Weight loss is a science. But over the years there has been a lot of myths circulating in this arena, leaving the consumer confused and often disheartened. Here we shift through some of the top weight loss myths and separate fact from fiction once and for all.
Weight Loss Myth 1: All Calories are Equal in Terms of Weight Loss
Different calorie sources have different effects on your weight. A calorie from protein is not the same as a calorie from sugar, mostly because of the knock-on effect that consuming those calories has. Calories from whole foods (like fruit and veg) tend to be much more filling (due to the fibre content) than refined, sugary foods like jellies. And a high sugar or high GI food (ie. converts to glucose quickly) is more likely to set you up for a blood sugar rollercoaster (with spike and then dips in blood sugar and energy), thereby encouraging you to overeat. It’s the source of your calories that matters.
Take breakfast: a small 30 gram bowl of Corn Flakes with 125ml of semi-skimmed milk in the morning is – because it is relatively low in fibre and protein – going to spike your blood sugar, leading to a significant crash mid-morning, which explains you reaching out for that danish pastry at your 11am meeting. If you had a poached egg with one slice of wholemeal toast for breakfast (similar calorie content, at around 170 calories), and particularly if you boost the fibre content (by adding grilled tomatoes and/or mushrooms), you will be less likely to reach for the wrong thing (ie. to have an energy/blood sugar crash) mid-morning.
Weight Loss Myth 2: Losing Weight Slowly is Better
It’s a myth! Our own study at Motivation has shown that the opposite can be true – rapid weight loss can be very encouraging for clients, giving them the sense that they are making progress early on. It’s true that sometimes those clients then like to switch to a slower weight loss, on a more lenient programme, which may make it more likely that they will keep going for longer. But studies do indicate that it doesn’t matter if the weight is lost slowly or quickly; what matters is what people do after they have lost weight.
In other words, it’s long-term changes to habits that counts. Losing weight then falling back into old unhealthy habits will cause rebound weight whether you lost it quickly or slowly. One Australian study showed that it didn’t matter whether participants were placed on a rapid weight loss programme or a gradual weight loss programme for long-term weight control but, interestingly, more than 80 per cent of those in the rapid weight loss group achieved their target weight loss, versus just 50 per cent in the gradual programme.
Weight Loss Myth 3: Weight loss is all about Willpower
There are so many things at play when it comes to weight loss, not just willpower. Things such as appetite control (determined largely by the quality of food we eat), cravings, stress responses, food addictions (particularly to high sugar foods) and hormone regulation all play their part. Also, insulin, ghrelin, leptin, reproductive hormones, cortisol and dopamine all play a role in controlling or stimulating our cravings and appetite. Poor lifestyle, not enough sleep, high stress, junk food and unhealthy eating patterns will cause spikes and dips in blood sugar (and raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol), leading to poor choices more often.
At Motivation we often meet clients on their first day who think that their weight problem is all down to a lack of willpower, but then we can point out that a large part of it, in fact, is due to poor blood sugar control. This is great news as it’s relatively easy to sort out! Eating more regularly, and always including a source of protein, is the first step to correct this.
Weight Loss Myth 4: Losing Weight is a Linear Process
Losing weight is usually NOT a linear process, although some believe it is. Some days and weeks you may lose, while during others you may stay the same or even gain a little bit. There is no need to be alarmed when this happens! It is normal for body weight to fluctuate up and down by a few pounds.
For example, you may be carrying more food in your digestive system or your body may be holding on to more water than usual when you are weighed. This is even more pronounced in women, as water weight can fluctuate quite a bit during menstruation. Also, if a client is exercising more – and particularly including resistance or weight-bearing activities – then that person will gain some muscle mass. This is good news! It revs the metabolism and leads to fat loss – and ultimately weight loss – in the longer term. But this can take two or even three weeks to materialise on the scales.
The truth is this: as long as the general trend is going downwards, no matter how much it fluctuates, you WILL still succeed over the long term.
Weight Loss Myth 5: Snacking Leads to Weight Gain
Snacking may seem counter-productive, particularly to those people who have been eating just three square meals a day for years. Often people think that snacking will lead to an over-consumption of calories. However, it is the type of snacking that counts. If done correctly, it can actually improve the overall quality of our diets (adding more fibre, vitamins and minerals whilst delivering a much-needed boost of protein that will help stabilise blood sugars and increase satiety). This ultimately will prevent us from overeating (or making poor choices) at mealtimes.
In one 2009 study, researchers reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2004 and looked at adult patterns of snacking. The researchers found that snackers were less likely than non-snackers to be overweight or obese. Another 2011 study found that snacking was more prevalent in groups of women who were of normal weight or had recently lost weight compared with overweight women.
So the good news is that, if you’re clever about what you snack on, you can continue snacking AND lose weight successfully into the bargain.