10 weight-loss myths you need to stop believing

A lot of what you’ve been told about weight-loss is just wrong. Here, we separate fact from fiction, and share what actually works—according to science, not TikTok.
Published 3 October 2023 | Updated 17 May 2024

Chances are you've heard a lot of conflicting information in your lifetime about the best ways to lose weight. The thing is, it can be really difficult to separate fact from fiction—and that poses a big challenge for anyone trying to lose weight and improve their overall health.

The rise of TikTok and other social media platforms has provided people with endless information about weight loss. However, this knowledge can be seen as a double-edged sword. “The loudest person in the room gets heard, even if that information is not based in fact. This is very common in the world of internet weight loss, where, unfortunately, your body can become your ‘business card’—and “anyone can claim they are a ‘nutritionist’ or weight loss expert,” says Michelle Cardel, Ph.D., M.S., RD, the senior director of global clinical research and nutrition at WeightWatchers.

So how can you separate weight-loss myths from truths when countless rumours swirl? Science has entered the chat.

Myth 1:

Skipping breakfast helps you lose weight

Reality check: There is no weight-loss benefit to missing your meal in the morning—or at noon, if that's when you rise. That's true even if you believe eating early makes you hungrier. What research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows is that whether you eat or skip breakfast, it doesn’t make a difference for weight loss.

However, digging into something hearty and healthy in the a.m. comes with an additional side of benefits, according to a 2022 study in the journal Cell Metabolism. Skipping breakfast and eating a late dinner (around 9pm) was linked to higher hunger levels and lower average calorie burn throughout the day.

Myth 2:

Eating late at night makes you gain weight

Reality check: That 9pm dinner isn’t the villain. As a general rule, “what you eat, not when, makes the difference," says Jim White, R.D., a registered dietitian in Virginia, United States. "Calories have the same effect on the body no matter when they are consumed."

“There are diurnal patterns to our hormones related to weight regulation,” says Dr. Amanda Velazquez, MD, director of obesity medicine at the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Health at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, United States. “As a result, if one consumes two veggie tacos and a salad at 5pm, it is metabolised very differently then if consumed at 2am.”

Here’s an example of this in action: A 2021 study found that night shift workers are more prone to weight gain than day shift workers, even if eating the same foods.

Another issue of late-night eating is that people often engage in "the mindless type of eating" in front of the TV, says Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, American Dietetic Association spokesperson and an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, Texas. This can throw a previously well-balanced day off course.

Myth 3:

Drinking water helps you lose weight

Reality check: Not to discredit the role water can play in improving health, but it just isn't the liquid magic bullet some claim it to be for weight loss.

Drinking a glass of water before eating a meal can be a useful mindfulness trick, Sandon admits, and hydration is very important for overall health. Still, "there is no science at all that backs up that drinking more water makes you lose weight," Sandon says of this common weight-loss myth.

Pay attention to drinking more, and you'll likely be better in tune with what and how much you eat, though. This forces you to slow down as you eat; a helpful strategy to aid in your ability to notice signs of fullness.

Eating low-calorie foods that are loaded with water, such as fruits, vegetables, and broths, also counts towards hydration goals and can help you feel fuller longer. In addition, substituting water for sugar-packed soft drinks and alcoholic drinks will help in terms of your overall calorie consumption level as well.

Myth 4:

Certain foods burn fat

Reality check: Celery, cabbage, coffee, grapefruit, cinnamon—all ingredients that have been trotted out as fat-burners. All lacking any evidence to support the claims. “Celery has no magic power. There's nothing magical about grapefruit that burns fat from the body," says Sandon.

Are these foods loaded with nutrients? Yes. Are these foods healthy additions to your diet? Absolutely. Will they guarantee weight loss? No. The overall goal, though, is to land at a colourful, variety-packed meal plan that you can stick with for a lifetime. And remember, weight loss alone is not the goal, it's achieving overall health and wellness.

Myth 5:

Frozen or canned fruits and veggies aren't as healthy

Reality check: Research shows that frozen and canned produce can pack as much nutrition as fresh. Canned tomatoes "are sometimes better nutrition choices," White says, because the body absorbs lycopene more easily after the plump red fruit has been processed.

Plus, frozen fruits and vegetables are often put on ice soon after being picked and frozen at their peak of ripeness; which means you score more micronutrients per bite.

