Nobody does weight loss like Regina George. We mean, come on, remember the all-carb diet and how she couldn’t go to Taco Bell? Tragic. Or when she went on the South Beach Fat Flush? Oh, and how could anyone forget the genius idea that was Kalteen bars? We laughed, we cringed and we told ourselves that we would never drink only cranberry juice cocktail for 72 hours in the name of losing three pounds.
But let’s be real, we’ve heard and believed some pretty interesting theories about how to lose weight ourselves, and a lot of them just aren’t true. Check out these five myths about weight loss that are about to get debunked!
1. Reducing your fat intake will help you lose weight
The word “fat” is in fats, so it makes sense that fats would make you fat (tongue-twister, anyone?), right? Surprisingly, this isn’t necessarily the case. Essential fatty acids are just that—essential to your body. You need them so your body can carry out its everyday functions. There are also “good fats,” otherwise known as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which can be beneficial to your heart, cholesterol and overall health. They can be found in foods like peanut butter, olives, soy milk, tofu and fatty fish (like tuna and trout).
“Fats hold a very important place in the diet,” says Adele Tevlin, an executive weight loss coach. “Good fats to include in your diet are avocado, salmon and nuts and seeds.”
Unfortunately, fats get a bad rap because popular media and marketing antics often group all fats into the “bad” category and call it a day. They use sneaky marketing tactics and powerful imagery to take advantage of this misinformation about fats, and it’s working. You can’t walk down a single aisle in a grocery store without seeing the words “low-fat” or “fat-free” in big, proud letters.
“It’s easy for students to get confused by these products and fall into the ‘Fats Make You Fat’ trap,” Tevlin says. “What most people don’t know is that these ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat-free’ products are filled with sugars and chemicals to make them palatable, which in turn is actually more fattening than the original product.”
So even though low-fat and fat-free products seem enticing, don’t get too caught up in the promises of weight loss—they probably won’t help you lose weight in a healthy way at all. Instead, go for good fat instead of no fat. While fat intake depends very much on your lifestyle, weight, age and overall health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that the average person keep his or her total fat intake to 20 to 30 percent of calories, while limiting saturated fats to less than 10 percent of your calories and trans fats to 1 percent of your calories.
2. It’s all about the calories
For such small numbers, the calorie counts on the nutrition labels sure hold a lot of weight for many people. It’s hard to go a day without being reminded by someone or something that wow, food actually has calories. It’s no wonder that some people are caught up in counting calories in order to lose weight. This is wishful thinking, though, because losing weight successfully isn’t simply about doing the math. Eating fewer calories does not mean weighing less.
In fact, dramatically reducing the calories that you consume can actually lead to loss of muscle mass, low energy and other health problems. Plus, research has shown that there is a correlation between how much you restrict your calorie intake and how poorly you adhere to your diet. What does that mean? If your dieting always leaves you hungry, you’re going to want to eat. A lot.
“I think people in general have the wrong impression that losing weight is all about reducing calories as much as possible,” says Lisa Prince, nutrition specialist and weight loss coach. “Never eat less than 1,200 calories, and most college women need a lot more than that, especially athletes!”
On the other hand, the kinds of calories you eat do make a difference. When you eat the right kinds of food, losing weight will get easier. Striking a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals is the key to sustaining a healthy body. While fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet, choosing healthy carbs and fiber sources like whole grains helps boost energy. By getting 21 to 38 grams of fiber per day, you can also take advantage of a handful of great health benefits, like lowering your risk for diabetes. Adults should eat at least 0.8 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day and can get the protein from healthy sources like fish, beans, seeds, peas, chicken and soy products.
“With the right foods, women can lose weight in a healthy manner, balance hormones and maintain high-energy levels throughout the day,” says Dr. John Salerno, the author of the book Fight Fat With Fat. “A lifestyle with an emphasis on natural, organic fats with plenty of vegetables, physical exercise and stress-free activities [is a good approach].”
So you really don’t need to torture yourself by starving in order to lose weight. In fact, counting calories might even backfire on you. If you eat healthy foods and exercise, you’ll find that you’ll be able to leave the counting to math class.
3. Skipping meals will help you lose weight
You find yourself swamped with all the schoolwork you have to complete and practices and meetings you have to attend. No time to eat? No problem. Skipping meals saves time, and you might even lose a few pounds in the process. Or so the reasoning goes. Despite the seemingly straightforward logic, not eating doesn’t equate to more pounds lost.
“A common myth is the less I eat, the more weight I will lose, or it could be framed, ‘If I don’t eat all day, that will help me lose weight because I am consuming less calories!’” Prince says. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Your body is in itself an efficient fuel-burning machine, but only if you keep feeding it regularly.
“Whenever you skip meals, you also slow down your metabolism and encourage bad eating habits,” Dr. Salerno says.
According to Prince, to lose weight, it is helpful to start your metabolism bright and early by eating something healthy, like a banana or a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, within an hour of getting up. Throughout the day, keep eating small, healthy snacks and meals every three to four hours to keep your metabolism humming along.
4. Carbs are the enemy
People also seem to hate on the carbs a lot, but carbs definitely don’t deserve all this bad attention. Carbohydrates, which include sugars, starches and fiber, provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system.
“Young, impressionable women may quickly believe that carbs are the enemy,” Tevlin says. “There is a time and place for carbohydrates in the diet, and it’s important to know when that is.”
According to Tevlin, consuming carbohydrates in the morning might raise your blood sugar too quickly and can cause cravings for sweets later in the day. Tevlin also suggests sticking with mostly protein, fat and vegetables for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and leaving the carbs for dinner. With that being said, healthy carbs like brown rice, millet, quinoa, beans, fruits and vegetables can be incorporated into your diet throughout the day for a boost of long-lasting energy.
And to answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Is butter a carb? If only.
5. Late-night calories will make you gain more weight than daytime calories
Those 1 a.m. food runs really seem to pack on the pounds, but the late-night calories might not necessarily be the culprit. Calories are calories, and they don’t discriminate.
“Many girls believe that any calories eaten at night are directly stored as fat when we go to sleep, but this is not [necessarily] the case.” Tevlin says. “Calories consumed later in the day are not the problem; it’s the behavior surrounding it.”
Your body will store any extra calories beyond your daily caloric needs as fat, but this happens regardless of the time of day in which you consume those extra calories. According to Tevlin, late-night eating can lead to weight gain because we tend to have bad habits when it comes to munching and snacking at night. For example, we tend to mindlessly eat or have late-night cravings for hyperpalatable foods, or foods that are high in fat and sugar.
“A combinations of mindless eating in front of the TV and the choices we make lead to weight gain,” Tevlin says.
If you stay within your body’s daily caloric needs, however, nighttime eating doesn’t actually cause weight gain. So instead of spending quality time with your bags of chips and candy late at night in front of the TV, try stocking your fridge with healthy and fresh foods to combat those midnight cravings. That way, the right choice will be the easy choice, too.
Surprised yet? These myths almost make Regina George’s diets seem slightly more reasonable. Almost. If you’re trying to lose weight, make sure to do your research first; make a plan; set small, attainable lifestyle changes and develop healthy habits. And, remember that baking a cake once in a while filled with rainbows and smiles that everyone can eat and be happy never hurt anybody.