False facts you believe about dieting

Lately, it seems like losing weight, getting fit, and being healthy are more daunting prospects than ever before. With stars like Kendall Jenner frequently spotted out and about in their $100 workout gear and practically everybody on Instagram waxing lyrical about #eatingclean, it's often impossible to sort the helpful information from the attention-grabbing rubbish.

We're here to help. I spoke to a wide variety of fitness and health experts to get the scoop on what the worst, and most prevalent, myths are surrounding dieting. If you're ready to take that first step toward changing your life, be wary of these false facts.

Losing weight is all about eating less food

Calorie counting has been around almost as long as dieting itself. Or, at least, that's what it feels like. And yet, the idea of dramatically reducing our food intake, though it may seem simple in theory, doesn't usually work out too well in practice – never mind long term.

As Dr. Barry Sears, a leading authority on anti-inflammatory nutrition and author of the Zone Diet book series, explained to me, "Very low calorie diets leave you with no energy, feeling grouchy and, after a while, they can put your body into a state of stress, triggering it to want to cling on to fat stores for dear life. So, they make you miserable and don't even work."

Starving yourself might produce results in the short term, but try to remember that you're risking long term issues by depriving your body of the fuel it needs to survive, not least when it comes to your weight loss and health goals.

All calories are created equal

The generally accepted "calories in-calories out" equation makes complete sense, in theory – if we burn off more than we're eating, we will lose weight. However, as Dr. Jason Sonners of Core Therapies explained to me, "without considering the actual source and type of those calories [this idea] is very misleading."

Many different factors come into play here, from the type of calorie to the health of the person ingesting them. Personal trainer, sports nutritionist, and wellness coach Amanda Dale further broke down this idea. "Sure, eating only 500 calories of anything will keep you slim (since it's a massive calorie deficit for even sedentary people) – but when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, nutrition matters."

As Dale explained, not all calories are created equal. "Eating 1800 kCal of empty carbs will make it difficult to gain lean muscle, slow your metabolism, and make you feel fatigued, whereas 1800 kCal of high-quality protein and healthy fats will help you gain muscle, burn more calories at rest, and maintain your energy levels all day."

The latest diet craze is the best option

It seems like every week there's a new diet on the market, promising to help us lose weight faster and keep it off for good without giving in to temptation or, by contrast, being forced to quit eating what we love. These fad diets over-complicate matters, particularly when they seem to be backed by scientific facts that most of us without a PhD in nutrition would struggle to understand.

Personal trainer and author of The Fat Burn Revolution Julia Buckley advised against embarking upon a new, get-fit-quick diet just because the science behind it seems to check out. "Recently the trend is to claim the effectiveness is proven by 'science'. And yet the so-called diet gurus touting them constantly contradict one another. They all have what they describe as scientific proof that their plan is the best, but the fact is that these studies are either picked out or actually created to back up their claims."

Most of these plans are impossible to adhere to, and generally only work in the short term, if at all. The truth of the matter, shocking as it may seem, is that healthy living is actually quite simple.

Low fat/sugar-free/diet foods are necessary to lose weight

Food labels are more detailed than ever before, which can sometimes make it more difficult to understand what we're actually putting into our bodies. Marketing for the latest fat-burning wonder item may lead us to believe we need to opt into specific brands and specialized foods in order to lose weight.

This is absolutely the not the case, as Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, advised me. "Low-fat and low-carb doesn't always mean low calorie, and if you're trying to lose weight, stocking up on these treats could undermine your efforts. Studies have shown that when consumers believe products to be lower in calories or fat, they eat more of them."

We need to be conscious of additives too. Companies will often try to make up for taste loss by adding additional sweeteners and other additives, which mess up our body chemistry even further.

Fat is bad and should be eliminated entirely

Further to this, one of the most widely accepted diet myths is that fat is bad for you. Avoid fat and you'll be on your way to lean muscle, toned abs, and everything else you've ever wanted. Give in and you'll start to gain excess weight accordingly.

Jamie Logie, a certified personal trainer, nutritionist, and health coach, denounces this idea entirely. "The secret is avoiding the bad fats and embracing the good ones. The bad fats are the trans fats and hydrogenated oils, etc. Good fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, etc. provide the fat our body needs."

Fat may even be good for weight loss, with these so-called MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oils potentially even boosting fat burning properties in our bodies. Fat is actually a necessary and crucial part of our diets. Cutting it out entirely may be detrimental in the long run, as LifeSum in-house nutritionist Frida Harju explained, "the body can't process some vitamins without the fat's help dissolving them into our system."

Don't eat before bed

Another of those magical diet tips we've collectively accepted as fact, which the vast majority of experts work tirelessly to debunk, is that we need to stop eating several hours before bed for optimum weight loss. Personal trainer and nutritionist Ivana Chapman laid it out simply, "Your overall calorie and macro intake (as well as the quality of the food you eat) matters more than the timing when it comes to fat storage."

Further, the idea of 6 p.m. being the magical stop-eating time perplexes experts like Harju, who isn't entirely sure where it originated. "Your body won't know what time it is, whether it is 6 or 7 p.m., but what it does know is how many calories you consume. Instead of cutting off eating at 6 p.m., make sure that your meals are regular (including a healthy breakfast) and filled with vitamins, nutrients, and protein to keep you full throughout the day."

