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

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 whole, unprocessed 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 regulate appetite. Breaking down these whole foods also requires more energy by the body, therefore, more calories burned. Additionally, these nutrients provide the body with adequate fuel to sustain energy throughout the day and can improve sleep, among other benefits.

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 factors, adopting a balanced diet, and incorporating physical activity that suits one's individual needs.

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. 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. Also, fatty foods tend to be calorie-dense, and fats don't burn as many calories during digestion (compared to carbs and protein). The connection between saturated and trans fats with higher risks of heart disease and cancer seems to back the suggestion of low-fat diets 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 carbs, 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. This emphasizes the importance of a balanced diet that includes healthy fats (like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

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. In the short term, interventions that focus on reducing carbs and calories might result in more significant weight loss compared to those that mainly cut down on fat and calories. 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. The best way to approach medical nutrition therapy is one that's tailored to the individual, taking into account their unique situation, preferences, and willingness to follow a well-informed dietary plan.

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. The Obesity Medicine Association hasn't approved any specific supplement for weight loss and has published a dedicated Clinical Practice Statement regarding "extra things" we take, like supplements. Sustainable weight loss is best achieved through a combination of a healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity.

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, regular exercise is especially important because it can help maintain weight loss over time. It does this 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 healthy and active (which helps your body burn fat)

While exercise may not be the most robust tool for weight loss, it is associated with weight loss maintenance. People who achieve 200-300 minutes of physical activity 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. Strength training also prevents the loss of lean mass when losing weight. When people lose muscle, hunger signals increase which typically leads to eating more until the lost muscle has returned. Unfortunately, this also comes with more body fat. So creating healthy habits while you are losing weight can help with the prevention of muscle loss and 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.

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