No matter where you look for diet advice, chances are you’ve heard a few of these myths. So, how much do you really know about diets?
Myth 1: Carbs are bad!
Fact: First of all, no food is all bad. This myth is based on only one part of the carbohydrate family, simple or refined carbohydrates—sugar, juices and starches such as white rice, white bread, potatoes and pasta. Complex carbs such as fruits, veggies and whole grains are great energy sources and you can eat more without adding a lot of calories. The high fiber content of complex carbs will make you feel more satisfied and not leave you with craving more the way simple carbs do.
The real problem comes when you combine fat and refined or simple carbs—this combination sends out major signals to your body to store fat. It causes a big increase in blood sugar, which increases the production of insulin, which tells your body to store fat in your cells. So, enjoy high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains. (A lot of products that seem to be made with whole grains aren’t—check to make sure “whole” is in front of the grain on the ingredients’ list or choose one labeled “100 percent whole grain”) Go easy on packaged foods, soda and fruit juices, pasta and bread, potatoes and white rice.
Myth 2: Certain foods, such as grapefruit, celery or cabbage soup can burn fat.
Fact: No foods can burn fat. Some foods with caffeine may speed up your metabolism (the way your body uses energy, or calories) for a very short time, but they do not cause weight loss.
Myth 3: The more I work out, the more I lose.
Fact: Exercising doesn’t burn a lot of calories. For someone who weighs 125 pounds, studying for 20 minutes burns about 35 calories, doing Pilates burns about 100 calories and playing soccer about 130 calories in the same amount of time.
The only way you can lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. All physical activity burns calories, even standing, sitting and sleeping. The more vigorous an activity, the more calories burned. To lose one pound, you must burn 3,500 excess calories (500 calories per day over the course of a week). So, if you reduce your calorie intake by 300 calories a day and increase your activity to burn 200 extra calories per day, you can expect a steady weight loss of approximately one pound per week. Gradual weight loss, about half to two pounds a week, is the best way to keep off the pounds over the long term.
Of course, exercise has a lot of other benefits besides helping you lose weight.
Find out how many calories you’re burning:
Myth 4: Exercise turns fat into muscle.
Fact: Fat and muscle tissue are composed of two entirely different types of cells. You burn fat and build muscle. You can lose one and gain another, but fat can never turn into muscle.
Myth 5: Twenty pounds in 20 days.
Fact: Sounds great, but here’s a reality check: It’s physically impossible to shed 20 pounds of fat in 20 days, unless you’re the size of King Kong. Fasting or liquid diets produce weight loss because your digestive tract empties. You’ll also lose muscle (bad news) and water. As soon as you start eating again your scale is going to go back to where you started within days. If you’re not losing fat long-term, then why even torture yourself? Losing weight at a very rapid rate (more than three pounds a week after the first couple of weeks) may increase your risk for developing gallstones (clusters of solid material in the gallbladder that can be painful). Diets that provide less than 800 calories per day could also result in heart rhythm abnormalities, which can be fatal.
Research suggests that losing half to two pounds a week by making healthy food choices, eating moderate portions and building physical activity into your daily life is the best way to lose weight and keep it off. By adopting healthy eating and physical activity habits, you may also lower your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Promises of quick weight loss lurk everywhere, but they don’t tell you that the loss never lasts.
Myth 6: Low-fat is the way to go!
Fact: Low-fat diets were a huge hit in the 1990s, but today we’re smarter. Fat is filling, enhances taste and supports fat burning; therefore it is necessary for fat loss. Low-fat diets can lead to dry, dull skin and feeling cold easily. Instead of low fat or no-fat eating—be smart about fat. There are “good” fats (i.e., monosaturated and polysaturated fats) and not-so-good fats (i.e., saturated, trans fats). So, eat moderate amounts of healthy fats from salmon, avocados, olive oil and nuts, and limit saturated fat from fried food, red meat and butter. Try to stay away from trans fats completely. French fries, packaged baked goods, cookies and crackers are often loaded with them—if you see “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil on the label, put it back on the shelf.
Myth 7: Eating late in the evening will make you fat.
Fact: This myth originated because many people eat a lot of snacks and junk food at night before bed, and eating extra calories adds extra pounds. Sure, you may feel better if you don’t go to bed with half-digested pizza in your stomach. But, calories are calories, whether you eat them in the morning, at noon or at night.
Myth 8: “Low-fat” or “fat-free” or “no added sugar” means low calories.
Fact: A low-fat or fat-free food is often lower in calories than the same size portion of the full-fat product. But many processed low-fat or fat-free foods have just as many calories as the full-fat version of the same food—or even more calories. They may contain added sugar, flour or starch thickeners to improve flavor and texture after fat is removed. These ingredients add calories. And foods labeled no added sugar are often sweetened with fruit juice concentrates and end up with the same amount of calories and no better nutritional value than the original.
Read the Nutrition Facts on a food package to find out how many calories are in a serving. Check the serving size too&, it may be less than you are used to eating. For more information about reading food labels, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Myth 9: Natural or herbal weight-loss products are safe and effective.
Fact: A weight-loss product that claims to be “natural” or “herbal” is not necessarily safe. These products are not usually scientifically tested to prove that they are safe or that they work. For example, herbal products containing ephedra (now banned by the U.S. government) have caused serious health problems and even death. Newer products that claim to be ephedra-free are not necessarily danger-free, because they may contain ingredients similar to ephedra. Any product that guarantees rapid, permanent weight loss is at best not effective and at worst, dangerous.
Myth 10: Skipping meals is a good way to lose weight.
Fact: Studies show that people who skip breakfast and eat fewer times during the day tend to be heavier than people who eat a healthy breakfast and eat four or five times a day. This may be because people who skip meals tend to feel hungrier later on, and eat more than they normally would. It may also be that eating many small meals throughout the day helps people control their appetites.