45 Unhealthy Weight Loss Tips Experts Say to Avoid at All Costs
Not all advice is good advice. These bad weight loss tips could actually sabotage your progress.
Ask anyone who's ever attempted to drop a few pounds and they'll tell you: Losing weight isn't easy. And it certainly doesn't help that the best way to do it isn't so clear-cut. It seems like there's a new diet scheme or exercise trend making headlines every day, promising to help you slim down faster than ever. Sure, some weight loss plans are genuine breakthroughs, but others are full of dubious, if not totally unsubstantiated, advice. So, before you make your plan to lose weight, it's best to get a handle on which recommendations you should outright ignore. To help you weed out what not to do, we talked to nutritionists, fitness experts, dietitians, and other medical experts to pull together the definitive list of unhealthy weight loss tips you should avoid at all costs.
Exercise is the be-all and end-all.
"There's too much emphasis placed on workouts as the answer to weight loss," says Ariane Hundt, MS, a New York-based clinical nutrition coach and fitness expert. Although working out will initially promote weight loss, she says, the body "adapts to everything," and the amount of calories burned in a given workout will steadily decline. While Hundt admits that exercise is essential insofar as it helps to maintain muscle mass during weight loss, it can "only do so much" unless it is coupled with a reduced-calorie diet.
You need to exercise and diet at the same time to lose weight.
Despite being "recommended by every single diet program out there," Hundt says that "the combo of eating less and exercising more will at some point create intense hunger … and lower your energy." In effect, the combination cancels itself out over time, and it can "only work for so long," she explains.
Instead, try switching up your exercise and diet plans to match your primary focus. For example, "if you want to eat less, you should down-regulate the intensity of your workouts," Hundt says. Conversely, if you want to train for a marathon, "the energy requirements will shift upwards" and you should add more protein and vegetables to your meals.
Low-carb diets are a good way to slim down.
Of course, you're familiar with the Atkins diet and the current craze, the keto diet. But while plans like these may move the numbers on the scale immediately, they're generally not helpful for long-term success. "Low-carb diets are not always terrible, especially if they cut out added sugar and processed carbohydrates. However, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans all have carbohydrates and lots of other nutrients like fiber," explains ACSM-certified exercise physiologist Melissa Morris. "A low-carb diet can cause short-term rapid weight loss, but it's usually water weight. If you plan on eating carbs again, that weight will come back on."
And low-fat diets help with weight loss, too.
Low-fat diets are just as bad as low-carb diets when it comes to weight loss. "Fat consumption leads to satiety, which allows you to feel more full for longer and reduces overeating," explains holistic nutrition expert Kyria Marie, MA. "Consequences of a low-fat diet include the following: poor brain function, compromised heart health, low energy, hormonal imbalance, overeating, higher risk of diabetes and depression, and, of course, weight gain."
Fat makes you fat.
Don't be afraid of incorporating healthy fats into your diet. Fat in your diet doesn't always mean fat on your body. And according to Marie, good sources of fat like "avocados, olives, coconuts, pastured eggs, nuts, seeds, and small amounts of high-quality meat and seafood" are all "essential for energy, cell growth, and balanced hormones."
Significantly reducing calories will increase weight loss.
The danger of reducing caloric intake too quickly is that it sends your body into "starvation mode," explains Morris. "Any diet that cuts calories drastically will actually do more harm than good because your body will start to think it is starving and slow metabolism to compensate for this," she says. "A slower metabolism means fewer calories burned throughout the day, which is not good for weight loss."
With a severe caloric deficit, your body is unsure it will be getting any nutrients in the near future, and so begins to burn muscle—along with fat—to compensate. In addition, the body begins to store future caloric intake as fat so as to prevent it from feeling "starved" ever again.
All calories are created equal.
Because calories are described numerically, it can seem as if 100 calories of one snack is equal to 100 calories of another. However, when it comes to weight loss, this simply isn't true.
"While numerical values may be the same, little else is the same when it comes to the calories between an avocado and a cookie. The combination of other nutrients in any food play a role in the reactions it triggers in the body," explains personal trainer and certified nutrition coach Candice Seti, PsyD. "Sugary foods, highly processed foods, and the like—even those low in calories—trigger inflammatory reactions in the body, promote cravings, and deprive the body of much-needed macronutrients."
Eating an all-protein diet will help you lose weight fast.