Choosing canned, fresh, or frozen isn’t as important as remembering to choose a rainbow variety of fruits and veggies.

Myth 6:

Weight loss is simply a matter of willpower

Reality check: For weight loss, eating healthier and moving more works for some people—the data from our clinical trials and others demonstrates behavioural weight management programs like WeightWatchers® produce clinically significant weight loss. But it doesn’t always work and it's certainly not because people lack willpower. It is because obesity is, “a chronic disease that’s much more complicated than being the result of eating too much or moving too little,” says Cardel.

While our bodies naturally regulate our weight, many factors can disrupt this process, such as hormones, genetics, environment, socioeconomic status, and more. And if these factors are dysregulated, your best effort—a.k.a. all the willpower in the world—may not be enough.

“Obesity should be treated just like any other chronic disease, with evidence-based, long-term care and treatment,” adds Cardel. “Depending on a variety of factors, that treatment may incorporate a lifestyle program like WeightWatchers, medication, and/or surgical options.”

Myth 7:

Juice cleanses, detox potions, and supplements trigger quick weight loss

Reality check: There is no scientific evidence to support the use of over-the-counter or homemade detoxes, according to a 2014 review of existing research on detox diets. The same holds true for any “skinny” supplements.

Even though some alleged experts claim that you need to “detoxify” your body from things like the build-up of pollutants, excess processed foods, and chemicals in your home, your liver, kidneys, lymphatic system, and gastrointestinal tract already “cleanse” the body on their own.

“The human body is designed to ‘detox’ itself on its own. Cleanses and juice detoxes are very low in calories, and do not provide enough nutrients for good health. While a cleanse may help someone lose weight in the short-term since they are not consuming enough calories, this approach doesn’t result in long-term weight loss, nor does it teach them sustainable healthy habits,” Cardel says.

Similarly, there are many supplements advertised as “fat-burning,” including teas or diet supplements. Both the aforementioned detox potions and these supplements are not regulated (or proven safe to consume), Cardel advises, “so be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, especially ones that promise to ‘burn fat,’” which can be dangerous.

Myth 8:

Snacking is counterproductive to weight loss

Reality check: If you like three solid meals a day and feel energised by that, great! But if you notice yourself dragging at 3pm, no need to hold out for dinner.

“Cutting out all snacks may actually backfire on a weight-loss journey. Snacks can prevent people from getting too hungry in between meals, which may reduce overeating at the next meal,” Cardel says.

A 2016 review in the journal Advances in Nutrition found no correlation between the number of daily snacks and weight. Plus, if you select your snacks wisely—packed with fibre, healthy fats, and protein—you’ll be able to boost your energy levels and vitamin and mineral intake all at once.

Every human is different. Eating at a frequency that meets your hunger signals is important for your nourishment, weight and overall health.

Myth 9:

Fat is the enemy

Reality check: It’s been 30-plus years, but 90s diet culture—fat-free cookies, and salad dressing—won’t go away. The facts? Not only do our bodies need fat to survive, they also require it to absorb important fat-soluble vitamins.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume:

  • 15 to 25 per cent of total energy from protein
  • 20 to 35 per cent of total energy from fat
  • 45 to 65 per cent of total energy from carbohydrates

“Research suggests that a low-fat diet can be an effective way to lose weight, but is no more effective than other approaches,” says Cardel. “The key to successful weight loss is finding what works best for you over the long-term.”

Myth 10:

All calories are created equal

Reality check: OK, so this myth is partially true. To lose weight, you need to eat less calories than your body utilises, Cardel says, so essentially it is a maths equation. That said, if you invest those calories in a handful of lollies from the office snack drawer, you’ll be far less satisfied—and score far less health-supporting nutrition—than if you consumed the same amount of calories eating an apple and a handful of walnuts. “When we consider the overall picture of weight loss and wellness, a calorie is not just a calorie. We know that excess consumption of certain things, like saturated fat or added sugars, can lead to adverse effects on health over time,” Cardel says.

“This is why at WeightWatchers we take more than just calories into account. Protein, fibre, and unsaturated fat lowers the Points value of a food, while saturated fat and added sugar increase the Points value of a food. We want to nudge members to eat an overall healthier dietary pattern, and that goes far beyond just looking at calories”.

Developing healthy eating habits along a weight-loss journey can help ensure you are setting yourself up for lifelong wellbeing.