The scientific study of nutrition is essentially in its infancy, only being studied and researched thoroughly within the past 100 years. For example, it was only in 1912 that the term vitamin was coined. It is only within the last 60 years that the roles of vitamins and minerals in the body have been studied, and somewhat understood.
Because we are learning new things about nutrition and weight constantly, it is understandable that over the years, myths about weight loss have developed that just aren’t true. These myths are still often presented as facts, even if they have been conclusively disproven by research!
Below we unpack the truth behind the top 10 myths about weight loss.
1. Eating fat makes you fat
Quite often we see dietary fat and body fat confused and referred to interchangeably in forums, reviews, and even in supplement marketing. The idea that fat eaten in the diet becomes the fat stored in the body is incredibly prevalent, and fats being demonised over the years as the cause of the obesity epidemic hasn’t helped. As long as you are not consuming too many calories, eating fat will not make you fat.
Eating a high fat (and high protein), low carbohydrate diet can cause weight loss, as shown by numerous studies. Of course, these diets still need to be somewhat calorie restricted, the same as all weight loss plans. (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15505128 & https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15148063)
2. Eating carbohydrates makes you gain weight
Obviously eating too much of anything will make you gain weight over time, but this is primarily due to the total calorie count. Eating carbohydrates as a part of a calorie controlled diet will not lead to weight gain. There are numerous studies that show that people can eat carbohydrates and lose weight, if the diet is calorie controlled or portion controlled.
Want to make your carbohydrate choices healthier? Limit your simple sugar intake, and choose whole grain and wholemeal carbohydrates. For example, choosing brown rice and wholemeal bread and pasta over refined options. Try eating potatoes with the skins on to increase your intake of fibre.
3. Your weight loss will be consistent
Whenever you join a weight loss group, or download any weight loss app, you are asked how many pounds or kilograms you are going to aim to lose per week. Looking at this alone, it is easy to think that if you stick to a diet plan rigidly, then you will consistently lose 2lbs each week, and that to go a week without losing weight is to fail and let yourself down. This is certainly the approach taken by some weight loss groups, who shame the dieters who fail to lose weight between one meeting and the next.
The reality is though is that your weight loss chart is not going to be a straight line heading down steadily. A person’s weight can vary by as much as a few kilograms either way within a single day, due to various bodily functions including how much water weight a person is carrying. Muscle is also much denser than fat; if you are exercising regularly then you can expect your muscle mass to increase, which could even completely counteract your fat loss in some weeks.
Don’t just focus on the number on the scales as a goal; instead, focus on how your clothes fit, how you look in the mirror, and how fit and healthy you feel with each passing week.
Can’t ignore the scales? Try weighing yourself at the same time each day (such as after you get up but before breakfast) for consistency, and turning the stats into a graph. As long as the graph is broadly going down over time, you are on the right track!
4. People with obesity are unhealthy, thin people are healthy
Statistically, people who are obese have an increased chance of developing several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. However, there are thin people who develop these chronic diseases every year. Consider fitness as well; some people who have a healthy BMI may be incredibly unfit and never exercise, whilst someone whose weight indicates that they are obese could be very active.
Other markers of health can be improved by losing weight, but are not exclusively tied to obesity. For example, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are both associated with obesity, but are also influenced by stress, metabolic factors, genetics, and sometimes what seems to be luck of the drawer.
5. It’s more expensive to eat healthily
Whilst it is true that some of the most exotic and fashionable health foods and “superfoods” can be expensive, especially if they are hard to find or need to be imported, eating healthily does not need to be more expensive than your previous diet.
How you eat plays a big part in this. Fruit and vegetables will be much cheaper to purchase when they are in season; BBC Good Food offers a comprehensive table detailing when different foods are in season (and therefore at their cheapest and tastiest). This also applies to seasonally caught meat and fish.
Beans and pulses are also cheap options that are low in calories.
Researching and planning ahead will also help to make eating healthy as cheap as possible. There are plenty of Youtube channels that offer recipe tutorials for healthy and affordable meals.
