE: Carbohydrates and fat are only sources of calories. Whether you maintain a low-carb or low-fat diet, weight gain is primarily traced along the ratio of energy intake and energy usage.
Fat in general has three different types: unsaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. Each of which have their own purpose when consumed in the body. Unsaturated fat is generally considered to be a “healthy fat,” aiding the body in pulmonary and cardiovascular activities. Saturated fat and trans fat are known to be the unhealthy types of fat and the ones that you should be avoiding, as they increase vulnerability to heart disease, which doesn’t really correlate to weight gain anyway. Nevertheless, it is still almost harmless when taken in moderation.
Carbohydrates in fact, are an important part of a healthy diet as they are the primary source of energy in the body. Otherwise the body will result in extracting energy from fats and proteins. Thus, if carbohydrates are cut from the diet, relying on protein-dense foods such as meat and eggs is probably not the safest option because they are also rich in saturated fat, increasing the possibility of cholesterol.
Additionally, carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, bread, and pasta, which are known to be starchy, are abundant in fiber, making them an important, if not, essential factor in digestion. Having a regular fiber intake facilitates proper digestion, regulating a sustainable and healthy weight.
Still, dieting is different for everybody, and there might be some that highly benefit from a low-carb diet. At the end of the day it is all about finding the right diet that works for you, whether it be low-fat or low-carb, or just a simple balance of the different food groups. Regardless, a high-carb diet is still more beneficial to the body in comparison to a diet consisting mainly of processed food and drinks and foods with high sugar content.
4. No diet, no weight loss.
FALSE. While dieting does contribute to shedding a few pounds, it is only temporarily sustainable. The true pursuit of long-term weight loss involves long-term lifestyle changes.
Indeed dieting presents itself in many facets. With the emergence of multiple diet fads and weight loss plans, it may seem like the easier route towards weight loss, especially the ones that suggest drastic results. However, Scott Kahan, M.D., notes that these diet fads are rarely helpful and more often result in little to no changes at all.
In fact, the maintenance of weight loss means the maintenance of the diet, which advocates towards permanent lifestyle changes. Therefore, a more realistic and sustainable option for weight loss calls for a permanent commitment to a healthier diet and wiser food choices, as well as other beneficial lifestyle changes such as healthier sleeping patterns, exercise, and regular water drinking.
Additionally, diet isn’t the only solution for permanent weight loss. There are multiple ways to shed off excess fat such as certain physical activity and exercise, and surgery.
5. Eat small always, rather than eat big sometimes.
FALSE: There is no evidence supporting this claim, because at the end of the day, whether you eat little amounts of food frequently or big, hefty meals on bigger time intervals, the amount of weight the body gains is still solely dependent on the amount of calories ingested and its relationship with the amount of energy exerted within the day.
This myth was traced back to the idea that, similar to a battery, if an energy source is frequently charged, it is able to maintain a stable level of energy. On the other hand, if it is only charged when alerted of low energy, the power source is given an opportunity to be both fully charged and energy deficient. In the context of the human body, the energy is that of the blood glucose level (or sugar). Low sugar levels indicate hunger, so apparently if the body is frequently fueled, glucose levels will rarely decrease reducing sensations of hunger.
Certainly, appetite is an important factor to be considered in the weight loss journey, which is why the myth exists. Being able to control one’s appetite could be a huge advantage to someone aspiring to lose weight by means of diet. However, the essence of dieting anyway is less about how often you are eating and more about what you are eating. If you eat the same number of calories every day, how often you eat it throughout the day will still be of no correlation to the amount of weight you gain. On the contrary, studies have shown results that counter this claim, saying that eating more frequently increases the appetite, and encourages more food consumption more frequently.
6. Juice cleansing: the holy grail of weight loss.
FALSE: A juice cleanse does result in a temporary weight loss, however this weight loss may only be from water weight making it less sustainable and adequate for the long term.
Juices are famed for having high calories which can be able to sustain a person’s energy levels throughout the day just as a normal meal would. However, most juices do contain oxalate as well as laxatives, and overconsumption of which could lead to kidney problems and bowel issues. Additionally, unpasteurized juices may have a concentration of bacteria, and if taken above moderation, could potentially cause more harm than good to the body.
