10 Weight Loss Myths to Waste Your Time

Losing weight – and most if it should be fat – is important for people who are overweight, in terms of body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. It is also important for athletes, bodybuilders and recreational body shapers who want to get rid of those last few pounds.

With weight loss, it seems as if everyone has an angle, but most strategies are useless or insignificant.

Weight Loss Basics

What works for weight loss is to burn more calories in physical activity than you consume in food calories — an excess of energy used compared to energy consumed. 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. Then you die, mostly in a skeletal state.

But during weight loss (intentional or not), the body does try to prevent this happening — and this is a survival mechanism developed over several millions years of human evolution — by lowering its energy-burning rate in response to low-calorie consumption. The human body makes changes in all sorts of ways to adjust to changing circumstances. This is called “homeostasis.”

Variations exist in how much weight individuals can lose in response to diet and exercise, but in the end, changing energy balance is the only major thing that matters. I make this point because 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 that could easily be negated by the body adjusting to that challenge over time by altering its metabolism. Consistent deficits in energy intake and expenditure over months and years is what you need to concentrate on.

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 before that.

The premise is that we all have a “metabolic type” — an individual metabolism that can be manipulated by dietary choices. According to this, we all fall into three metabolic types. And how do you know your metabolic type? Usually, the 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 types have any validity for weight management or fitness training, including weight training. Our genes can influence how our bodies works, but genes are not faultless determinants of physical function — or behavior for that matter. 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 partly true. Food and exercise are just as likely to change the way these genes function as genes are to demand certain foods for health, perhaps even more likely.

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

This one still persists, even after all the debunking that has been done. It is a persistent myth of misplaced emphasis that derives from the low-carb diet movement. First, some 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.

Second, even if some carbohydrate turns to fat, it is not permanently enshrined in some fat larder 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. Or, 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 you 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 not to be believed, especially when lists of such foods includes fruits that contain significant calories in natural sugars.

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.

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