Protein is an important part of every meal plan. However, an all-protein diet is not going to do you any favors. "Your body needs other nutrients and vitamins to survive and thrive," according to weight loss doctor David Nazarian, MD, and nutritionist Desiree Nazarian, MPH, of Weight Loss Clinic Los Angeles. They say that eating an all-protein diet "will lead to a variety of other problems down the line."
Prolonged periods of fasting are good for weight loss.
There is a difference between intermittent fasting—which involves eating within a specific time frame—and unintentionally starving yourself by skipping meals. "Our bodies and digestive track are setup to eat multiple times a day. Long periods of fasting can put you in danger and rob you of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that our body needs," the Nazarians explain.
You have to work out every day to lose weight.
There's no need to place undue stress on yourself for missing a day at the gym. In fact, incorporating rest days and active recovery days into your schedule is encouraged to promote healing, growth, and recovery.
"Although exercise is important to incorporate into a healthy lifestyle, overexercising can lead to sleeplessness, [as well ass] cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and mental health issues," the Nazarians explain. "In general, anything extreme in the realm of weight loss is not sustainable and not healthy."
Consuming large amounts of caffeine can help you lose weight.
Caffeine does have appetite-suppressing effects. However, the Nazarians explain that "large amounts of caffeine can be dangerous." When consumed in excess, caffeine "can cause decreased absorption and metabolism of calcium, which can lead to osteoporosis."
Liquid diets are an effective weight loss tool.
A liquid diet or cleanse is far from necessary if you're looking to lose weight. On the contrary, it's actually pretty bad for you.
"Juice cleanses are often thought of as a way to detox your body and lose a few pounds. However, the negative side of juice cleanses is that it is all carbohydrates, which impacts your blood sugar levels significantly," explains NASM-certified fitness nutrition specialist Renata Trebing of Nourish with Renata. "You have a sudden boost of carbs and an increase in blood sugar, then an energy crash once your insulin kicks in. This leaves you feeling lethargic, moody, and, worst of all, hangry!"
Going vegan will increase your weight loss.
Eliminating animal products can make it more difficult to remain satiated and maintain energy levels. So, while "cutting out entire food groups may make you feel good about the label of being 'vegan,'" Hundt notes that finding "what works for you is the best thing you can do to see changes that last a lifetime."
You have to eat between meals to keep your metabolism stoked.
While many people believe that you need to eat almost constantly to keep your metabolism running like a well-oiled machine, that's far from the truth. According to a 2017 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, eating less often and spacing out your meals is actually the most effective method for long-term weight loss. To keep your metabolism constantly working, try gaining muscle mass, which Hundt refers to as "your body's furnace."
You can't snack and lose weight.
If you are a snacker though, worry not. While snacking all day long isn't going to help you reach your weight loss goals, that doesn't mean you need to abstain completely. In fact, research published in 2012 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that snacking may be an easy way to enjoy more healthy foods and stave off hunger. Instead of "to snack or not to snack," the question should really be what to snack on.
You have to give up alcohol to lose weight.
Cutting back on alcohol—especially if your intake levels are high—can certainly help you lose weight. But the idea that there needs to be a blanket ban on all alcohol is misguided. For example, in a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the addition of two glasses of red wine along with dinner "did not appear to influence" participants' weight gain in either direction. So feel free to drink in moderation.
You can't eat after 8 p.m. if you want to slim down.
"There is nothing magical about 8 o'clock," says registered dietitian Adrianne Delgado, nutrition manager at BodyMetrix, LLC. "I'm more concerned with what you eat—and how much—than when you eat."
You have to exercise first thing in the morning to lose weight.
Though working out first thing in the morning might give you more energy and start your day off on the right note, Delgado says that "you can be successful working out any time of the day." If your mornings are way too busy to even fathom fitting in a workout, then go ahead and hit the gym at night. At the end of the day, it's the fact that you're moving that matters.
You'll lose more weight if you exercise after fasting.
The combination of fasting and exercise is probably not the magic bullet for weight loss you're hoping for. In a 2011 paper published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal, certified strength and conditioning specialist Brad Schoenfeld notes that exercising after fasting induces the breakdown of muscle mass, making it ineffective for those seeking a lean, toned physique.
You need to work out longer to see weight loss results.
While many exercisers believe they need to push themselves to the limit at every workout, that's simply not the case. In fact, doing so can be harmful, putting you at increased risk for injury over time. According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, it simply doesn't matter how long each individual workout is, as long as the same amount of exercise is accumulated over time.
