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10 weight-loss myths that can ruin your diet

On “Take It Off Today,” we look at diet tips and find out which ones are fact and which ones are fiction. Many people have their own opinions when it comes to watching calories and shedding pounds. Madelyn Fernstrom, a “Today” contributor and director of the weight management center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, was invited on the show to discuss the most common diet myth
/ Source: TODAY

On “Take It Off Today,” we look at diet tips and find out which ones are fact and which ones are fiction. Many people have their own opinions when it comes to watching calories and shedding pounds. Madelyn Fernstrom, a “Today” contributor and director of the weight management center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, was invited on the show to discuss the most common diet myths — and to deliver the facts about healthy ways to reduce calories.

We’re a nation obsessed with diets and dieting. Every day we’re bombarded by seemingly new, and most often confusing, information on what is the best way to shed those extra pounds. There are fat-burning pills, exercise machines, low-fat-low-carb snacks, and diet tips galore: Don’t eat carbs, stay away from desserts, don’t skip breakfast, never nibble after 6 p.m., etc. New diet book are always hitting the bookstore shelves with the latest weight-loss advice, and celebrities feel compelled to share their diet successes. With all this conflicting information, it’s difficult to find a diet that is right for you — and that will work for you!

And it’s not that all this weight-loss advice is useless or even unhealthy. It’s just that one person’s diet secret may not work for you. The same doesn’t work for everyone. So it’s important to know the truth behind common diet tips. Here are 10 popular weight-loss myths and the facts.

Myth #1: You don’t have to count calories

Fact: Counting calories is important

You definitely need to count calories in order to lose weight. People tend to overestimate their physical activity and underestimate their calories. Don’t rely on eyeballing your caloric intake or trying to estimate it. Instead, every day write down what you eat, the corresponding calories, and your physical activity. To make it easier for you to quantify your physical activity, wear a pedometer. Do this every day. Don’t do it just once or twice a week. Consistency is important for dieting. Sure, this isn’t easy. But if you want to lose weight, this is important to do on a daily basis.

And remember that a calorie is a calorie whether it’s fat, sugar, or protein. Still, some foods are more calorie-dense than others. That means that they contain more calories per ounce. Carbohydrates and protein have the same calories per ounce. Fat, on the other hand, has twice as many, so the calories found in fat add up twice as fast. Eat fatty foods — dairy products, skin on meat, fatty meats — in moderation. You want to limit your intake of fat, but you don’t want to stop eating fat. Fat increases your sense of fullness. Your body also needs a small amount of fat to function. Fat is part of our cell structure. The body can’t make some essential fatty acids on its own, so it needs to obtain them from an outside source.


Your diet questions answered

July 17: The "Today" show's Natalie Morales talks to "Today" contributor Madelyn Fernstrom from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as she answers viewer questions about healthy eating.


falsefalse55152Keywords/N/NbcKeywords/Video/Today showKeywords/Video/NBC Today showMSNBC632886912000000000632892960000000000falsetruefalsefalsefalsefalsefalsefalse show front page Entertainment Section show concerts page500:60:00falsefalsefalsetrueH6falsetrue1Myth #2: Always eat breakfast

Fact: Eat some time during the morning

If you wake up at 7 a.m., you don’t have to immediately eat a big breakfast. You’re probably not even hungry right after you wake up. You don’t have to jump start your metabolism. You simply have to structure your eating throughout the day, so you’re not too hungry later on. It's best to eat within three hours of waking. If you get up at 7 a.m., eat something by 10 a.m. Have some yogurt or a piece of fruit. If you don’t eat in the morning, you will be too hungry when you finally have a meal, and then you’ll likely overeat. Remember, what counts is your total daily calories.

Myth #3: Eat three times a day — don't snack

Fact: Eat when you want to maintain calorie intake

Once again, it’s all about calories. You can eat three times a day or six times a day, as long as you have the same caloric intake. However, you should have at least three meals a day. That structures your daily eating, so don’t become too hungry. And if you eat six times a day, you won’t be having six full meals.

