If you’re trying to lose weight, conventional wisdom dictates that cutting snacks and increasing exercise are the two most important steps to take. Actually, they’re not. While not entirely ineffective, exercise alone only leads to very modest weight loss. And eating snacks actually lowers the risk of obesity and can even curb hunger craving.
Here’s the skinny on seven common diet myths that can sabotage weight loss—or even harm your health.
Fact: Desserts after breakfast can actually help you lose weight, so now you can literally have your cake and eat it too. As I’ve reported previously, people who eat small amounts of cake, cookies or chocolate as part of a protein and carbohydrate-rich breakfast shed an average of 40 pounds more than those who forgo their morning desserts, a surprising study showed.
These sweet breakfasts actually reduced levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger. Study participants who ate desserts after breakfast reported fewer cravings and felt more satisfied after meals.
Just remember, though, that it’s possible to do too much of a good thing, so overindulging your sweet tooth is not the best idea. An ounce or two of chocolate with your breakfast, though, may be surprisingly satisfying—and beneficial.
Fact: Stepping into the gym may help you lose weight, but without dietary changes, changes are minimal. Working out is healthy and has numerous benefits, especially for disease prevention, but it doesn’t really burn that many calories.
Ten weeks of training (including two strength training and three cardio workouts a week) led to only a .6 pound loss of body weight in 38 people, a 2008 study showed. Exercisers lost less than three pounds of fat and gained less than two pounds of muscle than a control group.
“In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless,” obesity researcher Eric Ravussin told Time Magazine. So don’t give up on improving your diet just yet.
Fact: Although it’s possible to lose some weight on detox diets that are very low in calories, you’ll have to pay the price: not only do you lose muscle in the process, you’ll also likely regain much of the weight—both because much of what is lost is water weight, and because your metabolism slows down in response to drastic changes.
Detox diets, which often include juice cleanses, fasting and supplements, are not rooted in science. “These fad diet detox plans are nothing more than a quick fix and not recommended for weight loss by registered dietitians,” registered dietitian Connie Diekman told WebMD.
And although detox diets claim to rid the body of harmful substances, the human body is capable of doing that on its own. “Your body is designed to remove toxins efficiently with organs such as the kidneys, liver, and colon,” Dr. Fred Sacks told WebMD. “You don’t need detox diets, pills, or potions to help your body do its job,” he added.
Fact: Reducing portion size is a good way to cut calories, but can leave you feeling hungry at the end of your meal. Choosing low-calorie options--and feeling satiated at the end of your meal—is the best long-term strategy.
“Eating fewer calories doesn’t necessarily mean eating less food,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise. “To be able to cut calories without eating less and feeling hungry, you need to replace some higher calorie foods with those that are lower in calories and fill you up. In general, these foods contain a lot of water and are high in fiber.”
Replacing sugary, high-calorie drinks with water or tea is another option.
Fact: Eating fewer carbohydrates, and sticking to those which are digested slowly, has been shown to torch more calories than a conventional low-fat diet, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The amounts of calories in all three meal plans studied were the same, but the results were different. Diets with low-glycemic load carbs (which keep blood sugar levels stable) burned more calories than a low-fat diet, and had none of the negative effects associated with a very low-carb diet. Carbs that digest slowly include non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, fresh fruits and nuts.
Fact: Eating four or more times per day actually lowers the risk of obesity, and eating snacks between meals can help you manage your hunger. Just make sure you’re making smart snack choices. A piece of fruit or a handful of raw veggies is better than candy or donuts.
Fact: Foods have the same calories at night than they do any other time of day, so when you eat isn’t as important as what you eat.
“The problem with late-night snacking is that you might not be eating due to hunger and you could find yourself eating more calories than you had planned,” the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises.
Tracking your meals in a food journal is a good way to keep tabs on what you eat at any time of day, and is an effective way to drop the pounds.
Get the information you need to improve your health and wellness on Healthline.com.
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