myths and realities

“Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!”
“Eat all you want and lose weight!”

“Buy the thigh toner and lose several centimeters in no time!”

There are many diets and products available, but you hear so much that it’s hard to know what to believe. The information provided here can help. This fact sheet discusses some of the myths and truths about weight loss, nutrition, and physical activity. This information can help you make healthy changes in your daily life.

If you want to lose weight or have a question that we haven’t discussed here, talk to your doctor or other health care professional. A nutritionist or dietitian can give you advice on how to follow a healthy eating plan or how to lose weight safely and not increase it again.

Myths About Dieting and Weight Loss
Myth: Fad diets are a good way for me to lose weight and not increase it again.
Truth: Fad diets are not the best way to lose weight permanently. This type of diet usually promises that you will lose weight quickly. They make you strictly reduce what you eat or avoid certain types of foods. You may lose weight at first, but it’s hard to continue this type of diet. Most people soon get tired of following them and regain the weight they lost.

Some fad diets are unhealthy and don’t provide all the nutrients your body needs. Also, if you lose more than 3 pounds a week for several weeks, you may increase your chance of developing gallstones (masses of solid material in the gallbladder that can be painful). If you follow a diet of less than 800 calories a day for a long time, you may have serious heart problems.

Tip: Research suggests that the safest way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat a healthy diet with fewer calories than you used to and exercise every day. The goal is to lose from ½ pound to 2 pound (from ¼ kilo to 1 kilo) per week (after the first few weeks of weight loss). Choose healthy foods. Eat small portions. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Together, these eating and exercise habits can be a healthy way to lose weight and not increase it again. These habits also decrease your chance of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Healthy Habits Can Help You Lose Weight
Choose healthy foods.
You should fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.

Eat small portions.
Use a smaller plate or check the Nutrition Facts label to learn what portion sizes should be.

Incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
Garden, go for a walk with your family, play sports, start a dance club with friends, swim, use the stairs, or walk to the store or work.

Together, these habits can be a healthy, risk-free way to lose weight and not gain it again.

Myth: Grain products such as bread, pasta, and rice make me fat. I should avoid them when I try to lose weight.
Fact: A grain product is any food made with wheat, rice, oats, barley, or other cereal. Grains are divided into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain all the germ of the seed-the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Examples include brown rice and whole-wheat bread, cereals, and pasta. Refined grains have been ground, a process through which bran and germ are removed. This is done to give the grains a finer texture and increase the shelf life of perishable products, however, it removes dietary fiber, iron and many of the B vitamins.

People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet may reduce their chances of developing some chronic diseases. Government dietary guidelines suggest that half of the grains you eat are whole grains. For example, select bread that has 100 percent whole-wheat flour instead of white bread, and brown rice instead of white rice. The Additional Information section at the end of this sheet provides useful links to these guidelines and to the MyExternal Plate website link, which provides information, practical suggestions, and tools for healthy eating.

Tip: To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories and increase the amount of exercise or physical activity you do each day. Establish and follow a healthy eating plan that replaces less healthy choices with a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein foods, and low-fat dairy products:

Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
Limit added sugars, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and saturated fats, also known as “solid fats,” which are the fats that come from fatty meats and high-fat milk products such as butter.
Eat low-fat proteins such as beans, eggs, fish, lean meats, nuts, and chicken or turkey.
Eat colorful fruits and vegetables!
When you fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, choose foods with a variety of intense colors. You’ll get a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Red red peppers, cherries, cranberries, red onions, beets, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon

Green avocados, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, dark lettuce, grapes, green melon, kale, kiwi, spinach, Italian green zucchini.

Orange and yellow apricots, bananas, melons, papaya, carrots, mangoes, oranges, peaches, pumpkins, sweet potatoes.

Blue and purple blackberries, blue berries, grapes, plums, red cabbage, purple carrots, purple potatoes

Learn more! For more practical tips on healthy eating, see the Additional Information section for helpful links to federally approved dietary guidelines and the MyPlato External link.

Meal Myths
Myth: Some people can eat as much as they want and still lose weight.
Fact: To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat and drink. There are people who seem to be able to eat any kind of food they want and still lose weight. However, like other people, in order to lose weight, they have to use more energy than they eat through food.

There are some factors that can affect your weight. These include your age, medications, daily living habits, and the genes you inherited from your parents. If you want to lose weight, talk to your doctor about factors that can affect your weight. Together, you can create a plan so that you can reach your weight and health goals.

