Weight Loss Myths Exposed

How Not to Lose Weight

High-fat meal
A HIgh-Fat Meal. (c) Getty Images, Andrew Kolb, Radius Images

Losing fat weight for better health – most if it should be fat weight and not muscle weight – is important for people who are beyond the norms of body mass index (BMI) and waist and hip circumference. This is also important for athletes, bodybuilders and recreational body shapers who want to get rid of those last few pounds.

Weight Loss Basics

What works for weight loss is to burn more energy (calories) in physical activity than you consume in food energy.

This is a simple and reliable premise. If you take in fewer calories than you expend in physical activity you will lose weight. If you doubt this in any way, consider what happens to people on starvation diets in prison or who’ve been lost at sea or in the wilderness for many weeks or months with insufficient food. The body eventually uses all stored forms of energy, including muscle, to support itself for as long as possible.

During weight loss (intentional or not), the body does try to prevent this happening by lowering its energy-burning rate in response to low-calorie consumption.This is a survival mechanism developed over several millions years of human evolution.

Variations exist in how much weight individuals can lose in response to diet and exercise, but in the end, changing energy balance is the primary mechanism of weight loss. Trivial approaches such as drinking green tea or eating chili peppers or drinking coffee (caffeine) or taking some herbal supplement or other may have a very small effect on fat loss if you don't target energy balance as a primary goal.

Here are 10 weight loss approaches that could waste your time:

1. Eat According to Your Metabolic Type

The origin of this idea in the modern diet business can be traced to The Metabolic Typing Diet by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey. The general idea dates from the 1970s and perhaps even earlier.

The premise is that we all have a “metabolic type” — an individual metabolism that can be manipulated by dietary choices.

Usually, practitioners of metabolic type diets ask you a range of questions about your body shape, natural food choices, energy levels and many other things. Some may charge for blood or urine tests.

No doubt, you will soon be offered a genetic test that is supposed to identify your best nutrition and training habits based on your genes, which, presumably, create your metabolic type. Already similar services are being promoted to health and fitness enthusiasts — for a fee of course.

There is no evidence that metabolic type diets have any validity for weight management or fitness training, including weight training. Our genes can influence how our bodies function, but genes are not faultless determinants of physical form and function. Genes interact with the environment, in this case, with food and physical activity. The idea that we have a metabolic type that reacts rigidly to diet in a certain way because of a genetic component is false, or at least only peripherally true.

2. Don’t Eat Carbohydrates Because They Turn to Fat

This is a persistent myth of misplaced emphasis that derives from the low-carb diet movement.

First, carbohydrates can be converted to fat and stored, but this is only significant if you overeat. Fructose in corn syrup and cane sugar is more likely to do this than glucose from starches, such as grains, but even then, with modest intakes fructose is metabolized for fuel.

Second, even if some carbohydrate turns to fat, it is not permanently enshrined in some fat fort on your hips, legs, belly, arms and butt until the end of history. Mostly, you can burn it off just like you can burn off dietary fat that is eaten and stored. What matters is the total calories you consume and the energy calories you expend.

3. Eat Foods that Boost Metabolism or Decrease Appetite

While it is true that chemical substances, such as amphetamines, boost metabolism so that you burn more calories and this helps you with weight loss, amphetamines are powerful substances and few naturally occurring herbs or extracts have this type of effect. If they do, products such as ephedra may not be safe for casual consumption. The FDA says ephedra is unsafe.

Other plant-derived substances touted as useful weight loss supplements are caffeine, capsaicin (chili), green tea, hoodia and many others sold as natural remedies. Some, such as hoodia, are supposed to be appetite suppressants.

The main issue with these weight loss solutions is that they aren’t solutions. Some may provide a small benefit, but mostly they cost you extra money and distract from the main game, which is getting your food intake and exercise plan working for you over the long term. There’s no harm in consuming coffee, chili and green tea as part of a normal diet. Spending big on supplements or exotic herbs for this purpose is bound to disappoint if you don’t address the major factors in weight management.

4. Negative Calorie Foods Can Help You Lose Weight

This one is only for the very naïve. The idea that certain foods use more energy in digestion than they contain in calories is only for trivial amusement even if perhaps theoretically believable. Celery is often suggested!

If you eat a diet of green leafy vegetables and fruit, you probably will lose weight, but that’s because, overall, you will have reduced your calorie intake substantially. Try the Calorie-Count database to see how many calories are in various foods.

5. High Protein Diets Require More Energy to Digest

While it is theoretically true that protein takes a little more energy to digest than fat or carbohydrates, the comparative differences are modest, especially compared to a high-fiber diet. Don't rely on this one to fuel your weight loss.

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