Debunking Weight Loss Myths

Did you know some of the most commonly reported weight loss and fitness tips don’t hold up against scientific research?

photo of woman exercising

Two goals that are almost always at the top of New Year’s resolution lists are getting fit and losing weight. So it’s no coincidence that articles offering “tips and tricks to lose weight and get fit” gain popularity around the first of the year.

But according to Andrew Wheeler, MD, chief of metabolic and bariatric surgery, some of the most common weight loss and fitness tips don’t hold up under scrutiny.

Dr. Andrew Wheeler
Andrew Wheeler, MD

"Diet fads are just that — a fad," Wheeler said. "Long-term, sustainable weight loss requires changes that can last long into the future. Quick weight loss that comes because of a fad diet often fails because it is not sustainable."

Many sources also want to lead people to believe that weight loss surgery isn't a viable option, when in fact it's the best treatment options for many people who has health problems because of their weight. Dr. Wheeler takes on the top myths:

Myth 1: Small, sustained changes in activity level will produce large, long-term weight loss.

This myth often sounds like, “Get in the habit of parking your car far away from a store entrance,” or “Take the stairs instead of the elevator.” Although it isn’t bad advice, it won’t produce significant weight loss. The myth suggests a person who increases her activity by walking one extra mile a day will burn an additional 100 calories each day. If that person eats exactly 3,500 calories every day, adding one mile of walking should equate to a 50-pound weight loss over five years. However, research shows that when people follow this, their actual weight loss is about 10 pounds over five years.

"Small changes are much easier to adopt than large sweeping changes," Wheeler said. "The key is not two pounds lost, then three pounds gained. One thing to keep in mind is be aware of big events like birthdays, holidays or vacations as those weight gains might each lead to two to five pounds gained. Over the years those pounds add up."

Myth 2: Slow, gradual weight loss is more sustainable than large, rapid weight loss.

This myth says losing one to two pounds per week is ideal, while those who lose more weight faster will eventually gain it all back. Again, the research shows something quite different.

"Often rapid weight loss provides a lot of positive reinforcement and even allows people to feel better and begin exercising with less weight causing bodily stress," Wheeler said. "However, yo-yo dieting, where people lose and gain frequently, is not a good way to achieve sustainable weight loss. And often, a successful weight loss program often requires major dietary and lifestyle changes that may lead to rapid initial weight loss."

Myth 3: Choosing weight loss surgery is taking the easy way out.

“It’s by no means easy to get through the weight loss journey,” Wheeler said. “Anything worth doing is worth doing the right way, and for a lot of people, weight loss surgery is the right thing and the most effective thing.”

At MU Health Care's Weight Management and Metabolic Institute, patients who are interested in surgery must see many specialists to ensure they’re healthy enough and mentally prepared for surgery. Our team includes not only the surgeons, but also psychologists, dietitians and nurses. If patients have a pre-existing condition, we consult with other specialists to make sure they are good candidates for surgery. Weight loss surgery is a long-term commitment, and we expect our patients to stay on the journey with us well after surgery.

Myth 4: Weight loss achieved through surgery doesn't last.

Research shows that weight loss surgery is the most effective option for obese patients. Wheeler said 80% to 85% of patients lose weight and keep it off after surgery.

“It’s easy to remember the stories of friends and family members who had weight loss surgery and weren’t successful,” he said. “However, most people do really, really well with this operation, keep the weight off and go on to a better life.

Myth 5: Weight loss surgery is unsafe.

Any major surgery carries risks. Our doctors discuss safety protocols and risk factors to make sure you feel confident and comfortable going into surgery. Most patients who are committed to weight loss surgery see a significant improvement in their health and quality of life.

“Some people think people die and have complications from weight loss surgery all the time,” Wheeler said. “The safety of the procedure has drastically improved in the last 10 years, so the issues and complications people might have heard about, we don’t see frequently.”

Weight loss surgeries are becoming more common in the United States as obesity rates rise. As an academic health system, MU Health Care has doctors who stay on the forefront of medical training and research to ensure the safety of our patients. We give our patients the best treatment options and safest procedures.

So what is the best way to lose weight and keep it off?

If you've been unable to lose weight through diet and exercise, you might want to explore medical or surgical weight loss.

"Fads exist because we want a quick fix," Wheeler said. "But success requires change and often significant change. Speak with a weight loss professional to discuss more aggressive means of weight loss. Not all involve surgery but some people need assistance."

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