When it comes to weight loss advice, myths abound, and distinguishing fact from fallacy can be difficult. It helps that many weight loss myths have been the subjects of scientific studies. Here are a few common myths, along with the facts.
1. People who have difficulty controlling their weight often have naturally slow metabolisms
Although some earlier scientific studies incorrectly reached this conclusion, more recent and better designed studies have generally found that obesity-prone individuals have resting metabolic rates as fast as those of other people with similar muscle and organ mass. Studies show that even in infancy and youth, excess weight gain generally results from excess eating rather than slow resting metabolism. The faulty conclusions of the earlier studies were at least partially due to the tendency of overweight study participants to underestimate the number of calories they consume by 20 to 50 percent.
Gaining weight actually increases your metabolic rate. When you gain much fat, you usually gain some extra muscle as well to help move the extra weight around. Both the extra muscle and fat increase your RMR, and more energy is required to move a bigger body. If you are overweight, therefore, you probably have a faster metabolic rate than people of similar frame size who are not overweight. This increase in metabolic rate works against additional weight gain and stabilizes your weight unless you eat even more daily calories than before.
2. Some people are genetically fat
In fact, we are all “genetically fat” when we are in a fattening food environment and live a physically inactive lifestyle. Just as a squirrel is genetically programmed to pack away nuts when they are available in order to survive a hard winter, we are genetically programmed to pack on fat when surrounded by high-calorie, highly palatable food in order to survive times of food scarcity. Weight gain under such conditions is the result of normal genes functioning correctly. The only problem is, the highly palatable food is always around us, and the slimming times of food scarcity never come. If squirrels were always surrounded by nuts they would be overweight too.
Our food environment and lifestyles are broken, not our genes. The modern fattening food environment is very different from the food environment that existed through most of human history. It is far from natural, and combined with a less active lifestyle, it promotes weight gain for almost anyone who doesn’t actively resist it.
The Pima group of American Indians are believed to be genetically fine-tuned for conserving calories. Even this group, however, should not be considered naturally fat. While the Pima living in the United States are one of the most overweight populations in the world, the Pima living in remote regions of Mexico, where the environment is physically demanding and more traditional foods are eaten, are lean like non-Pima Mexicans living in the same environment.
Scientists have found only a few genetic defects that influence body fat enough to be noticeable on an individual basis. These genetic defects are rare and generally act by increasing your tendency to overeat, most often through their effects on hormones that control appetite. There is little evidence for major genetic defects that cause weight gain by slowing metabolism.
Although your individual genetics may make weight loss more difficult, no gene can stop you from losing weight if you are eating fewer calories than you burn. For almost all of us, the genes that are causing most of our weight gain are our normal genes, not our defective ones. We all have genes that are designed to store extra calories as fat. The best way to prevent your genes from causing weight gain is to make your personal environment less fattening and to become more physically active.
3. Some people are naturally plump and rounded
Although individuals may be naturally short, stocky, or muscular, no one is naturally plump. The primary function of fat is storage of excess energy in times of plenty so that it is available for use when food is scarce. An abundance of permanent fat doesn’t suit this purpose, but is an unnatural condition resulting from the overabundance of highly palatable food in the modern environment.
In order to reach a more natural body form, you must either change your environment or compensate for the overabundance of highly palatable food in some other way. The bottom line is that if you consume more energy (calories) than your body needs, you gain fat, and if you consume less, you lose it. That is the nature of fat.
4. Gaining weight is a natural part of aging
The only way to gain fat is to eat more calories than you burn. Older people tend to have more fat than younger people for the same reason they tend to have more money: they have had more time to accumulate it. Also, most of us live in a more fattening food environment and are less active than in our younger years.
Although the resting metabolic rate of most adults slows with age due to loss of muscle and organ mass, this can be reversed with strengthening and endurance exercises. Alternatively, if you don’t want to go to the effort of keeping your metabolism up, you can prevent weight gain by eating fewer calories to match your slower metabolism.
5. You have a natural weight that your body returns to when you are not dieting
You do not have a single natural weight. The weight that is natural for your body depends on how many calories you eat and how physically active you are. If you begin eating more calories each day or become less physically active, you will gain fat (and muscle to carry around the extra fat) until you have gained as much weight as your daily calories will support. That will be your new “natural weight.”
Similarly, if you begin eating fewer calories, or burning more through exercise, your weight will naturally drop to a lower level.
6. Being slim means being hungry
Not with good eating habits. For example, keeping food out of sight between meals can help prevent cravings, and meals and snacks that are nutritionally balanced will keep you satisfied longer.
A balanced meal includes some protein and fat, as well as carbohydrates in the form of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. The combination of protein, fat, and fiber in a balanced meal slows digestion and provides longer satisfaction after the meal ends. Foods made with processed grains or added sugars should be avoided or eaten in smaller amounts because they tend to digest quickly, so you are hungry sooner.
7. If it says ‘energy’ or ‘power,’ it must be good for you
Not if the first ingredient (or second, after water) is a sugar, such as sucrose, maltose, brown sugar, glucose, honey, or corn syrup. Sugars supply energy but little else in the way of nutrition. Just remember that energy in food is measured in calories. If you are overweight, you are already consuming too much energy.
8. You can never be as slim as before you had children
Fat gained during pregnancy can be lost like any other fat, by adjustments in eating and exercise habits. It can also be lost by breastfeeding, which uses about four or five hundred calories a day.
Abdominal muscle tone lost during pregnancy can be improved with exercise to create a more slender appearance.
9. Eating healthy means not being able to have dessert
Sweets and other unhealthy foods can be eaten occasionally, or even daily, as long as they are eaten in smaller portions. Smaller portions, when eaten slowly to savor each bite, can provide as much enjoyment as larger portions.
10. For losing weight, the less fat you eat, the better
Only up to a point. As far as your weight is concerned, the main problem with fat is that it is calorie dense. A cup of vegetable oil, for example, has more than twice the number of calories as a cup of sugar.
Fat is not all bad, however. A little fat in your meal can keep you satisfied longer by slowing carbohydrate digestion. Fat can also make food taste better. As a result, a diet that includes a moderate amount of fat can be easier to stick with, resulting in more long-term weight loss than would occur on a very low fat diet. In other words, extremely low fat diets encourage cheating or giving up.
Some people mistakenly believe that fat-free or low-fat foods will not make them “fat.” Excess calories from any source — fat, protein, or carbohydrate — will promote weight gain.
11. Dietary supplements make losing weight much easier
No supplement can substitute for healthy eating and a physically active lifestyle. Extra body fat is caused by extra calories, and in order to remove it, you need to eat less or burn more. You don’t need a supplement for that. You just need correct information and the determination to live a healthier lifestyle.
Do some research before buying any supplement for weight loss. Words like detoxify, purify, cleanse, miracle, ancient, secret, and amazing are more often used by marketers selling overpriced products than by research scientists or medical professionals. The US Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have websites with tips and resources for evaluating claims about dietary supplements.
12. How fat you are depends on the kind of bacteria in your gut
Recent scientific studies have been interpreted this way by some. What the studies really show is that certain types of bacteria in your intestines can add about 2 percent more calories to your meal by digesting components of your food that would otherwise remain undigested. This amounts to twenty to fifty calories per day for the average overweight adult. Most of us need to decrease our daily intake of calories by about ten times that amount. The effect of the bacteria is small by comparison. The studies also show that individuals who lose substantial amounts of weight lose much of the bacteria at the same time. This suggests that the abundance of the bacteria may be a result of excess fat or overeating rather than a cause.