Myths of Weight Loss

weight lossIn a recent article published in the the New England Journal of Medicine, David B. Allison, who directs the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, wrote a summary of what is definitely known and what is not known about obesity and its treatment. We thought that we would add a summary of this important and controversial article to the site since diet is often connected to mood. Myths are things that are often stated as “facts” even though studies show that they are false.


1. Small changes in what you eat or in your activity level can make a big difference over time. Just adding some walking or cutting out a few soft drinks can lead to large and sustained weight loss eventually.

More recent analyses suggest that the body compensates for some of these changes with the result that actual weight loss is well below what would be expected. For example, although the old evidence suggested that someone walking one mile a day would lose 50 pounds over a five year periods, in fact weight loss would be only about 10 pounds.

2. Set a realistic goal to achieve more success with weight loss.

While this seems reasonable no studies have found any benefit from more modest goals and in fact a couple of more recent studies have suggested that those with more modest goals may tend to achieve less weight loss.

3. You have to be mentally ready to diet or you will never succeed.

Five studies have looked at this question and no study has found any correlation between mental readiness and success (beyond the obvious fact that you have to at least try to change).

4. Slow and steady is the way to lose. If you lose weight too fast you will lose less in the long run.

Looking at all the weight loss trials the opposite is true, there is a modest correlation between more rapid weight loss and long term success. Perhaps because early results can be a source of motivation to continue.

These often mentioned ideas fall into the category of “unknowns” – the overall evidence neither supports nor refutes them. Ideas not yet proven TRUE OR FALSE

  1. Diet and exercise habits in childhood set the stage for the rest of life.
  2. Add lots of fruits and vegetables to your diet to lose weight or not gain as much.
  3. Yo-yo diets lead to increased death rates.
  4. People who snack gain weight and get fat.
  5. If you add bike paths, jogging trails, sidewalks and parks, people will not be as fat.


  1. Heredity is important but is not destiny.
  2. Exercise helps with weight maintenance.
  3. Weight loss is greater with programs that provide meals.
  4. Some prescription drugs help with weight loss and maintenance.
  5. Weight-loss surgery in appropriate patients can lead to long-term weight loss, less diabetes and a lower death rate.

From The New York Times – Myths of Weight Loss Are Plentiful, Researcher Says. 

With additional information from the New England Journal of Medicine article.