You have to give up natural sugar to slim down.
Avoidance of sugar is a staple of many diets, but these plans go too far when they advise the avoidance of natural sugars, too. In one 2003 study published in the journal Nutrition, participants who consumed three apples—which are full of natural sugar—each day actually lost more weight than those who consumed an oat-based snack.
Skim milk is always better than full-fat.
Think sticking to skim milk will help you slim down? Think again. In a 2016 study of more than 18,000 women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women who consumed full-fat dairy were 8 percent less likely to be obese than those who opted for skim.
Artificial sweeteners are good for weight loss.
While an artificial sweetener will indeed have fewer calories than its sugary counterpart, simply substituting one for the other won't do the trick when it comes to weight loss. Since artificial sweeteners mimic the taste of real sweeteners, they only serve to maintain sugar cravings and dependence, according to a 2010 study in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. So, leave those Splenda packets where you found them.
Switching to diet soda is a good weight loss move.
Diet soda might have fewer calories, but because of those artificial sweeteners, it's not really better for your waistline. "Diet soda is filled with artificial sweeteners that are harmful to your body. They also prevent your brain from correctly regulating appetite, causing you to consume more food," explain the Nazarians.
Cardio is the only way to burn fat.
Cardio is great for your heart, your mind, and your body, but that doesn't mean it's the only way to slim down. "While cardio is great for your heart health, it isn't the best workout to maximize calories burned," explains nutrition coach and personal trainer Kristin Foust. "Exercise that involves lifting weights is the best workout to add, as muscles continue to burn calories after the workout ends for up to 48 hours. In cardio, that [calorie-burning] period is much shorter."
You can target specific areas where you want to trim down during your workouts.
Unfortunately, it isn't possible to target specific areas–like your arms or abs—during a workout. "While you can gain muscle in specific areas, you can't control where your body loses fat. You have to focus on nutrition to see desired fat loss," Foust explains.
Certain foods have negative calories.
While there are many foods that are low in calories—celery and lemons, for example—no food has a negative caloric impact. Though it is theoretically possible that the energy needed to digest a food could be greater than the energy provided by the food itself, you're not going to get the equivalent of a workout in by chomping on some celery sticks.
All it takes to lose weight is willpower.
Weight loss isn't as simple as willpower. If it were, then virtually everyone would be at their goal weight by now. Though part of losing weight is being able to control your impulses, genetics also play a role. "There are other more ignored parts that have to do with hormone and neurotransmitter imbalance," notes nutrition coach Teralyn Sell, PhD.
The scale is your only measurement of success.
During a weight loss journey, far too many people rely on the scale and the scale only to measure their success. In reality, your weight is constantly fluctuating, and so the number you see at any given point may not necessarily reflect your progress.
Instead of using the scale, Sell suggests that you "opt for a health measurement or [use] a non-scale victory to celebrate." By only paying minimal attention to the number on the scale, you can keep your mental health in check and avoid becoming "obsessed with every ounce, which can lead to more deprivation."
A raw food diet is a good way to lose weight.
Sure, a raw food diet is an effective way of losing weight—it's just not sustainable. In a 1999 study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers found that a strictly raw diet led to such a high degree of weight loss that it could not "be recommended on a long-term basis."
Going gluten-free increases weight loss.
A common misconception is that going gluten-free is a dieting decision. In reality, many people who nix gluten do so to avoid an inflammatory reaction in their immune systems. Unfortunately, eating gluten-free products with a weight loss goal in mind is bound to backfire.
"In many cases, the starchy wheat [in gluten-free products] is simply replaced by refined starches from rice, corn, or potato, which may not save you any calories," explains registered dietitian Susan Bowerman, senior director of worldwide nutrition education and training at Herbalife Nutrition. "Some gluten-free products also have a lot of added fat and sugar—often used to improve flavor or texture—so the calories can be very high."
Eating salad will help you slim down.
If all salads were created equal, this weight loss advice might hold true. But that's hardly the case. "One of the biggest problems with restaurant salads is that they're often overloaded with fat—and it isn't just from the dressing," explains Bowerman. "Other fatty add-ins like cheese, high-fat meats, fried tortilla strips or noodles, sour cream, and oily croutons can cause the calorie count to skyrocket."
If it's sold at the health food store, it's definitely good for you.
