Maintaining a healthy weight is a key consideration for good health. However, when many of us try to drop a few pounds we go about it the wrong way. Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at The British Heart Foundation, lists the most common diet myths and separates facts from fiction.
Myth 1. Skipping meals will save calories
Skipping meals can make you feel tired and hungry, meaning you’ll be more likely to reach for high-fat, high-calorie snacks, or compensate with bigger meals when you do eat. It’s also harder to make a healthy choice when you are very hungry. Get into a regular pattern when it comes to your meals and plan ahead to make sure you look forward to tasty and healthy options.
Get inspired with our healthy recipes.
Myth 2. You can only eat a limited range of foods
If you eat nothing but celery or oranges all day long for a week you will, of course, lose weight. But fad diets will quickly become boring and won’t be effective in the long run. That’s just as well, because while they are low in calories, they are often lacking in the full range of nutrients your body needs to function properly in the long-term. If you need to take vitamin and mineral supplements alongside a diet plan, then that’s a clue that it might not be providing you with all the nutrients you need. It’s not necessary to starve to lose weight. Making small changes you can stick to is the key to long-term success.
Learn more about how to eat a balanced diet.
Myth 3. You’re not allowed treats
Depriving yourself of all the foods you enjoy won’t work and banning certain foods often makes us want to eat them even more. You will eventually give in to temptation and abandon your efforts, and this can lead to feelings of guilt and failure. Remember, one slip does not have to mean a fall and there’s no harm in allowing yourself a treat now and again. Plan to have small amounts of the foods you love and savour every mouthful.
Read more about mindful eating.
Myth 4. You can’t eat after 8pm
It doesn’t matter when you eat if you are eating too much! That said, it’s healthier for your digestive system not to eat a heavy meal before you go to bed. Understanding the effect of the timing of meals on metabolism and health is ongoing and there is still more for us to learn in this area. However, many of us tend to overeat in the evenings when we are tired, so aim to eat your evening meal at least 2-3 hours before retiring for the night.
Discover what to eat for a good night’s sleep.
Myth 5. You can target just your belly / thighs / bingo wings
As unfair as it may seem, we can’t pick and choose where we gain or lose weight from. When the body loses fat, it is lost throughout the body. Focusing on one area of the body when exercising may develop better muscle tone in that area but it will not remove more fat.
Find out more about fitness and fat burning.
Myth 6. Certain foods help you burn fat
No foods can actually help you to burn fat. The important thing is eating less calories (energy) than you are using, rather than eating specific foods that are thought to have special properties. Remember the key is to eat a balanced diet.
Learn more about calories.
Myth 7. Carbs are fattening
Gram for gram, carbohydrate has less than half the calories of fat. However, you do still need to keep an eye on your portion sizes and choose the right types of carbohydrate. Opt for wholegrains like oats, brown rice and wholemeal bread and pasta rather than white versions or sugary food and drinks. Watch out for high-calorie additions, too; fillings and toppings commonly added, such as creamy sauces on pasta and butter or cheese on baked potatoes, will dramatically increase the fat and calorie content of your meal.
Read more about low-GI eating.
Myth 8. You can’t snack
Planning healthy snacks between meals can help you to control your appetite. Fruit, vegetables, crudités, unsalted nuts and seeds and dairy foods such as yogurt are great choices.
Myth 9. You should only eat low-fat foods
Don’t rely on low-fat meaning low-calorie. Replacing fat with other ingredients can still result in a product with a high calorie content. Don’t be fooled — check the label. Quantity is also important. You won’t cut back on calories if you eat twice as much of a low-fat product as you would a full-fat one. Pre-packaged, low-fat foods are also often high in sugar and preservatives, which can be detrimental to health. Natural fats found in nuts, seeds, fish and avocados are crucial for glowing skin and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Discover more about low-fat diets.
Myth 10. You need to follow an intense exercise regime
You don’t need to run a marathon to benefit from being more active. Even low-intensity activity will help use up more energy. Brisk walking, gardening or doing housework can make quite a difference.
Get inspired with our fitness and nutrition guides.
For more information on heart health visit The British Heart Foundation website.
This article was written by Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation. It was last reviewed on 5 July 2019 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.
Have you heard any diet claims that you’re unsure about? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.