Weight Loss Myths: Top 10 Common Fallacies (cont.)

Beranbaum says some of her patients are puzzled by their inability to lose weight since they're exercising every day. "It always turns out that they're eating as many calories as they're burning," she says. "It doesn't take much."

5. All I need to do to lose weight is eat less fat.

While experts generally agree that eating a low-fat diet is important for your health, it isn't enough. Many now believe that one reason people in the United States continued to gain weight in the 1990s, despite the introduction of countless low-fat products, is that we thought we could eat as much as we wanted of something as long as "low-fat" was on the label. But the fact is that low-fat versions of snacks often have the same number of calories as their traditional counterparts -- and sometimes more.

"Journaling is one of the indicators of people who are successful in losing weight."

Experts generally recommend a moderately low-fat diet, since fat has its advantages. "While fat is the most concentrated source of calories, it also helps make us feel satiated," says O'Rourke. "If you limit your fat too much, you may feel perpetually hungry and consume more calories in the form of low-fat foods than you would have if you had a little more fat in the first place."

6. I can't eat out if I'm trying to lose weight.

Not so, says WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Dietitian Elaine Magee. "When it comes to eating out and staying on our healthy eating track, it all comes down to choices, choices, choices. We choose which restaurant or fast food chain we go to. We choose which menu items to order. We choose what condiments and sauces and how much are added to our food items. And we choose whether we eat until we are 'stuffed' or comfortable."

Experts like Magee recommend smart, well-considered choices:

  • Choose restaurants or fast foods outlets that are known for healthful eating options
  • Be sure to choose some of the lighter menu options
  • Eat reasonable serving sizes (not those supersized portions many restaurants serve -- take half home in a doggy bag!)
  • Use lower calorie condiments like mustard, ketchup, and reduced fat salad dressing instead of mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and high calorie salad dressing.

7. I can lose weight by skipping meals.

Theoretically, cutting out a meal each day would reduce the number of calories you're eating. But that's only in theory. "By skipping meals, you're likely to just get really hungry and eat more at the next meal," says O'Rourke.

Often, you'll eat more calories in a day than you would have if you had just eaten breakfast or lunch.

8. I will regain my weight and more?

While many people do regain weight that they have lost, it's important to know that gaining it all back isn't a law of nature. You can lose weight and keep it off for the rest of your life.

"Many people do succeed in losing weight and keeping it off," Hill tells WebMD. Hill co-founded the National Weight Control Registry, a registry of over 4,000 people who have lost weight and maintained the loss for at least a year.

The statistics are encouraging. "These people have lost an average of 67 pounds and kept it off for an average of six years," says Hill.

How do they do it? Typically, members of the Registry exercise daily and eat a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat.

9. It's possible to spot-reduce my body's "problem areas."

While you can, of course, tone the muscles in any part of the body that you exercise, you can't control how your body distributes fat. "Weight loss is pretty much an overall body thing," says Beranbaum. "There isn't a way to cause the loss of fat in one specific area."

For instance, no matter how diligently you do crunches (or wear your electric muscle-stimulation belt) you can't make fat disappear from your abdomen specifically. Instead, the weight loss from exercise will occur throughout your body.

10. It's possible to lose weight without exercising or changing my diet!

Whether it's a pill, a cream, or a piece of chintzy electronics, anything that is purported to have miraculous powers of weight loss is almost certainly bogus. "People want a panacea," says Beranbaum, "but there isn't one."

Hill agrees. "Losing weight and keeping it off is hard," he says. "The people who are successful have to work at it and will likely have to continue working at it for the rest of their lives. The quick, easy fixes do not work."

According to our experts, the truth -- as boring as it may be -- is simple. The only way to lose weight is to modify your diet, and to exercise so that you burn more calories than you eat. It's not as easy as smearing on an ointment or clipping on an electric stimulation belt. But at least it works.

Originally published April 4, 2003
Medically updated Aug. 24, 2005.

©2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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