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.

Andrew Wheeler, MD
Andrew Wheeler, MD

But according to Andrew Wheeler, MD, chief of metabolic and bariatric surgery, some of the most commonly reported weight loss and fitness tips don’t hold up against scientific research.

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

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.” While this 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 losing and gaining 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."

So what is recommended if you're unsuccessful at losing weight?

"Take the success of a fad diet then modify eating behaviors and food choices that are healthier and sustainable," Wheeler said. "Fads exist because we want a quick fix, 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."

Instead, let the reward be feeling healthier and working toward achieving that New Year’s resolution.

MU Health Care’s bariatric services offers a wide array of options to help patients take control of their weight and overall fitness. The team includes surgeons, medical weight loss physicians, nurses and nutritionists who provide a range of medical services based on each individual patient’s needs.

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