Losing weight is no easy task, and myths persist about how to do it—which end up making it even harder. To cut through the confusion, here are nine common misconceptions about weight loss and dieting, and what the science actually says.

A radical exercise regime is the only way to lose weight

Not true. Successful weight loss involves making small changes that you can stick to for a long time. That means being more physically active in your daily routine. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of physical activity – such as fast walking or cycling – every week, and those who are overweight are likely to need more than this to lose weight. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. This can be achieved by eating less, moving more or, best of all, a combination of both.

All calories are equal

The calorie is a measurement of energy. All calories have the same energy content. However, this does not mean that all calorie sources have the same effects on your weight. Different foods go through different metabolic pathways and can have vastly different effects on hunger and the hormones that regulate your body weight. For example, a protein calorie is not the same as a fat or carb calorie. Replacing carbs and fat with protein can boost your metabolism and reduce appetite and cravings, all while optimizing the function of some weight-regulating hormones. Also, calories from whole foods like fruit tend to be much more filling than calories from refined foods, such as candy.

Supplements can help you lose weight

The weight loss supplement industry is massive. Various companies claim that their supplements have dramatic effects, but they’re rarely very effective when studied. The main reason that supplements work for some people is the placebo effect. People fall for the marketing tactics and want the supplements to help them lose weight, so they become more conscious of what they eat. That said, a few supplements have a modest effect on weight loss. The best ones may help you shed a small amount of weight over several months.

Healthier foods are more expensive

It may seem that healthier foods are more expensive than their unhealthier alternatives. However, if you try replacing ingredients with healthier alternatives, you’ll probably find your meals will work out costing less. For example, choosing cheaper cuts of meat and mixing it with cheaper alternatives such as beans, pulses and frozen veg will make it go further in casseroles or stir-fries.

Starving myself is the best way to lose weight

Crash diets are unlikely to result in long-term weight loss. In fact, they can sometimes lead to longer-term weight gain. The main problem is that this type of diet is too hard to maintain. You may also be missing out on essential nutrients as crash diets can be limited in the variety of food consumed. Your body will be low on energy, and may cause you to crave high-fat and high-sugar foods. This can lead to eating those foods and more calories than you need, causing weight gain.

You have to give up alcohol to lose weight

It’s true that drinking alcohol confers a lot of calories, and weight loss plans will often recommend that people cut back on booze. Several studies have found that while heavy drinking is linked to weight gain, the same effect isn’t seen as often with light and moderate drinking. Of course, the usual advice remains: everything in moderation. It’s also good to keep in mind that people can react differently to the same foods. For some people, the casual glass of wine won’t have a big effect, but for others it might.

Fat makes you fat

Fat provides around 9 calories per gram, compared with only 4 calories per gram of carbs or protein. Fat is very calorie-dense and commonplace in junk foods. Yet, as long as your calorie intake is within a healthy range, fat does not make you fat. Additionally, diets that are high in fat but low in carbs have been shown to cause weight loss in numerous studies. While packing your diet with unhealthy, high-calorie junk foods laden with fat will definitely make you fat, this macronutrient is not the sole culprit. In fact, your body needs healthy fats to function properly.

Carbs make you put on weight

Eaten in the right quantities and as part of a balanced diet, carbohydrates will not, on their own (that is, without butter, creamy sauces and so on added to them) lead to weight gain. Eat whole grain and wholemeal carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholemeal bread, and potatoes with the skins on to increase your intake of fibre and don’t fry starchy foods when trying to lose weight.

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