University of Missouri

Debunking Weight Loss Myths

Did you know some of the most commonly reported weight loss and fitness tips don’t hold up against scientific research?
Debunking Weight Loss Myths

Two goals that are almost always at the top of New Year’s resolution lists are getting fit and losing weight. Nielsen, an international company that tracks people’s trends and habits, reported that getting fit and losing weight were American’s top two resolutions in both 2015 and 2016. So It’s no coincidence that articles offering “tips and tricks to lose weight and get fit” gain popularity around the first of the year. But according to Kevin Suttmoeller, DO, a medical weight loss specialist at University of Missouri Health Care, some of the most commonly reported weight loss and fitness tips don’t hold up against scientific research.

“There are many myths surrounding weight loss that people have come to accept as facts,” Suttmoeller said. “It’s important understand the science-based evidence about weight loss and exercise before starting a new program. Otherwise, people set their goals, follow the advice and then wonder what happened when they aren’t successful.”

Myth 1: Small, sustained changes in activity level will produce large, long-term weight loss.

This myth often sounds like, “Get in the habit of parking your car far away from a store entrance,” or “Take the stairs instead of the elevator.” While this isn’t bad advice, it won’t produce significant weight loss. The myth suggests a person who increases her activity by walking one extra mile a day will burn an additional 100 calories each day. If that person eats exactly 3,500 calories every day, adding one mile of walking should equate to a 50 pound weight loss over five years. However, research shows that when people follow this, their actual weight loss is about 10 pounds over five years.

“As people lose weight, their calorie requirements decrease,” Suttmoeller said. “They simply don’t need as many calories as they did before to stay the same weight. So unless participants also decrease their caloric intake, following this advice won’t work.”

Myth 2: Slow, gradual weight loss is more sustainable than large, rapid weight loss.

This myth says losing one to two pounds per week is ideal, while those who lose more weight faster will eventually gain it all back. Again, the research shows something quite different.

“Most weight-loss research shows faster and greater initial weight-loss is actually associated with lower body weight in the long-term,” Suttmoeller said. “When people go on low-calorie diets some people have a faster initial weight loss than others. The research hasn’t shown us why. However, the research does show that there is no long-term difference between the weight of those who lost a lot of weight quickly and those who lost weight at a slow, steady pace.”

Myth 3: A breastfed child won’t become an overweight adult.

This myth originated from a World Health Organization (WHO) study that reported people who were breastfed were less likely to be obese adults. However, WHO later found clear evidence of publication bias in the literature used for the report. More recent studies with better scientific models proved there is no evidence breastfeeding prevents obesity.

“Of course, breastfeeding is important,” Suttmoeller said. “It certainly provides other important benefits for the infant and mother. It just won’t prevent a child from having a weight problem.”

So what does work?

“Start by making lasting diet changes,” Suttmoeller said. “Choose to eat mostly vegetables and lean protein. Next, add in exercise. But be careful not to eat more calories as a reward after exercise.”

Instead, let the reward be feeling healthier and working toward achieving that New Year’s resolution.

MU Health Care’s Missouri Bariatric Services center offers a wide array of options to help patients take control of their weight and overall fitness. The team includes surgeons, medical weight loss physicians, nurses and nutritionists who provide a range of medical services based on each individual patient’s needs.