Ask anyone who’s ever attempted to lose 20, 10, or even 5 pounds and they’ll tell you: weight loss isn’t easy. And those efforts to slim down certainly aren’t helped by the fact that it seems like a new diet scheme is rolled out every day, promising to help you shed those extra pounds for good. While some weight loss plans are genuine breakthroughs, they’re often full of dubious, if not totally bunk, advice.
So, before you go out on a limb deciding which fitness expert’s screed or which famous meal plan to follow, it’s best to get a handle on what tidbits you should outright ignore. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the 40 absolute worst weight-loss tips ever to be uttered.
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. In addition, boosting your exercise level will also increase your appetite and sugar cravings, she says, “and if that means you’ll fall face first into a pint of ice cream…you’ll not only have undone the calories burned” but also started the “rollercoaster” of working those calories off.
In fact, she explains, 80 percent of fat loss “is the result of nutrition.” 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 load.
Fasting will cause rebound weight gain.
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting—in which an individual reduces their caloric intake by 75 to 100 percent for a short period of time—can be effective at “reducing body weight and fat mass.” Though popular opinion has it that fasting causes a rebound in weight gain afterwards, that’s more likely due to a participant’s overcompensating for their fasting by enlarging their meals afterwards. Because while fasting “can be an effective strategy for weight gain prevention,” according to the study, it isn’t an invitation to ignore the necessity of a healthy diet.
Skipping breakfast will boost your weight loss.
While skipping breakfast may indeed momentarily lower your calorie load, it isn’t a particularly effective long-term solution. In fact, one study found that eating a “high-energy breakfast”—meaning one that is large and calorie-rich—is a great way of spurring weight loss. The reason for this is that our metabolism changes throughout the day and, as one of the study’s authors confirmed, “a slice of bread at breakfast….is less fattening than an identical slice of bread consumed in the evening.”
Skipping dessert is necessary for weight loss.
As a general rule, blanket restrictions aren’t all that effective at inducing long-term weight loss. And while cutting down on refined sugar may improve your health, nixing dessert entirely may not yield the weight loss you want. In fact, according to a study published in Steroids, women who consumed dessert with breakfast actually lost more weight than those who had a more traditional meal.
You need to start exercising and dieting intensely at the same time.
Despite being “recommended by every single diet program out there,” says Hundt, “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: it can “only work for so long,” she explains.
Instead, Hundt says, try matching your exercise and diet based upon your own primary focus. For example, “if you want to eat less, you should down-regulate the intensity of your workouts,” she 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.
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 fact, according to one study, participants who consumed three apples (which just so happen to be full of natural sugar) each day lost more weight than those who consumed an oat-based snack.
Low-fat diets are the best way to slim down.
While the low-fat diet was once touted as the perfect solution for the world’s expanding waistlines, more recent research suggests that low-carb diets are just as effective. In fact, according to a 2012 study, “low-carbohydrate diets are at least as effective as low-fat diets at reducing weight” as well as improving markers of cardiovascular health. So, before tossing out all the mozzarella in your house, consider consulting your doctor or nutritionist.
Liquid diets are an effective weight loss tool.
A liquid diet is a necessity if you’ve recently undergone mouth-related trauma or surgery. It’s far from necessary, however, if you’re looking to lose weight. According to one study performed on rats, a liquid diet actually led to an increase in caloric intake as well as weight gain. While the study doesn’t pinpoint the cause of what they refer to as the diet’s “obesity-inducing effects,” they propose it may be due in part to the water-rich, yet ultimately unfilling nature of a liquid diet’s meals.
Artificial sweeteners are good for weight loss.
While an artificial sweetener will indeed have fewer calories than its sugary brethren, studies show that 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. So, kick that diet soda habit to the curb, stock up on seltzer, and leave those Sweet ‘n Low packets where you found them.
You have to give up alcohol to lose weight.
Cutting back on alcohol intake—especially if it is already high—can certainly help many people lose weight. The idea that there needs to be a blanket ban on all alcohol, however, is misguided. In fact, according to a recent study, the addition of two glasses of red wine along with dinner “does not appear to influence” participants’ weight gain in either direction. So drink up—in moderation, of course.
