By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 21 May 2008)
There are a number of common myths about dieting and nutrition that can prevent permanent weight loss and cause serious health problems. Many dieters fail due to misinformation about eating patterns, hunger and weight loss.
Many people are destroying their chances for successful weight loss and damaging their health due to faulty beliefs about dieting and nutrition. This article debunks ten popular myths about food and weight loss.
Myth: High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diets Are the Best Way to Achieve Permanent Weight Loss.
Many people believe that the best way to lose weight is to go on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. But people who choose high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more likely to eat foods that are higher in cholesterol and fat, which increases the risk for a number of conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, bone mineral loss, gout, and constipation. In addition, low-carbohydrate diets usually contain insufficient vegetables, fruits, and whole grains for optimum health. Pregnant women and those with kidney disease or diabetes are at particularly high risk for problems related to high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.
According to both the Canadian Health Network and Dieticians of Canada, low-carbohydrate diets do cause short-term weight loss, but dieters tend to gain the weight back again. A comparative study of popular diets including Weight Watchers, the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, the Zone diet, the New Glucose Revolution Plan, and the Ornish Plan found that diets high in complex carbohydrates and fiber (whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, high-fiber cereals, beans, fruits, legumes, potatoes, etc.) are better for long-term, healthy weight loss than low-carbohydrate diets. Also, when the same number of calories is ingested each day, there is no difference even in short-term weight loss between low-carbohydrate and high-carbohydrate diets.
Myth: Dieters Should Avoid All Starches
There is a common misconception that dieters shouldn’t eat any starch. However, there are a number of high-starch foods that are low in calories and fat, including potatoes, yams, beans, fruits, rice, and certain breads. The reason these foods are thought to be fattening is that people tend to eat large portions and add toppings such as sour cream, butter, and mayonnaise, which are very high in fat. Dieters can eat smaller portions of starches flavoured with herbs, spices, and other low-fat toppings and still lose weight.
Myth: There Are Effective Fat-Burning Foods
Although some people believe that eating celery, grapefruit, or kelp will cause their bodies to burn more fat, the only thing that can actually speed the metabolism (briefly) is caffeine, but it is not advisable to ingest large quantities. Consuming caffeinated tea or coffee may cause people to burn a few extra calories each day, but not enough to make a significant difference unless other dietary changes are made. To lose weight more quickly, the Better Health Channel suggests consuming foods high in dietary fiber such as beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts. High-fiber foods create a feeling of fullness after eating a relatively small portion, reducing the risk of overeating or suffering food cravings between meals.
Myth: Fat-Free Foods Are Calorie-Free
Many assume that fat-free equals calorie-free. However, although some fat-free foods have fewer calories, others have the same or even more than their high-fat counterparts because the company that produces them may add flour, sugar, or other high-calorie ingredients to reproduce the flavour and texture that is lost when the fat is removed.
Myth: Dieters Should Avoid Dairy Products
It is commonly believed that dieters should avoid all dairy products, but low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are just as nutritious as their high-fat counterparts, providing protein, calcium, and vitamin D with fewer accompanying calories. For those who wish to avoid dairy for other reasons such as lactose intolerance, these nutrients can also be obtained through fortified juices, cereals, and soy beverages.
Myth: Overeating Is Usually Caused by Hunger
Many people believe that overeating occurs due to hunger. In fact, this is rarely the case. Most overeating occurs in response to emotional triggers or hormonal factors. Research indicates that when you don’t get enough sleep, you can experience a reduction in the hormone leptin, which tells your brain that you are full and should stop eating. Lack of sleep can also increase the hormone ghrelin, which causes hunger. Those who are sleep-deprived are also more likely to choose high-calorie foods over vegetables, fruits, and dairy products.Therefore, it’s no surprise that there is often a correlation between lack of sleep and body weight.
As for overeating in response to stress, frustration, anxiety, or poor self-esteem, the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic suggests keeping a food diary to record eating patterns and the stressors that precede them in order to identify overeating triggers. Once these have been identified, binge eating in response to these triggers should be replaced with healthier habits, such as reading, walking, taking a bath, engaging in relaxation exercises, or any other positive activity that provides a distraction.
Myth: Dieters Must Avoid All Fast Food
There is a common misconception that those who wish to lose weight must avoid all fast foods. However, some fast food chains such as Subway offer low-fat, lower-calorie options. As for regular fast food, most of the calories come through supersize portions and fatty toppings. Eating fast food occasionally is fine if you choose healthier options from the menu. When eating out, health experts at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggest choosing water rather than soda and grilled or baked rather than fried foods, as well as avoiding toppings such as bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, and salad dressing.
Myth: Skipping Meals Is a Good Way to Lose Weight
Many assume that skipping breakfast or other meals is a good way to lose weight, but according to the NIDDK, studies have shown that those who eat fewer times over the course of the day are often heavier than people who eat breakfast and four or five additional small healthy meals each day. Those who skip meals get hungrier and eat larger portions of high-calorie foods when they do eat. Dieters should never skip breakfast, and should snack on fruits, vegetables, or single servings of low-fat yogurt over the course of the day to prevent the cravings that lead to overeating.
Myth: Effective Dieting Means Never Eating Foods You Enjoy
People are often hesitant to begin a weight loss program because they assume that they will have to give up all of their favourite foods, but this is not necessarily true. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. This means that unless you can spend your entire day exercising, it’s not a good idea to consume several slices of cheesecake or pizza on a daily basis. But as long as you exercise regularly and choose smaller portions, you can still have that slice of cheesecake from time to time. One trick with favourite foods is to select leaner cuts of meat (i.e., “loin” and “round”) and low-fat options for dairy products and desserts.
Myth: Food Combination Diets Are a Good Way to Lose Weight
Misinformation regarding food combination diets and weight loss is widespread. The Better Health Channel emphasizes that combining (or avoiding combining) certain foods offers no benefits for weight loss. Although some people believe that combining proteins and carbohydrates causes weight gain by impeding digestion, this is not true. However, it is important to eat a balanced mix of foods for healthy weight loss because many foods actually improve the digestion or nutritional value of other foods. For example, drinking vitamin-C-rich beverages such as orange juice with beef or chicken increases iron absorption.
- Health Canada. (2008). “Food and Nutrition.” www.hc-sc.gc.ca.
- Better Health Channel. (2006). “Food Fact Sheets.” Government of Victoria, Australia, Department of Human Services.
- Dieticians of Canada. (2008). “Eat Well, Live Well.” Dieticians.ca.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) Weight Control Information Network. (2006). “Weight Loss and Nutrition Myths.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.
- Tampa Medical Group. (2008). “Why Lost Sleep Affects Weight Gain.”
- WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. (2007). “Emotional Eating.”
- Williams, M. (25 October 2007). “How Healthy Are Weight Loss Diets?” Healthnotes, Inc.