The Dirty Dozen Dieting Myths

When magic isn't enough!

Dr Vernon Coleman

The slimming `industry' is the biggest and most profitable part of the health care industry and many companies and individuals have made fortunes out of the twin facts that losing weight is harder than putting it on and that most would-be slimmers are on the constant look out for an easy, quick and painless way to lose weight. Everyone, it sometimes seems, wants to lose weight; but no one wants to have to work at it.

Here are some of the most popular diets and dieting tricks you are likely to come across - needless to say I don't recommend any of these!

Myth 1. You can lose weight by taking slimming pills obtained without a doctor's prescription

Millions of people buy them but I doubt if any of these would-be slimmers obtain any appreciable long-term weight loss through taking them. Magic slimming pills - often sold by post - are frequently expensive but, in my view, never worth buying. Most of these pills fall into three general categories:

a) Many of the most popular pills simply contain a laxative. By increasing the rate at which the bowels work these pills can, inevitably, produce a modest short-term weight loss. But after a while - or if you stop taking these laxative pills - the chances are that your weight will go back up again. The major disadvantage with these pills is that if you take them for more than a few days you are quite likely to suffer from constipation when you stop taking them.

b) A second group of pills fill up your stomach so that you don't feel like eating - or don't eat as much when you do sit down for a meal. The major disadvantage with these pills is that as soon as you stop taking them you will probably put back on all the weight you have lost (if you've lost any at all!).

c) Thirdly, there are those pills which contain a diuretic. A diuretic is a substance which encourages fluid loss. In my view these pills can be dangerous because they could damage your kidneys. And, of course, once you stop the pills you will put back on any weight that you have lost.

Myth 2. There are foods available which will burn up fat and help you lose weight without dieting
Over the years I have come across literally dozens of `wonder diets'. Many of them have been based on one or two particular foods which have been credited with remarkable, almost `magical', qualities. The only way to eat a healthy diet is to eat a balanced diet.

Myth 3. You can lose weight safely and effectively by taking slimming pills prescribed by a doctor
The only truly effective slimming pills - and there is no doubt that they really do work - are the ones which are available only on prescription. There is, as you might imagine, a snag. The snag is that the most effective slimming pills in the world are probably a group of drugs known as amphetamines - and these are extremely addictive. Many thousands of slimmers have taken these drugs, become hooked on them and found that it is extremely difficult to get off them.

Myth 4. Regularly attending an exercise class will help you lose weight, firm up your body and get the shape you want!
It is, of course, quite true that exercise will HELP you lose weight. But exercise alone won't enable you to lose vast amounts of weight. To get rid of one pound of fat you need to use up approximately 3,500 calories. You'll be able to see how hard it is to get rid of 3,500 calories through exercise when I tell you that even if you exercise very hard - running for example - you will only burn up around 500 calories an hour! During recent years I have heard claims that by doing the right types of exercise you can lose enormous amounts of weight. Exercise can help you to tone up muscles (and having toned up muscles will undoubtedly make you look slimmer) but I don't think it will make a dramatic difference to your total weight or suddenly ensure that you have a pert bottom or breasts as big and as firm as beach balls.

By all means use an exercise programme as part of a get fit programme (though do make sure that you talk to your doctor first, make sure that any exercise programme you start has been prepared by an expert, and always stop if you notice any pain or discomfort).

Exactly how many calories can you burn up exercising?

The number of calories you burn up during exercise depends on several factors - including the amount of effort you put into your exercise programme and your weight - but this table will give you a rough idea of the number of calories you can expect to burn up in a 30 minute exercise session.

Aerobics: 250
Body building: 150
Boxing: 250
Cycling: 225
Dancing: 150
Gardening: 125
Golf: 125
Housework: 150
Jogging: 200
Rowing: 250
Running: 250
Sex: 150
Skiing: 225
Squash: 250
Swimming: 150
Tennis: 200
Walking: 150

Myth 5. You can get rid of unwanted weight safely and quickly and permanently simply by visiting a surgeon and having a weight reducing operation!
There are many special operations available these days for would-be slimmers who want to lose weight more or less overnight. Here are two of the best known:

* Liposuction

Fat is sucked out of your body (usually from the thighs) with a tube and a piece of equipment which bears a passing resemblance to a sophisticated vacuum cleaner. The fat then collects in a jar and can be thrown away. You leave the clinic slimmer and lighter. I am extremely sceptical about the long-term effectiveness of liposuction. I think there are better ways to lose unwanted fat.

