Weight loss is a very controversial topic. There are so many diet myths circling around that sometimes it gets difficult to separate the fact from the fiction. Today I want to debunk 5 popular diet myths which are considered the Holy Grail in weight loss.
I have tried and tested these myths on myself. Thus I can vouch from my own experience that they are just myths and nothing else and and should not be believed blindly.
I will explain the truth of each through scientific research citations and my own experience of losing weight by not following them.
DIET MYTH 1: Don’t skip breakfast if you want to lose weight
It is believed that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you MUST eat it if you want to lose weight. But this is just a diet myth and nothing else.
The real truth
The most important thing while losing weight is the total number of calories you eat. And the truth is if you eat less than you burn you are sure to lose weight whether you eat breakfast or not.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people are trying to lose weight, it doesn’t matter if they devour a dish first thing after waking up or if they skip it altogether (1).
The researchers assigned more than 300 overweight and obese (but otherwise healthy) individuals, ages 20 to 65, to either the control group (that continued with eating habits per usual), a group that was told to eat breakfast or a group that was instructed to miss the meal. After tracking their weight for 16 weeks, the scientists found that those who grabbed a bite in the morning didn’t lose any more weight than those who omitted it.
My experience with Diet Myth 1
I have never been a breakfast person but I got tricked into believing this myth and tried it religiously. And all I gained was forced breakfasts with no positive effects but only an increased caloric intake. Therefore listen to your body and do as it asks you to, not some random person next door.
Don’t force yourself to eat breakfast if you are not hungry in the morning. And if you are and enjoy breakfast, go ahead and eat it. But don’t expect that eating breakfast will miraculously help you lose weight.
DIET MYTH 2: You have to eat 5-6 meals to keep your metabolism high
You have probably heard this little “tip” from every second person you meet be it a dietician, a fitness guru or a layman. “Eat 5-6 small meals, to rev up your metabolism and facilitate weight loss.”
The real truth
But just like the breakfast myth, this too has been circulated around by supplement companies and others to further their sales and not to bring down your weight.
Let me clear the idea. The whole idea of revving up the metabolism comes from the concept that the body has to expend energy ie calories in digesting food. And so it is believed by those who support this diet myth that eating frequent meals will force the body to activate the digestion process more frequently and thus burn more calories in the process. This they say would lead to the spiked metabolism. But what they conveniently forget to mention is the fine print.
The truth is that the calories burned during digestion is in proportion to the amount of calories eaten and is on an average 10% of total intake. So whether you eat six 500-calorie meals or three 1000-calorie meals your body will still expend a total amount of 300 calories to digest it. What matters is the total number of calories you eat, not how many meals you eat it in (2, 3).
According to celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels, “By grazing around the clock, you’re preventing your body from burning fat. When you’re constantly eating, you’re consistently releasing insulin, which puts your body into its “absorptive phase.” Basically what this means is that the insulin in your body is storing sugar — and not letting other enzymes in your body release sugar to break down fat. The goal is for your body to be in “postabsorptive phase,” where it uses your energy stores for sustenance, and burns more fat”.
Related research (taken from WebMD)
A study from the University of Ottawa found that on a low-calorie diet, there was no weight loss advantage to splitting calories among six meals rather than three.
A second study found that switching from three daily meals to six did not boost calorie-burning or fat loss. In fact, the researchers concluded, eating six meals a day actually made people want to eat more.
My experience with Diet Myth 2
In fact, I myself got misled to believe this diet myth a few years back and religiously followed it.
I used to carry with me multiple boxes of food to work and was obsessed with meal times, small meals and eating every two to three hours. But the only thing it brought down was my productivity. It had absolutely no effect on my weight.
The other drawback of small frequent meals is that in order to maintain your calorie intake, you have to eat small meals which don’t satiate the hunger completely and actually leave you wanting for more because you never sit down for a full meal (4). Moreover its difficult to keep track of the calories and even a 50 calorie surplus in each meal will lead to eating around 300 calories extra.
I faced these issues and many more which I will be elaborating in a separate blog post.
And the reason was that, as stated above eating so many meals I would end up eating more calories and still be craving for more as I would never feel really satisfied with my meals. Moreover it was very difficult to follow every single day. All I felt I was doing was looking at the watch and worrying about not missing my meal time. It was a food prison and it was psyching me out and making me obsessive about meal times.
But ever since I changed my routine, it not only liberated me but also gave me a positive weight loss result of 10 kgs in 3 months.
I am not saying that there is anything wrong with eating more meals if you like it but all I am saying is it’s NOT necessary and NOT the only way to lose weight. There is no one size fits all method here. Some people tend to eat more with this method while some tend to curb cravings and eat less. So again it boils down to what suits your body. Just follow that!
But just remember that eating ‘more’ meals is not going to have any effect on your metabolic rate and eating ‘less’ meals will not take you into starvation mode.
In fact there are studies that show that fasting for up to 2 days can actually boost metabolism by 3.6-14% (5, 6). However, fasting longer than that can reverse the effect and cause metabolism to go down compared to the original basal metabolism (7).
So listen to your body before you listen to anyone else!
DIET MYTH3: Don’t drink water during meals
Another diet myth that is strongly believed is that you should not drink water during meals as it will dilute your stomach acids and inhibit digestion.
