When it comes to losing weight, there are a lot of misconceptions and just plain half-baked advice out there. Not only can believing them derail your diet efforts, it can also mess with your health.
Myth: A detox is a good way to make a clean start
"Most of the time, detox diets are more like a crash diet," says Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, a bariatric dietitian at Montefiore Health System in New York City.
Myth: Cut 3,500 calories, lose a pound
While "calories in vs. calories out" may be the foundation of slimming down, it's not the only equation at work.
Myth: Carbs are the enemy
Between the low-carb and Paleo crazes, we've all learned to fear the bread basket. But you don't have to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet to lose weight and be healthier.
Myth: If you want results, you have to hit the gym hard
Resolving to exercise regularly is well and good, but asking your body to adapt to a rigorous new routine overnight can backfire.
Myth: Fat makes you fat
Not so: "In a review of 53 randomized controlled trials lasting a year or more, high-fat diets consistently beat out low-fat diets for weight loss," says Mark Hyman, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine
Myth: Late-night meals lead to weight gain, period
While some research has associated late-night calorie intake with higher BMI, the debate about when we should or shouldn't eat dinner is far from over.
Myth: Certain treats just have to go
Banishing favorite foods in the context of a diet isn't sustainable; it's far more effective to eat the foods you love in a more mindful way instead of avoiding them completely.
Myth: A little competition will keep you motivated
"It's essential not to compare yourself to others," says Albers. "Our bodies are like a fingerprint; no two are remotely the same.
Myth: Low-fat foods will help you lose weight
Surprise: Many low-fat foods (and reduced-fat and fat-free foods) have just as many calories as the full-fat versions, and they may even contain more sugar and additives to help them taste better without the fat.
Myth: It takes a lot of time and effort to lose weight
In a perfect world, we'd all have time each day to fit in a workout and prepare satisfying-yet-healthful meals for our families and ourselves.
Myth: It's bad to cheat on your diet
Budget 200-300 calories for each indulgence, and you won't derail the virtuous decisions you've been making the rest of the week.
Once that love affair with spin classes finally takes off and you're working hard, it's tempting to treat yourself as a reward.
Myth: All sugar is the enemy
"Processed sugars like table sugars should be avoided at all costs; in fact, the new dietary guidelines recommend no more than 200 calories per day from sugar," Rifkin says.
Myth: Healthy food doesn't taste good
Experts recommend that you try a food 10 times before concluding that you don't like it. No, seriously: A 2010 study found that children offered the same veggies once a week over the course of 10 weeks reported liking items they'd enjoyed less in previous weeks.
Myth: Meal-replacement shakes should be avoided at all costs
Though whole-foods advocates are fond of disparaging "meals in a can," the American Diabetes Association has reported that meal-replacement products, including shakes and bars, can be an effective way of slimming down if you're overweight or obese.
Myth: Skipping meals will help you cut calories
Skipping breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) will just make you hungry and cranky, and you're likely to blow through those "saved" calories (and more) when you're ravenous later in the day.
Myth: To lose weight, you have to get used to feeling hungry
If your belly is rumbling all day, you're probably not making smart food choices. Meals that are too low in protein and high in refined carbs can cause blood-sugar spikes—as well as crashes that will leave you feeling depleted and ravenous.
Myth: You can eat as much healthy fat as you want
Eating too much of anything, even the "good" stuff, can hamper your weight-loss progress.
Myth: Alcohol is out
You don't have to cut booze out of your life completely. Limit yourself to just one drink, and go for lower-carb beverages like light beer or a dry wine—and skip the sugary mixers.
Myth: Labels don't lie
According to FDA guidelines, the caloric and fat content of a product can vary by up to 20% from what's printed on its nutritional label.
Myth: You can't fight "fat genes"
While genes can play a role in obesity, you can still overcome that genetic tendency with diet and exercise.