12 of the Biggest Diet Myths Debunked

Here we examine 12 of the biggest diet myths - and why common sense should always rein supreme.

Do you feel bombarded with ever-changing advice on how to lose weight and stay healthy? You’re not alone. It seems like every day there’s a new study, celebrity-endorsed diet or ‘health expert’ spruiking the best way to drop the extra weight. Its no wonder we feel confused.

1. What will work for someone else, will work for me

The simple truth is, we’re not all built the same. Everyone’s body chemistry is different which means, what may work for someone, may not work for you and vice versa. You need to take into consideration your age, your current health, allergies, any personal health issues, the environment where you live and so many other factors.

When asked what are the most common pitfalls in dieting, Christopher Gardner, PhD, director of nutrition studies at Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center told Web MD, “It’s thinking one thing will do it. You know, someone reads that getting more fibre is the most important thing you can do, but then it turns out that you already are getting lots of fibre in your diet, so adding more fibre isn’t really going to help you.”

If you’re serious about losing weight, a visit to your doctor or nutritionist to get a personalised eating plan is your first port of call.

2. All kilojoules are the same

Think those 500kj of chocolate are the same as 500kj of fruit? Then you’re about to be disappointed. While junk food may taste good, it does little in the way of nutritional value.

“Fruits and vegetables do double duty,” explains dietitian Leslie Bonci co-author of The Active Calorie Diet to Prevention Magazine.

“They’re rich in fibre, which works extremely well to keep you satiated, and they take a while to chew.” And that means foods like fruits, veggies, lean meats and whole grains can increase your calorie burn.

“More calories are required to digest them, and they’ll keep you satisfied longer,” she adds.

3. Eat ‘negative calorie’ food to lose weight?

"Negative calories is a myth and does not actually exist," Keri Gans, MS, RD, a highly regarded registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association told BettyConfidential

However, foods that have a lot of water content – such as celery or lettuce - can aid in weight loss because they keep you full. One large stalk, for instance, provides only 10 calories. Additionally, it provides fibre and has a very high water content (95 per cent of total weight). That can boost a feeling of fullness, which can then play a role in weight loss.

4. All white foods are the devil

Let’s not get confused – while white foods such as refined carbohydrates (including white bread and pasta) and sugar aren’t the most nutritionally sound choice – there are plenty of other white foods such as potatoes, cauliflower, white cranberries, white beans, and white onions that have a host of healthy nutrients and fibre.

“Natural, unprocessed white foods, such as onions, cauliflower, turnips, white beans, and white potatoes don't fall into the same category,” says Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD for Web MD. 

“The difference between refined white foods and their healthier counterparts is processing and fibre. Most white carbs start with flour that has been ground and refined by stripping off the outer layer, where the fibre is located.”

5. Carbs make you gain weight

Sugary and refined-carbohydrate-rich foods, such as white bread, pasta and doughnuts will certainly add to your weight woes and raise your risk of developing health problems like heart disease and diabetes. But don’t cut out the whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables – these provide your body with a source of fuel as well as nutrients and fibre. 

“Carbs are our friends,” nutritionist Juliette Kellow told express.co.uk .“Especially if we’re dieting because they’re less energy dense than fat. If we choose wholegrain or ‘brown’ ones which come packaged with fibre they help us to feel full too."

“Be discerning about the carbs you eat and favour low GI and wholegrain carbs over high GI and white," she adds.

6. Eating and drinking ‘diet’ foods will help you lose weight?

“If losing weight were all about the calories, then consuming diet drinks would seem like a good idea,” Dr Mark Hyman MD told the Huffington Post

But a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found the opposite is true. Women who drank one 12-ounce diet soda had a 33 per cent increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, and in population studies, there was a 200 per cent increased risk of obesity in diet soda drinkers.

“There is no free ride. Diet drinks are not good substitutes for sugar-sweetened drinks. They increase cravings, weight gain, and Type 2 diabetes. And they are addictive.”