Tip: Just because you’re trying to lose weight doesn’t mean you can’t eat your favorite foods. The important thing is that you have a healthy eating plan and if one day you eat something that is very fat, that is, high in calories, try to eat less the rest of the day or the next day. For this it is good to look at the total number of calories you eat and reduce the size of your portions. Find out how to limit the calories in your favorite foods. For example, you can bake some foods instead of frying them, or you can use low-fat milk instead of cream. Don’t forget to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.

Myth: I shouldn’t eat fast food when I’m dieting because it’s an unhealthy choice.
Fact: It’s true that many fast foods aren’t very healthy and can make you gain weight. However, if you are in a fast food location, select menu options carefully. Whether at home or on the street, choose small portions of healthy foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories.

Tip: To choose healthy, low-calorie foods, check the nutrition facts. Today you can often find them on menus or on restaurant websites. Don’t forget, though, that nutritional data doesn’t always include sauces or extras. Try these tips:

Avoid combos or specials, which despite giving you more for your money, tend to have more calories than you need in a single meal.
Choose fresh fruits or fat-free yogurt for dessert.
Limit the use of extra ingredients that are high in fat and calories, such as bacon, cheese, regular mayonnaise, salad dressings and tartar sauce.
Choose steamed, grilled, or baked products instead of fried ones. For example, try grilled chicken breast instead of fried chicken.
Drink water or fat-free milk instead of soda.
As a side dish, serve a salad or a small serving of rice and beans instead of cassava or potato chips.

What’s the difference between a portion and a ration?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nutrition Facts label appears on most packaged foods (see Figure 1). On this label, you can see the number of calories and servings that are in that box, can, or package. Serving sizes vary from product to product.

A serving is the amount of food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, a package, or at home. Sometimes portion size and serving size are the same, but many times they are not.

You can use the Nutrition Facts label for:

See how many calories and portions you eat.
Make healthier food choices, serve smaller portions, and choose foods with less fat, salt, and sugar and more fiber and vitamins.
Learn more! Go to the end of this sheet where it says “How to Use the Nutrition Facts Label” for more information on how to read food labels.

Myth: When something says “low-fat” or “fat-free,” it means it has no calories and I can eat as much as I want.
Fact: A serving of a low-fat or fat-free food can be lower in calories than a serving of the same product with all its fat. However, there are many processed foods that are low-fat or fat-free but have the same or more calories than the same food with the full amount of fat. Flour, salt, starch, or sugar are sometimes added to these foods to improve their taste and texture after the fat has been removed. This adds calories to the food.

Tip: Read the nutrition information on the label (see Figure 1) on food packages to find out how many calories are in one serving. Check the serving size. The size may also be less than you’re used to eating.

Figure 1. The Nutrition Facts Label

Adapted from: External link.

Start here (Serving Size, Servings in Container) food label
See how many calories you have
Limit these nutrients (total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium)
Get enough of these nutrients (Total Carbohydrates, Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron).
Myth: If I miss a meal, I can lose weight.
Fact: If you skip a meal, you may end up feeling hungrier. This can make you eat more than usual at the next meal. Studies show a relationship between not eating breakfast and obesity. People who don’t eat breakfast often weigh more than people who eat a healthy breakfast.

Tip: Choose meals and snacks that include a variety of healthy foods. Try the following examples:

Quick Breakfast: Eat oatmeal with low-fat milk and topped with fresh fruit or eat a whole-grain toast with fruit jam.
Healthy Lunches: Prepare your lunch every night, so you won’t be tempted to run out of the house in the morning without your lunch.
Healthy snacks: Pack a small low-fat yogurt, a couple of whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter, or vegetables with hummus.
For more information on healthy eating, read our brochure “Improving Your Health: Tips for Adults. (See the “Additional Information” section for links to this and other WIN brochures.)

Myth: Eating healthy foods is too expensive.
Truth: Eating better doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Many people think that fresh foods are healthier than canned or frozen foods. For example, some people think spinach is better raw than frozen or canned. However, some canned or frozen fruits and vegetables provide as many nutrients as fresh ones at a lower cost. Choose low-salt canned vegetables and canned fruits in their own juice or water. Don’t forget to rinse canned vegetables to remove excess salt. Some canned seafood, such as tuna, is healthy, inexpensive, and easy to store in the pantry. Other healthy sources of protein that don’t cost much are lentils, peas, and canned, frozen, or sleeved beans.

Tip: Look at the nutrition information on canned, frozen, and pouch foods. Look for foods rich in calcium, fiber, potassium, protein, and vitamin D. Also look for foods that are low in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. For more tips, see “The Good Buy of External Link Vegetables and Fruits” (PDF, 67 KB) and “Healthy Eating on a Budget External link”, both on the MyPlato External link website (see “Additional Information” section).

