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11 Weight Loss Myths and Presumptions You Probably Believe

8/22 9:28:31

There are some super-common sayings we all seem to toss around when we talk about avoiding weight gain: Never skip breakfast, don't weigh yourself daily, calories in minus calories out... to name just a few. However, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham said there's a ton of common "knowledge" that we need to toss out for lack of scientific evidence.

In a new article published this month in the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, researchers discuss nine myths about obesity, and 10 presumptions. The researchers say that these not-so-tried-and-true claims are leading to poor decisions about how best to address obesity as a culture, wasted resources, and bad advice on how the public can avoid that excess weight.

For the myths, the researchers suggest that we just stop believing them entirely. For the presumptions, they suggest that we put more effort into proving these claims. Because here's the scary thing about this: Despite the fact that these presumptions lack significant evidence to support them, healthcare professionals still give advice based on them.

Here are the 11 most shocking myths and presumptions from the report. We think you'll also be surprised:

Myth: Don't Lose Weight Quickly—Go Slowly
You've heard it a million times: If you lose weight super quickly, it'll be hard to keep that weight off in the long-run, compared to losing weight slowly and steadily. Turns out there's not much research to support this, and that weight-loss retention is a lot more complicated than the speed at which you drop the pounds at the outset.

Presumption: Eating Breakfast Every Day Protects Against Obesity
There is mixed evidence about this—on the one hand, keeping your energy levels at a fairly constant state all day prevents crashing and binging later. But if you’re not actually that hungry when you wake up, it might make more sense to wait until you are hungry. Focusing on the cues your body is telling you is a crucial component to mindful eating. That being said, if you are going to eat breakfast, make it really count: Follow these 7 research-backed breakfast tips for faster weight loss.

Presumption: Snacking Leads to Weight Gain and Obesity
In great news for snack-lovers everywhere, it looks like this particular assumption isn't fully born-out in the research. That doesn't mean that all weight-loss plans will now include snack-time as part of the daily grind, but it is something to think about. Going back to mindful eating: If you're hungry, pay attention to what your body is telling you. And if it's telling you that a protein-, healthy fat-, or fiber-rich snack is what you need to keep pushing through the day, then by all means, have that snack.

Myth: Set a Realistic Goal Weight—Or Else You'll Be Totally Discouraged
It sounds reasonable, but there's no evidence to back it up: Feeling frustrated about a seemingly difficult-to-achieve weight isn't going to preclude you from hitting your goal.

Presumption: Eating Close to Bedtime Contributes to Weight Gain
You've heard all the rules: Don't eat after 9 pm; lock up the fridge after dinner; eating close to bedtime throws off digestion. Well, it could also be that people who eat closer to bedtime are just consuming more calories every day than people who stop eating at dinner—in the form of extra snacks. And those added calories can eventually add up. Either way, it's important for researchers to study this tip more. And in the meantime, if you are going to nosh after dinner, make it one of these 5 healthy late-night snacks. 

Myth: Weighing Yourself Daily Interferes with Weight Loss
This is a nuanced one—for some people, weighing themselves daily can take a turn to the obsessive, depressing, or unhealthy. For others, it can absolutely be a good way to keep themselves motivated. In any case, if it's something that works for you (in a reasonable and healthy way), don't let this old myth keep you from doing it.

Presumption: Eating More Fruits and Veggies Will Lead to Weight Loss (or Less Weight Gain), No Matter What Else You Do
It's a little shocking... until you actually think about it. See, fruit and veggie consumption is up, but obesity rates are obviously not down. What gives? Eating healthy foods doesn't mitigate the unhealthy ones. If you're still consuming a ton of empty calories in addition to your nutritious ones, that's still a ton of empty calories. The fruits and veggies need to substantially replace the other food, rather than supplement it.

Myth: Genes Aren't a Factor in the Obesity Epidemic
While you'd love to inherit your mom's smarts, smile, and sense of style, her slow metabolism and tendency to crash diet are traits you'd probably rather pass on. Read our story, How NOT To Inherit Your Weight and Eating Habits From your Parents.

Presumption: Yo-Yo Dieting Increases Mortality Rate
While it's true that yo-yo dieting is an unsustainable approach to weight loss, not enough research has been done to show that it actually kills you faster.

Presumption: Drinking More Water Will Lead to Weight Loss or Less Weight Gain, No Matter What Else You Do
Sometimes, reaching for a glass of water will be just as satisfying as reaching for a snack to mindlessly graze on—especially if you tend to munch out of boredom or anxiety, rather than genuine hunger. But yes, it totally makes sense that if you just drink more water but don't limit your portion sizes and the amount of nutrient-poor, high-calorie foods you're consuming, you'll still be taking in the same number of calories. You'll just also be more hydrated. That being said, almost everyone could benefit from drinking more water on a daily basis, whether their goal is to lose weight or not. Try these 10 ways to drink more water to hydrate better.

Myth: The Freshman 15 Is Real
We know, this kind of blew our minds, too. Turns out there's no actual data to support this one. (You might think that the number on your personal scale is data enough, but anecdata does not true research make.)

Ultimately, the most important idea here, as suggested by the researchers, is not to cling to a commonly held belief if it’s not working for you—even if it sounds like such great advice. Take what you hear with a grain of salt (and with the advice of docs and RDs), and try to make the smartest, healthiest decisions you can with your diet.

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