5 Biggest Weight Loss Myths Debunked by Scientific Studies
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We live in the information age, and that can work against us sometimes (aka the media). The result is an abundance of good AND bad information about health and fitness, and this is where a lot of the biggest weight loss myths come from.
It can also make losing weight a lot harder.
With the wealth of knowledge (and misinformation) at our fingertips, it can be confusing, frustrating, and time-consuming trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Everyone claims to be an expert these days, and it’s hard to tell who has your best interest at heart and who truly wants to help.
That is why we like to offer up the science behind health and weight loss. Because what else is there?
These kinds of topics can be pretty controversial, so I will be citing scientific studies often for further reading.
Weight Loss Myth #1. Eat six small meals for a faster metabolism.
In a large meta-analysis about eating frequency, researchers found that there is no correlation between the number of meals eaten in a day and one’s metabolism (1).
This myth is based around the idea that the metabolism is improved with each meal you eat. In reality, there are dozens of studies showing this to be an outdated idea (2, 3).
When comparing eating three meals a day at 500 calories each vs. eating six meals a day with 250 calories each, neither causes a greater calorie burn.
The takeaway point here is that because meal frequency does not really matter, you should focus on finding what works best for you.
If you like snacking on six small healthy meals a day, go for it. If you like eating three big healthy meals at the end of your day with intermittent fasting, go for it.
What matters much more is WHAT you’re eating, not when you’re eating it for weight loss.
Weight Loss Myth #2. Exercise alone can help you lose weight.
Let me be clear. Exercise is amazing for a variety of reasons:
- Better blood flow
- Improved posture
- Gaining lean muscle tissue to help you burn more calories
- Heart health
- And a variety of other reasons
Exercise is something your body needs and something you should be doing. That being said, according to the research, exercise is not a crucial component for weight loss (4, 5).
Multiple studies have shown that when people are spilt into two groups, one using diet and exercise and one only using diet, weight loss results are usually very similar (6, 7).
This just goes to show further that you absolutely cannot outrun a bad diet. Exercising and eating whatever you want is not the smart solution to better health.
The takeaway here is not to ignore exercise or stop exercising for weight loss; the point is to give your diet more credit and focus on what you’re eating.
As far as weight loss is concerned, the science points to taking an 80% diet 20% exercise approach.
Weight Loss Myth #3. You can crunch your way to a 6-Pack.
The body anatomically has your muscles located underneath where you store fat.
It’s likely that you already have great abs from the natural movements of daily life. They are just hidden underneath stomach fat. So if you’re doing tons of crunches hoping to lose your stomach fat, you’re really wasting your time.
As seen from the above studies, focus more of your time and effort into your diet and stop trying to crunch away the pounds (8).
Weight Loss Myth #4. Fat makes you fat.
It might seem logical that if you have body fat, cutting fat out of your diet will help you lose it.
This is a common mistake. There are plenty of studies showing that diets high in fat but within recommended caloric range still cause steady weight loss (9, 10).
There is also plenty of evidence showing that saturated fat is fine for you as well (11).
In a recent meta-analysis of 21 studies with 347,747 participants, they found absolutely zero evidence or association between saturated fat and heart disease.
The reason for the saturated fat scare was a poorly correlated study performed in the 1970’s. In reality, fat and the occasional source of saturated fat in your daily diet is perfectly healthy.
The takeaway is that foods like high-quality dark chocolate, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil are healthy and safe to eat.
Weight Loss Myth #5. Losing weight should be a slow process.
Probably one of the more interesting findings was a meta-analysis done by the University of Alabama on the speed of weight loss (12).
It may seem logical to tell people who want to lose weight to go slowly, change their habits over time, and gradually decrease their calories so they can ease into a new healthy lifestyle.
The science tells us otherwise. This comprehensive examination of major weight loss studies found that militant diets beat out the slow and steady approach (13).
The people experiencing the greatest weight loss in the first 2-4 weeks experienced the greatest weight loss the following year (14).
This makes sense from a motivation standpoint as well. The faster the scale moves down, the more encouraged you will be to stick with your diet.
As controversial as that may sound, it seems a stricter diet produces better weight loss results.
There is more to health than just losing weight, but that’s what the science is telling us. The takeaway here is that if you want to see serious weight loss results, use an aggressive diet.
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