When we begin dieting, we naturally want the best fat loss results as fast as possible. We look out for shortcuts and can fall victim to fat loss myths. The following article will outline six popular myths about how to jump-start weight loss, and outline superior options for each.
1. Fat burning supplements work
They're marketed as a way to strip the fat off you for good but the truth is they just don't.
An extensive review of all the evidence around weight loss supplements found no evidence to support any one of them resulting in significant weight loss (1). In fact, some were found to have detrimental health hazards.
Get your diet and training right, and stop relying on magic potions and pills. They don't work and never will.
2. Don't eat carbs late at night! They'll make you fat.
So often we're told that "if we don't burn those carbs off they'll turn into fat." Impossible! Your pets will turn into T-Rex before this happens.
This is because your metabolism doesn't slow down when you go to bed -- it gets faster! (2). So the notion you'll be gaining body fat in your sleep is not supported by the evidence.
Moreover, one study into police officers found that when they ate 80% of carbohydrates at night, they had higher levels of leptin and lost more fat. Leptin is your hunger hormone: the more you have, the LESS hungry you are (3).
Additionally, carbohydrates help you sleep better due to their ability to boost tryptophan and serotonin, two brain chemicals involved in sleep (4).
Feel free to eat a large percentage of your allocated amount of carbohydrates at dinner or just before bed; it might actually be more beneficial than not.
3. Stop eating carbohydrates as they store unwanted body fat
There's an old fallacy that when we eat carbohydrates, the resulting spike in insulin tells our body to start "storing fat."
But that's not the way it works. You can only store fat when you eat more calories than you burn. Here are some facts:
- Low or high GI carbohydrates (and thus insulin) make no difference to fat loss (5)
- Whey protein spikes insulin too (6), and as a matter of fact is more insulinogenic than white bread (7).
- When 77% of a diet is carbohydrates, but still set to a calorie deficit, the "insulin surges" made no difference (8). Subjects still lose weight the way they normally would.
Further research has compared low carb and high-fat diets, to diets with higher carbs, to see what difference occurred. Not surprisingly, when protein numbers were consistent, there was no difference in fat loss (9).
The bottom line is you can eat carbohydrates. A balanced diet of them will not hinder your fat loss progress.
4. Performing cardio on an empty stomach helps you burn more fat
The notion here is that by consuming no food before training in the morning, your body turns directly to fat as a fuel source. Whilst it sounds plausible it's not supported by science (10).
In fact, the research shows the complete opposite: it's better to have consumed some carbohydrates, protein and fat, as it gives you more energy to actually perform the exercise (10). This can translate into superior output and thus fat loss results.
So be sure to have some food ahead of your training to get the most out of your exercise.
5. Breakfast kick-starts your metabolism
It was one of the most successful marketing tag-lines ever to sell breakfast cereal. The only problem was that it was false!
Eating more frequent meals and thus "kick-starting your metabolism" at breakfast does not mean you'll burn more fat (11).
Further research into 283 adults saw no weight difference between those who ate breakfast and those who didn’t (12).
If you love breakfast, eat it. Just make sure its macronutrient content is factored into your daily allowance.
6. All calories are equal, just eat less than your body burns
This myth totally violates and ignores the findings into why protein is your best friend when it comes to fat loss.
Protein needs to be the macronutrient you eat the most of because:
- It keeps you fuller than carbohydrates or fat (13).
- Has only 4 calories per gram, as opposed to fat that has 9 calories per gram (carbohydrates also has 4) (14).
- Because of the energy required by your body to breakdown and digest protein, you burn 30% of the calories upon eating it. For example, when you eat 100 calories from protein, you're only really eating about 70 calories (15). For fat, that percentage is only 0-3%, and just 5-10% for carbohydrates (15).
Another study in 2014 blew the mind of every fitness fanatic on the planet; resistance-trained subjects that were overfed 800 calories via whey/casein protein powder didn't gain any weight! (16).
