“Lose 30 pounds in 30
“Eat as much as you want and still lose
“Try the thigh buster and lose inches fast!”
And so on, and so on. With so many products and weight-loss theories out there,
it is easy to get confused.
The information in this fact sheet will help clear up confusion about weight loss, nutrition, and physical activity. It may also help you make healthy changes in your eating and physical activity habits. If you have questions not answered here, or if you want to lose weight, talk to your health care provider. A registered dietitian, or other qualified health professional can give you advice on how to follow a healthy eating plan, lose weight safely, and keep it off.
Myth: Fad diets work for permanent weight loss.
Fad diets are not the best way to lose weight and keep it off. Fad diets often
promise quick weight loss or tell you to cut certain foods out of your diet.
You may lose weight at first on one of these diets. But diets that strictly
limit calories or food choices are hard to follow. Most people quickly get
tired of them and regain any lost weight.
Fad diets may be unhealthy because they may not provide all of the
nutrients your body needs. Also, losing weight at a very rapid rate (more than
3 pounds a week after the first couple of weeks) may increase your risk for
developing gallstones (clusters of solid material in the gallbladder that can
be painful). Diets that provide less than 800 calories per day also could
result in heart rhythm abnormalities, which can be fatal.
Research suggests that losing ½ to 2 pounds a week by making healthy
food choices, eating moderate portions, and building physical activity into
your daily life is the best way to lose weight and keep it off. By adopting
healthy eating and physical activity habits, you may also lower your risk for
developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Myth: High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets are a
healthy way to lose weight.
The long-term health effects of a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet are
unknown. But getting most of your daily calories from high-protein foods like
meat, eggs, and cheese is not a balanced eating plan. You may be eating too
much fat and cholesterol, which may raise heart disease risk. You may be eating
too few fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which may lead to constipation
due to lack of dietary fiber. Following a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet
may also make you feel nauseous, tired, and weak.
Eating fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrate a day
can lead to the buildup of ketones (partially broken-down fats) in your blood.
A buildup of ketones in your blood (called ketosis) can cause your body to
produce high levels of uric acid, which is a risk factor for gout (a painful
swelling of the joints) and kidney stones. Ketosis may be especially risky for
pregnant women and people with diabetes or kidney disease.
High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets are often low in calories because food
choices are strictly limited, so they may cause short-term weight loss. But a
reduced-calorie eating plan that includes recommended amounts of carbohydrate,
protein, and fat will also allow you to lose weight. By following a balanced
eating plan, you will not have to stop eating whole classes of foods, such as
whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—and miss the key nutrients they
contain. You may also find it easier to stick with a diet or eating plan that
includes a greater variety of foods.
Myth: Starches are fattening and should be
limited when trying to lose weight.
Many foods high in starch, like bread, rice, pasta, cereals, beans, fruits, and
some vegetables (like potatoes and yams) are low in fat and calories. They
become high in fat and calories when eaten in large portion sizes or when
covered with high-fat toppings like butter, sour cream, or mayonnaise. Foods
high in starch (also called complex carbohydrates) are an important source of
energy for your body.
A healthy eating plan is one that:
Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and
Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
Is low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and
For more specific information about food groups and nutrition
values, visit www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.
Certain foods, like grapefruit, celery, or
cabbage soup, can burn fat and make you lose
No foods can burn fat. Some foods with caffeine may speed up your metabolism
(the way your body uses energy, or calories) for a short time, but they do not
cause weight loss.
The best way to lose weight is to cut back on the number of calories you eat
and be more physically active.
Myth: Natural or herbal weight-loss products are
safe and effective.
A weight-loss product that claims to be
is not necessarily safe. These products are not usually scientifically tested
to prove that they are safe or that they work. For example, herbal products
containing ephedra (now banned by the U.S. Government) have caused serious
health problems and even death. Newer products that claim to be ephedra-free
are not necessarily danger-free, because they may contain ingredients similar
Talk with your health care provider before using any weight-loss product. Some
natural or herbal weight-loss products can be harmful.
