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The Truth About Diet Myths

How do we know what we know? Often, our knowledge comes from through repetition and stories. In childhood, we call them fairy tales or bedtime stories. They amuse or entertain and have with the occasional moral lesson. However, as adults these stories or myths can be harmful when we start making decisions based on their often inaccurate information.

This often happens in food choices, especially when it comes to losing weight. Through repetition, even incorrect information can permeate our thoughts and get in the way of weight loss goals. The problem is, many ideas or stories surround weight loss get repeated so often, they become believable.

Let's examine the science behind some of this folklore:

Myth #1: Initial weight loss on diet plans comes from a loss of water weight.

There is no water storage gland in the human body that empties upon dieting. The proponents of this fallacy usually argue that the breakdown of glycogen in the liver, a common occurrence in the body of a dieter, causes a release of water. The human liver weighs about 3 pounds and glycogen accounts for only about 10% of this. So, water from the liver could only contribute to less than half a pound loss, and that's if all of its weight were water.

The fallacy mongers further suggest that the breakdown products of fat metabolism release water. However, for the technically minded, most of these chemical reactions actually use water initially, rather than release it.

Myth #2: Skipping meals is a practical way to lose weight.

When you skip a meal, your body uses stored sugar molecules which have been converted to glycogen. These stores are in the liver and muscle tissue. Once these are gone, your body turns to other nutrient sources for its constant energy needs. After skipping a meal under this circumstance, your body shifts into a "fasting" metabolism which leads to protein breakdown.

If you are eating according to evolutionary guidelines, that is, the right combination of foods for your body's design, you would actually break down fat, rather than protein, by NOT skipping lunch.

Myth #3: The Food Pyramid is a good way to eat to maintain a healthy weight.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the Food Pyramid in 1980 and released an updated version in early 2005. The Pyramid advocates a diet with plenty of breads, cereals, rice, pasta, vegetables, and fruits. However, decisions about food choices are much more complex than following a list of recommended foods. Our food choices are the result of a combination of body signals, cultural influences, habits, events, people, emotions, and beliefs. Since the introduction of The Food Pyramid, obesity has become of pandemic proportion. It seems economically driven agricultural promotion is not serving public health.

Myth #4: Eating a low fat diet is the best way to lose weight.

Low fat diets have been advocated for the last 20 years and the fat content of the American diet has actually decreased slightly during this time, but the obesity rate has more than doubled. Why? Part of the reason is that a low fat diet is not the correct fuel mix for the way the human body was designed. Over millions of years of evolution, our metabolic pathways developed. The original diet consisted mostly of available vegetation, seasonally limited fruits and nuts, and foods rich in protein and fat.

Myth #5: Counting calories is essential to healthy eating and weight loss.

The human body needs about 11-12 calories per pound of weight a day to maintain its current weight. For a 200 pound person, this would be approximately 2400 calories. Approximately 3500 calories are eaten for every pound of body weight. So, to lose 10 pounds, a dieter would have to eat 35,000 less calories. It would follow, that by eating 500 less calories a day, it would take over two months to lose those 10 pounds. However for most people, this significant calorie restriction is uncomfortable, and unsustainable. For anyone who has tried a reduced calorie diet, they are familiar with how difficult this way of life can be. What do you do when, at 5 PM all the day's calories are gone and you are still hungry?

The body processes various nutrients differently. It is not necessarily the total amount of food eaten that leads to weight loss or gain. It is the proportion of various nutrients and the shift to fat burning metabolism that is important.

Unfortunately, competing interests rely on these "facts" and help perpetuate their existence. To lose weight, you must inform yourself of how your body evolved and your body's process of metabolism if you want to know how you should eat and how to lose weight. Believing diet myths will only keep you in the cycle of the serial dieter.

Board Certified Psychiatrist, Dr. Anthony J. Burlay is the author of "The Foundation Diet: Your Body Was Designed to Eat," a diet he developed after losing and keeping off over 50 pounds. Find out more at


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