Losing weight is no small feat. It requires you to make changes to your daily routine, eating habits, and maybe even your social life. The traditional advice of “eat right and exercise” can often seem daunting if you’re looking to drop fat fast.
That’s why one internet search for "how to lose weight" yields millions of quick-fix alternatives to the slow slog of jogging and salads. But do they work?
Science says no. There’s no one magic ingredient that’s going to make you lose weight, says Wesley Delbridge, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Choosing the wrong fad or crash diet could leave you lethargic for workouts, lower your immunity, and even derail your weight loss, slowing your metabolism and making it harder to drop pounds in the future.
There’s no substitute for putting in the hard work, but the good news is that there are a lot of little things you can do each day to shed pounds. Read on for five weight-loss myths that could set you back, and the research-based tips to try instead.
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MYTH #1: DETOX DIETS ARE GREAT FOR YOUR BODY
Some research suggests that harmful substances we’re exposed to from our environment (like the BPA in plastics, for example) may play a role in diseases like obesity and diabetes. However, there’s no evidence that commercial detox products like teas, juice cleanses, and special restrictive diets can effectively remove them.
The all-powerful secret to detoxing? Your body’s natural filters, also known as your liver and kidneys. The thought that special detox formulas travel from your digestive tract to your muscles, fat, and skin to seek out toxins, like alcohol or drugs, and flush them from your body is a myth, says Delbridge.
Plus, most detox cleanses involve drastic calorie restriction, which can be bad news for your waistline. When your body senses that it’s starving, your metabolism slows, so it will hold on to those foods tighter when you do start eating normally again, making it likely that you’ll just gain back any weight you lost to begin with, explains Delbridge.
Try this: The best way to support your body’s natural detox pathways is through food. First, you need to drink enough water, so your kidneys can properly flush out unneeded chemicals, says Susan Payrovi, M.D., an integrative medicine practitioner at Stanford University’s Medical Center.
In addition to your favourite slab of meat, adding in plant-based proteins, like beans and lentils, can help support your liver function, she adds. Load up on at least five servings each day of colourful vegetables and fruits, too. They’re high in antioxidants, which may help your body process unwanted substances, she says.
MYTH #2: ALL CALORIES ARE CREATED EQUAL
When it comes to dropping pounds, reducing calories from all foods is important, right? Not so. All calories are not created equal when it comes to weight loss, says Susan Roberts, Ph.D. senior scientist at Tufts Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
Some calories—say, those from high-fibre and protein-packed foods like broccoli, nuts, and lentils—have been shown to play a role in boosting your metabolism. These, plus low-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates, like milk and whole grains, keep you full longer, so you’re less tempted to overeat at your next meal, adds Roberts.
Case in point: Take a handful of almonds and compare them to a snack-sized bag of 18 potato chips. Both are around 160 calories, but the almonds are more likely to satiate your hunger than the chips, thanks to their protein and fibre content.
Try this: Include carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fibre in all of your meals and snacks, says Delbridge. Instead of just eating an apple, which contains carbs and fibre, as a 2 p.m. snack, try adding in a tablespoon of peanut butter for an added protein and fat boost.
Fiber and protein slow down how quickly food moves through your digestive tract, so your body will utilize the nutrients in a more efficient way, adds Delbridge.
MYTH #3: EATING "CLEAN" IS ALWAYS HEALTHY
Typically, when you eat clean, you only consume whole foods you’ve prepped yourself and nix all processed snacks, added sugar, and salt. That's not entirely a terrible thing, and the very basic principles of clean eating can align with healthful eating.
But many challenges are questionable. Take the five-ingredient rule, where a hard “no” on any foods with ingredient lists longer than five items, like protein powders and frozen veggie burgers, is expected. This type of restriction can easily backfire, causing you to constantly crave and binge on the very foods you swore not to eat.
That’s because there are receptive centers in your brain that get used to eating, say, a bowl of ice cream each night. This makes you crave sugar similar to that in people addicted to alcohol and drugs, says Delbridge. So if you tell yourself that you can’t eat ice cream, you’ll end up going hog-wild once your brain gets the best of you. This pattern of restricting and binging is a recipe for weight gain, says Delbridge.
Try this: To wean yourself off, start with a 25 percent drop in your vice of choice every week. So if you end your day with four pieces of chocolate and a glass of milk, cut back by one piece a week. “This slow process reduces splurging and also resentment about your diet,” explains Delbridge.
And if you want to keep your favourite foods in your life, just remember that eating in moderation can be helpful. Have two pieces of your favourite kind of chocolate with lunch instead of a full-size candy bar, suggests Delbridge.
MYTH #4: CUT ALL CARBS TO GET LEAN
Initially, you will lose more weight on a low-carb diet. When you eat very little carbs, your body will use up its own energy stores, so you’ll lose a lot of water weight rather than fat. Once you start eating a bit more normally, you’ll just gain that weight back, says Roberts.
If you keep eating this way, your body may dip into your muscle stores to turn protein into glucose to make up for the lack of fuel. Because the protein is being converted to energy, it can't prioritize building and maintaining your gains, says Delbridge, meaning you might actually lose some muscle.
And when you lose muscle, your metabolism may slow, which makes losing weight—and keeping it off—tough.
Now, cutting back on refined carbs like crackers and cookies is never a bad idea. These types of carbs are “empty” because they offer you little nutritional bang for your buck in terms of calories. In fact, research suggests that swapping out refined carbs for whole grains can lead to gradual weight loss.
Try this: Load up on vegetables, which are nutrient-dense carbohydrates, and when you eat grains, stick to their whole form. Structure your plate this way: Pack half of your dish with vegetables, and split the other half between whole grains and your protein, says Delbridge. That ratio will keep you feeling satisfied.
MYTH #5: GOING GLUTEN-FREE IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE
The gluten-free lifestyle is misconstrued as a great way to lose weight and improve health. Gluten—a protein in wheat, rye, and barley—is really only an issue for two percent of Americans diagnosed with celiac disease, wheat allergy, or nonceliac gluten sensitivity.
Eliminating gluten without a professional diagnosis can also set you up for deficiencies in vitamins D, B12, and calcium.
So why is going gluten-free touted as a weight loss tool? When you go from eating processed carbohydrates, like pastries and cakes, to more vegetables and whole grains, like quinoa or brown rice, you’re getting more fibre This can cause you to eat less, since you’re taking in more satiating foods, says Delbridge.
The thing is, a gluten-free cookie is still a cookie, so loading up on the wrong types of gluten-free foods can still set you back if you’re not careful.
Try this: Before you cut out gluten, try swapping out the type of carbohydrates you’re eating, and how much, suggests Delbridge. If you eat your sandwich on white bread, try whole grain or an open-sandwich with just one slice instead.
If you do think you might have a gluten sensitivity, talk to your doc, preferably a gastroenterologist, before making the switch.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.