Myth #4: Carbohydrates make you fat

Fact: Carbs are necessary for a balanced diet

Carbohydrates do not make you fat. Calories make you fat. Often it’s the sugar and fat contained in carbohydrates that make you fat. Also a lot of carbohydrates are processed, so you don’t get the advantage of feeling full from fiber found in unprocessed carbs. For example, whole grain pasta is more filling — and makes you feel satisfied longer — than white pasta, though both have the same amount of calories. What will change the number of calories is the amount of sauce and butter you put on your pasta. What you want to do is eat carbs in moderation.

Myth #5: Avoid fats

Fact: Fats increase your sense of fullness

Fat is twice as fattening as carbohydrates and protein, but you don’t want to avoid them. Studies show that fat gives you a sense of fullness and adds flavor to many foods. Eliminating fat from your diet will increase your hunger. Fat keeps you fuller longer, because it prevents your stomach from emptying out too quickly.

Myth #6: Cut out desserts

Fact: Don’t deprive yourself sweets

Deprivation is the downfall of all diets. You can have a small portion of dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth and still stick to your diet. You just don’t want to eat a large portion, or more! Food is pleasurable for many people. So, treat yourself but don’t overindulge. You can create a diet that lets you eat a sweet once a day or once a week. Dieters who deprive themselves tend to go overboard when they have candy, cake, or cookies. So make a good choice of what you include in your diet. Maybe you can have a small dessert after dinner or lunch.

Myth #7: Don’t worry about dieting — just exercise

Fact: Exercising alone is not enough

You probably won’t be able to work out enough to make up for eating a huge meal. Exercise just does not burn enough calories. If you eata slice of apple pie a la mode that is 500 calories, you’ll have to walk briskly for two hours to burn those calories. So, you won’t lose weight unless you also cut calories.  

Myth #8: Don’t weigh yourself

Fact: Get on that scale!

You really need to weigh yourself to keep your weight in check. Sure, you can notice if your belt is getting tighter — or looser — but chances are you don’t have an accurate assessment of your weight. Weigh yourself at least once a week. If you don’t have a scale at home, go to your doctor or health club and weigh yourself.Weighing yourself shouldn’t be seen as punishment. It’s just a way to keep an eye on your weight. And your scale doesn’t always have to tell you bad news. You may not have noticed that you lost two pounds the other week.

You can weigh yourself once a day or once a week. But don’t weigh yourself more than once a day. (That means you’re obsessing about your weight.) Get on the scale the same time every day, so you have some consistency. You can record how much you weigh, but it’s not necessary; you probably won’t forget the number.

Myth #9 Never eat at night

Fact: Calories don’t know time

What’s important is how many calories you consume; not when you eat them. Many successful dieters save 200 to 300 calories to eat at night. Sure, eating a big steak before you go to bed may give you some indigestion, but it won’t ruin your diet. Eating at night may be the best time for you. You’re at home, the kids are in bed, and you have time to enjoy your food. Oprah says she doesn’t eat after dinner, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a late snack and still stick to your diet.

Myth #10 No snacking between meals

Fact: Calories are calories

Snacks aren’t the culprit; calories are. You can have a small container of yogurt for breakfast and a piece of fruit for a snack before lunch. Some dieters prefer to have more structure and limit themselves to three meals a the day and no in-between-meal snacks. Others are more comfortable having small, low-calorie snacks between their main meals. What counts is the total number of calories.

Dieter’s tip: Reduce calories

The best way to think of cutting calories is to go backwards. Add up your daily calories. If you eat 500 fewer calories a day, you can expect to lose a pound a week, which is considered to be fairly fast weight loss. If you cut out 250 calories a day, you will lose two pounds a month. Of course, this depends on your body type, age, health, gender, and level of physical activity. Men typically need to eat from 1,600 to 1,800 calories to lose weight; women need 1,400 to 1,600. If you want to lose weight at a faster — or slower — rate, you can adjust your calories.