It’s not your fault. Even before the proliferation of strongly held opinions passing as fact or analysis we have been misled, misinformed, then lied to about the causes of weight gain and obesity. Turns out that while some of that is our responsibility, just like anything, most of the responsibility for the national and now international epidemic of obesity is a poor understanding of how our body stores fat, and the most effective Ways of Eating to lose weight and fight disease. Just a hint, it is not a pill.
For example, and this is a big one, Calories In having to be less than Calories Out (CICO) to lose weight is just plain wrong, has been disproven by numerous studies, yet is still used by an alarming number of health agencies as guidance for weight loss. “The proven fact is when and what you eat and those two factors affect your metabolism is the key factor in weight gain and loss.” Literally everything else falls into place when those two observations are addressed and acted upon. In fact, chasing the CICO model will do more damage than good, like chasing a carrot that is already eaten.
Food pyramid changes over the decades also point to a lack of consensus and now disproven suppositions. Although there have been some improvements of the years, one can see there was a lot of fumbling about on the guidance the nutritionists and other experts used to counsel us on how to eat.
The section below is divided into myths and anti myths, as some highly ranked web sources are still hopelessly uniformed. The comments on myth are based on the two healthiest and effective weight loss practices anywhere, the Mediterranean Diet and Intermittent Fasting.
You have probably heard the following myths about weight loss.
Myth – Skipping breakfast will make you gain weight.
This is not necessarily true as the gaps between meals are what makes your metabolism either burn carbohydrates or fat as fuel. No scientific studies have shown that skipping the morning meal leads directly to weight gain, any more than eating at night makes you fat. There are other reasons such as acid reflux that may make you not want to eat before sleep, but the time of day is not as important as the habits you have in place around food. The myth is perpetuated because people tend to indulge in late night eating, whether out of boredom, or emotional eating or habit, or some combination of the three.
Myth – Carbohydrate foods such as rice, pasta and bread have been labelled as fattening and people think if we reduce carbohydrates this will result in weight loss.
Popular diets such as keto advocate restricting carbohydrates for weight loss. Although many people have reported weight loss with keto, many have found it difficult to maintain and thus unsustainable. There are two keys with carbohydrates, the first is timing, and the second is portion control.
When you eat carbohydrates is very important as the sugar in carbs increases your appetite and insulin levels. Whether you are fasting overnight while you are sleeping or doing a more structured fast with Intermittent Fasting the worst thing you can do is break your fast with a load of carbohydrates. This is unless you are a performance athlete who is going to go out and burn those carbs soon. With Intermittent Fasting, the rule is to break your fast with unsaturated fats as you might find in extra virgin olive oil. Carbohydrates can then be consumed later, with the Mediterranean Diet carbs are consumed with high fiber vegetables to slow the impact of the sugars on appetite and insulin. In other words, carbs are to be eaten with a meal and not alone as a first meal of the day.
Filling up on fiber-rich vegetables is a key guideline of the Mediterranean Diet that helps control weight gain. Another key is to exercise portion control. As an example instead of a bowl of spaghetti or multiple slices of bread, the vegetables can be eaten with some smaller amount of pasta or bread added in. This reduces the effect of pure carbs and helps with plant-based nutrients.
Myth – You can only gain weight if you eat fat.
Wrong, fat is a necessary component of a healthy diet and actually the best way to break a fast, more on that later. It is nest to stick with unsaturated fats, those that are liquid at room temperature, and fats that have other nutritional value. These include seeds, nuts, fish, olives, avocados, and dairy per the Mediterranean Diet pyramid. You will want to restrict the amount of saturated and trans fats, that are in foods like red meat, high-fat dairy, butter, and processed foods.
Myth – You can reduce fat in a targeted area.
Although there is a caveat to this you can increase your muscles in a particular area, think six-pack abs, but you cannot lose fat in a specific area like your thighs. That being said by following the Where’s My Stomach? or similar program that will reduce your body fat you will reduce your body fat all over. When you accomplish this your belly or visceral fat will be the last to go. For many, this takes a stronger approach of multiple-day fasting, Wim Hof Method, and strict adherence to the Mediterranean Diet.
Myth – Water will make you lose weight
This is a mixed myth, while water does not make you lose weight, proper hydration, and substitution for sugary drinks is necessary to make progress in weight loss. Literally the first rule of the Mediterranean Diet is to not drink calories by drinking water. A sweet coffee or tea or soda will spike your blood sugar and increase your appetite.
Myth – Processed grains are evil
This is another mixed myth, with the Mediterranean Diet we want to stick with whole grains and avoid processed foods; but some processed foods are fortified with folic acid. While whole grains are the healthier choice, you can make room for some fortified processed grains, too.
