Bust a Myth

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. Unless, of course, you can’t admit it.

In that case, you’re not just wrong–you’re delusional, too. And that goes double if you happen to be a medical professional.

Doctors who are dogmatic about their own misconceptions are especially inexcusable. To be wrong when you are a lay person is one thing. But perpetuating myths when you’re in a position of power?

It bugs me to no end. And yet it happens all the time.

Take the special report that appeared recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example. Researchers analyzed the substance behind much of today’s conventional diet “wisdom.”

And surprise, surprise… it turns out that many of these ideas aren’t actually supported by science.

I didn’t need a study to tell me that. In fact, I’ve addressed this very problem more than once in the last couple of weeks.

Still, the findings are worth sharing. Especially now that another diet season is in full swing.

The authors of this report deal with several myths and presumptions that have long ruled the weight loss industry. Among them:

Small changes add up to large, long-term losses.

Turns out, this just isn’t true. Weight loss would be easier for all of us if it were a simple static equation of calories-in-calories-out. But while 3500 calories may equal one pound of weight, the rate at which you burn those calories changes as your body mass changes.

The bottom line: Small changes are a good place to start. But don’t kid yourself. You’re going to have to step up your game eventually.

Realistic goals help you to stay motivated.

Lowering the bar may sound like a good way to deter yourself from giving up. But the science shows the opposite. Ambitious goals are actually more likely to pay off in the long run.

The bottom line: Aim high–and you’ll likely surpass even your greatest expectations.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Who hasn’t heard this advice? The idea that slow, gradual weight loss is somehow more effective has been around for ages.

But published studies have actually shown that rapid weight loss leads to larger losses–and that you’re not any more likely to gain it back, either.

The bottom line: No one’s advocating crash diets. But don’t assume that slimming down at light speed is somehow a bad thing. Because when you radically transform your habits, the weight will fall off… and fast.

Sex is a good workout.

I hate to be a killjoy, but facts are facts–and this myth just isn’t true.

During intense sexual activity, a 154-pound man burns approximately 3.5 calories per minute. But let’s be honest–this level of stimulation only accounts for about six minutes of any given sexual encounter.

This adds up to about 21 measly calories. And when you consider the fact that the same man could burn seven calories just lying on the couch, the idea of “sexercise” becomes even more far-fetched.

The bottom line: That “afternoon delight” may burn more calories than an afternoon nap. But it’s still no substitute for an afternoon jog.

There are several other assumptions that are common in the industry–but that aren’t necessarily true or untrue. These include:

Eating breakfast will keep you skinny.

Breakfast might be “the most important meal of the day.” But it’s not an ironclad insurance policy against fat.

In fact, more than one study has shown that it has no bearing on obesity risk at all.

You can lose weight by eating more fruit and vegetables.

The truth is, eating more fruit and veggies is just that–eating more. And if you want to slim down, that’s just not going to cut it.

Fill up on produce, yes. But do it to replace the junk food in your diet–namely, sugar and refined carbs.

Yo-yo dieting is deadly.

Look, I’m no fan of yo-yo dieting. Weight cycling is demoralizing at the very least. And when you lose weight, the idea is to keep it off… for good.

That said, research clearly shows that a checkered dieting past in no way rules out a healthy future. And there’s certainly no evidence that it increases mortality.

But of course, not everything you’ve heard is a lie.

The authors of this latest review also list a few facts that do have scientific support. Some of them are obvious. Most of them, I’ve shared with you myself.

And all of them are worth remembering when you’re trying to lose weight:

  • Even moderate changes to your environment can yield the same results as the most “effective” weight loss drugs.
  • Diets work–but they’re also easier said than done. Success means walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
  • Exercise does help you lose weight–and it’s healthy even if you’re not trying to slim down.
  • Overweight kids need a supportive family and changes at home in order to succeed in losing weight.

My final bottom line: We need hard facts to guide the individuals and organizations charged with helping people to achieve health and weight loss goals.

But we’ll never get there if the weight loss industry continues to run in circles and talk out of both sides of its mouth.

When it comes down to it, weight loss is a science like any other–which means that relying on half-truths usually leads to total failure.

If you want to succeed, don’t just stick to your diet. Stick to the facts, too.

Weight-Loss Myths Refuted in New Review. Medscape. Jan 31, 2013.