Myth: “I can lose
weight while eating whatever I want.”
To lose weight, you need to use more calories than you eat. It is possible to
eat any kind of food you want and lose weight. You need to limit the number of
calories you eat every day and/or increase your daily physical activity.
Portion control is the key. Try eating smaller amounts of food and choosing
foods that are low in calories.
When trying to lose weight, you can still eat your favorite foods—as long
as you pay attention to the total number of calories that you
Myth: Low-fat or fat-free means no calories.
Fact: A low-fat or fat-free
food is often lower in calories than the same size
portion of the full-fat product. But many processed
low-fat or fat-free foods have just as many calories
as the full-fat version of the same food—or even
more calories. They may contain added sugar, flour,
or starch thickeners to improve flavor and texture
after fat is removed. These ingredients add
Read the Nutrition Facts on a food package to find out how many calories are in
a serving. Check the serving size too—it may be less than you are used to
eating. For more information about reading food labels, visit the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration online at
Myth: Fast foods are always an unhealthy choice
and you should not eat them when dieting.
Fast foods can be part of a healthy weight-loss program with a little bit of
Avoid supersize combo meals, or split one with a friend. Sip on water or
fat-free milk instead of soda. Choose salads and grilled foods, like a grilled
chicken breast sandwich or small hamburger. Try a
taco (with salsa instead of cheese or sauce) at taco stands. Fried foods, like
french fries and fried chicken, are high in fat and calories, so order them
only once in a while, order a small portion, or split an order with a friend.
Also, use only small amounts of high-fat, high-calorie toppings, like regular
mayonnaise, salad dressings, bacon, and cheese.
Myth: Skipping meals is a good way to lose
Studies show that people who skip breakfast and eat fewer times during the day
tend to be heavier than people who eat a healthy breakfast and eat four or five
times a day. This may be because people who skip meals tend to feel hungrier
later on, and eat more than they normally would. It may also be that eating
many small meals throughout the day helps people control their appetites.
Eat small meals throughout the day that include a variety of healthy, low-fat,
low-calorie foods. For more information about healthy eating, read the
Weight-control Information Network brochure
Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Across Your Lifespan: Tips for Adults.
Myth: Eating after 8 p.m. causes weight gain.
It does not matter what time of day you eat. It is what and how much you eat
and how much physical activity you do during the whole day that determines
whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight. No matter when you eat, your
body will store extra calories as fat.
If you want to have a snack before bedtime, think first about how many calories
you have eaten that day. And try to avoid snacking in front of the TV at
night—it may be easier to overeat when you are distracted by the
Myth: Lifting weights is not good to do if you
want to lose weight, because it will make you “bulk
Lifting weights or doing strengthening activities like push-ups and crunches on
a regular basis can actually help you maintain or lose weight. These activities
can help you build muscle, and muscle burns more calories than body fat. So if
you have more muscle, you burn more calories—even sitting still. Doing
strengthening activities 2 or 3 days a week will not
bulk you up.”
Only intense strength training, combined with a certain genetic background, can
build very large muscles.
In addition to doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical
activity (like walking 2 miles in 30 minutes) on most days of the week, try to
do strengthening activities 2 to 3 days a week. You can lift weights, use large
rubber bands (resistance bands), do push-ups or sit-ups, or do household or
garden tasks that make you lift or dig.
Myth: Nuts are fattening and you should not eat
them if you want to lose weight.
In small amounts, nuts can be part of a healthy weight-loss program. Nuts are
high in calories and fat. However, most nuts contain healthy fats that do not
clog arteries. Nuts are also good sources of protein, dietary fiber, and
minerals including magnesium and copper.
Enjoy small portions of nuts. One-half ounce of mixed nuts has about 270
Myth: Eating red meat is bad for your health and
makes it harder to lose weight.
Eating lean meat in small amounts can be part of a healthy weight-loss plan.
