Approximately 45 million Americans go on a diet–officially or unofficially–every year.
In fact, the U.S. Weight Loss Market (yes, there’s a market!) is worth approximately $66 billion. These digits are only likely to grow as more and more Americans commit to healthier lifestyles.
Yet with all of those dieting headlines plastered on magazines, news articles, and bookstore shelves, the dieting industry is fraught with mythology. It can be tempting to buy that issue of Prevention that promises the loss of twelve pounds in two weeks–but how do you sift fact from fiction?
I always recommend doing your research prior to committing to any diet program or initiative. This is especially important for diets that require a monthly commitment, like WW, Nutrisystem, and Noom. In the meantime, however, here are some of the most prominent dieting myths debunked for your benefit.
#1. Myth: Most diets don’t work.
There is a cynic in all of us, and when we’re trying to lose weight, it’s hard to bypass that sensation of dread that suggests all of this is for naught. This myth maintains that diets may be helpful at the moment, particularly for rapid weight loss, but they are ultimately unsustainable–and fruitless.
In fact, the myth that 95% of diets fail has been circulating online for years.
Proponents of this theory claim that many dieting programs are driven by commercial interests; others suggest that the very idea of restraining and restricting is repulsive and unrealistic for dieters.
Fact: The right diet can work for the right person.
Well, the 95% failure rate is just not true. In fact, the myth seems to have originated from a dubious weight loss study from 1959 that only involved 100 people.
There may be credence to the fact that some dieting programs don’t work, yet it is definitely a myth to claim that most diets are vain endeavors to lose weight.
In fact, the diets that don’t work may be those that are hazardous–those, for example, that eliminate key nutrients and fail to consider individuals’ unique biological and psychological makeup in their approach to weight loss.
*Important: ask yourself whether your over-eating is driven by emotion. If so, then it’s not realistic to think that you’ll find health and balance in your life by merely changing your diet. For a diet to succeed long-term, you may also need to address deep-seated issues in your life that bubble up to the surface in the form of emotional eating.
A diet is more likely to be effective if a dieter is committed to a healthier lifestyle along with a healthier relationship with food; not just the narrow goal of a smaller pant size.
Effective diets are also more sustainable when they involve community support and accountability (much like the Weight Watchers Freestyle Program) and/or convenience (like Nutrisystem’s meal delivery service).
#2. Myth: Your diet should have nothing to do with your Body Mass Index (BMI).
Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of body fat that takes your height and weight into consideration. In general, your ideal BMI involves a “healthy” balance of fat in relation to muscle mass.
Supporters of this myth claim that BMIs fail to assess a person’s genetics, ethnicity, general build, and fitness level. For this reason, BMIs are less important than values like “goal weights” or “healthy weights.”
Diets are, these people argue, about what you eat–and reducing the intake of fat.
Fact: BMI can determine the right diet for you–or even your need to diet!
Your BMI is more important than you may realize. It can give you a quick assessment of what a “healthy” weight should look like given your stature; it can also indicate whether or not you are underweight (more crucial for dieters than often assumed).
In fact, aiming to reach a healthy BMI may be a more realistic goal than aiming to reach a goal weight. For one thing, it becomes less about obsessing over singular pounds and more about striving towards holistic health (a key principle of successful dieting programs).
This can help you determine the type of diet you pursue, particularly when it comes to analyzing nutrition needs and meeting these diligently. Oh, and not all “fat” is bad–simply reducing intake of fat is not likely to reduce weight, particularly if it means eliminating of healthy fats our brains and bodies need for daily success! (You can Calculate your BMI here!)
#3 Myth: Diets are all about restriction.
This is a hard myth to debunk, especially when the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines dieting as “restrict[ing] oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.”
The theory is that overweight individuals have arrived at their current weight due to excessive caloric intake. Thus, to lose weight, one must eat less–or, at the very least, within the caloric range appropriate to their basal metabolic rate (BMR) and body mass index (BMI).
Fact: The situation is not de facto. While caloric restriction can certainly aid in an individual’s efforts to lose weight, diets are not all about restriction.
In fact, severe caloric restriction can be potentially damaging, particularly if a restricted diet is lacking in key nutrients.
Some dieters develop eating disorders–such as anorexia or bulimia–as a result of taking restrictions to the extreme. Others may contract fatigue, increase risk for fertility issues, and tank their metabolism.
Diets are more likely to be effective when they are part of a holistic lifestyle; that is, when paired with a fitness plan, mental wellness, (try mindful eating), and customized nutrition, they can deliver the results desired.
It’s also possible to explore dieting programs that do not emphasize restriction. Programs like Weight Watchers Freestyle, for example, permit flexibility in food choices yet underline the value of making healthy (rather than restrictive) selections.
