8 Weight Loss Myths

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Diets, Exercise, Fitness and Health, Food and Health, Lose Weight, Weight Loss

Why Your Weight Is Increasing Rather Than Decreasing

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

weight lossUsually I review scholarly publications of clinical studies, but occasionally I find an article in the popular press that’s so good I just have to share it with you. The lead article about weight loss by Bonnie Liebman in the April 2015 issue of Nutrition Action is just such an article. She called it “8 Weight Mistakes”, but I think “8 Weight Loss Myths” would be a better title.

There are certain weight loss myths that are repeated so often that most people believe they are true. Unfortunately, each one of these myths is a “fat trap” that can sabotage your efforts to achieve a healthy weight. If your New Year’s weight loss resolution isn’t going as well as you would like, it may be because you are still holding on to one or more of these myths.

Weight Loss Myth #1: I Can Lose It Later

It’s easy to tell yourself that you don’t need to watch your weight during the holidays or while you are on vacation. After all you can cut back a bit when those special occasions are over and lose that extra weight. What makes that belief particularly insidious is that it actually worked for you when you were in your teens or early twenties. Why doesn’t it work anymore? There are 4 reasons:

  • dietOn most diets you lose muscle as well as fat. I have talked about this in a previous article, High Protein Diets and Weight Loss , but muscle is important because it burns off calories much faster than fat.
  • Your organs become smaller. For example, as you lose weight your heart doesn’t have to service as many miles of blood vessels, so it can become smaller as well. That’s important because your heart works so hard pumping blood that it burns off calories much faster than resting muscle.
  • Once you have lost a significant amount of weight exercise burns fewer calories. If you don’t believe that, try lugging an extra 10 or 20-pound weight up a flight of stairs.
  • Your metabolism slows down. This is particular true if you try to lose weight too fast as I have explained in my “3 Things Every Successful Diet Must Do” eBook, which is available at Health Tips From the Professor.

Just in case you are still a doubter, Ms. Liebman shared a study in her article that showed most people never lose all of the weight they gained during the holidays before the next holiday season starts. Does that sound familiar?

Weight Loss Myth #2: Once It’s Off, It’ll Stay Off

weight loss dietYou’ve heard this one before. However, even on the most successful diets, weight loss is temporary. Most people eventually regain all the weight they’ve lost and more. Again I’ve also covered the reason for this in my “3 Things Every Successful Diet Must Do” eBook, which is available at Health Tips From the Professor. To spare you the trouble of reading the book I will share the secret with you. Simply put: “Diets never work long term. Only true lifestyle change can lead to long term weight loss.”

However, that doesn’t stop people from believing that the next “magic” diet will be their ticket to permanent weight loss. It always amazes me that people fall for this same myth time after time.

Weight Loss Myth #3: Fat Is Fat, No Matter Where It Is

Most of you probably already knew that belly fat (the so-called apple shape) is metabolically more dangerous to our health than thigh & leg fat (the so-called pear shape). However, some of the other information Ms. Liebman shared was a surprise to me.

  • It turns out that belly fat is actually easier to lose than thigh & leg fat. As you add fat to your lower body you create lots of new fat cells fat is fat(2.6 billion new fat cells for every 3.5 pounds of fat). Once you add that extra fat to your lower body you’re pretty much stuck with it.
  • Of course, you can’t add new fat to your belly forever without creating new fat cells, and once you’ve created those new fat cells you may be stuck with your belly fat as well.

Weight Loss Myth #4: You Have To Go Out Of Your Way To Overeat

It’s really difficult to understand how anyone could believe in this myth. The fact is that we live in a “fat world”. There are fast food restaurants on virtually every street corner in every city and in virtually every mall in this country. Restaurant portion sizes are through the roof. Every social interaction seems to be centered around food or drink.

You don’t need to go out of your way to overeat. Overeating has become the American way. You actually need to go out of your way to avoid overeating.

Weight Loss Myth #5: All Extra Calories Are Equal

Research has confirmed what many of you probably suspected already. All calories are NOT equal. Calories from alcohol, saturated fats, trans fats and sugars make a beeline for your belly where they are converted into the most dangerous form of fat.

Weight Loss Myth #6: I Can Just Boost My Metabolism

boost metabolismMany Americans cling to the false hope that they can eat whatever they want as long as they take some sort of magic herb or pill to boost their metabolism. The fact is that natural metabolic boosters like green tea have a very modest effect on metabolism. They can play a role in a well-designed diet program, but they will never allow you to eat whatever you want and lose weight.

As for those magic herbs and drugs that promise to burn off fat calories without you lifting a finger, my advice is to avoid them like the plague. I’ve talked about many of them in my previous “Health Tips From the Professor” articles. For example, you might be interested in my articles Are Dietary Supplements Safe? or Are Diet Pills Safe?. The bottom line is that these metabolic boosters are dangerous – and they just might kill you.

Weight Loss Myth #7: There’s A Magic Bullet Diet

Hope springs eternal. Perhaps that’s why so many new diets appear each year. Some diets are low fat, some are low carbohydrate, some hearken back to cave man times, and others are just plain weird. Some of them actually do give better weight loss than others short term. However, when you follow people on those diets for two years or more, none of them work very well (see myth #2), and there isn’t a dimes worth of difference between them.

Weight Loss Myth #8: I Can Work Off The Extra Calories

exerciseThis is perhaps the most pervasive myth of all. This is the one that sells millions of gym memberships every January.

Don’t get me wrong. Diet plus exercise can be very beneficial because it helps you retain muscle mass as you are losing weight, especially if you are consuming enough protein to support the exercise.

However, exercise alone isn’t going to help you nearly as much as you think.

  • You’d have to ride your bicycle for an hour and 25 minutes to offset the 500 calorie dessert you just consumed at your favorite restaurant.
  • Exercise helps some people more than others. Studies show that some people get hungrier when they exercise. As a result, they eat more calories and actually gain weight rather than losing it.
  • Finally, don’t rely on your fitness trackers. Most of them grossly overestimate the calories you burn through exercise. If you use a fitness tracker you should cut their estimates for calories burned by 50% or more.

 

The Bottom Line

 

A recent article shared the 8 most common weight loss myths. If you actually believe any of these myths, you will have a very difficult time getting your weight under control.

  • I can lose it later.
  • Once it’s off, it’ll stay off.
  • Fat is fat, no matter where it is.
  • You have to go out of your way to overeat.
  • All extra calories are equal (A calorie is a calorie).
  • I can just boost my metabolism.
  • There is a magic bullet diet.
  • I can work off the extra calories.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

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Comments (1)

  • Merlena Cushing

    |

    How can folks doing the Fresh Start Cleanse Program lose 8-10 pounds in that first week cleanse and not see the “famine response” kick in? Please anwer this question. I hate to embarrass you or Nedra by asking the question in our Fresh Start Cleanse Program FB page, but if I don’t hear from you soon on this, I will pose the question there.

    You have written in several of your articles the answer to this question: (Q) How can you prevent the famine response from kicking in?

    (A) There is a very simple solution, but you may not want to hear it. Experts have told us for years that we should limit weight loss to one or two pounds of weight per week.

    Thank you, Merlena

    Reply

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Latest Article

A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.

 

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]

 

low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

For more details read the article above.

 

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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