Red meat, pork, chicken, and fish contain some cholesterol and saturated fat
(the least healthy kind of fat). They also contain healthy nutrients like
protein, iron, and zinc.
Choose cuts of meat that are lower in fat and trim all visible fat. Lower fat
meats include pork tenderloin and beef round steak, tenderloin, sirloin tip,
flank steak, and extra lean ground beef. Also, pay attention to portion size.
Three ounces of meat or poultry is the size of a deck of cards.
Myth: Dairy products are fattening and unhealthy.
Low-fat and fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese are just as nutritious as whole
milk dairy products, but they are lower in fat and calories. Dairy products
have many nutrients your body needs. They offer protein to build muscles and
help organs work properly, and calcium to strengthen bones. Most milks and some
yogurts are fortified with vitamin D to help your body use calcium.
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming 3 cups
per day of fat-free/low-fat milk or equivalent milk products. For more
information on these guidelines, visit
If you cannot digest lactose (the sugar found in
dairy products), choose low-lactose or lactose-free dairy products, or other
foods and beverages that offer calcium and vitamin D (listed below).
Calcium: soy-based beverage or tofu made with calcium sulfate;
canned salmon; dark leafy greens like collards or kale
Vitamin D: soy-based beverage or cereal
(getting some sunlight on your skin also gives you a small amount of vitamin D)
vegetarian” means you are sure to lose weight and
Research shows that people who follow a vegetarian eating plan, on average, eat
fewer calories and less fat than nonvegetarians. They also tend to have lower
body weights relative to their heights than nonvegetarians. Choosing a
vegetarian eating plan with a low fat content may be helpful for weight loss.
But vegetarians—like nonvegetarians—can make food choices that
contribute to weight gain, like eating large amounts of high-fat, high-calorie
foods or foods with little or no nutritional value.
Vegetarian diets should be as carefully planned as
nonvegetarian diets to make sure they are balanced. Nutrients that
nonvegetarians normally get from animal products, but that are not always found
in a vegetarian eating plan, are iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc,
Choose a vegetarian eating plan that is low in fat and that provides all of the
nutrients your body needs. Food and beverage sources of nutrients that may be
lacking in a vegetarian diet are listed below.
spinach, lentils, garbanzo beans, fortified
bread or cereal
products, fortified soy-based beverages, tofu made with calcium
sulfate, collard greens, kale,
Vitamin D: fortified
foods and beverages including milk,
soy-based beverages, or
Vitamin B12: eggs,
dairy products, fortified cereal or
soy-based beverages, tempeh, miso (tempeh
and miso are foods made from
Zinc: whole grains
(especially the germ and bran of the
grain), nuts, tofu, leafy vegetables
(spinach, cabbage, lettuce)
Protein: eggs, dairy
products, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, soy-based burgers
If you do not know whether or not to believe a
weight-loss or nutrition claim, check it out! The Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)
has information on deceptive weight-loss advertising claims. You can also find
out more about nutrition and weight loss by talking with a registered
dietitian. To find a registered dietitian in your area, visit the American
Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org)
online or call 1-800-877-1600.
Weight-control Information Network
1 WIN Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3665
Phone: (202) 828-1025
Toll-free phone: 1-877-946-4627
Fax: (202) 828-1028
Information Network (WIN) is a national information service of the
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and
Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of
Health, which is the Federal Government’s lead
agency responsible for biomedical research on
nutrition and obesity. Authorized by Congress
(Public Law 103-43), WIN provides the general
public, health professionals, the media, and
Congress with up-to-date, science-based health
information on weight control, obesity, physical
activity, and related nutritional
Publications produced by WIN are reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This fact
sheet was also reviewed by Donna Ryan, M.D., F.A.C.P., Associate Executive
Director for Clinical Research, Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
This e-text is not copyrighted. WIN encourages users of this fact sheet to
duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.
|NIH Publication No. 04-4561
Updated August 2006