Dieting: Myths vs. Facts
10 Myths about Dieting
Our culture is filled with mixed messages about food, weight, and dieting. From magazines to television shows to the internet, it is hard to know what or who to believe. As the diet industry makes over $60 billion each year on people’s desires to get the body they want, it is important to be an informed consumer and to know the truth about how our bodies work relative to food.
Below are the top 10 dieting myths, and the respective truths about how our bodies really respond to the foods that we eat.
Dieting Myth #1:
Eating a high-protein, low-carb diet (e.g., South Beach, The Zone) will result in weight loss.
Truth: Eating too few carbohydrates depletes the body of its natural short-term energy source, while also decreasing dopamine levels in the brain. As a result, a person eating too few carbs will likely experience headaches, depression, mood swings, and fatigue. Furthermore, not eating enough carbs leaves a person feeling hungry and craving sugar, which may eventually result in eating too many high-carb/high-sugar foods.
Dieting Myth #2:
Counting calories/fat grams/points is necessary to lose weight.
Truth: Viewing food in the form of numbers, rather than taste and pleasure, detaches an individual from the body’s natural and innate tendency to regulate the number of calories needed in a meal or a day. When a person artificially regulates a process the body is designed to do on its own, feelings of guilt and deprivation can evolve, which often lead to overeating. In place of counting, a person should rely on hunger and fullness cues to guide their food choices.
Dieting Myth #3:
Low-fat and no-fat diets will lead to weight loss.
Truth: Fat in food is not the same as fat on the body — just like protein and carbohydrates, fat is a necessary nutritional component. Fat actually helps the body break down protein and feel full longer, thus minimizing the chances of overeating. As a result, “fat free” food products, which tend to have more sugar and calories than their full fat counterparts, often leave a person feeling hungry and wanting more. Severely restricting fat from one’s diet can result in constipation, gall stones, and low energy levels, and will likely affect the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins necessary for optimal health.
Dieting Myth #4:
Skipping meals leads to weight loss.
Truth: Skipping meals actually slows the body’s metabolism, causing the body to conserve energy in the form of fat and break down muscle mass. As a result, when food is eaten, rapid weight gain is likely to occur. Side effects of a slower metabolism may include hair loss, decreased concentration, low energy, depression, and poor memory.
Dieting Myth #5:
The hCG diet is an effective way to lose weight.
Truth: hCG is the hormone produced by the human placenta during pregnancy, which tells the mother’s body to not absorb as many nutrients from the food she eats so that the developing baby may be nourished appropriately. hCG diets designed to help a person lose weight include regular injections of this fertility hormone coupled with a severely restrictive meal plan (<500 calories per day). While many people on this diet may reach their desired weight loss goal, most will gain all of the weight back (and possibly an additional 10-20 pounds) within six months of stopping the injections and resuming normal eating. Common side effects of this diet may include gall stones, irregular heartbeat, and electrolyte imbalance.
Dieting Myth #6:
“Bad” foods should be avoided for weight loss to occur.
Truth: Actually, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” foods; our bodies only recognize the nutritional content of a food. All foods can fit into a healthy meal plan when there is balance, variety, and moderation. Rather than focusing on eating “good” foods, try to eat a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, protein, and fat. By following this approach, the body can benefit from both salads and cupcakes.
Dieting Myth #7:
Less body fat is better.
Truth: Maintaining a low body fat percentage is actually quite dangerous. 60% of the human brain is made up of fat, and it requires additional fat to effectively transmit messages among neurons. Furthermore, fat functions as a protective mechanism to keep organs in place; without fat, organs could rub together causing internal bleeding and death. While every body’s nutritional needs and physical compositions are different, the average woman should maintain a body fat percentage between 21-36%, and the average man should maintain between 10-15%.
Dieting Myth #8:
Eating after 7pm will lead to more body fat.
Truth: While many diets claim that eating at night will cause the body to store more fat because these calories do not get burned off with regular activity, this is simply not true. The body needs calories all throughout a 24-hour period, including during the evening. In fact, the body digests food and uses calories the same way regardless of the time of day, and whatever energy gets stored at night while sleeping will be used during the following day’s activities. It is best to evenly distribute calories throughout the day, starting with breakfast and ending with a snack before bed to ensure that the metabolism remains consistently active, thus preventing overeating and subsequent weight gain.
Dieting Myth #9:
Detox diets are a great way to lose weight and get healthy.
Truth: There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that our bodies need help getting rid of toxins; in fact, our bodies already conduct regular, natural detoxes via our liver and kidneys. Many detox plans require extreme calorie restriction and avoidance of certain food groups, leaving a person to feel deprived and eventually crave those forbidden foods. So, rather than plan another detox cleanse, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods that are rich in macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Dieting Myth #10:
It is important to avoid eating white, processed grains.
Truth: While whole grains may be the healthier choice, refined grains are fine to eat so long as they’re consumed in moderation (just like with any other food). In fact, the USDA recommends getting half of all grain servings from whole grains, while the other half can come from white, processed grain sources. Furthermore, both types of grains have their benefits: white, processed grains are often fortified with important nutrients, like folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, and iron; whole grains tend to have more natural fiber, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and potassium.