Myth – Some sugars are worse than others
This is a bit of a mixed myth, due to the beneficial properties of some sugar sources. Honey (antioxidant, antimicrobial), grapes (potassium, calcium, and beta-carotene), apples (fiber, vitamin C, polyphenols), and other fruits are high in fructose but have other ingredients that are beneficial. They should be viewed as a dessert. Cane sugar, corn syrup, and other pure sugars don’t have those benefits and should be reduced or eliminated.
Sugar, salt and fat are cravings we as humans have due to the historical scarcity of these substances. The studies show that particularly with Intermittent Fasting the cravings for sugar are reduced and often eliminated. That leaves one last battle to fight.
Myth – You have to count calories for everything you eat or drink.
This is wrong, whether adopting the Mediterranean Diet or Intermittent Fasting there is no need to count calories. With the Mediterranean Diet, you fill up on vegetables first, eat slowly, and use portion control. This eliminates the need for counting calories.
With Intermittent Fasting, there is a natural reduction in appetite because you are controlling hormone surges that make you want to eat. Although it has been described as your stomach shrinking, it is really eating at the right time with sufficient gaps that makes all of the difference.
Myth – You need to follow an intense exercise regime
This is one of those mixed myths. If you are deadly serious about burning off all of your visceral fats then it is recommended that you incorporate High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into your daily regimen. This combined with the Mediterranean Diet and Intermittent Fasting will effectively remove your visceral or body fat and make you as lean as possible. For the rest of us, diet practices will be 75% of the reason for weight loss and exercise the remaining 25%. As many have found out exercising hard without good diet practices will not get you far.
There are also some persistent myths that should be debunked as they have no basis in either science, or experience. Let’s start with this one that seems relevant.
Not A Myth – Skipping meals will save calories
The argument here is that skipping meals will make you feel tired and very hungry, and you will naturally compensate by overeating unhealthy food. This is with the theory that you cannot make a healthy food choice when you are very hungry.
As mentioned above your body’s hormones rapidly adapt to systematic gaps in meals so the only thing one might feel is slight hunger pangs. The idea that missing a meal turns us into ravenous pigs gobbling everything in sight is silly, not one person that has been through in the Intermittent Fasting program has reported anything but short term mild discomfort.
Not A Myth – You can’t have treats
Maybe this would be best put in perspective, if by having a treat you mean that you have a daily milkshake that you cannot do without, then this is not a myth. However, for the rest of us, an occasional personal favorite will not make a difference in your health and weight loss goals. This is particularly true if you are Intermittent Fasting and have your treat during the “feast” window. Although we recommend not breaking your fast with carbohydrates, adding in a muffin afterward while staying true to your feast will soon be forgotten by your body.
Not a myth – certain foods help you burn fat
The contention here is that no foods by themselves help you burn fat. This is based on the Calories In Calories Out fallacy mentioned above and is just not so. Controlling your glycemic index by eating carbs after filling up on proteins and fats will help a great deal. Eating the proper amounts of fats and proteins at the right times will help you burn fat, especially after your body becomes fat adapted. Fat adaptation is the primary benefit of Intermittent Fasting.
Not a myth – Snacking Makes You Fat
This myth relies on the assumption that we have to become hungry between meals and a “healthy snack” reduces the risk of overeating at your next meal. This represents the “haphazard” diet plan where a slight hunger pang sends your running to the cupboard to satisfy the latest, likely habitual, craving. If you want to effectively lose weight and return to health it is helpful to recognize some basic facts, such as your appetite being controlled by your emotions, your habits, and the hormone ghrelin. With Intermittent Fasting, it is not recommended that you snack, and you likely will not want to during your feast cycle, and you cannot during your fast cycle. So snacking does not make you fat, not following a plan does.
Not a myth – Fasting can help you lose weight quickly
This is absolutely not true, fasting has helped many thousands of people lose weight quickly, and most of us choose to continue fasting because our bodies feel better, we reduce the chances of deadly diseases, our clothes feel better, we look better, and it is just easier. The theory here is that if I miss a meal I will feel compelled to overeat. The other false assumption is you will lose more muscle than fat. Absolutely not true unless you are a world-class athlete, and more of them are adopting Intermittent Fasting each year. In fact, the studies show that even with extended water-only fasting your muscles stay unaffected for weeks.
As illuminated by the great Joseph Campbell, myths are not necessarily untrue and not necessarily bad; they just help us understand something we might not and maybe take action. In his case the most powerful myth is the Hero’s Journey, where we embark on an adventure, are victorious in a challenging crisis, and return transformed. The myths and not a myths here can be exactly that, pointing you away from uninformed, slapdash, approaches to weight loss, and toward systematic lifetime health. Once you embrace your health you will never dream of going back.