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5 Weight Loss Myths That Even Experts Believe

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Michael  W. Smith, MD - Blogs
By Michael W. Smith, MDBoard-certified internistNovember 27, 2018

Despite all the research in recent years, there are still lingering myths about weight loss – even among experts! I think it’s because the myths sound so good – we want to believe they’re true. But, unfortunately, research just doesn’t back them up. Here are a few of the most popular falsehoods:

Myth: Small changes lead to big results

It’s all about baby steps, right? That sounds good, but will likely just leave you frustrated in your weight loss efforts. Let’s use the well-known, and frequently championed 3500-calorie rule. The theory equates a pound of body fat with 3,500 calories. That means when you burn 3,500 calories through exercise or eat 3,500 fewer calories, or some combination of the two, you’ll lose a pound of body fat. Unfortunately, the reality of the equation doesn’t pan out.

That’s because, after a while, your body will become more efficient and start conserving energy – thus,  working against your weight loss efforts. So, let’s say you walk one mile a day to burn 100 calories. Over a 5-year period this should, according to the equation, lead to a 50 lb weight loss. But, thanks to your body’s efficiency, the reality is you’d lose about 10 pounds.

That doesn’t mean you can’t lose a lot of weight quickly and safely. You’re just not going to make that happen with a couple of small changes. If you want big results, go big and bold.

Myth: Set realistic goals

Conventional wisdom says setting seemingly unattainable goals will lead to frustration and failure. Makes sense, right? That’s why you hear it all the time. But not only does research not support this theory, it even shows us the opposite may be true. Several studies have shown that setting ambitious goals is associated with more weight loss. And we also have studies that have shown that changing “unrealistic” goals into “realistic” ones did not lead to more weight loss.

That’s why, when I’m coaching someone in their weight loss journey, I recommend they shoot for their dream weight – the weight they would love to be but don’t feel like it could ever happen. Don’t let your  doubts about your capabilities hold you back – aim high!

Myth: Slow and steady wins the weight loss race

This myth probably stems from very-low calorie diets, used decades ago, that were lacking in vital nutrients. While it’s still true that you need to make sure you get all the nutrients your body needs, truth is that faster weight loss is just as effective as slower – and maybe more so. Some studies have shown that fast weight loss is just as effective in the long-term as slower weight loss (1-2 pounds per week). After long-term follow-up, both groups had lost about the same amount of weight. Other studies show those who lost weight faster actually lost more and were better able to keep it off long-term.

It can be frustrating to think you’re doing all you can and lose only a pound in a week. Faster weight loss helps motivate people to keep going. Make sure you’re doing it in a nutritionally complete way. No fad diets. As long as you’re getting the nutrients you need, then go full speed ahead if you wish.

Myth: You have to be 100% ready to lose weight

Simply, no, you don’t. When studies compared people whom researchers deemed “highly ready” to those who were not, there was no difference in weight loss. It’s probably because everyone was ready enough to give it a shot, even if they had hesitations. When will you be 100% ready, confident that nothing will stand in your way? Probably never.

On a scale from 1 to 10, how ready are you? If you’re anything less than a 10, what’s your hesitation? Expect obstacles to arise (and I can guarantee you they will) and pre-plan on how you’ll address them. This will go a long way towards keeping you moving forward. Partner up with an accountability buddy or a health coach and set a plan in place, but don’t use “I’m not ready” as a reason to hold yourself back from the health you’ve always wanted to achieve.

Myth: The calorie burn from sex can help you lose weight

It’s fun to tout the calorie-burning effects of sex. Unfortunately, though it may be a fun activity, it’s a poor weight loss tool.

For example, during a one-hour love-making session (sound like a bit of a stretch?), a-154 pound man would burn 3.5 calories a minute for a total of 210 calories. While that may sound vigorous, it’s about the same as a one hour stroll at 2.5 miles an hour. While one may be more fun than the other, both are inefficient calorie burners. And since the average bout of sexual activity lasts about 6 minutes, a young, virile man may burn a whopping 21 calories having sex. Keep in mind he would have burned about 7 calories just sitting in front of the TV (and no, I don’t recommend that).

While it’s fun to use sex to make the point, the real issue is that physical activity is not really the key to weight loss. What you eat and don’t eat makes up 80% to 90% of your weight loss. But as a doctor and a personal trainer, I’m certainly not one to suggest you not exercise. Just do it for the long, vibrant life that it will afford you by being fit – and as a great way to help you maintain once you get to that dream weight.

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About the Author
Michael W. Smith, MD

Michael Smith, MD, CPT, is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and WebMD’s Chief Medical Editor. He is also an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer with a passion for helping people live a healthy, active lifestyle. He appears regularly as an expert on national and local broadcast media.

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