Is your favourite weight loss trick just an old wives’ tale? Whether it’s eating superfoods or skipping meals, plenty of us have our own methods for dropping a few pounds fast.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of misconceptions tied up in our weight-loss shortcuts. Read on to find out more or listen to BBC Good Food’s health editor Tracey Raye and Emma White, nutritionist at Nutracheck, discuss the topic in a recent episode of The BBC Good Food podcast.
MYTH 1: Fill up on fruit and veg to lose weight
People talk about 'free' foods, such as fruit and vegetables, where you can essentially disregard the calorie content because it’s so small. But no foods are 'free' because all of them provide us with some level of energy, and if you eat enough of anything it will impact your calorie intake.
If your goal is weight loss, my advice would be to track your fruit and vegetable intake as it’s important to see the whole picture of your diet – that's the only way to truly know your total energy intake. If you've got a specific weight-loss goal and you're trying to create a calorie deficit, then you need to know exactly what you’re eating.
Find out more in our article: How many calories to lose weight?
MYTH 2: Superfoods or supplements can speed up weight loss
Is kale, bulletproof coffee, turmeric, blueberries or green tea the answer to your diet prayers? Sorry, but there is no one food or supplement that's going to significantly affect your weight loss. It’s about the bigger picture: your diet as a whole and the combination of these different types of foods. Find out which foods can benefit your overall health in our article, Top 20 healthiest foods.
Let’s say you’re eating 3,000 calories a day in takeaway pizzas but you’re also eating three bags of kale. You’re still going to be in a calorie surplus and have taken in a lot of saturated fat and salt. That's not to say that these foods can't have a benefit and they do tend to be quite nutritious, but it’s very important that we keep the focus on a healthy, balanced diet overall instead of hoping there’s a magic bullet – because there isn’t one.
MYTH 3: Low-carb diets are best
With a restrictive diet, you might see slightly faster initial loss. But most studies show there’s no difference long-term. You don’t have to cut out carbs, but reducing them slightly and eating more protein could help – it’s worth a try if that’s what suits you! If not, keep enjoying the carbs. Just choose the right type, such as fibre-rich wholegrains.
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MYTH 4: High-protein diets are best
This belief tends to go hand in hand with low-carb eating, as dieters substitute carbs for protein. You need enough protein, but there’s little research to suggest that going above your individual protein needs will result in greater weight loss.
MYTH 5: Quality over quantity will ensure you lose weight
It’s not surprising that many people think choosing healthy food is important for weight loss. People do find it easier to stick to a reduced calorie intake if they’re eating a diet that’s high in fibre and protein, bulking out meals with fruit and vegetables.
However, some healthy food such as nuts, olive oil and oily fish pack a calorie punch because they’re high in good fats. And when it comes to weight loss it’s about a calorie deficit – taking in less energy than we’re using. So, again, you need to be aware of exactly how much you're eating to maintain that calorie deficit.
MYTH 6: ‘Diet food' is the only way to lose weight
On the same note, specialist low-calorie ‘diet food’ can seem like a good choice, but you do need to consider the overall nutrient profile of your diet. Those high-fibre foods, lean proteins and fruit and veg are key for your health and for long-term diet success.
MYTH 7: We all lose weight at the same rate
I often hear people complaining that their friend is losing two pounds a week, but they’re struggling. It’s because bodies aren’t machines and there are so many factors that affect our individual energy needs, including hormones, food choices, salt content (which can lead to water retention), and stress levels.
Tracking other measures of success can help keep you feeling positive even if you’re not seeing results on the scales. Are you more energised? Do you feel better with the foods that you're eating? Do your clothes fit better? Are you sleeping better?
Also remember that weight loss isn't a linear process. Look at your starting point and where you are now – if you’re seeing a downward trend, you’re progressing in the right direction.
MYTH 8: Healthy eating is expensive
We’ve already talked about the fact there’s no need to buy special diet products, but many people are also wary that buying lots of fresh produce is going to cost more. You can make healthy choices on a budget. Choose affordable pulses, frozen veg and wholegrains to bulk out meals and reduce cost while increasing nutrition. For instance, if you’re making bolognese, replace half the meat with lentils to bulk it out and save money. Have a browse through our budget healthy recipe collection for more inspiration.
MYTH 9: Drink more to eat less
If you’re skipping meals and trying to fill up with liquids, such as a low-cal fizzy drinks, you’ll be missing out on important nutrients and energy. This isn’t a healthy habit, and it isn’t sustainable. Adding in drinks can help if you’re someone who is prone to having seconds because you don’t feel full. A glass of water before you eat your meal could help you feel fuller faster. Soups can also be useful if you’re on a weight-loss diet as they can fill you up on fewer calories.
MYTH 10: Cardio is the best exercise for weight loss
Exercise is not essential to lose weight – diet is 70-80% of the equation. Cardio has many benefits, including burning calories, but resistance training builds muscle mass – and this is associated with healthy weight in the long-term. Aim to move more in general and, once you’ve found momentum and built it into your routine, balance cardio and resistance exercises.