Branding can be deceiving. Just because something is sold at a health food store doesn't mean it's healthy. "There are plenty of high-sugar, high-fat items lurking on the shelves [at the health food store]," says Bowerman. "Are organic potato chips or sodas made with 'all-natural' sweeteners really any better for you than the regular stuff? Don't let the health halo fool you. Sticking with minimally processed foods is the best way to go—no matter where you shop."
Drinking too much water will make you bloated.
Most of us carry around some water weight—it's simply natural and shouldn't be considered "bloat." Besides, a 2015 study published in the journal Obesity found that drinking some extra water before meals actually increases weight loss. So drink up!
Drinking vinegar will increase your weight loss.
In additional to being foul-tasting, apple cider vinegar is an ineffective way to lose weight. "When people overdo it, they get an upset stomach," notes registered dietitian Lisa Hugh.
Nuts are too high-calorie for most weight loss plans.
While nuts do tend to be calorie-rich, that doesn't mean they can't be effective parts of an overall weight loss plan. In fact, in a 2018 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers followed participants for five years and found that those who consumed the most nuts had less weight gain and a lower risk of being overweight than their peers who abstained. Nuts are a great source of healthy fat, so don't afraid to eat them in moderation.
Burning 3,500 calories equals a pound of weight lost.
The idea that burning or cutting 3,500 calories will necessarily result in a pound of weight loss is an outdated assumption that oversimplifies the complex processes involved in shedding pounds. The actual amount of weight loss achieved through a 3,500-calorie deficit is "substantially smaller" than predicted, according to a 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Smoking is a good way to suppress your appetite.
This should go without saying, but cigarettes are not a diet tool. "Nicotine is an appetite suppressant, but risking your health for weight loss is not a good idea," says certified nutritionist Anju Mobin, managing editor of Best of Nutrition. "Smoking affects all organs of your body."
Skipping breakfast will boost your weight loss.
While skipping breakfast may indeed momentarily lower your calorie intake, it isn't a particularly effective long-term solution. In fact, one 2018 study presented at The Endocrine Society Annual Meeting found that eating a "high-energy breakfast"—meaning one that is large and calorie-rich—is a great way to spur weight loss. As bariatric surgeon Michael Russo, MD, explains, making breakfast your biggest meal "allows you to feel more energized throughout the day and allows your body the time to effectively utilize the calories instead of storing them while you sleep."
Multivitamins can make up for nutritional deficiencies when dieting.
Many multivitamins promise a quick fix for your long-term nutritional needs. However, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported that certain nutrients—once separated from the foods in which they are found—are less effective at providing the benefits they promise. In short, if you're in need of a vitamin or nutrient, go straight to the source.
Binge-eating is OK as long as you work out later.
"In reality, you can't make up for what happens in the kitchen at the gym," says Seti. "Nutritious foods can certainly fuel a good workout, but if you are looking to make up for what you've eaten, you would be in the gym hours upon hours each day to even come close to burning those calories."
You can only eat "bad foods" on cheat days.
Instead of having designated cheat days, you should allow yourself to indulge in your favorite foods whenever you please—just in moderation. "Telling yourself you can only eat the foods you want on a 'cheat' day makes it seem like you are doing something naughty or bad," explains registered dietitian Brittany Modell. "A sustainable diet is one that includes foods from all food groups seven days a week."
Using laxatives can help you shed pounds quickly.
Laxatives are not a weight loss tool, and they should only be used when medically necessary. According to the Nazarians, "using laxatives to lose weight is a terrible idea and can lead to a variety of medical issues such as dehydration, imbalances in electrolytes, and dependence."
Tummy-flattening teas are a great way to lose weight fast.
Don't believe everything you read on Kim Kardashian's Instagram. "There are lots of teas/drinks out there that market themselves as belly flatteners. A lot of them will make claims about working in 14 days or less, which is unrealistic and sets someone up for failure," notes registered dietitian nutritionist Jessi Holden, team lead for the Mary Free Bed Weight Management Program.
Every diet plan works the same for everybody.
"'One size fits all' diets are a bad idea," notes family nurse practitioner Tiffany Allen of Triad Lifestyle Medicine. "These plans don't take into account food sensitivities, budgets, preferences, and personality strengths and weaknesses." Everybody is different, and so what works for someone else might not necessarily work for you. It doesn't mean you're a failure—it just means you haven't found the right diet plan for you yet.
Additional reporting by Morgan Greenwald.