When you’re determined to lose weight, it’s hard to know who to believe. The weight loss industry is a huge multi-billion dollar cash cow, and it knows how badly you want a simple solution. So in today’s blog post, let’s look at some of the biggest weight loss myths that can waste your time and money — and what you can do instead.
1. Somewhere there’s a diet that will fix everything.
Keto, Whole 30, Paleo, gluten-free, and the list goes on. If you want to lose weight, the diet industry will be happy to sell you a quick fix.
Why am I so down on diets? Well, because the research suggests that while you may lose weight in the short term, they’re very hard to stick to over the long term. In fact, 95 percent of diets eventually fail, and most people regain the lost weight within 1 to 5 years.
Super depressing, right?
The problem with dieting is that it teaches you a set of rules to follow while ignoring the underlying causes of overeating behavior.
What’s more, it sets you up for failure.
When you break the rules, you think bad thoughts about yourself and make yourself feel bad. And then you eat more, because you haven’t yet learned to deal with your feelings in healthy ways.
That’s why it’s so much more important to focus on changing your behavior rather than changing what you eat. The truth is, when you heal your mind and feel your feelings, you’ll be able to eat any way you want.
2. Losing weight is all about willpower.
If you were a stronger person, you would lose the weight, right?
Most people try to white-knuckle weight loss. They decide to be strong and follow the diet rules and the workout plan.
Then when they desire food (or desire NOT to exercise), they beat themselves into submission. Losing weight becomes a battle of willpower.
The problem is, we all have finite stores of willpower that eventually run out. This is absolutely not a personal failing. Experimental psychology has demonstrated that when we try to deprive ourselves, we can only resist so long.
You are not weak because you skipped a workout or gave in and ate a slice of pie. You just haven’t mastered the skill of behavior change. Yet.
3. If you could just stay away from bad food, you’d be skinny.
A few years ago, I asked my friend (a registered dietitian) about high fructose corn syrup.
“Is it bad?” I wanted to know. “Everyone says it’s bad.”
And her answer blew my mind. “Sarah,” she said. “There are no bad foods. Absolutely none.”
(This from one of the most fit and lean people I know who has an amazing, loving relationship with food. When you ask her what she’s doing for the weekend, the answer is often “cooking.”)
But here’s the thing. The diet industry realizes we want shortcuts and quick fixes. That’s why it works hard to convince use that certain foods are good while others are bad.
This, by the way, is my biggest beef with the clean-eating craze. It started as such a great idea. But it’s become hugely commercialized, and most of the marketing is shame-based. You don’t want to be a dirty eater, do you? Better buy my meal plan.
The truth is, you can eat pretty much anything you want in moderation and still lose weight. Seriously, anything.
4. Weight loss is all about food. There’s no need to exercise.
The National Weight Control Registry tracked 5,000 people who lost 30-plus pounds and kept them off for at least a year. Of these, 94 percent reported increasing their physical activity.
The study also noted that people who dropped their exercise programs were at increased risk for gaining back the weight.
Research suggests that the best exercise strategy for weight loss is to be active 6–7 times a week. These don’t need to be hard workouts. They might involve walking, hiking, or riding your bike at a moderate pace, for example.
Ready to exercise and not sure where to start? You might like my free ebook and 4-week fitness plan.
5. To lose weight, you need to exercise in the fat-burning zone.
When you work out at a low intensity, your body burns fat as its primary fuel (as opposed to sugar). So to lose weight, we should all be walking, jogging, and pedaling slowly for as many hours as possible, right?
Well, no. Fundamentally, weight loss depends on burning more calories than we take in. And higher-intensity exercise burns calories at a much faster rate.
High-intensity workouts also have an afterburn effect on metabolism. After a hard workout ends, you actually continue burn calories faster at rest for several hours. Over time, a 30-minute interval workout can burn more calories than a 2-hour jog.
6. Never weigh yourself.
The scale lies. It’s not about pounds, it’s about body composition, right? Let’s all stop weighing ourselves and guess our way through weight loss. #screwthescale.
Not so fast.
While it’s true that pounds don’t tell the whole story, a once-a-week weight check is correlated with lasting weight loss. We all tend to have some denial around weight and eating behavior, and the weigh-in provides a useful reality check.
It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate within a 5-lb. range. But if you see it creeping higher for more than a couple weeks, it’s time to take corrective action.
7. There’s no way to lose weight without suffering or depriving yourself.
If you’ve struggled to eat less, stop drinking, stop smoking, or make any other behavior change, you may believe it’s always going to be that way.
But the truth is, behavior change becomes a million times easier when we heal the underlying cause: our mind.
Many people use substances (including food) to get a dopamine hit that pushes back negative emotions. Often, change means opening ourselves to thoughts and feelings that we’d rather not feel.
I went through this recently when I tried to cut back on drinking.
I was probably drinking a couple thousand calories a week, which wasn’t great for my health or weight!
After white-knuckling the change a few times and failing, I decided to really get honest about what was really going on in my head. I decided it was time to face boredom, loneliness, and the disappointing parts of my life head on.
After all, if I actually allowed myself to experience them (instead of drinking them away), maybe I could finally change them.
Well I’m happy to report that after a lot of practice, journaling, reflection, and soul searching, something finally clicked. My mind healed to the point where I was ready to make a lasting change.
And you know what’s weird? After all that failure, it was suddenly easy.
I wouldn’t say the discomfort level hit zero. But it was suddenly very, very manageable.
So there you have ’em. Seven weight loss myths that will no longer be screwing up your progress!
Are there any weight loss myths you’ve kicked to the curb? Comment below to share.
Originally published Jan. 22, 2019.