The real truth
But the truth is your body adjusts the production of gastric juices according to the consistency of your meal.
Also drinking water with meals helps your digestion work more efficiently by helping the large chunks of food to break down and thus easily slide down your esophagus and into the stomach. In fact, water is needed to promote the proper functioning of stomach enzymes. Drinking water can also prevent bloating and constipation.
And the biggest benefit in my opinion is that drinking water with meals helps to fill up your stomach so you eat fewer calories in one meal (8).
My experience with Diet Myth 3
I have tried this on myself and it’s very true. Drinking water with meals always helps to fill me up faster and not overeat and I have faced no issues at all by doing this
However, for those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), liquids with meals may not be the right choice. This is because liquids add volume to the stomach and can increase stomach pressure, just like how a large meal would. This can lead to acid reflux for people who have GERD and cause extreme discomfort (9).
So go ahead and start your meal with a glass of water. And drink as much as you are comfortable with during the meal.
DIET MYTH 4: Don’t eat large meals at night or you will gain weight
Another diet myth circling around is that you should not eat after 6 or 7 pm else you will become fat nor you should eat big meals at night.
The real truth
Again this is not true and this itself will not lead to weight or fat gain. Weight loss is the sum total of many habits and not just dependent on an isolated rule.
Yes, if you eat a heavy meal laden with calorie dense foods along with your other regular meals you WILL gain weight by eating at night. But this is because of eating MORE calories, not because of ‘eating at night.’ And if you spread your food intake in such a manner that the total calories you eat including dinner is less than what you burn, then you can eat as much as you want at night and not gain a pound.
As is rightly said by Born Fitness, “Your body isn’t on a 24-hour clock. What counts is whether you burn more calories than you ingest over time. Weight loss and fat gain do not occur in a vacuum.”
So though quality of food is important for health, the calories part cant be ignored. To quote renowned nutritionist Alan Aragon, “Your body does not store more fat more readily at night than at other times during the day.”
Related research (taken from Born Fitness)
Researchers from Israel wanted to test whether eating more at night actually led to more weight gain. In the 6-month study, the scientists compared people who ate their largest meal at breakfast to those who ate their largest meal at dinner (8 p.m. or later). The participants who satisfied their late-night munchies not only lost more fat, they also experienced more fullness throughout the entire 6 months and saw more favorable changes to their fat loss hormones.
Consider some of the impressive findings. Compared to the morning eaters, those who ate at night:
- Had less hunger cravings and were more satisfied with their meals
- Lost 11 percent more weight
- Had a 10 percent greater change in abdominal circumference
- Lost a whopping 10.5 percent more body fat
What’s more, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture also showed some convincing evidence for nighttime feasts. When dieters ate 70 percent of their calories after 7 p.m. compared to earlier in the day, they preserved muscle mass and lost more body fat.
My experience with Diet Myth 4
I have consistently been eating heavier meals at night and never gained weight because of that. In fact in the last three months I have actually lost 10 kgs inspite of eating heavier meals at night. This shows how false this diet myth is.
Spread your calories around the meals you are most comfortable with and formulate a diet schedule based on that, be it dinner or breakfast. Maintain your calorie goals and eat whenever you want. Don’t worry, your body does not processes food differently at different times of day, particularly at night.
DIET MYTH 5: If you eat white rice you will gain weight
People are scared of eating white rice and one of the latest trends is to eat everything brown including rice.
The real truth
White rice is better than brown rice (10) in many ways and if you eat it in moderation, you will not gain weight. The Chinese and Japanese eat white rice at every meal and they are among the thinnest populations in the world. So the culprit is not rice but not eating in moderation.
White rice is very easy to digest and is even given to babies while brown rice is difficult to digest and has more calories. Also it contains phytic acid and higher arsenic which reduces your body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients (11) and increase your risk of chronic diseases respectively.
Yes brown rice has slightly more fibre and slightly more nutrients but the difference is very less and is decreased further due to the antinutrients in it. Therefore it can easily be said that the nutritive value of rice in general is negligible, be it brown or white.
Moreover rice in itself is just a small part of a healthy diet. It is not the key source for getting your daily dose of nutrients. The required nutrients can be easily obtained from eating a sufficient amount of fruits, vegetables and other vital foods.
Because of all this, when it comes to choosing which type of rice to eat it is better to eat what you enjoy and what can give you more satiety in your meals. And if you feel white rice does that, you can totally make it a part of your meals. Don’t worry you can still lose weight and reach your nutrition goals comfortably. The key is to just eat it in moderation.
My experience with Diet Myth 5
I have eaten white rice and lost weight comfortably. The trick is to fill yourself up more with veggies and proteins first so you don’t overeat on the rice.
Eat what you enjoy and ensure that your calorie intake is less than the calorie burn!
Thus it is clear from the above discussion that the most important factor in gaining weight is ingesting more calories than you burn and not any of these above diet myths. So use your common sense and take all these beliefs with a grain of salt.
And just remember that weight gain or weight loss does not and cannot happen overnight. Weight is gained in small increments over days and weeks, not in one meal or one day.
If you follow a healthy diet, eat your required macros and calories, exercise and live a healthy life you can be assured that you will lose weight whether you follow the above or not.
Have you followed any of the above diet myths? What was your experience like?
Let’s start a discussion!