Tapeworms are an effective means of helping you slim down.
Tapeworms are parasitic flatworms which can live inside the body and consume many of its nutrients. While, consuming a tapeworm could, theoretically spur weight loss, it’s more likely to cause irreparable harm to your health. In addition to the fact that you can’t control where the tapeworm decides to attach—possibly leading to complications if it blocks important passages—it can also cause highly unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea, fever, and persistent weakness.
You’ll lose more weight if you exercise after fasting.
While the combination of fasting and exercise is appealing insofar as it is extreme, it’s probably not the magic bullet for weight loss you’re hoping for. According to a 2011 study, exercising after fasting induced the breakdown of muscle mass, making it ineffective for those seeking a lean, toned physique.
Cleanses are important for long-term weight loss.
“Juice fasts, cleanses, [and] detox programs are all about creating an instant change,” says Hundt, “but it very rarely lasts.” Rather than attacking the root problems of weight gain—such as eating when stressed, out of boredom, or due to loneliness—cleanses merely create the image of drastic change by reducing water weight. However, says Hundt, “this is just temporary.”
Fat makes you fat.
Once and for all: fat in your diet doesn’t always mean fat on your body. In fact, according to a recent study, it was carbohydrate intake that was “associated with a higher risk of total mortality,” including the onset of health problems like cardiovascular disease.
You need a cheat day.
Let’s be honest: the best part of any diet is the cheat day. However, sometimes cheating is, well, cheating. If your day off is cause to consume all of the unhealthy foods you had been avoiding, then it may end up boosting your caloric intake to pre-diet levels. If you need to cheat, stick to a single cheat meal—it’s unlikely you’ll eat enough to undo the rest of the week’s hard work.
The right supplement will make you slim down.
The idea of a one-pill-a-day solution to weight loss is enticing, but largely snake oil. While certain supplements may prove effective at helping with one part of dieting or another, they aren’t the be-all-end-all that they often promise to be. After all, if everyone could pop a pill to slim down, the global obesity rates would likely be moving in the opposite direction.
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. In a study from 2003, for example, researchers found that participants on a low-carb diet lost significantly more weight than others in a low-fat diet, despite all else being equal.
You need to work out longer to see 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. The good news? According to a study from 2018, it simply doesn’t matter how long each individual workout is, as long as the same amount of exercise is accumulated over time.
Skim milk is always better than full-fat.
Think sticking to skim milk will help slim you down? Think again. In fact, according to researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, women who consumed full-fat dairy were eight percent less likely to be obese than those who opted for the skim stuff.
Juicing is an effective way to lose weight.
While juices are undoubtedly delicious, and can be helpful as part of a healthy diet, they are by no means the ultimate solution to weight loss. In fact, juicing can sometimes have the opposite effect: besides being high in sugar, the lack of protein and fiber found in juices not only means you’ll be missing out on important nutrients, but that you’ll also find it more difficult to become, and remain, full.
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, 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, instead try gaining muscle mass, which Hundt refers to as “your body’s furnace.”
Significantly reducing calories will increase weight loss.
The danger of reducing caloric intake too quickly is that it sends your body into “starvation mode.” When this happens, 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.
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, a recent study which followed participants for five years found that those who consumed the most nuts had less weight gain and a lower risk of being overweight than peers who abstained.
Cardio alone is the best way to lose weight.
Cardio is great for your heart, your mind, and your body, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to slim down. In a recent study, researchers found that while cardio alone does help with weight loss, it is most potent at creating lean body mass when also paired with resistance training.
Chewing gum suppresses appetite.
Though it may appear at first sight that chewing gum is a great, low-calorie way to get your mouth feeling fulfilled without actually consuming any foods, evidence does not back this up. In fact, chewing gum before meals has been found to increase meal size and reduce a meal’s nutritional adequacy. Participants in one study were less likely, for example, to eat fruits after chewing mint gum, reducing their diet’s nutritional value.
Multivitamins can make up for your nutritional deficiencies.
Like supplements, many multivitamins promise a quick fix for your long-term nutritional needs. Often, however, research suggests that certain nutrients—once separated from the foods in which they are found—are less effective at providing the benefits they promise, thus fulfilling your nutritional needs in name only.
