When it comes to diet tips, there are plenty of myths doing the rounds.
Whether it’s coming from a well-meaning relative or diet-obsessed colleague, it can be hard to spot the weight loss myths among the ones backed by science.
Here is our definitive guide to what’s a myth, and what can actually help you lose weight.
Myth #1 – Celery has negative calories
Can munching celery stalks actually burn more calories than if you’d not eaten anything?
What’s the truth?We don’t burn more calories digesting celery than the celery itself contains, so celery doesn’t contain ‘negative calories’.1
However, celery is still one of the very best weight loss foods.
First, forget any scaremongering you’ve heard around natural sugars. Fruits and vegetables are excellent foods for weight loss.Full of fibre, water and vitamins, celery is a dieter’s dream. The fibre in celery - both soluble and insoluble - makes you feel full, and the high water content of celery means you’re getting a lot of bulk to chew and digest, for barely any calories (around 6 calories per celery stalk).2
It’s true that we burn more calories digesting high-fibre foods such as celery than, for example, we would burn digesting a bag of low-fibre potato crisps. But we don’t burn enough digesting it than the food itself contains.
Try to get out of the habit of seeing calories as the enemy. A calorie is simply a unit of measurement to determine how much energy a food gives you - or how much energy you need to expend to burn that food off.
We need calories to live, so go ahead and eat those celery sticks. Just don’t expect them to be calorie – neutral.
Myth #2 – Diets don’t work
Usually said in frustration, this is one you’ve no doubt heard before.
What’s the truth?
The truth is that, if followed correctly, most diets DO work in the short-term. If a diet is based around creating a calorie deficit, then most people will lose weight for the time they follow the diet.
However, many diets are unrealistic, unattainable or even downright dangerous. Slashing your daily calorie allowance overnight or cutting out entire food groups may lead to uncontrollable cravings - a recipe for diet disaster.What’s more, the cycle of following unsustainable diets followed by rapid regaining of any weight lost can wreak havoc on your metabolism and cause you to gain more weight overall. This hasn’t been definitively proven, but studies have found that ‘weight cycling’ can increase the likelihood of future weight gain.3
The very nature of ‘going on a diet’ might not be the best, most sustainable approach to losing weight. ‘Dieting’ implies that a healthy lifestyle is something you can commit to only for a finite period, then abandon once you’ve reached your goals.
Healthy eating should be a priority throughout life, not something you take up a few weeks before a holiday every year.
The best approach is to abandon fad diets altogether and instead educate yourself on food and nutrition. Only by understanding how your body processes what you put into it every day, how food affects your energy, mood and sleep, and how food for weight loss works, can you truly break out of the cycle of constant dieting.
Myth #3– Weight loss teas don’t work
The weight loss tea market has exploded in recent years, with high-profile celebrity endorsements bringing these trendy teas firmly into the mainstream. Some people swear by them, others think they’re a fad.
What’s the truth?
Weight loss teas often contain ingredients, such as green tea and oolong tea, which can help weight loss if used in conjunction with a balanced diet.
However, weight loss teas can’t do much if you’re eating more calories than you’re burning.
Weight loss teas are usually a blend of herbs, including green tea, Chinese oolong tea, hibiscus, ginger, nettle, fenugreek and fennel.These teas contain no calories, and usually have a dose of caffeine. Caffeine might be able to give your weight loss a boost and has been linked with a reduction in fat mass in some people.4 In a 2018 review of the studies available, caffeine was linked with weight loss.5 Green tea extract is loaded with antioxidants, including the antioxidant catechin which has been shown to boost metabolism and help the body burn fat as energy.6,7 Studies have focused on green tea extract, which is a concentrated source of catechins, which means the fat-burning effect is much weaker in a cup of tea. The bottom line is, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn if you are to lose weight. A tea alone can’t help you with this, but might help control your appetite,8 keep you hydrated therefore less likely to snack, or replace calorific drinks such as fruit juice.
Finally, use weight loss teas with caution. Laxative ingredients such as senna need to be drunk in moderation as they can be harmful. Weight loss teas shouldn’t be used by anyone under 18 years old.
Myth #4 – Carbs make you fat
Surely one of the most popular diet myths around. But is it true?
What’s the truth?
Carbs don’t make you fat. In fact, eating whole grain ‘complex’ carbohydrate foods like brown pasta, bread and rice contain energy without packing too many calories and can actually help with weight loss.Complex carbohydrates are digested slowly, leaving you feeling fuller for longer, without resorting to snacking on processed, fatty foods.9
Eating too many ‘refined’ carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and pastries, are turned to glucose (sugar) rapidly by your body and won’t fill you up as much.
Remember, many of the most popular carb-rich foods like pastries, white pasta, bread, cakes and granola are also high in calories. So, by cutting these out, people lose weight and assume it’s because they’ve gone ‘low-carb’.
The bottom line is - too many calories are what makes you fat, not carbs.
Myth #5 – Dairy isn’t diet-friendly
Gooey cheese, rich milk and creamy yoghurt – how can dairy products possibly be good foods for weight loss?
What’s the truth?Dairy isn’t the diet saboteur you might think. Dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt can support weight loss as they’re all great sources of protein. Protein can help with weight loss as it takes longer to digest than refined carbohydrates, fats or sugars.10
Dairy can be among the foods that help with weight loss, but you must choose your dairy wisely as calories from any source make you gain weight if you eat too many.
Try switching to low-fat versions and reducing your daily intake – ideally dairy should only make up about an eighth of your overall calories. If you eat or drink dairy alternatives, pick unsweetened or lower-fat versions.
Myth #6 – Eating too late makes you fat
You’ve probably heard people telling you not to eat after 6pm, 8pm or 10pm or you’ll pile on the pounds in your sleep. But is this the case?
What’s the truth?Having a higher body weight has been linked to eating most of your days’ calories later in the day.11
However, this correlation could have a different cause, and currently there’s no conclusive evidence to suggest that the time you eat makes a difference to whether or not you’ll put on weight.
Some people report feeling sluggish the next morning if they’ve eaten too late in the evening, and others might experience disturbed sleep as their digestion works overtime.
Also, if you’ve already eaten your days’ worth of calories, a midnight snack won’t do anything apart from add extra calories.
Myth #7- Good fats don’t make you fat
We are encouraged to eat more ‘good’ fats. But does this type of fat actually make you put on weight the same way as ‘bad’ fats such as desserts and fried food?
What’s the truth?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this one.
You might not automatically put fat up there among the best foods to eat for weight loss. However, if you consider that unsaturated fat might help you to feel satisfied and less likely to snack and overeat, it makes more sense to eat fat to lose fat.
Unsaturated fats (often called ‘good’) fats such as those found in avocado, olive oil and nut butters.Our bodies also need small amounts of these unsaturated fats to produce energy, essential fatty acids (vital for brain function), and to aid in absorbing vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin D.12 However, you should only consume ‘good fats’ in small amounts, as they still contain lots of calories. All fats contain 9 calories per gram, regardless of the source.13
Avoid saturated fats like butter, lard and ghee (and products containing them) which are high in cholesterol. Stick to healthier, unsaturated options like olive or rapeseed oil.
Last updated: 14 July 2020