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Dieting Myths

Liquid diets, all-protein diets, nutrition supplements, and metabolism boosters - which diets and supplements are really safe, and which ones really keep the pounds off? There are so many "miracle diets" on the market promising to get rid of weight with little effort, it can be hard to resist the temptation to try one.

You've probably figured out by now that many of these fad diets don't work or are hard to maintain, and even if you are able to shed some pounds, you'll gain it all back - plus more - when you return to your normal diet.

So before you start any diet, it's important to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian who can tell you whether a certain diet is healthy for you or just a waste of your time. Plus, a doctor or dietitian can help you figure out the best way to maintain your weight at a healthy level.

The next time you're looking for a quick way to lose a few pounds, keep in mind a few myths about dieting:

Myth #1: Skipping breakfast will help you eat less throughout the day.

Fact: Skipping breakfast is never a good idea. Because you've just slept for about 8 hours during the night, your body now needs for you to "break" your fast. This means eating a healthy breakfast. Plus, eating boosts your metabolism, so it's never a good idea to skip any meals if you're trying to lose weight. Depriving yourself of food actually causes your metabolism to slow down, which causes you to burn fat and calories slower than you normally would. Studies also show that people who eat breakfast tend to be less hungry, eat less throughout the day, and perform better in school. Remember to make some time for a healthy breakfast.

Myth #2: Low-carb diets are the best way to lose weight.

Fact: Carbohydrates are your body's primary source of energy. The philosophy behind this diet is that banishing carbs will cause your body to find different ways of getting the energy it needs, like from fat. But before you jump in, don't be fooled. Think of banning carbohydrates from your body like depriving your car of gas and forcing it to run on oil. Eventually, you're going to have serious problems with your car. According to nutrition experts, 50% to 60% of your calories should come from carbohydrates - especially complex carbohydrates, which are found in foods such as whole-grain cereals, brown rice, and potatoes. The best way to lose weight is concentrating on food groups that are on the bottom of the pyramid (like veggies, fruits, and grains) and cutting down - not eliminating - the ones that are at the top (like simple sugars, fats, and meats).

Myth #3: Wraps are healthy and low in fat.

Fact: If you've caught on to this recent food trend, you might want to reconsider. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) says that some wraps can contain as many as 1,500 calories, which is almost like eating two (or three) meals instead of one! So before you get ready to order a wrap at your favorite restaurant, you might want to ask how heavy the wrap is (some are over a pound, which is more than a normal meal should weigh), what dressings are used, and how the vegetables or meats are cooked (sautéing and frying, for example, adds more calories). Or, try making wraps at home with lots of fresh veggies, small amounts of lean meat, and low-fat or nonfat dressings or sauces.

Myth #4: Dietary supplements are a good substitute for food.

Fact: Before you start taking any dietary supplements, you should talk to your doctor. Consuming too much of certain vitamins and minerals can harm your body and even cause chronic diseases. Also, many herbal supplements claim they're "natural," which doesn't necessarily mean safe. Herbal supplements in the United States are not regulated or tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), unless they have been shown to have adverse affects while on the market. Labels may present some particular study done on the herbal supplement or may be slightly worded to lure consumers into buying the product. That's why it's important that you talk to your doctor first.

Myth #5: Taking metabolism boosters is a safe way to burn fat and calories faster.

Fact: Metabolism boosters are often comprised of caffeine and other chemicals (such as ephedrine) that get your heart beating and your energy surging. However, though they may make you lose weight temporarily, there are no studies indicating that they are safe. In fact, many experts agree that metabolism boosters can cause high blood pressure and serious heart problems. Because the more muscle you have, the faster you burn calories, the best way to boost your metabolism is through cardiovascular exercise, which will burn calories and build those muscles at the same time.

Also, contrary to popular belief, eating between meals is also good for your metabolism, because each time you eat, you give your metabolism a little boost. So try to stay away from eating big meals, and eat healthy snacks and smaller portions every couple hours throughout the day.

Myth #6: Detox diets make you healthier and more energetic.

Fact: Detox diets (diets that generally involve some type of fast - giving up a food or foods for a specific period of time - that's intended to rid the body of harmful toxins) are not proven to remove toxins faster. Actually, they encourage unhealthy behaviors like purging and fasting, which causes your muscles to get flabby and your metabolism to slow down. This can make it harder for you to keep weight off and lose weight later. A detox diet might help you to lose a few pounds, but it will mostly be from water loss or from muscle loss. Your body is designed to purify itself without the help of detox diets.

Reviewed by Kim Rutherford, MD
Date reviewed: September 2001