6. Starving yourself is a good way to lose weight
Whilst intermittent fasting has been proven to be one way of losing weight, more extreme approaches, such as crash diets and starvation diets will not aid sustainable long-term weight loss.
Starvation diets can lead to nutritional deficits, which can lead to a whole host of health problems. By depriving your body of food, you also will have low energy levels and increased cravings for unhealthy foods; when you do give in to your hunger, you are more likely to eat unhealthily.
Finally, deprivation and starvation diets do not help to develop new healthy habits; this means that once you quit the diet and begin eating according to old habits, you will quickly regain weight. Starvation diets can also cause the body to lose muscle mass, as the body does not have enough fuel to maintain muscle; this leads to a lower metabolic rate, and ultimately, to future struggles with weight loss. Skipping a single meal is not going to lead to this, but if you are considering a diet that recommends eating hardly any calories per day, you should probably reconsider.
7. Foods labelled ‘low fat’ or ‘reduced fat’ are always a healthy choice
Fat has been demonised by much of the dieting industry, and food manufacturers pounced on this to launch various reduced fat, low fat, and fat-free products. However, some of these food manufacturers add extra sugar into their products to improve the taste, which just increases their calorie content again.
There is some oversight and regulations covering food labelling and how a product is described, but marketers find ways around these rules to suggest that products are healthy, even if they are not.
To be labelled as low-fat (in the UK and EU), for example, a product has to have 3 grams or less of fat per 100 grams. However, to be considered a “reduced fat” product, the new product only has to have 30% less fat than the original or comparable product.
So if a ready meal reduces its fat content from 30 grams per 100 grams down to 21 grams per 100 grams, it can technically advertise itself as having “reduced fat”, even though it is very high in fat overall. (Source: https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/nutrition_claims_en)
Consumers should always look at the nutrition and ingredient labels on their food, keeping an eye out for high sodium levels, high levels of saturated fats, and foods with added sugars.
8. Some foods have “negative” calories
The idea of negative calories is that the body uses more calories to chew and digest the food than the food contains, with celery being the most famous example of a negative calorie food.
Unfortunately, this just is not true! A large stick of celery contains around 10 calories, far more than are used to chew and digest the vegetable; celery has a lot of fibre, which means that it has a thermic effect of about 20% of the calorie content. This means that digesting each stick of celery burns around 2 calories.
Foods with different compositions require different amounts of energy to digest. Fats have a thermic effect of about 3 percent. If you consume 100 fat calories, only 3 calories will be spent digesting the fat. Fibrous vegetables and fruit have a thermic effect of about 20 percent, while proteins have a thermic effect of about 30 percent.
9. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Oddly enough, the evolution of breakfast has a long and complicated backstory. (Source: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/28/breakfast-health-america-kellog-food-lifestyle) But the thinking that breakfast is the most important meal of the day comes from a marketer, Edward Bernays, whose job was to sell more bacon for his employers; he got a doctor to agree that a breakfast of bacon and eggs was healthier than a lighter breakfast, and then sent that statement to around 5,000 doctors for their signatures. He then got newspapers to publish the results of his petition as if it was a scientific study, leading to the view that breakfast is medically recommended (and increasing bacon sales in the process).
Studies have shown that skipping breakfast does not lead to weight gain, and new studies are suggesting that intermittent fasting (which features skipping breakfast) can aid weight loss. Read our article on the benefits of fasting for more information.
10. The number of calories you burn exercising, and exercises’ impact upon your weight loss
Studies have repeatedly shown that we over-estimate the value of our workouts significantly. One study even found that when asked to guess their own calorie burn, participants overestimated remarkably.
People who have exercised recently are more likely to indulge in compensatory behaviours as well. For example, they opt to take the elevator instead of the stairs, or buy a donut with their coffee, justifying the less active or unhealthier choice by reminding themselves (and others) that they have already been to the gym that morning. Making just one of these compensatory behaviours may be fine, but researchers believe that we often make numerous decisions like this per day, to the extent where we are essentially undoing all of our hard work in the gym.
The value of activity and exercise has definitely been overstated in relation to weight loss, but leading an active lifestyle has a plethora of benefits for the entire body and your general health.
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.