Certain foods have negative calories.
While there are many foods that are low in calories—celery and lemons, for example—there has yet to be discovered a food that 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 noshing on some celery sticks.
Eating three squares helps with weight loss.
Eating three square meals a day can be an effective way to keep track of your eating habits, as well help order your life. However, eating meals of equivalent size throughout the day may backfire: in fact, the results of one study suggest that the greatest weight loss outcomes are achieved by individuals who go big at breakfast and keep their dinners petite.
Laxatives will increase weight loss.
While you may end up a few ounces lighter after taking laxatives and you lose water weight, this is only temporary and is not a long-term solution. In addition, laxatives can have serious side effects, including dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and damage to your digestive tract.
You can’t snack and lose weight.
While you don’t have to snack all day long to lose weight, that doesn’t mean you need to abstain completely. In fact, research suggests that snacking may be an easy way to enjoy more healthy foods, stave off hunger, and keep your metabolism stoked. Instead of “to snack or not to snack,” the question should really be what to snack on.
Sleeping less will boost your metabolism.
Since we burn fewer calories as we sleep, some people assume that more waking hours will result in greater weight loss. However, bodies simply don’t work that way: not getting enough sleep has negative effects which far outstrip any possible metabolic increase. One study, for example, found that a lack of sufficient sleep can “compromise the efficacy” of otherwise useful weight loss regimens.
You have to work out every day.
Besides breathing, there are few things that need to be done every single day to remain effective. Exercise is one of them. While it doesn’t mean you can exercise never and remain in great shape, it simply means there’s no need to place undue stress on oneself for missing a day at the gym. In fact, in many cases, having a rest day a few times a week can help you asses any exercise-related pain or fatigue you’re having and reduce your risk of suffering an injury that can keep you sidelined.
A raw food diet is a good way to lose weight.
A raw food diet is an effective way of losing weight—the problem may be that it is too effective. A 1999 study, for example, 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 fact, people who nix gluten are doing so to avoid an inflammatory reaction specific to their immune systems. While gluten provides no essential nutrients, it also isn’t particularly harmful, either, and avoiding it alone has no significant weight loss advantages. In fact, many gluten-free foods have as many or more calories than their gluten-filled counterparts, thanks to the use of more nutrient-dense (and caloric) flours, like those made from nuts and beans.
Burning 3,500 calories will equal a pound of weight loss.
The idea that burning 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, according to one study, is “substantially smaller” than predicted. As opposed to losing 50 pounds over five years by walking one mile a day, for example, the study indicates that it’s closer to 10 pounds that would likely be lost.
Eating eggs will make you fat.
Think you can’t lose weight while enjoying eggs because of their calories or cholesterol content? Think again. In fact, according to a recent study, an egg breakfast can actually help make a weight loss plan more effective. The reason they’re so effective when it comes to weight loss? Researchers pointed to the satiating effect of eggs and their high protein content.
Drinking too much water will make you bloated.
While most of us carry around some water weight, this is natural and shouldn’t be considered “bloat.” In addition, researchers have found that drinking some extra water before main meals actually increases weight loss, so drink up.
Eating salad will slim you down.
If all salads were created equal, this might hold true. Unfortunately, however, the healthy-sounding title of “salad” is often used to covered up what is a supremely non-nutritious meal. Instead of assuming that anything labelled as such is a good idea, look more closely at the ingredients, and the dressing, involved. If it’s loaded with bacon, blue cheese, or topped with tortilla strips, it’s probably not going to help you slim down.
Drinking vinegar will increase your weight loss.
In fact, it may just make you eat more. Because vinegar is acidic, it can mimic many of the symptoms of hunger when combined with natural stomach acid, leaving you to reach for the nearest snack to quell that burning in your belly.
Going vegan will increase your weight loss.
While “cutting out entire food groups may make you feel good about the label of being ‘vegan,’” says Hundt, “it may not be what works best for you.” Eliminating animal products, for example, can make it more difficult to remain satiated, as well as maintain energy levels. So instead of opting for a generic diet because the name sounds good, finding “what works for you is the best thing you can do to see changes that last a lifetime.”
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