The Truth About Losing Weight

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? And other common beliefs about how to lose excess pounds.

It happened to you again this year - you made your New Year’s resolution to lose weight. This time you vowed to stick to the plan until those unwanted extra pounds disappeared. The first few weeks went well, and then . . .

Your failure, if you did indeed fail to drop the extra tonnage, may not entirely be your fault. Who devised your plan and where you got your information may be the real culprit. Good intentions aren’t enough. You must be fully armed with the facts. That said, let’s examine what’s been floating around for years regarding weight loss.

On January 13, 2012, The New England Journal of Medicine published an article, “Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity.”  This study is surprising and educational, and is a must read for those of us who think we are well versed about weight loss. Let’s explore the findings:

  • Claims that sex burns 100-300 calories are way off. What is true is that the average length of a sexual encounter is about six minutes. A man in his mid-30s might burn 21 calories - that’s hardly a prescription for weight loss.
  • If you eat less or exercise more, the result can be a large weight loss if that behavior is sustained over time. Wrong. This claim is based on a pound being equal to 3,500 calories. It fails to take into account that in the long term, one’s body will compensate for the lack of food and/or additional exercise and actually slow down the weight loss.
  • One must be realistic about their projected weight loss. In truth, being rational makes little difference. In fact, those that set seemingly extraordinary weight loss goals for themselves lost the most weight.
  • Lose weight slowly for a lasting weight loss. No. Clinical trials proved that those who lost a lot of weight at the start of their regime, perhaps by existing on a low daily caloric intake of less than 1,000 calories or other methods, had the best results.
  • Breast feeding your baby decreases the chance the child will be obese. Not true, even though the World Health Organization disagrees, they fail to provide evidence to support their claim. After conducting a randomized controlled clinical trial with 13,000 children for more than six years, “no compelling evidence” was found to support this claim, said the Journal.
  • P.E. classes in school can prevent obesity in children. Unfortunately, the curriculum taught today has not been shown to reduce either obesity or lower BMI.


The above long held beliefs have become myths because they’ve been repeated over the years without anyone presenting evidence to the contrary. Therefore, many of us presume these non-facts are true.

An example of a popular presumption is one regarding eating a good breakfast each morning. It’s thought that eating breakfast is a hedge against becoming overweight. That strategy is found in many fitness articles and discussed on talk shows. However, according to researchers, that plan is merely a presumption based on a few small studies done years ago. Two other studies found no effect on weight, and one suggested that the effect depended on whether people were used to skipping breakfast or not.

What about our intake of fruits and vegetables?  Eating more of each will certainly increase healthy nutrients, but there’s no evidence proving increased consumption will cause weight loss.

Another presumption that resonates with many people has to do with genes. I hear people say, my parents were fat, therefore, I’m destined to be fat as well. Barbara Quinn, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator advises that supposition is not true.

“Think of it this way,” explains Ms Quinn. “What we inherit from our parents ‘loads the gun.’ But what we choose to do - or not do - each day ‘pulls the trigger.’”

What about eating snacks during the day? Can snacking lead to weight gain? No high quality studies support that presumption, according to the New England Journal report.

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