Don't let weight-loss myths sabotage your efforts. Just because something worked for your friend (or coworker or neighbor or second cousin) doesn't mean it always works. Here are the top-five weight-loss myths that not only stall your weight loss but can also make you gain.
Are you ready to look truth squarely in the eye?
Myth #1: Gluten is bad.
This is one of those fads everyone's talking about these days. "Quit gluten! Quit wheat! Wheat gives you a big belly and chronic diseases and makes you obese and practically kills you the second you eat a slice of bread or a bite of pasta!"
Slow down for a second.
I feel sorry for gluten. It's a nutritious protein that comes from rye, wheat, and barley. It's true that some people can't eat it, just as some people can't eat strawberries, peanuts, or cheese, but for most people, gluten is a perfectly safe and nutritious. The idea that wheat is somehow genetically modified beyond recognition, or that it's so starchy you can't possibly stabilize your blood sugar if you eat it is blatant exaggeration.
Giving up gluten is no guaranteed path to weight loss, and could even lead to weight gain. A few studies even report nutritional deficiencies in people on long-term gluten-free diets, especially among those who rely on a lot of packaged gluten-free foods. If you substitute gluten-free bread, cookies, tortillas, and cake for your gluten-containing favorites, you're going to be eating just as many carbs and just as much sugar.
There is one kernel of truth to the wheat bashing: People eat way too much of it. The only reason some people lose weight going gluten free is they eat more natural whole foods and get their formerly excessive carbohydrate intake back into balance. That's all great, but you don't have to give up gluten to do it.
Myth #2: Meat is bad, and dairy is really bad.
The other big food group that dieters tend to ban is animal products. I have no problem with people who want to eat vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons. A few studies have shown that vegetarians have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and a lower risk of heart disease than meat eaters. I hear your arguments. But weight loss is not necessarily one of the benefits.
Why? Because you can easily eat a junk-food diet and still technically be a vegan. Plenty of less-than-nutritious foods don't contain animal products. White bread; most types of sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup; margarine; and fried potato and corn chips are all vegan.
I've met plenty of overweight and even obese vegetarians and vegans. It's not the stereotype, but the reedy-looking celebrity vegans who write the books have careers that demand they stay in good shape.
Now let's turn our attention to dairy. Sure, eating huge hunks of cheese or heaping bowls of ice cream isn't healthy and is out of balance—not to mention very high in fat and calories—but you don't have to give up dairy altogether unless you have ethical or medical reasons to do so. One of my favorite foods is low-fat Greek yogurt, which is very high in protein compared to conventional yogurt, and has a rich, creamy texture. Cottage cheese can be a healthy snack or meal and a base for many delicious recipes. I often recommend string cheese as part of a healthy snack.
The bottom line is that you still need to stay in balance. You can't just cut out a food group and assume everything about your diet will be fine as long as you don't eat that one thing. That's not how it works.
Myth #3: Organic food is diet food.
I had a client once who told me that she didn't understand why she wasn't losing weight because she was eating all organic. She'd read in a book that the chemicals in food make us fat, and that if you just eat organic, you won't be fat.
"What did you eat today for breakfast?" I asked.
She paused. "A quarter of an organic cherry pie."
The word organic is seductive, but it's also misleading. Organic means a food is grown without pesticides or other chemicals and is not genetically modified. But the label says absolutely nothing about the nutrient value of the food itself, or whether it's a good dietary choice, or whether it has excessive fat, sugar, or starch. No wonder she wasn't losing any weight.
Chemicals scare people—so much so that they can forget what losing weight is really about. I understand the concern. It's a toxic world. Many of my clients are concerned about the effects of toxins in foods and choose organic foods to avoid some of this chemical load. Our environment is contaminated with chemicals, and nobody can avoid them entirely. So while eating organic food might lighten your toxic load a bit, it's certainly no magic weight-loss bullet. Calories are calories, fat is fat, and sugar is sugar, even when it comes without the pesticide sprinkles.
Myth #4: Paid diet plans work best.
If I had a nickel for every client I've ever had who was a dropout from some paid diet plan, well, I'd have a lot of nickels. You're likely to find that you're highly motivated—at first. But when reality sets in and you get tired of eating the packaged foods or counting the points or not getting to have what you really want, that's when motivation flags.
Sure, there are success stories from these programs. But has anybody checked two or three years down the line? The percentage of people who keep the weight off is dismally small. Those fine-print disclaimers really are true: Losing weight and keeping it off through a paid diet program is not a typical result. Most people don't have that kind of success. They might lose weight, but most of the time, they gain it back.
In fact, a study from UCLA that analyzed 31 long-term studies found that although people can often lose 5 to 10 percent of their body weight on any diet, most people regain the weight and more within four to five years, and that dieting itself is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain! My clients have told me that when they were on a paid diet program, they did great, but they didn't know what to do once they went off it. They didn't learn anything. So they yo-yo and end up gaining more weight in the long run.
Myth #5: Diet food helps you lose weight.
Diet foods are fake foods—or more precisely, fake "foods." Manufacturers use all kinds of food-processing tricks and chemicals to trick you into thinking you just ate a blueberry pie or a chocolate eclair or a regular cola, when all you really ate was artificial sweetener, filler, or even wood pulp.
If you eat this stuff, your brain might be fooled for a few minutes, but your body won't be. Fake foods cause all kinds of trouble in your body. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis tested 17 severely obese people to see how their blood sugar and insulin would respond to artificial sweeteners. When study subjects drank sucralose (a common artificial sweetener) before a glucose challenge test, they had higher blood sugar peaks and a 20 percent higher insulin level than when they drank just water before the test.
Fillers and chemicals that mimic natural flavors have similar effects. Your body feels full temporarily, but because it isn't getting the nutrients that should coincide with a full feeling, it gets confused, and you end up hungrier.
Then there are all those "fat-free" foods. Studies show that where a person might eat one real cookie, he or she is more likely to eat 10 fat-free cookies (because, hey, they're fat free, right?). That results in a calorie overload, not a calorie deficit.
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