This doesn’t mean that you should stray away from juices. Ultimately everything is beneficial in moderation. Juices indeed have certain benefits to the body. They are rich in micronutrients that are of importance towards the body’s well-being, as well as being good agents of detoxification: providing enzymes and anti-inflammatory compounds to boost energy levels and strengthen immunity.
7. Supplements are the way to go!
FALSE: Every supplement company and prescription is different. Thus each supplement may or may not have an effect on you.
It is not wise to establish a single reputation over all supplements, as the generalization of which may disregard the few supplements that actually do work. Nevertheless, the ones that do have only been tried and tested to lose little weight, and may alter some processes in the body that may lead to further complications. Also, the added expense of these supplements may make it an impractical solution to most people.
According to the Healthline, the effectiveness of most weight loss supplements is highly correlated with the placebo effect. This explains that most people that do take weight loss supplements are more likely to lose weight because they become more self-aware of their diet.
Instead, try these!
Now do not be discouraged, as there are some tips and tricks on losing weight that have actually been supported by research and promoted by health experts. Here are a few tips that might help:
1. Sleep well
Believe it or not, getting quality sleep plays just as important a role as any other effort in weight loss. In fact, healthy sleeping habits not only contribute towards maintaining a healthy weight, but also in sustaining other physical attributes and mental health.
Getting enough hours of sleep does not only prevent you from feeling tired, but it also ensures that the body doesn’t hold on to stored calories. A sleep-deprived body naturally clings to the extra glucose stored in the body (that is calories), making sure that it exerts as little energy as possible, hence the sensation of feeling tired.
A proper body clock isn’t the only sleep-related hack that may aid in weight loss. Studies have shown that sleeping in lower temperatures activates the body’s metabolism, awakens the fat cells, and forces your body to exert more energy into creating warmth. This allows your body to still consume some amounts of calories even while sleeping!
2. Don’t multitask during meals
According to certain studies, using technology such as surfing through channels and scrolling on your phone during the duration of a meal shifts the focus away from how much the person is eating. This leads to the person consuming amounts of food without being aware of the time and bulk, and often neglecting the sensation of feeling full. This means using food as an accessory to the use of technology when food is meant to be a source of fuel and energy, which should be taken in adequate amounts on a regular basis.
3. Tapping your ear and forehead
According to Richard Weil, doing simple mannerisms such as tapping your ear or your forehead using your finger can be an effective distraction when one feels hungry. This can help to control your appetite, especially on a diet when you can’t seem to keep your head off of a particular craving.
Appetite is merely just the desire of a person to consume food, and is not the same as hunger. Hunger is the body’s natural reaction and the signal that the brain gives in order to alert the person of declining energy, and can often be recognized by physical symptoms such as a stomach rumbling, headache, or nausea. Appetite on the other hand, is a psychological factor that determines how much a person wants to eat and what a person might want to eat.
That being said, since appetite is more or less a state of mind, there are many factors that may contribute to an increase and decrease of appetite, such as boredom, peaks in emotion, certain habits, remembrance of delicious food, etc. An increase in appetite may also lead to an increase in food consumption. This reason is exactly why a distraction such as tapping your head or other simple activities are a big help in controlling and overcoming temptations with regards to eating the wrong food for your diet.
4. Have a cheat day or week
The human body has a natural tendency to adapt and adjust towards certain lifestyle changes, and this includes dieting. Dieting often results in a “famine reaction” in the body, which means that the body exhibits a natural initiative to decline the metabolism in order to ensure a wise consumption of the little energy the body intakes while on a diet. When the body gets used to this slower metabolism, you might find yourself back to square one, finding it just as difficult to lose weight as before you started dieting.
Therefore, it is important to take a break sometimes and give your body some leeway in order to prevent this from happening. Going off your diet or having a so-called “cheat day” or “cheat week” is also important for your body to be able to maintain its resting metabolism and prevent the decline. A cheat meal doesn’t have to be unhealthy either. It could always consist of a balance of the different food groups and re-introducing the ones that are restricted in the diet, but it is definitely highly encouraged to still focus on whole foods and moderate consumption.
5. Consult a health professional
At the end of the day, health professionals have dedicated their lives to the study of the human body and nutrition. Thus, it is always best to consult a professional with regard to your health goals and intentions to ensure that you achieve these goals in the safest and most scientifically backed-up way possible.