They say that people who eat breakfast are thinner. They say that crash diets don’t work. They say weighing yourself daily will help you control your weight.
Before you apply all that wisdom to your weight loss efforts, ask Them to prove it.
A group of scientists has published an article in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrating the absence of proof for many commonly-held beliefs about weight control, including the three above.
From the New York Times piece on the article, “here is an overview of the obesity myths looked at by the researchers and what is known to be true:”
Small things make a big difference. Walking a mile a day can lead to a loss of more than 50 pounds in five years.
Set a realistic goal to lose a modest amount.
People who are too ambitious will get frustrated and give up.
You have to be mentally ready to diet or you will never succeed.
Slow and steady is the way to lose. If you lose weight too fast you will lose less in the long run.
Ideas not yet proven TRUE OR FALSE
Diet and exercise habits in childhood set the stage for the rest of life.
Add lots of fruits and vegetables to your diet to lose weight or not gain as much.
Yo-yo diets lead to increased death rates.
People who snack gain weight and get fat.
If you add bike paths, jogging trails, sidewalks and parks, people will not be as fat.
FACTS — GOOD EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT
Heredity is important but is not destiny.
Exercise helps with weight maintenance.
Weight loss is greater with programs that provide meals.
Some prescription drugs help with weight loss and maintenance.
Weight-loss surgery in appropriate patients can lead to long-term weight loss, less diabetes and a lower death rate.
Who to believe? It does not help that Madelyn Fernstrom, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Weight Management Center, agreed with the New England Journal of Medicine authors that our beliefs about obesity are “spinning out of control” — and then went and told The Today Show that some of the identified myths are true.
Fernstrom said it is important to eat breakfast. ”If you don’t eat in the morning, you will be too hungry when you finally have a meal.”
She also said that you should weigh yourself, “at least once a week,” though once a day is also good.
Another example: Michelle Obama encourages people to be active; others say that exercise does not lead to weight loss.
Then there is the meta-confusion: should we even be worrying about obesity? While most of the country obsesses about our weight, there are voices saying that being fat isn’t always unhealthy, and others saying it is the pressure to be skinny (which causes the obsessing) that is dangerous.
It’s puzzling why the science in this area isn’t better. With so many wealthy companies touting weight-loss products, there should be many sponsors willing to pay to prove that one or another technique is effective. Perhaps they prefer our confusion: while we keep guessing, we keep paying for diet companies, gyms, trainers, equipment and more. The weight-loss industry has grown fat on our dough and likes it that way.