9 weight-loss myths 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 September 8, 2017 | Updated May 1, 2024
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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.

TikTok, Twitter, and the nichest corners of Reddit threads have given people unlimited access to information about weight loss. That democratization is a double-edged sword. “The loudest person in the room gets heard, even if that information is not based in fact,” says Michelle Cardel, Ph.D., R.D., the senior director of global clinical research and nutrition at WeightWatchers. “This has very much happened 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.”

So how can you separate weight-loss myths from truths when countless rumors 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. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows 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.

RELATED: 16 simple weight-loss tips from people who’ve lost more than 100 pounds

Myth 2: 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 and hydration is very important for overall health, says Lona Sandon, Ph.D., RDN, American Dietetic Association (ADA) spokesperson and an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, Texas. Still, "there is no science at all that backs up that drinking more water makes you lose weight."

Pay attention to drinking more H2O, and you may be better in tune with what and how much you eat, though. This forces you to slow down as you dine; 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 sugary sodas and alcoholic drinks will help in terms of your overall calorie consumption level as well.

RELATED: Why you should drink a glass of water right now

Myth 3: Certain foods burn fat.

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

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 colorful, 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 4: Frozen or canned fruits and veggies aren't very healthy.

Reality check: Research shows that frozen and canned produce can pack as much nutrition as fresh. Canned tomatoes "are sometimes better nutrition choices," says Jim White, R.D., a registered dietitian in Virginia Beach, Virginia, because the body absorbs lycopene more easily after tomatoes have been processed.

Plus, frozen fruits and vegetables are often put on ice soon after being picked and are at their peak of ripeness; which means you score more micronutrients per bite. Choosing between canned, fresh, or frozen isn’t as important as remembering to include a rainbow variety of fruits and veggies. .

RELATED: Don't fear frozen vegetables

Myth 5: Weight loss is simply a matter of willpower.

Reality check: Someone in Silicon Valley is probably trying to change this, but right now we do not have complete control over our bodies. Sometimes we get sick. Or tired. Or we trip while walking across the street and hope no one sees. (It’s your fault, foot!)

For weight loss, that means that while eating healthier and moving more works for some people—the data from our clinical trials and others demonstrates behavioral weight management programs like WeightWatchers produce clinically significant weight loss—it doesn’t always work. And it's certainly not because of a lack of 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 your body will naturally regulate your 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.” Learn more about all of the options available to you by visiting WeightWatchers Clinic.

Myth 6: Juice cleanses, detox potions, and supplements can 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 2015 review of existing research published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. And 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,” Cardel says. “Cleanses and juice detoxes are very low in calories, and do not provide enough nutrients for optimal health. While a cleanse may help someone lose weight in the short-term since they are not consuming enough calories, this approach likely doesn’t result in long-term weight loss, nor does it teach them sustainable healthy habits.”

Similarly, there are many supplements and teas advertised as “fat-burning,” but they are not regulated (or proven safe to consume) by the FDA, Cardel advises, “so be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, especially ones that promise to ‘burn fat.’”

RELATED: 9 unhealthy fad diets you should never try

Myth 7: Snacking is counterproductive to weight loss.

Reality check: If you like three solid meals a day and feel energized by that routine, great! But if you notice yourself dragging at 3pm, there’s no need to hold out for dinner. “Cutting out all snacks may actually backfire on a weight-loss journey,” says Cardel. “Snacks can prevent people from getting too hungry in between meals, which may reduce overeating at the next meal.”

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 fiber, 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 honors your hunger signals is important for your nourishment, weight, and overall health.

Myth 8: Fat is the enemy.

Reality check: It’s been 30-plus years, but 90s diet culture—fat-free cookies, salad dressing, everything—won’t quit. But not only do our bodies need fat to survive, they also require it to absorb important fat-soluble vitamins.

It’s no wonder the 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume 20 to 35 percent of total calories from fat (about 400 to 700 calories per day). “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.”

RELATED: The truth about weight-loss foods

Myth 9: All calories are created equal.

Reality check: It can be easy to think of losing weight as a simple math equation: Just eat fewer calories than you burn. But that would imply that it doesn’t matter if you get your calories from a bag of sour candies or an apple with a handful of walnuts. And it definitely does.

“When we consider the overall picture of weight loss and wellness, a calorie is not just a calorie,” says Cardel. “We know that excess consumption of certain things, like saturated fat or added sugars, can lead to adverse effects on health over time.” That’s the reasoning behind making food choices based on its Points value as opposed to calories. Protein, fiber, and unsaturated fat lower the Points value of a food, while saturated fat and added sugar increase it.

The bottom line

There are so many myths floating around about weight loss that it can be hard to figure out what’s real. A good rule of thumb: If it sounds too good to be true—like that a tea can help you burn fat—it probably is. And if someone is touting a super-restrictive approach to weight loss, let that be a red flag. Remember: Developing healthy eating habits that include a mix of all foods can help ensure you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of well-being.