You may want to consider research related to artificial sweeteners that contain chemicals. If your diet soda is full of chemicals and numbers, give it a miss. Instead, try drinks with natural low-calorie sweeteners like Truvia or Stevia.

7. ‘Natural’ equals healthy

We’ve all been hoodwinked into thinking that just because something is ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ it’s better for you. But as Nutrition Diva Monica Reinagel explains, “frying a potato in olive oil and sprinkling it with sea salt doesn’t turn it into a health food any more than colouring a jelly bean with beet extract turns it into a nutritious choice.”

“It’s especially easy to fall into this trap when shopping at health or natural food stores,” she adds. “Everything you see is the healthiest possible version of itself. Being organic has absolutely no bearing on a foods’ caloric value. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that a food is more nutritious (or less damaging) just because it’s natural.”

8. You must detoxify and cleanse your body to see results

Despite what all the celebs say, your body does a fine job of detoxifying itself. In fact, subjecting it to a cleanse could do more harm then good – at first you’ll lose weight from water and stool, but it can also carry risk of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, fatigue, dizziness, diarrhea and even lean muscle loss.

“Losing lots of fluid without medical supervision is risky, and when it's combined with fasting, even riskier," Michelle May, MD told WebMD . "Your body is uniquely fine-tuned to detoxify and excrete toxins. So cleanses are unnecessary and can lead to serious complications by messing with your body’s system.”

If you eat a balanced diet with plenty of water, fruits, veggies, fibre and whole grains, your body will do its own detox.

9. Eating late at night will make you fat

Truth: If you get the midnight munchies then you’re going to love this news - studies show that eating a large meal late at night does not make your body store more fat.

"It’s all about the overall calories you take in being less than the amount you’ve burned off," dietitian Azmina Govinji told The Daily Mail

In fact, there is now new evidence to suggest that certain carbohydrates could even aid a good night’s sleep by helping the body release chemicals such as tryptophan which aids in the production of brain neurotransmitters that help calm our nerves and help us stay asleep.

"Porridge oats cooked with skimmed milk just before bed is a great snack that is low in fat and high in nerve-calming B vitamins," she says.

10. You’ll burn more fat if you work out on an empty stomach

This is a contentious issue – with some experts saying that working out on an empty stomach will definitely help the fat burn, others say just like your car won’t run properly without fuel, the body won’t run properly without food and you’re more likely to splurge afterwards.

According to Prevention Magazine, studies show that working out on an empty stomach might burn a few more fat calories than when you work out an hour or two after eating—but total calorie burn is about the same.

Instead, Michele Stanten, certified group fitness instructor and counsellor advises to experiment – have a snack of 200 calories such as a banana with peanut butter, whole grain toast or an energy bar an hour or two before your workout, then note how you perform.

11. Cut out all fat

This is the myth that some are blaming on the obesity epidemic. And while its true that eating too much fat can make you gain weight, because it contains more calories per gram than carbohydrate or protein, not all fats are created equal. In fact, many of the fats we eat are essential for the smooth running of our metabolism.

“The key is to replace saturated or trans fats (biscuits, full-cream milk, pastries and cured meats) with unsaturated fat (oily fish, flaxseeds, unsalted nuts and seeds, olives and avocado), says the Nutrition Diva Monica Reinagel . “If you are going to eat saturated fats, the key is to eat small portions, and savour it, like the French do.”

12. Supplements can replace a healthy diet

Think you can eat rubbish, take a pill and all will be forgiven? Nope.

You could be doing more harm than good – if you’re a healthy adult your body should be getting the nutrients it needs from food. Taking supplements as well may mean you’re overdoing it – or worse still if you don’t take it properly, like during meals, there’s a good chance your body will just excrete most of it.

Even when you do take them properly, they still can’t replace phytonutrients such as resveratrol, flavonoids and carotenoids that help support your immune system and improve communication between cells, among other benefits still being discovered.

"Researchers have found about a million phytonutrients that you simply can’t get in a supplement," dietitian Elizabeth Somer, author of Eat Your Way to Sexy told Next Avenue.

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