As if dieting wasn't hard enough. Even if you have the will power to stick to a diet plan, you may come across much misinformation that could prevent your diet from being truly effective.
Here are nine common myths that could derail your diet plans.
Myth: A big breakfast will keep you from eating too much later in the day.
It's a bad idea to skip breakfast because you're more likely to reach for extra morning snacks but this doesn't mean a big breakfast is good idea either. A big breakfast does not keep you from being hungrier later in the day. Worse yet, it can pile on too much extra calories.
A German study of 280 obese and 100 normal-weight people, published this month in the Nutrition Journal, found that eating a big breakfast can tack on an extra 400 calories. Yet we typically don't balance out this morning calorie infusion by eating less later breakfast calories had little or no effect on the number of calories consumed during the rest of the day, the researchers found.
Myth: Eating small portions, or "grazing," throughout the day will help increase metabolism.
Modifying your food intake in this way won't increase your metabolism. Though some people might find that eating smaller, frequent meals and snacks helps to control their appetite, making it easier to lose weight, others may experience the opposite effect.
"Some people tend to graze on high-fat, high-calorie foods, which would actually make them gain weight," said Sara Stanner, a registered public health nutritionist and a member of the British Nutrition Foundation.
But "if you are sitting down for a meal, you are more likely to have lower energy foods such as vegetables sides and salads," Stanner said. "In general, studies show that if you are trying to lose weight, the best approach is three planned meals and a couple of healthy snacks."
Myth: Low-fat or fat-free food will have significantly fewer calories.
Just because a food is labeled as being low in fat does not necessarily mean it's low in calories because fat can be replaced by other nutrients that provide calories, such as protein, starch and sugar.
For example, according to a food guide published by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a small, low-fat blueberry muffin has 131 calories, while a regular blueberry muffin of the same size has 138 calories.
Eating low-fat foods will not automatically lead to weight loss, Stanner told MyHealthNewsDaily. This is especially true if you end up eating larger portions of low-fat foods.
Myth: Eating late in the evening will cause you to gain weight.
It's not true that food consumed later in the evening will just sit there, unused, and automatically get converted into fat.
"You will gain weight if your total daily energy intake exceeds your energy expenditure, regardless of the timing of consuming these calories," Stanner said. "Eating late at night, however, especially large meals, can cause digestive problems and that's why it's not recommended."
Myth: Thinking about a certain food will make you crave and eat more of it.
It's true that thinking about specific foods may make you desire them more. That's why it's helpful to allow yourself the occasional treat when you're on a diet.
However, a 2010 study in the journal Science showed that people who visualized eating certain foods repeatedly (such as M&Ms, or cubes of steak) tended to not eat as much afterward, even when an unlimited amount of that food was offered.
The key is in the repetition, the researchers said. The study suggested that repetitive visualization might lead to habituation, where merely imagining an experience is good enough of a substitute for the actual experience.
Myth: A sports drink that is high in vitamins and nutrients is a healthier alternative to soda.
It's easy to think of sports drinks as the healthy alternative at the vending machine, but that's not always true. For example, a bottle of VitaminWater contains 13 grams of sugar and 50 calories per serving. However, each bottle contains 2.5 servings, so if you chug the whole bottle after a workout, you've taken in 125 calories. By comparison, one can of regular Coca-Cola has 140 calories.
"Sports drinks may contain a good supply of vitamins and minerals, but it can still be high in sugar and calories," Stanner said. "And some of the added vitamins and minerals may also not be required if you are already eating a healthy diet."
Myth: You can lose weight just by going on a diet.
Sure, some diets can nudge you toward a healthier lifestyle, or reduce your blood pressure or risk of cardiovascular disease. However, paradoxically, diets can be surprisingly bad at keeping the weight off.
A 2007 review of 31 long-term studies by UCLA scientists in the journal American Psychologist showed that diets often stop working once dieters shed the first 5 to 10 percent of their weight. Only a minority of participants sustained their weight loss beyond the six-month mark.
And most people ended up regaining the weight in the long run.
The researchers suggested that diet plan, without additional lifestyle modifications and exercise, are not the best way to lose weight.
Myth: Skipping starches is all you you need to do to lose weight.
The popularity of various low-carb, high-protein diets have lulled us into thinking starch is bad. After all, the body processes starch and other carbohydrates into sugar, which might then be converted into excess fat.
However, starch, on it's own, is not the ultimate problem.
"Starch contains the same number of calories as sugar," about 3.75 calories per gram, Stanner said. Large portion sizes as well as high-fat sauces and toppings such as sour cream, butter and cream sauces are the culprit.
"Eating an excess of anything that contains calories is fattening," she said, "even if you replace your carbs with proteins."
Myth: You can eat whatever you want as long as you exercise.
Daily exercises and an active lifestyle can offer many health benefits beyond weight loss. However, just because you have been slaving on the treadmill for two hours doesn't mean you should overindulge.
"Your energy intake will have to match your energy expenditure in order not to gain or lose weight," Stanner said. "This is a common misconception, and many people replace the energy they burn off during exercise with a sugar-containing sports drink, which is not a good idea if you are trying to lose weight."
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