For some people, weight loss can feel like an elusive goal. Weeks and even months of lifestyle changes and regular workouts may not yield the results they want. But nutrition experts say a lot of that comes down to weight-loss myths that continue to persist.
“In Canada, we’re attempting to treat being overweight with diet clinics like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, which is actually part of the problem,” says Jessica Begg, a registered dietitian and founder of Shift Nutrition in Calgary. “Managing someone’s weight requires a properly trained, multidisciplinary health-care team.”
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Unfortunately, when there’s a lack of guidance with weight loss, it not only sets you up for failure but it also allows certain myths to perpetuate. Here are six common weight-loss myths that could be holding you back.
#1 All calories are created equal
There’s no question that the amount of calories you consume in a day matter, but where you get your calories from makes a big difference.
“Foods that are high in protein and fibre make you feel full longer, which means if you have 500 calories of nuts versus 500 calories of pop, it’ll mean the difference between satisfying your hunger and looking to consume more food later on,” says Andy De Santis, a registered dietitian in Toronto.
In addition, he says, foods with more nutritional density, like protein, will require the body to expend more energy to break them down. It’s called the thermic effect of food, which is the increase in metabolic rate after the ingestion of food. The harder it is to break down the food to absorb and store its nutrients, the harder your body needs to work.
In other words, it actually burns calories in the process. Protein, like meat and legumes, will take a lot more energy to break down than processed foods like potato chips or cookies. Which means you’ll burn more calories digesting a handful of almonds than you will a handful of pretzels.
#2 You have to stop drinking alcohol to lose weight
This comes down to how much a person drinks because if it isn’t very much, then cutting out the booze might be negligible.
“If my client is drinking more than 10 to 15 drinks per week, then that’s endangering their health, as well as adding a lot of calories to their diet,” De Santis says.
In this case, he encourages his client to cut their drinking in half, which will make a significant difference in their caloric intake.
“But if someone drinks one glass of wine per day and cuts that in half, it will count as a very small step toward an overall weight-loss goal but it won’t make or break you.”
In fact, studies have shown that moderate drinking (no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women) in men doesn’t lead to weight gain, while in women, it was associated in some cases with a lower body weight compared to non-drinkers.
#3 You need to exercise more to lose weight
“First and foremost, exercising is good for your heart, bone density and strength, so I’d never say that exercise isn’t useful,” De Santis says. “But the average person does not exercise at the intensity they’d need to burn a significant amount of calories.”
Going for a long and leisurely bike ride, although good for your heart and your soul, isn’t the same as doing a 40-minute high-intensity interval training class. That’s because the leisurely bike ride won’t expend as much energy and push your metabolism into high speed.
Your best bet is to exercise for general health and because it makes you feel good, but don’t rely on it to help you lose weight without also making necessary changes to your diet.
“It’s not a fundamental component to weight loss because it’s easy to eat back any calories you’ve burned while doing moderate-intensity exercise,” he says.
#4 You can’t lose weight without willpower
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking sets you up for failure right away.
“The way I look at it is that you interact with food multiple times a day — you eat from the day you’re born until the day you die — if you set yourself up in a way that you’ll need to use willpower every day to help you make good choices, you’ll burn out very quickly,” Begg says.
The problem with the concept of willpower is that it sets the bar too high and when people can’t achieve it, they give up.
The reality is, weight comes down to a variety of factors, including biology and genetics, which cannot be countered by willpower alone.
So, stop looking at it as willpower and instead surround yourself with support, whether that means talking to your friends and family about your goals and being held accountable to them, or seeking the help of a professional who can establish a healthy long-term eating plan for you.
#5 Carbs make you fat
Despite the fact that diets like Atkins have been widely panned and the gluten-free movement has been found to be detrimental to people who don’t actually have a gluten intolerance, the idea that carbs are bad continues to persist.
“People misunderstand what a carbohydrate is, and they mix up words like carbs and sugar,” Begg says. “We tend to overeat things like cookies, chips and candy, and they’re high in carbohydrates. So when people cut them out, they lose weight. But they also end up cutting out staple starches like bread, rice and potatoes, and those aren’t making people gain weight.”
Our total daily macronutrient intake needs to be made up of 50 per cent carbs, so when we deprive ourselves of them, we crave them. And those cravings will often win out, which can result in binging on unhealthy carbohydrates (like the aforementioned cookies and chips).
“By including staple starches in your diet, it gives your body the carbs it needs through healthy avenues — like whole-grain products or potatoes — and it curbs cravings later on.”
#6 You can’t lose weight unless you cut back on calories during the day
This is the ultimate road to weight-loss failure because we need calories to function. Sooner or later, your body will demand more food intake.
“Most people can get away with eating less during the day because they’re distracted at work and probably don’t have as much of a chance to eat, but it will cause you to overeat in the evening,” Begg says.
What’s more, she says most people will err on the side of healthier meals in the morning, so they really shouldn’t scale back on them.
“Breakfast, in particular, tends to be healthier, where people opt for oatmeal with berries or two slices of toast with nut butter. Loading up on these foods is good because they’ll fill you up and help you moderate your portion sizes throughout the day.”
By eating a substantial and wholesome breakfast and lunch, it will prevent you from going home hungry, tired and with a wide array of food to binge on at your disposal.