* Jaw wiring

The idea behind this particular operation is simply that if your mouth is closed you won't be able to eat very easily - and if you can't eat then you'll lose weight. The surgeon performing the operation uses steel wires to bind your two jaws together. The operation may produce a temporary weight loss but many of those who have tried it have simply put all their weight back on again when they have had their jaws unwired. Some people have even managed to have their jaws wired and NOT lose weight. One woman I know of discovered that by using her blender she could liquidise all her favourite foods and drink them through a straw poked in between the wires holding her jaws together.

Myth 6. You can lose unwanted weight by going on a low fluid diet.
The theory behind this diet is that many people put on weight because they drink too much fluid. I doubt if that is true. In my experience most people who are overweight are fat because they eat too much food. Fluid doesn't usually pay too large a part in their weight problem. I am extremely sceptical about this diet. Indeed, it worries me. I am sure that anyone who goes on a low fluid diet would lose weight. But I worry that by going on a low fluid diet they might put a strain on their kidneys. Besides, I can't see a low fluid diet offering anything more than a very short-term dieting success.

Myth 7. A no fat diet is the best way to lose weight
As the name suggests a `no fat' diet simply involves cutting out as much fat as you possibly can - avoiding fatty meat, dairy products and other foods which are rich in fat. At first glance this diet sounds very sensible. After all, fat is well known to be a killer - it is partly responsible for the high incidence of heart disease in the Western world. However, I don't think that cutting all the fat out of your diet is really the safe, effective way to lose weight permanently. Your body needs some fat. Without fat your hair will lose its lustre and your skin will soon become dry; more important you will become deficient in fat soluble vitamins A and D. You could even develop a serious mental disorder if you ate a diet which didn't contain enough fat.

Myth 8. A high fat diet is the best way to lose weight
I have to confess that I don't have the faintest idea why this diet ever became popular. But it has and diet experts regularly suggest that the best way to lose weight is to eat large amounts of butter, cheese, fatty meat, full-cream milk and other fatty foods. I regard this as a potentially dangerous diet. I have explained elsewhere the hazards of a high fat diet. If you followed a high fat diet you would probably develop diarrhoea. This would probably lead to a loss of fluids, vitamins and minerals and the long-term consequences could be exceedingly dangerous.

Myth 9. A low carbohydrate diet is the best way to lose weight
Too much carbohydrate will make you fat. But too little carbohydrate will lead to dizziness, tiredness, irritability and faintness. I don't like diets which involve an unbalanced food intake. And a low carbohydrate diet is, by definition, unbalanced.

Myth 10. A high carbohydrate diet is the most effective way to lose weight
Some carbohydrates are essential but a high carbohydrate diet makes absolutely no sense at all to me. I cannot see the point of it. Your body needs a balanced diet to survive in good condition. Even if a high carbohydrate diet helped you to lose weight temporarily you would eventually have to go back to a properly balanced diet - and then you would probably put back all the weight you had lost. The only sensible way to lose weight permanently is to learn proper, sensible eating habits.

Myth 11. The low protein diet
This diet bursts into prominence every few years. But I don't like it at all. In my view the real danger is that in order to achieve a real weight loss you would have to reduce your protein intake considerably. You would, indeed, have to lower it so far that your body started to break down its own protein stores. This, in turn, would mean that muscles would start to disappear. How do you know that your heart muscle won't be the first to suffer? In my view a low protein diet could be potentially fatal.

Myth 12. The high protein diet
In my view this is yet another potentially hazardous diet. I think the gravest danger with this diet is that it could put the kidneys under too much pressure. Anyone with a kidney disorder or a kidney infection might become seriously ill if they followed this diet. I think that in order to reduce the danger of kidney damage you would have to drink a lot of fluid - every day! And I rather suspect that the large quantities of fluid you would have to drink would probably mean that you might gain weight instead of losing it!

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2007

Find all you need to know about food and dieting in Food for Thought by Vernon Coleman (available from the shop on this website and from all good bookshops everywhere).