MedlinePlus, the online health information resource and service of the National Library of Medicine describes and weighs in on the subject of diet myths as follows:

A diet myth is advice that becomes popular without facts to back it up. When it comes to weight loss, many popular beliefs are myths and others are only partly true.

Source: MedlinePlus

The diet and weight loss industry has reached far and wide. All you have to do is reach out with your fingertips to find troves of people and companies who are more than willing to share their secrets, methods, formulas, and plans with you.

Some work. Some diet plans have a solid foundation that proves beneficial, while others include myths, wives’ tales, and bro science that are just plain harmful. We explore five diet myths to understand how they hinder successful weight loss.

1. Fad Diets will help you lose weight and keep it off

Fad diets are famous for the same reason consumerism is prevalent. There is someone somewhere peddling their ideas of what works and what doesn’t. Every fad diet includes a restriction, exclusion, taboo food group, or a macronutrient (which we’ll get to in just a moment). They promise quick results, and that’s how they reel us in. We want to lose those extra vanity pounds, or maybe those extra not-so-vanity pounds, and we want to lose them quickly.

The fact is that fad diets will often kick our bodies into starvation mode. Simply put, we didn’t evolve as a species by eating the “healthiest” foods, and certainly not by modern standards. Biologically, we evolved to eat foods to survive. Our ancestors were always one meal short of starvation for a very long time. When our bodies are starving, they store everything they can for use later.

We see this on National Geographic or Our Daily Planet with Polar bears and sea lions. Homo sapiens may be more intellectually self-aware, but biologically, the concept applies. The statement “fad diets will help you lose weight and keep it off” is false because of the “keep it off part.”

Indeed, the Atkins, Mediterranean, and Mustard diet will help you lose weight like a polar bear loses most of its body mass during hibernation. However, your body will go into survival mode once you come off that diet, like a bear exiting the den. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s interesting.

You see foods you usually despise or distrust and feel a deep biological pull to destroy by consumption. You become a ravenous beast as you plow through the loaves of bread and boxes of doughnuts because your body knows that it’s been starved of these foods for a while.

Even if you don’t “choose” to leave the den or come off your diet, your brain will eventually win over your self-control, and you’ll binge. Then the interesting thing happens. You’re eating again.

You’re not starving anymore. Now out of starvation mode, your body will pack every micro bit of nutrients, fat, and carbs into your body. Your body does this to save for the next time you enter starvation mode.

As a result, more than 90% of dieters regain most of their lost weight. Much of the time, they gain back all the lost weight, or all plus some.

2. Lifting weights will cause me to bulk up

Lifting weights is often seen to bulk up. For most men and some women, this is true. However, bulking up like those competition lifters we see on takes concerted effort, hours a day of training, and serious focus. Unless that’s what you’re specifically going for, you’re not in danger of bulking up massively.

However, built muscle has three primary benefits.

  • Muscle burns more fat, lending higher caloric burn during a workout the more muscle you have
  • Shapes your body
  • Weighs more than fat while taking up less space

3. Eating after 6 pm leads to weight gain

Not eating after a specific evening can have unintended negative consequences. Remember above, where we talked about what the human body does in response to starvation mode?

This idea of not eating after 6 p.m. is different from modern demands. Many people don’t get home until after 6 p.m. Some arrive even after 8 p.m. Those who come home late have two options:

  • Eat greasy and unhealthy fast food
  • Starve

What are the consequences of both or either of those options? If you choose to go without dinner and go to bed starving, any meal you eat after will provide more nuts for Scrat to horde (so to speak).

4. Natural or herbal weight loss products are safe

Natural or herbal weight loss supplements are neither necessarily safe nor unsafe. A couple of decades into recent history makes this point. At one point, ladies in the neighborhood were popping ephedra like it was the second coming, only to find out that people were dying.

Ephedra, like arsenic, is natural. But it’s just not safe. The FDA monitors no natural or herbal remedies, so these remedies should be approached with extreme caution.

5. Low fat or no fat equals no calories

Finally, this idea that no fat or low fat equals no calories is false. Calories are a unit of measure, like a Cup or kilowatt hour, and are used to measure the fuel a particular food can provide your body. Fat comes to 9 grams per calorie.

Carbohydrates and proteins are 4 grams per calorie, and alcohol is 7. So your four macronutrients are fat, carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol, which have to balance out in some way.

The difference is made up of carbohydrates or proteins if you have a food that is low in fat or has no fat.

Remember, there is a lot of bro science and myths roaming around. So look for more than one source of information to provide their resources. Also, if it sounds like a miracle or if it’s a “little-known secret” – run away!

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Jeff Moji

Hi there. I'm Jeff Moji, an engineer, information technologist, and health enthusiast. I have set up this website to explore the best ways to keep fit and healthy as I grow older during this pandemic-prone time. Please keep in touch so we can exchange information and spur one another on.

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