This article was originally written by the Sequence clinic team (now known as WeightWatchers Clinic).

7 common beliefs about obesity that aren't true

Published September 22, 2023 | Updated May 6, 2024

Obesity is a complex health issue that affects over 40% of adult Americans. With the rise in obesity rates, numerous misconceptions and myths about the condition have also emerged. It's crucial to separate fact from fiction to better understand the causes, consequences, and effective strategies for managing obesity.

In this blog post, we’ll debunk some prevalent misconceptions about weight health.

Myth 1: Obesity is solely a result of poor self-control

One of the most widespread misconceptions about obesity is that it solely stems from a lack of willpower or self-control. However, the truth is far more complex. Genetic, medical, and environmental factors can all influence our weight. For example, our access to grocery stores, safe places to walk and exercise, and free time can all impact our nutrition and fitness. And certain medical conditions or medications can cause weight gain (these are called obesogenic conditions/medications).

Beyond genetic and biological factors of weight, behavioral factors that can predispose to obesity include emotions, habit time cues, information gap, and reward factors. Many highly motivated individuals with extraordinary willpower are successful in other aspects of their lives—but can still struggle with weight and obsessive and intrusive thoughts about food or “food noise.”

Myth 2: All calories are equal

The notion that all calories are equal and their sources don't matter is a prevailing misconception. This myth ignores the importance of the quality of calories consumed. The body processes different types of calories (from whole foods versus processed foods) differently, impacting metabolism, hormones, gut health, and overall health. Nutrient-dense foods are crucial for maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being.

Calories from foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and whole grains are more filling and satisfying as they contain more nutrients like protein, fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals, which can help keep you fuller for longer. Additionally, these nutrients provide adequate fuel to sustain your body throughout the day. Getting a variety of these foods can minimize micronutrient deficiencies and can support overall well-being.

Myth 3: Weight Loss is simply a matter of eating less and exercising more

The oversimplified advice to "eat less and exercise more" for weight loss doesn't take into account individual differences in environment, medical history, genetics, and biology.

Weight management is more intricate than a simple calorie equation. Sustainable weight loss involves addressing underlying environmental, medical, and biological factors (where possible), while also adopting a balanced diet and incorporating physical activity that suits one's individual needs and preferences.

Myth 4: Body weight is the main indicator of health

Equating body weight with overall health is a misleading belief. While obesity is associated with increased health risks, other factors like fitness levels, nutritious eating, genetic predisposition, and overall lifestyle play significant roles. Lower-body weight individuals can also face health challenges if they have poor dietary habits and lack physical activity. Additionally, the number on the scale tells us very little about the amount of lean tissue we’re carrying versus fat mass. This is partly why BMI, which takes into account height and weight only, is considered an imperfect indicator of weight health in the clinical setting. Increased fat mass is what’s linked to higher risks of chronic disease, especially fat mass around the abdomen. However, when looking at one number on the scale, this nuance is lost. We use BMI because it’s easy to implement, but it’s not the best or only way to measure one’s risks of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it's essential to focus not just on the number on the scale but also one’s mood, activity levels, quality of life, and more.

Myth 5: Low-fat diets are the best way to reduce body fat

At first glance, relying on low-fat diets as a surefire solution for shedding body fat might make sense. The reasoning behind this idea lies in the fact that fats contain more energy per gram compared to carbs or protein, making fatty foods more calorically dense. Additionally, the connection between saturated and trans fats with higher risks of heart disease and cancer seems to back the suggestion of low-fat diets being helpful for those with obesity. The belief that eating dietary fat directly leads to more body fat and higher blood lipid levels might logically lead to the idea that eating less fat would naturally result in less body fat.

However, both research and real-world experience show that factors other than just eating less fat play into body fat accumulation. Promoting low-fat diets for everyone could potentially have negative health consequences. Some experts argue that the popularity of the low-fat trend in the latter part of the 20th century led to an overconsumption of refined carbohydrates, potentially worsening the obesity problem, especially with our increasingly inactive lifestyles. Given that heart disease and cancer are major causes of death among adults with obesity, it's important to note that the Mediterranean Diet, despite not being particularly low in fat, has strong evidence supporting its long-term health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. One important aspect around dietary fat in the Mediterranean Diet is that, while it’s not low in total dietary fat, it is low in saturated fat. The majority of the fat found in the Mediterranean Diet comes from healthy fats, which are classified as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This emphasizes the importance of a balanced diet that includes a moderate amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated healthy fats. Additionally, modern insights from clinical experience have led to a deeper understanding: Obesity is a complex issue that requires personalized strategies. Nutritional interventions that prioritize evidence-based approaches, consider both the quantity and quality of food, and align with individual preferences and adherence have become crucial. It's crucial to understand that labeling a diet as "low fat" might work well for some but not for all. There are multiple evidence-based dietary approaches available to lead to successful weight loss. A low-fat diet is one evidenced-based approach, but it’s not the only approach nor is it necessarily the best approach. The best diet for weight loss is one that's tailored to the individual, taking into account their unique situation, preferences, and willingness to follow a well-informed dietary plan. The WeightWatchers Points program is one of these flexible approaches. Our Points system guides you to be in a calorie deficit while allowing you to still eat foods you love.

Myth 6: vitamins and herbal supplements are effective in achieving weight reduction

The main purpose of dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, fish oils, probiotics, etc.) is to fill in nutritional gaps for nutrients that may be lacking in the diet to help prevent deficiency.

There isn't much evidence showing that supplements made from herbs, minerals, or amino acids can safely help us lose a lot of weight in the long term. Sustainable weight loss is best achieved through a combination of a healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity, while addressing any other environmental and biological barriers (when appropriate) that may be impeding weight loss.

Myth 7: Exercise is the most effective way to reduce weight

Exercise can modestly support weight loss, but on its own, fitness is not enough.

For example, if you weigh 160 pounds and exercise for an hour, you might burn between 300 to 600 calories. Just to put that in perspective, a single slice of regular pepperoni pizza can have around 300 calories. Even though exercise might not burn a ton of calories, it can be used in conjunction with other lifestyle changes to aid in weight loss. In people with obesity who are losing weight, regular exercise (especially strength training) is especially important because it can help preserve lean muscle mass while weight is being lost. This minimizes the amount of lean muscle mass lost, while maximizing the amount of fat tissue being lost. While exercise may not be the most robust tool for weight loss, it is associated with weight-loss maintenance. Exercise can help weight maintenance over time by:

  • Increasing sensitivity to hormones that regulate appetite
  • Improving how the body uses insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar)
  • Slowing down the accumulation of fat in the body
  • Keeping muscles active (which helps boost your metabolism)

People who achieve 200-300 minutes of physical activity per week are more likely to maintain the weight they lost. This can be achieved with a few strength training sessions per week and 30 minute walks. As mentioned earlier, strength training in particular minimizes the loss of lean muscle mass when losing weight. However, exercise in general can cause an increase in hunger. To help combat this increase in hunger, it is important to fuel the body with healthful, nutrient-dense foods with adequate amounts of lean protein. Therefore, the healthy habits you create while losing weight can help with the prevention of muscle loss and aid in future weight loss maintenance.


Dispelling these prevalent myths about obesity is a critical step toward understanding the condition more accurately. By acknowledging the multifactorial nature of obesity and considering individualized approaches to weight management, we can pave the way for more effective strategies to combat this complex health issue.