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Do you ever get the impression that diet book authors have an agenda, and that agenda is to make sure you have to keep buying diet books? There are certain myths about diet and exercise that actually keep people fat or even make them fatter.
But fortunately there are corresponding truths about diet and exercise that help people lose weight. Let's consider five common fallacies first.

1. All you need to do to lose weight is to count calories

The truth is, calories are not always countable, especially the calories in healthy, wholesome, whole foods. Consider apples. Everybody knows that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and many diet plans encourage dieters to eat an apple, or two, every day.

The calorie content of an apple measured gram for gram, however, can vary as much as 100% depending on when the apple was picked, how long it has been in storage, and how much the apple has dehydrated during the trip from the orchard to your kitchen. Fresh apples can have calorie content approaching that of dried apples in some circumstances.

A single 25- to 50-calorie underestimate in your diet does not make a lot of difference, but multiple miscalculations every day make weight loss impossible. The foods that no one recommends on any weight loss diet, Ho-Hos, Ding Dongs, and Dunkin' Donuts, for example, that are factory-made from carefully measured mixes of fat, flour, sugar, and chemicals, offer reliable calorie counts. You can be sure that your Hostess Ding Dong cellophane-wrapped chocolate cake with the Marshmallow cream filling always delivers 368 calories per serving. And 736 calories in 2 servings. And 1104 calories in 3 servings. The foods that wreck your diet are always the easiest to measure.

2. All you need to lose weight is to keep a food diary

Looking at the amount of food you eat throughout the day, you will instinctively stop eating when you notice you are eating too much.

There actually are some people who record their eating accurately. An analysis of 65 studies conducted in the UK, however, found that most people who are overweight record more protein, fiber, and carbohydrates than they actually consume, and less fat, sugar, and alcohol. Snacks are most likely to be forgotten.

3. You can lose weight by exercising regularly

Actually, most people who exercise regularly manage to gain weight, although they gain weight as muscle. Most people who diet lose both muscle and fat.

4. A low-fat, or low-carbohydrate, or (the latest fad) low-protein diet is all you need to lose weight

There is no need to count calories or restrict portion sizes.

All diets that focus on a single nutrient work because of the boredom factor. If all you are allowed to eat is steak and eggs, very soon you get tired of steak and eggs. If all you are allowed to eat is raw vegan plant foods, you either spend a great deal of time choosing a constantly changing variety of raw plant foods or you soon find yourself sneaking forbidden snacks. Although low-fat, low-carb, and and low-protein diets all can help you lose weight, there is no advantage in terms of weight loss of one approach over any other. Of course, there are many reasons to avoid certain food groups, ethical, religious, and practical. But not eating a given food group has no magical powers for losing weight.

5. Eat all you want until 4 pm to lose weight

The nineteenth century version of this advice was "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper." If you grossly overeat at breakfast and lunch, you will still be storing more fat than your body burns at night. It's just that simple. Alternating cycles of fasting and gorging actually make you gain weight. They don't help you lose weight.

Now let's consider five diet and exercise truths that can help you lose weight.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Black AE, Prentice AM, Goldberg GR, Jebb SA, Bingham SA, Livingstone MB, Coward WA. Measurements of total energy expenditure provide insights into the validity of dietary measurements of energy intake. J Am Diet Assoc 1993 May, 93(5):572–579.
  • Price GM, Paul AA, Cole TJ, Wadsworth ME. Characteristics of the low-energy reporters in a longitudinal national dietary survey. Br J Nutr. 1997 Jun, 77(6):833–851.
  • Photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver on Flickr: courtesy of versageek by Flickr :