There’s more circulating misinformation about weight-loss than on possibly any other subject. In this article, I’m going to list some facts that you need to know in order to get the most from your weight-loss efforts.
Unlike the Cosmo articles and daytime TV shows, I’m not going to make any statement that hasn’t been demonstrated as factual by a study performed through a university or government entity, and I will link to each study. I highly recommend taking the same approach to verify anything else you read online before you accept it as factual. Sadly, too many sources twist facts to fit their own agendas.
Here are some facts that disprove the most common myths:
Fact 1: Calories Are What Really Matter, After All
Forget fat. Forget carbs. Forget protein. Forget your Atkins, cabbage soup, or South Beach diets. When it comes to weight-loss, calories are what matter.
The New England Journal of Medicine has published the results of its largest study of weight-loss methods, where they fed over 800 people a diet of 750 calories less than they normally ate. Among the group, people were split into diets of every conceivable type – low fat, low carb, low protein, or balanced across-the-board.
Regardless of what they ate, the results were consistent – each diet caused an average of 13 pounds of weight loss during the study. Furthermore, after the diets were stopped, all groups gained weight back at the same rate. [Source]
The conclusion is that people lose weight when they reduce calories, regardless of how they accomplish it.
However, one thing to consider is that similar research shows participants retain more muscle mass when following a higher protein diet. In other words, if you want to look and feel your best after your diet is complete, make sure you maintain adequate protein intake. You don’t need to mega-dose on it – a “normal” amount of protein for an American diet appears to be plenty to avoid muscle loss. [Source]
Fact 2: You CAN’T Spot-Target Fat Loss
No matter how many abdominal gizmos or thigh machines you hear about on TV and in magazines, one thing is absolutely true: You cannot, no matter what, lose fat from one specific part of your body. [Source]
If you want to lose fat from anywhere on your body – stomach, arms, thighs, face, anywhere else – it must be lost at the same rate from all fat stores. It would be nice if things were different – but us humans just don’t work like that.
Muscle, on the other hand, works differently. You’re certainly free to target one area with weight exercises to tone just those muscle groups . Just don’t expect to lose any fat in the process (and fat typically covers your muscle until you shed it).
Fact 3: Water Helps Weight Loss – But Not as Much as Diet Soda!
Most of us have heard that drinking more water is good for weight loss. Thankfully, that one’s not a myth at all!
The research confirms that people tend to eat fewer calories if they consume water before their meals, and across-the-board, studies suggest a strong correlation between increased water consumption and weight loss.
The appetite-suppressive effects of water are fairly self-explanatory: The volume of the water partially fills your stomach, leaving less room for food, and encourages your stomach to send the “full” signal to your brain sooner.
There’s another, less obvious, way that water (or any cold, calorie-free beverage) assists with weight loss: Temperature. Cold water is ideal, but even at room-temperature, your body still has to warm the water you drink to the normal 98.6 degrees – and that burns calories.
To understand why, we first have to define a calorie. A calorie is the amount of energy required to warm one gram of water by one degree C. If you add up the number of grams in a typical glass / bottle of water, and multiply by the temperature difference between the water and your body temperature, you will quickly understand how many calories you can burn just by drinking more water.
So, what about diet soda? Is it as bad as everyone says?
It turns out this boils down to another case of “calories matter”. While some theorize that diet soda does increase cravings for sweets, that effect hasn’t been replicated in studies. Besides, it’s only significant if you actually give in to those cravings. In fact, a new study published in the Obesity Journal showed diet soda lead to more weight loss than water alone. [Source]
While one study isn’t conclusive, it does make sense. Carbonated beverages, like diet soda, fill the stomach more effectively than “flat” drinks like water. This encourages appetite suppression and reduced food intake.
Fact 4: Diet is WAY More Important Than Exercise
We’re all conditioned to think of cardio, sweating, and working out in general as “the” way to lose weight. Modern research, on the other hand, confirms what weight loss experts have suspected for years – exercise just isn’t that helpful. [Source]
Unfortunately, exercise just doesn’t burn that many calories. A few hundred calories could easily be lost just by making wiser food choices (rather than eating less) throughout your day. On the other hand, you might have to exercise for 45 minutes to lose those same calories.
In addition to being easier, people tend to stick with diets more easily than they do exercise routines – making it an overall more effective weight loss method. In a perfect world, you would follow a plan for both diet and exercise – but if you’re going to do just one, pick diet every time.
Fact 5: Breakfast Isn’t THAT Important
We’ve all heard that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, and that people who eat breakfast “tend to weigh less” than those who skip it.
Another recent study calls out this claim, and determines that it all works out pretty much the same. Eat breakfast, skip it, whatever you prefer – at the end of the day, this is another myth that boils down to calories consumed. [Source]
All that seems to matter is how many total calories you’ve had at the end of the day, not when you had them. With that said, you might feel more energetic in the mornings if you opt to eat a small, healthy breakfast – but that one’s up to you!
Fact 6: Anyone Can Lose Weight – Period.
Some medical conditions can make weight loss a more difficult challenge, no doubt. Conditions which slow your metabolic rate or lower thyroid levels can be especially problematic.
However, it still all boils down to calories expended being greater than calories consumed.
If your metabolism is slower, that can alternately be viewed as your body simply working more efficiently. Just like a car with better gas mileage needs less fuel, your body needs less calories to maintain your body weight.
I’ll explain this in greater detail with the next fact:
Fact 7: Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss
Anyone who eats less calories than they burn will lose weight – period. This is, by far, the most proven of any of these facts, as any physicist would be happy to explain.
The First Law of Thermodynamics (sometimes called the conservation of energy) proves that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Don’t forget, calories are simply a measurement of energy. [Source]
This means that if you are burning more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. That energy can’t be created from nothing, and the only source to supply it is the fuel stored in your body weight.
If you’ve strictly followed this mindset and haven’t lost weight, that simply means you haven’t estimated your calories accurately. Otherwise, you would be eligible for a Nobel Prize for disproving a fully-established scientific law!
Plenty of people who understand this concept have used (ahem, abused?) it to lose weight, such as this guy who lost weight eating nothing but Twinkies (while watching his total calories, of course). Then there’s this obese man who simply stopped eating for a year and lost 275 pounds.
Of course, I only mention these examples as a proof-of-concept. These people pursued their drastic diets without approval from their doctors, and took a huge risk in doing so. Don’t get any ideas of your own – there are far better, easier, and safer ways to lose weight.