All calories are not equal. If you're really hungry, lean protein should be what you eat/drink to cause minimal fat gains. A diet that conforms to the latest protein recommendations for fat loss is critical.
Now that you know the truth about these fat loss myths, I hope it prevents any setbacks during your weight loss journey!
(1) Manore, M. M. (2012). Dietary Supplements for Improving Body Composition and Reducing Body Weight: Where Is the Evidence?, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 22(2), 139-154. Retrieved Mar 18, 2021, from https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/22/2/article-p139.xml.
(2) Mischler I, Vermorel M, Montaurier C, Mounier R, Pialoux V, Péquignot JM, Cottet-Emard JM, Coudert J, Fellmann N. Prolonged daytime exercise repeated over 4 days increases sleeping heart rate and metabolic rate. Can J Appl Physiol. 2003 Aug;28(4):616-29. doi: 10.1139/h03-047. PMID: 12904638.
(3) Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, Voet H, Fink G, Kima T, Madar Z. Changes in daily leptin, ghrelin and adiponectin profiles following a diet with carbohydrates eaten at dinner in obese subjects. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2012 Aug 14.
(4) Afaghi A, O'Connor H, Chow CM. High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Feb;85(2):426-30. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/85.2.426. Erratum in: Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Sep;86(3):809. PMID: 17284739.
(5) Wadden TA et al. A two-year randomized trial of obesity treatment in primary care practice. N Engl J Med. 2011 Nov 24;365(21):1969-79. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1109220. Epub 2011 Nov 14.
(6) Claessens M, Calame W, Siemensma AD, van Baak MA, Saris WH. The effect of different protein hydrolysate/carbohydrate mixtures on postprandial glucagon and insulin
responses in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;63(1):48-56. Epub 2007 Sep 12.
(7) Salehi A, Gunnerud U, Muhammed SJ, Ostman E, Holst JJ, Björck I, Rorsman P. The insulinogenic effect of whey protein is partially mediated by a direct effect of amino acids and GIP on beta-cells. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 May 30;9(1):48.
(8) Shintani TT, Beckham S, Brown AC, O'Connor HK. The Hawaii Diet: ad libitum high carbohydrate, low fat multi-cultural diet for the reduction of chronic disease risk factors: obesity, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and hyperglycemia. Hawaii Med J. 2001 Mar;60(3):69-73. PMID: 11320614.
(9) Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, Smith SR, Ryan DH, Anton SD, McManus K, Champagne CM, Bishio LM, Laranjo N, Leboff MS, Roos JC, de Jonge L, Greenway FL, Loria CM, Obarzanek E, Williamson DA. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Eng J Med. 2009 Feb 26;360(9): 859-73. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0804748.
(10) Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A., Wilborn, C.D. et al. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11, 54 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7
(11) Bellisle F, McDevitt R, Prentice AM. Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr. 1997 Apr;77 Suppl 1:S57-70. doi: 10.1079/bjn19970104. PMID: 9155494.
(12) Dhurandhar EJ, Dawson J, Alcorn A, Larsen LH, Thomas EA, Cardel M, Bourland AC, Astrup A, St-Onge MP, Hill JO, Apovian CM, Shikany JM, Allison DB. The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Aug;100(2):507-13. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.089573. Epub 2014 Jun 4. PMID: 24898236; PMCID: PMC4095657.
(13) Soenen S, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Proteins and satiety: implications for weight management. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008;11:747–751. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328311a8c4.
(14) National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 6, Calories: Total Macronutrient Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Net Energy Stores. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218769/
(15) van Baak MA. Meal-induced activation of the sympathetic nervous system and its cardiovascular and thermogenic effects in man. Physiol Behav. 2008;94:178–86.
(16) Antonio J, Peacock CA, Ellerbroek A, Fromhoff B, Silver T. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:19. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-19. PMID: 24834017; PMCID: PMC4022420.