As a registered dietician, I frequently encounter weight loss myths. These myths are so common and so pervasive that they almost seem to be everywhere, and they derail many people's attempts to lose weight.
Here are the top seven weight loss myths that I see:
1. You need to eat less to lose weight.
Are you familiar with the dreaded "weight loss plateau"? This unwelcome phenomenon refers to the our metabolic response when we cut calories for an extended period of time. In other words, our bodies adjust to using less energy and our weight loss stagnates.
Upon plateauing, many dieters tend to further restrict caloric intake or increase cardio exercise, and the vicious cycle continues as the body again adapts to new energy levels.
How do we combat this plateau? First of all, keep eating! A drastic change in caloric intake will only send the body further into preservation mode (meaning, the body's resting metabolism will continue to slow down and require less energy to carry out daily tasks). Secondly, incorporate weight-bearing exercises into your routine (body weight exercises, like push-ups, squats, dips, pull-ups and burpees, count).
The greater your lean muscle mass, the higher your resting metabolic rate, and the more efficient your body will be at burning calories.
2. If you cut 3,500 calories, you will lose one pound.
You've probably heard this rule before: for every 3,500 calories cut from your diet, you can expect to lose one pound. This rule fits nicely into a weight loss protocol with a 500 calorie deficit per day, adding up to the total 3,500 calorie total per week. However, researchers are finding that this rule oversimplifies the science behind weight loss and grossly overestimates predicted weight loss.
The 3,500 calorie rule doesn't take into account the time period over which the calorie deficit occurs, varying metabolic rates, or the slowed rate at which weight loss occurs due to weight loss plateau. This isn't to say that aiming for a 3,500 calorie deficit won't help you lose weight, but don't expect to see a perfect correlation between each 3,500 calorie deficit and the number on the scale.
3. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you should never skip it.
We’ve already touched on the importance of fueling our bodies to continue weight loss efforts, so this point may seem counterintuitive. However, forcing ourselves to eat when we aren't truly hungry can actually have a negative effect on weight loss.
Recent research has questioned the proposed effects of breakfast on obesity and the answer is not so clear cut.
If you're a breakfast eater and it works for you, great: keep eating breakfast. If the thought of eating anything before 10am nauseates you, you won't reap any sudden benefits from eating first thing in the morning. Of course, what and how much you eat for breakfast matters, but in the end, skipping or delaying breakfast will not sabotage weight loss goals.
4. Superfoods can help with weight loss.
Superfoods are a category of foods touted for their nutrient density and potential health benefits. As a registered dietitian, I'm often asked questions like, "What kind of health benefits will I experience after eating chia seeds?" The answer? It depends.
Chia seeds are a great source of fiber, protein, and Omega-3 fatty acids, but incorporating them into your breakfast oatmeal isn't going to change your life. What will change your life is altering your diet, both the quality of the foods consumed and the amount — not just adding singular foods. No one food will magically speed up your metabolism, cleanse your body, or help you lose weight.
5. Egg whites are a great diet food.
Egg white omelettes and boxed, pasteurized egg whites sometimes come to mind when we think of "diet foods." Egg whites are a great source of complete protein and, unfortunately, the antiquated notion that the absence of fat will help with weight loss still persists. However, egg whites are also flavorless and lack the most powerful nutrients that whole eggs can provide.
Sure, yolks contain cholesterol and fat, but current research finds that we shouldn’t fear dietary cholesterol and naturally occurring fatty acids like once believed. The yolk also contains key nutrients that most Americans are deficient in, like choline, carotenoids, and Omega-3 fatty acids (look for pastured eggs). The additional calories and fat from egg yolks are ultimately beneficial as they keep us feeling fuller for longer and provide a sense of satiety that egg whites alone do not.
6. High protein diets are best for weight loss.
Many popular weight loss diets and protocols are proponents of protein shakes as meal replacements and preach the benefits of high protein diets. The definition of "high protein" varies. Some diets recommend protein should be as much as 50% of energy intake.
When eaten in excess, protein is stored as fat just like the other macronutrients (carbohydrates and dietary fat). Research has shown that reducing total energy intake and consuming 15% to 25% of calories from protein is beneficial for weight loss, with the higher end of that range helping to preserve lean body mass.
7. Five to six small meals per day are best for weight loss.
Small frequent meals have been touted as a means to reduce hunger throughout the day, speed up metabolism, and contribute to weight loss. However, in addition to the arduous task of meal prep and planning for this lifestyle, following the five or six meals per day guideline isn’t likely to help reach weight loss goals.
Current research finds no difference in the metabolic rates or weight lost between groups consuming calorically equal diets spread between two versus five meals per day. In fact, the five meal per day protocol has even led to an increased level of systemic inflammation and circulating endotoxins. Reducing energy consumption should be the overall goal for weight loss, with less emphasis on spreading the caloric intake throughout the day.
So, there you go: seven weight loss myths debunked! Let me know what works for you! And good luck!