What’s the best way to lose weight? After writing about nutrition and exercise for more than 20 years, I know there’s no one single answer. I also know that a lot of commonly touted advice is really just plain wrong—or not as helpful as you might think. Take a look at these surprising myths I came across while researching my new weight-loss plan The Digest Diet:
For a long time, this advice was so basic no one questioned it. The premise: Calories are calories are calories, so as long as you burn more than you eat, you will lose weight. But “if this were the case, a lot more people would be thinner than actually are,” writes nutrition expert Kimberly Snyder, author of The Beauty Detox Solution, on her blog. “I personally know people who have counted calories religiously yet remained overweight in spite of their best efforts.”
It’s not just the calorie count of your food, it’s what you eat that matters too. Eating a largely plant-based diet full of natural, fiber-rich foods (these are a big part of our Digest Diet weight-loss plan) will keep your body healthy and naturally limit your calorie intake, because they are nutrient-dense and filling. You’ll also retrain your taste buds to crave less sugar and salt, which can sneakily make your body store fat and cause bloating and puffiness.
Who hasn’t heard someone say to avoid certain fruits while you’re trying to lose weight? To that, we ask, “have you ever heard of someone becoming fat from eating too many bananas or berries?” Fruit does contain a kind of sugar—called fructose—but it’s also packed with an amazing bounty of weight loss-promoting and disease-fighting nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals. Importantly, fruit is also high in fiber, the filling nutrient that prevents you from ODing on too much. (Fiber is often noticeably absent from many favorite processed snacks we’re prone to mindlessly munch).
However, it is a good idea to limit your intake of dried fruit, which concentrates the sugar. Think of eating a box of raisins versus the equivalent number of grapes—the latter would be a lot more filling.
By now you’ve probably heard some of the backlash against “fake” fat-free foods. For one thing, they often don’t contain fewer calories, since they usually make up for the missing fat with extra sugar, which can cause blood sugar and hunger spikes. But for many of us, there’s still a temptation to load up on those diet frozen dinners when you’re trying to slim down or get back on track after falling off the healthy-eating wagon.
Research shows that full-fat treats can be more satisfying than fat-free ones—and in turn, possibly make you eat less. To keep your weight in check, choose low or reduced fat versions of foods you eat often (like cheese or yogurt), but feel free to indulge in the full-fat kind of occasional treats, like ice cream or bakery cookie.
It’s true that going too long between meals can throw your blood sugar off balance, causing crashes that prompt bingeing later. But eating snack-like meals all day long isn’t great either because it can mess with your body’s internal hunger cues—so you nosh because you’re “supposed to” not because you’re actually hungry.
Also, it’s easy to overestimate snack-sized portions and wind up eating five or six real meals—not mini meals— a day. Americans are consuming significantly more of their calories from snacks (about 580 a day) now than they were 30 years ago (about 360 a day), according to research from Purdue University.
Everyone knows juice is a sugar bomb and diet saboteur, right? Yes, if you’re chugging multiple glasses a day or drinking fruit drink, which is basically sugar water with little actual fruit. But we’re notorious for skimping on fruits and vegetables, and a glass of 100 percent fruit juice is a good way to hit some of your daily quota (source: Women’s Health). Limit your juice to one six- to eight-ounce glass a day and make sure it’s 100 percent juice (which guarantees there is actual fruit in there).
If you’re trying to shed pounds, will diet soda help or hurt your efforts? It’s a controversial area of science right now, but some experts think that diet soda isn’t the weight-loss panacea people once thought it was. That’s because, despite having diet soda having zero calories and fat, its artificial sweeteners can still help pack on pounds.
According to Dr. Oz, “artificial sweeteners stimulate taste receptors that sense sweetness in both the esophagus and stomach. Anticipating energy, the pancreas releases insulin, an important hormone for accumulating body fat. At the same time, chemicals are sent to the brain’s satiety center, which becomes confused as to whether or not the body is actually receiving calories.” This tricks your body into craving food and may make you prone to overeating.
Yes, it’s probably a good idea to limit carbs—namely “white” carbs that lack whole grains—if you’re trying to lose weight. But that’s largely because we eat way too many of them and those extra-large portions can do a number on your waistline. What’s more, we tend to eat carbs with high-calorie and high-fat sauces, butter, and cheese on our pasta, bread, and potatoes, notes Dr. Oz—making the preparation of the meal the culprit, not necessarily the carb itself.
But eliminating all carbs—like whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice—is a bad idea. Your body requires them for fuel, and they’re full of essential nutrients (B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber, protein, fiber, and more) your body craves to stay healthy.
MORE FROM READER'S DIGEST
Take advantage of this exclusive offer: