4 weight loss myths, debunked

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published June 25, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Patients are regularly confronted with conflicting information about diet, exercise, and weight loss—from peers, the internet, and even their doctors.

  • Confused patients are less likely to develop sustainable habits that help them maintain a healthy weight.

  • Providers can help patients focus on basic health principles by quieting the diet and fitness industry's constant background noise.

The weight loss industry is a house of cards built on inspiring success stories and breakthrough new methods promising dramatic results. But it seems that with every snippet of diet and exercise advice, there’s a solid case for the opposing view. 

Should you always eat breakfast, or should you reap the benefits of fasting and wait to have your first meal of the day at noon? Is cardio essential for cardiac health, or does it lead to muscle loss? These are just some of the questions plaguing those who make sincere efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle.

But it’s not just an issue among your patients—even healthcare providers have trouble resisting the allure of clickbait titles “unpacking” the latest wisdom, adding confusion to an already oversaturated discussion. Here’s how to be a voice of reason on emerging myths and half-truths when it comes to losing weight.

Myth 1: You should fast by skipping breakfast

Intermittent fasting has been a trending weight loss method for several years. There are many versions of the fasting diet, including those that restrict calorie consumption to certain hours of the day or certain days of the week. One of the most popular intermittent fasting protocols involves swapping breakfast for black coffee or tea and delaying the first meal of the day until noon or later.

Obviously, this flies in the face of the nutrition advice experts have touted for decades: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Studies show that intermittent fasting can be a practical way to lose weight and improve metabolic markers, but there’s some debate about whether it’s superior to calorie counting in the long run. 

Eating late may also have adverse effects on the circadian rhythm. For patients who believe intermittent fasting is best, providers can suggest an earlier eating window and should caution against bingeing, reminding patients that temporary fasting won’t necessarily compensate for overeating later.[]

Myth 2: Cardio is a waste of time

If you read fitness blogs (or watch YouTube), it’s hard to deny that strength training is having a moment. Beyond brawny male bodybuilders, people from all walks of life are now embracing heavy lifting to maximize their metabolisms and reshape their bodies. With so much focus on muscle building, aerobic workouts seem to be falling out of favor.

However, both aerobic exercise and weight training have positive effects on the heart and body.[] The best exercise programs combine both types of workouts. 

As the vast majority of people struggle to meet basic physical activity guidelines, any effort to exercise should be applauded. Ideally, patients will combine cardio and strength training to improve their fitness levels. If you have a patient who only trains one way, encourage them to add variety to their routine.

Myth 3: There is one best diet for weight loss

Which type of diet is the best weight loss diet is a hotly debated topic, with no strong consensus among the general population, nutritionists, or the medical community. A quick search on PubMed yields a wide range of high-quality studies, each telling a different story about diet and weight loss.

For example, interventions that place participants on a low-fat vegan diet effectively reduce body weight and improve metabolic measures.[] But the same can be said about high-fat ketogenic diets.[]

These studies usually attribute the effects to a reduction in calories. However, other research says calorie restriction isn’t a sustainable intervention, and more inclusive Mediterranean diets are the key to better metabolic health.[]

Related: New study shows Mediterranean diet may help prevent depression

Unfortunately, this leads to a situation where patients can justify just about any way of eating. A lack of clear direction leads many to jump from diet to diet, losing more hope for healthy weight maintenance with each attempt. Providers can support patients on this tumultuous journey with simple strategies to reduce mindless eating and choose a variety of whole foods over ultra-processed food products.

Myth 4: There’s such a thing as a ‘healthy’ BMI

BMI as a measurement of health has long been under scrutiny. Although many doctor visits still involve reviewing the patient’s BMI, flaws in the metrics are well-known. 

For one, BMI doesn’t account for differences among racial and age groups or factors like muscle mass and waist circumference.[] However, focusing on blood pressure, blood sugar, and body composition can help teach patients to look beyond BMI (and the number on the scale) for a more accurate picture of their individual health.

What this means for you

As new weight loss methods become available daily, providers must cut through the noise. Patients swimming in a sea of conflicting theories will likely continue treading water. You can help them reach the shore by outlining a clear path and fending off distractions.

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