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February 13, 2013 | 3 minute read

Dieting Tricks or Myths?

You may have heard a lot about health-related myths recently. An article from the New England Journal of Medicine dispels myths about obesity that even health-care providers often state as fact. canstockphoto5701649

With February 4th being World Cancer Day, AICR published a piece to set the facts straight about cancer. One important truth is that excess body fat increases risk for 7 types of cancer. As a dietitian who works daily with individuals trying to lose weight, I’d like to clear up some common myths about weight loss that I hear regularly.


Myth 1: “I switched to extra virgin olive oil [instead of butter] to help me lose weight.”

Truth: Let’s first look at the rationale behind this claim. Olive oil is mostly made of unsaturated fat, the kind that is good for heart health (the same type of fat also found in nuts and avocados). Butter, on the other hand, is mostly made of saturated fat, which increases total cholesterol and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood. This can increase your risk for heart disease.

However, this is a weight loss myth because whether it is butter or extra virgin olive oil, the calories are the same. One gram of any type of fat equals about 9 calories.

The bottom line: olive oil is better for your health than butter, but for weight loss it is important to use small amounts since the calories will add up just as quickly.

Myth 2: “When I go out to eat I order a salad or something healthy like that.” 

Truth: In theory, salads are a healthy option. A salad made of mixed greens with added vegetables will be much lower in calories and higher in other essential nutrients than fettuccine alfredo or a hamburger, for example. However, some salads can be the highest calorie option on the menu at a restaurant due to creamy dressings, cheese, and croutons. Even nutritious toppings like nuts, olives and avocado can really add up.

Did you know that a chicken Caesar salad from the Cheesecake Factory is about 1,500 calories? Even the earth bowl salad from SweetGreen (with a side of bread) is more than 850 calories. 

The bottom line: Select a salad that is filled with veggies and ask for a vinaigrette-based dressing on the side. If you are getting cheese, ask for just a sprinkle of a lower fat cheese like feta.

Myth 3: “If I exercise, I can eat what I want and still lose weight.” 

Truth: Research shows that reducing your caloric intake from diet alone can lead to meaningful weight loss, with a greater effect if you also increase your activity. However, exercise alone may not result in weight loss. The reasons for this are not fully understood, but it may be that we compensate for increased exercise by eating more.

The bottom line: There are many well-established health benefits to being physically active, like a reduction in cancer risk, but if you are looking for weight loss, you will see the best results by decreasing your intake and increasing your activity.

What dieting tricks that you’ve heard recently are you unsure of?

Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.

2 comments on “Dieting Tricks or Myths?

    • Mya on

      I put this question to Sonja, our guest blogger, and here’s what she said:
      This is a tricky question, and one that researchers do not fully understand. A study published last summer in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that participants following a low glycemic index diet or low carbohydrate diet burned more calories per day than those on a low fat diet, even though calories were the same on all 3. This study caused many to question the notion that all calories are created equal in terms of our weight. Instead, the types of foods eaten may play an important role in our metabolism and the overall most favorable health benefits were seen from the low glycemic index diet (which focuses on vegetables, minimally processed grains, fruits, legumes and heart healthy fats). However, this was just one study (and a short term one) with only 21 subjects. My take home message: a low glycemic index diet contains many foods that we know are good for our health, so whether or not it actually causes our bodies to burn more calories than a low fat diet, eating a portion-controlled diet rich in plant based protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and heart healthy fats is your best bet for weight loss and overall health.


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