As an Obesity Medicine Specialist, I know losing weight is not an easy task, and many myths persist about how to do it — which end up making it even harder. Below are the most common misconceptions on weight loss and physical activity I commonly hear during an office visit and hope to debunk.
Myth No. 1: Choosing foods that are gluten-free will help you lose weight.
Fact: Gluten-free foods are not healthier if you don’t have celiac disease or are not sensitive to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye grains. To avoid gluten without being sensitive to gluten or having celiac disease, you may not get the vitamins, fiber and minerals you need. A gluten-free diet is not a weight-loss diet and is not intended to help you lose weight.
Myth No. 2: Lifting weights is not a good way to lose weight because it will make you “bulk up.”
Fact: Lifting weights will not bulk you up. Only intense strength training can build large muscles. Muscle-strengthening activities will help improve health and help control weight by increasing the amount of energy-burning muscle.
Myth No. 3: The only way to lose weight is to avoid carbs.
Fact: There are “good “ carbohydrates such as vegetables (including beans and peas), fruits and whole grains and “bad” carbohydrates such as refined and processed carbohydrates. To have a healthy diet, ditching carbohydrates is not wise. Eaten in the right quantities and as part of a balanced diet, carbohydrates will not, on their own (that is, without butter, creamy sauces and other additions) lead to weight gain.
Myth No. 4: Drinking water helps you lose weight.
Fact: Water does not cause weight loss. It keeps you hydrated, a better substitution to sugary beverages, and might help you snack less. Thirst can be mistaken for hunger – if you’re thirsty you may snack more. So it is essential to stay hydrated as water is important for good health and wellbeing.
Myth No. 5: Being obese is due to lack of willpower.
Fact: Obesity is a complex disease with multiple contributing factors such as genetic variables as well as medical conditions (hypothyroidism, Cushings, polycystic ovary syndrome, depression) that can increase the risk of weight gain. People with obesity tend to have hormonal dysregulation, which makes it much harder to lose weight and keep it off.
For example, people who are overweight or obese tend to be resistant to the “satiety” hormone leptin. The leptin signal is supposed to tell the brain that it has enough fat stored and hence “full.” But when leptin isn’t able to deliver its signal, the brain thinks that you are starving, causing you to eat. Trying to exert “willpower” and consciously eating less in the face of the leptin-driven starvation signal is extremely difficult. Eating is driven by behavior, and behavior is driven by physiology and biochemistry. So being obese is not due to lack of willpower but rather biology.
Dr. Devika Umashanker is a Hartford HealthCare Obesity Medicine Specialist.