Juice cleanses or detoxes are a requirement

Juicing is so popular nowadays that whole stores have popped up dedicated to peddling their healthiest wares, with each place screaming at us to replace at least one meal a day with a nutrient-rich juice if we want to stand a chance of losing weight. The truth, nutritionist Kaleigh McMordie told me, is much more sinister. "Juice cleanses and other 'detox' diets are expensive marketing scams. Your body is designed to detox itself, that's why you have kidneys and a liver."

If you're feeling in need of a detox, McMordie suggests cutting out alcohol and soda, replacing them with water, and eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. This small change in itself will make you feel better than a week-long cleanse, during which you're likely to crave anything solid.

Try to keep in mind, also, that most of these juices will be high in sugar and therefore detrimental to your weight loss in the long term.

Skip breakfast to lose weight

Breakfast used to be the most important meal of the day. Then, somewhere along the line, it was decided that our first meal after waking up was the culprit for our weight gain.

Franklin Antoian, the founder of iBodyFit.com and one of SHAPE magazine's Top 50 Trainers in America, rejected this idea completely. "Skipping breakfast slows down your metabolism, which in turn causes your body to burn less calories and retain more body fat. When you skip breakfast, your body acts as if you are going into starvation mode and conserves energy, which is basically fat."

Malia Frey, the weight loss expert at Verywell and founder of The Daily Diet Tip, a free online resource for people who are trying to lose weight, offered the following advice to our readers. "Eating a healthy breakfast is a smart way for many dieters to curb late morning junk food cravings and keep calories in check."

Exercise solves everything

The popularity of so-called cheat meals (which originated with professional athletes, who, remember, essentially exercise as a job) and prevalence of increasingly intense workout plans have certain "experts" peddling the idea that we can eat whatever we want so long as we work out. Westin Childs, a physician focusing on weight loss (practicing in Gilbert, Arizona), rejects this idea. "You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. [Eating] terrible food creates hormone imbalances in your body like leptin and insulin resistance."

We should also be careful of so-called cheating in general, as it may impact our health and weight loss goals in the long term. Steve Siebold, author of Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People, and a psychological performance coach and former professional athlete, shared the following with me. "Don't fall into the psychological trap of thinking you can be 99 percent compliant on your diet and succeed. You may be able to cheat a little when you become fit, but in the beginning, you must commit to all-out massive action."

Fitness professional Diana Mitrea stated emphatically that "losing weight is 80 [percent] diet, 20 [percent] fitness."

Only hardcore exercise will have an effect

There's also the suggestion that only the most hardcore, high-intensity workout imaginable will have the desired effect, and that unless we kill ourselves at the gym 24/7, we can forget about weight loss. As Jennifer Christman, RD, LDN, clinical nutrition manager at Medifast, Inc., explained, "Setting goals of exercising too many days per week or too high of an intensity can set you up for failure. [Instead], focus on moderate exercise and build up to a higher level of intensity throughout your weight loss journey."

Frey, meanwhile, called out the popularity of HIIT (or any high-intensity training) workouts as the so-called "best" way to burn fat, suggesting "many people who participate in HIIT don't work hard enough to enjoy" its benefits.

Kimberly Hershenson, a New York City-based therapist specializing in eating disorders, suggested the old adage of any exercise being better than nothing at all still stands. "Any activity is good activity, even if it's a fifteen-minute walk. Don't cheat your body out of moving a bit because you think you don't have enough time for a 'full workout'."

Eating lots of mini meals throughout the day is better

Another super-popular myth is the idea of eating more regularly to promote weight loss. It's been so heavily ingrained in our society, it might shock you to learn there's very little research, or science to back it up.

As with eating before bed, as Chapman explained, timing isn't necessarily everything. "Recent research has shown that it doesn't matter how frequently you eat. What matters more is the total amount of food that you're eating, whether it's divided into two meals, or five, or six. It's not necessary to 'stoke your fat-burning engine' with frequent feedings."

Nina Nyiri, a trainer for over 12 years and the co-owner of 4U Fitness Customized Personal Training, took aim at those who may have perpetuated this myth. "Bro-science has created these cookie-cutter plans for competitors who think that you have to be tied to the clock and your six-pack lunch box. If your goal is fat loss or strength, the quantity of meals you eat per day is irrelevant. Results stem from the quantity and quality of calories you consume."

It's more difficult/expensive to eat well

We saved the worst, most damaging, weight loss myth for last – it's impossible to eat well without spending a fortune or trekking to far-off surplus stores for supplies. As Buckley explained, the wealth of information on offer makes it seem more complicated. "It is really quite simple and just comes down to eating wholesome, natural foods and moving our bodies in lots of different ways." The optimum words here are "wholesome" and "natural" — you don't need to go all out to eat well. Just make informed choices.

As Ficek advised, it's not about acquiring the must-have super-foods. "Many of these trendy foods actually don't compare to the conventional foods that are cheap and readily available to us. Some of the healthiest foods in the grocery store are also actually the cheapest."

This brings us on to the next point, which is that, given how hectic our lives can be, we often don't have the time to find the best foods to eat and even less to prepare them. Dietitian Kim Melton believes we can choose wisely without sacrificing our hard-earned rest time, claiming "if you choose wisely you can eat healthfully on the go."

Keep it simple

So, if you're about to embark upon a new weight-loss journey, have grown weary of your current plan, or just don't know where to start, hopefully we've helped debunk some of the most widely-held, potentially damaging myths surrounding dieting and weight loss.

If there's one thing to always keep in mind no matter what, it's this: keep it simple.