Myths about physical activity
Myth: It’s not good to lift weights if I’m trying to lose weight, because it will make me look “too muscular.
Fact: Doing activities that help strengthen muscles on a regular basis can help you burn more calories. To strengthen your muscles, you can lift weights, use rubber bands or big endurance bands, do push-ups or sit-ups, or do chores or gardening that make you lift something or dig. Doing strength activities 2 or 3 days a week won’t make you “too muscular. Only intense training to harden muscles, combined with genetics (genes inherited from parents), can form very large muscles.

Tip: Government guidelines for physical activity recommend that adults exercise to strengthen muscles at least twice a week. These guidelines also suggest that adults should do 2½ to 5 hours a week of moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise is the one that makes you sweat and breathe faster and includes activities such as brisk walking or bicycling.

For more information on the benefits of physical activity and tips on how to be more active, see the government’s guidelines on physical activity (see the “Additional Information” section for a link).

Don’t just sit there!
In the United States, people spend a lot of time sitting in front of the television, computer, and desk or using handheld devices. Divide your day, moving more and doing normal aerobic activity that makes you sweat and breathe faster.

Do from 2½ to 5 hours of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity each week. Go jogging, brisk walking or hiking, play tennis, soccer or basketball, or use a hula hula. Choose what you enjoy the most! With 10 minutes of one-time physical activity, several times throughout the day and week, you’ll reach your goal for the total amount of physical activity you should do.

Strengthen your muscles at least twice a week. Push up, pull-up, lift weights, do heavy gardening, or work with resistance rubber bands.

Myth: Physical activity only counts if I can do it for long periods of time.
Fact: You don’t have to be physically active for long periods to get your 2½ to 5 hours of activity each week. Experts advise doing aerobic activity for periods of 10 minutes or more at a time. You can distribute these sessions throughout the week.

Tip: Plan to get at least 10 minutes of physical activity three times a day for 5 or more days a week. This will help you reach the goal of 2½ hours. Take a few minutes off work for a walk. Use the stairs. Get off the bus one stop before yours. Go dancing with your friends. No matter how short or long, these periods of activity can add up to the total amount of physical activity you need each week.

Food Myths
Myth: Eating meat is bad for my health and makes it harder for me to lose weight.
Fact: Eating small amounts of lean meat can be part of a healthy weight loss plan. While chicken, fish, pork, and red meat contain some cholesterol and saturated fat, they also contain healthy nutrients like iron, protein, and zinc.

Tip: Select the cuts of meat that have the least fat and remove all the fat you see. Less fatty cuts of meat include chicken breast, pork loin, beef round steak, and extra lean ground beef. It should also be fixed in the size of the portions. Try to eat the meat or chicken in 3-ounce portions or less.

Myth: Milk and milk products fatten me up and are unhealthy.
Fact: Nonfat or low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurt are as nutritious as whole milk products, but they have less fat and calories. Milk products, also known as dairy products, have protein that increases muscle mass and helps organs function well. They also have calcium that strengthens bones. Most milks and some yogurts are fortified with vitamin D, which helps the body use calcium. Most people who live in the United States do not get enough calcium or vitamin D. Milk products are an easy way to get more of these nutrients.

Tip: According to government guidelines, you should try to consume 3 cups a day of fat-free or low-fat milk or its equivalent in milk products. This may include vitamin-enriched soy beverages. If you cannot digest lactose (the type of sugar found in milk products), choose milk products that do not contain lactose or have low lactose levels. You can also choose other foods and drinks that contain calcium and vitamin D, for example:

Calcium: canned salmon, dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens or kale, and soy or tofu-based drinks made with calcium sulfate.
Vitamin D: Cereals or soy drinks.
Myth: Going vegetarian will help me lose weight and be healthier.
Fact: Studies show that people who follow a vegetarian eating plan usually consume fewer calories and fat than people who are not vegetarian. Some studies have also found that vegetarian-style eating is associated with lower obesity, lower blood pressure, and lower risk of heart disease. Vegetarians also have less body fat than non-vegetarians. However, both vegetarians and non-vegetarians can choose unhealthy foods that can affect their weight by causing it to rise. For example, they may eat large amounts of foods that are high in fat, high in calories, and low in nutritional value.

The types of vegetarian diets in the United States can vary greatly. Some people do not eat any animal products, while others consume milk and eggs along with vegetable foods. There are also those who eat primarily on a vegetarian plan, but include small amounts of meat, seafood, chicken, or turkey.

Tip: If you decide to follow a vegetarian eating plan, be sure to get the nutrients you normally get from animal products such as cheese, eggs, meat, and milk. In the table below, you will find a list of nutrients that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet with some foods and beverages that may help you meet your needs for those nutrients.

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