#4 Myth: You can’t eat out when you are on a diet.
The language of diets is often extreme: these foods are “bad,” for example, while these are “good.” Proponents of this myth argue that eating out in restaurants and cafes is an automatic “bad,” simply because most outside food is unhealthy.
Thus, if you’re on a diet, restaurants are out of the question–unless you wish to counteract your existing efforts to lose weight. Even conscious eating out can pay a caloric price. And let’s not even get started with alcohol!
Fact: Dieters can still lose weight and eat out when they wish.
It may be true that many on-the-go or outside food options incorporate “unhealthy” ingredients. It is certainly difficult to line up for a McDonald’s breakfast every morning, for example, and attempt to shed those pounds.
Yet it is nearly astounding how many restaurants now cater to health-conscious individuals, striving to dissolve the myth that all outside food is “bad” food. From plant-based and gluten-free to whole-grain and organic, food manufacturers are prepared to meet your appetite and your dieting needs at the same time.
The key to eating out on a diet, of course, is knowledge. Depending on your diet’s terms, you may be able to eat out as many as five times a week, provided you are attentive to food cooking and preparation processes, ingredients, and nutritive value.
Some dieting programs incorporate ‘restaurant nights’ in their curriculum. Once again, Weight Watchers takes the cake here for such efforts to emphasize the flexible “I” in diet!
#5 Myth: Most diets are unsustainable.
Back to the sustainability topic again: many people assume that diets may be effective in the moment; outside the bounds of a dieting program, however, they argue that losing weight is more likely to return, establishing old habits and wasting prior effort.
Fact: A diet’s sustainability depends on the diet–and the dieter.
Yes, some diets may be unsustainable, particularly if they emphasize results rather than practices. The modern notion of a diet also has an element of ephemerality to it, too–when someone says “I’m on a diet,” it often sounds like a temporary claim to weight loss.
Yet many dieting programs are designed with this challenge in mind–and an aim to deliver sustainable, long-term results. The most successful programs are those that knit instruction and consciousness into their deliverables, training dieters not to just count calories or points but, more importantly, to develop a nuanced food awareness.
If you choose such a program with a commitment to changing your relationship with food and health, you are already eligible for sustainable results.
#6 Myth: Carbohydrates are bad (really, really bad!)
A ‘low-carb diet’ is one of the most touted programs out there, and (this myth maintains) for good reason. Carbohydrates are just a fancy word for processed sugars, which are immediately stored as fat in the body.
Low-carb diets eliminate foods your body is likely to turn into fat, boosting your odds of successful weight loss.
Fact: We need (the right) carbohydrates to function!
It’s easy for diets to villainize certain foods, particularly when it comes to fats and carbohydrates. While some carbohydrates are derived from processed sugars, many exist naturally in a variety of healthy food ingredients.
What’s more, studies suggest that we need the right kind of carbohydrates to function: namely, complex carbohydrates, those that give our brain the power it craves. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, multigrain bread, and a variety of cereals (not the colored box, breakfast aisle kinds, though).
Aim to follow a diet that permits the intake of nutritive carbs and limits intake of those that are more likely to be converted into fat (and spike your blood sugar levels, too).
#7 Myth: People who can cook are likely to be better dieters.
Here’s the theory: a lot of prepared or processed food out there isn’t good for you, containing high amounts of sodium, unhealthy fats, and starches. Successful diets are thus those that involve meal preparation–where you can have control over what goes into your meals.
Those who can cook or have access to a comfortable kitchen are at an advantage here. Dieters who stay away from pots and pans may have a steeper mountain to climb.
Fact: Meal delivery systems may outcompete home cookers.
Meal delivery systems like Nutrisystem minimize the home-cooking aspect of dieting, providing dieters with pre-packaged–yet carefully curated–meals designed to help them meet their dieting aims.
In fact, the convenience of meal delivery means dieters often spend less time in the kitchen and more time engaging in other health-conscious activities, such as workouts at the gym. Rather than developing their own recipe-crafting savvy–and having to cull nutrient-full recipes from the web–dieters of meal delivery programs can tap into their weight loss potential more easily (and, often, faster).
#8 Myth: Dieting is the only way to lose weight
Enough said. Food makes our world go round; proponents of this myth claim that food is thus the ultimate culprit when it comes to excess weight. Changing what appears on our dinner plates is the only means of fitting into those size-zero jeans.
Fact: Food is only part of the equation.
Every diet is different; every dieter has a distinct aim. It only makes sense, then, that food would be part of the equation.
Effective weight loss is often the result of a union of factors, including exercise and fitness, psychological well-being, caloric intake and value, and even relationships. Food may simply be the easiest place to begin in all of this.