The Truth About Losing Weight Doctors Wish Everyone Knew

When it comes to dieting, misconceptions can sometimes overshadow scientific advice. Some people think that losing weight involves cutting out all sweets and avoiding fats, but doctors beg to differ. Professional guidance doesn’t follow diet trends.

Doctors, Nutritionists, and Dietitians have openly shared their advice on snacking, sweets, and which exercises help the most. Their statements are all backed by research, and they may contradict what you’ve previously heard. Once you learn what doctors wish you knew about weight loss, your journey will become more fruitful.

Another Person’s Diet May Not Work For You

Woman shops at a grocery store

From Keto to Paleo, diet trends change every year. But just because they work for one person doesn’t mean that they’ll work for you. According to physician Dr. Larry Burchett, the data proves that there’s no significant difference between two healthy diets. “You have to do what works for you,” Burchett recommends.

Some of the few similarities between successful diets include: eating regularly (not skipping meals or eating too little), balancing your meals, and exercising consistently. Other than that, you should find a diet that fits your lifestyle and incorporates the foods you enjoy.

Find A Doctor Who Truly Cares

Gynecology department acting head Mikhail Tsurtsumiya at the perinatal center of Konchalovsky Hospital
Gavriil GrigorovTASS via Getty Images
Gavriil GrigorovTASS via Getty Images

Unfortunately, not all doctors take the time to help their heavier patients. In 2013, a study in the journal Obesity found that physicians are more likely to direct negative attitudes towards overweight and obese patients. “I have colleagues that are just saying, ‘Just lose weight and then come back and see me,'” admits Dr. Brunilda Nazario, an obesity specialist.

If your doctor doesn’t give you the attention you deserve, don’t hesitate to switch physicians. Caring doctors will make the most of your 20-minute appointments, or they’ll recommend you to another specialist.

Not All Calories Are Created Equal

Calories are listed next to menu items at a Chipotle Mexican Grill
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

“Calories are not just calories,” asserts Dr. Caroline Apovian, Director of Nutrition and Weight Management at the Boston Medical Center. Some foods are high in calories but still help us lose weight. For instance, one study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that olive oil–which has 119 calories per tablespoon–helps to lower fat by 80% compared to soybean oil.

“Having a calorie limit is a good idea, but it’s critical to meet that goal with as many healthy choices as possible,” advises Dr. Apovian. As you choose your meals, keep in mind that you need calories to nourish your body and promote a healthy metabolism.

Snacking Isn’t Bad For You

Sheriss Chacon and her brother Shawn Chacon watch as Eden Roc Renaissance Resort & Spa chef Patrick Barthelemy makes a healthy snack
Joe Raedle/ Getty Images
Joe Raedle/ Getty Images

Some people have suggested that eating more frequently boosts your metabolism, or that eating in between meals harms it. Science doesn’t support either of these conclusions. During a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that eating the same amount of calories with two meals and seven meals didn’t change weight loss results.

According to The British Journal of Nutrition, snacking doesn’t affect your weight as long as you’re within your calorie limit. Dr. Fisher personally recommends snacking to avoid over-eating later. “I recommend nuts, seeds, fruits, yogurt, cheese sticks, air-popped popcorn, and low-sugar granola bars,” she says.

Don’t Throw Away Your Sweets Just Yet

People eat pieces of cake in a tea room.
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When some people begin a diet, they start by removing all desserts, chips, and junk food. But experts are never against dessert. “Everyone should allow themselves a daily treat,” says Registered Dietitian and nutrition expert Sarah-Jane Bedwell. “There is no reason why a 100- or 200-calorie snack can’t fit into a healthy diet.”

Eating sweets releases chemicals in the brain that help you feel good, according to nutritionists. This mood boost can motivate people to work harder at their healthy diet. Some sweets, such as dark chocolate, can also benefit your health overall.

Muscle Adds Weight, But It’ll Help In The Long Run

A young Asian girl works out in a gym.
Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images
Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you’ve started exercising after a while of being sedentary, you might not notice any weight change for a while. This is due to developing muscle. But don’t worry; you’ll want more muscle to lose fat quickly. “Every pound of muscle burns 7-10 calories per day, just so it can maintain itself,” says Registered Dietitian Scott Keatley.

The more muscle you build, the longer your workouts will become, and the more calories you’ll burn. Beware of rapid weight loss within the first couple of weeks; this may signal that you’re losing muscle instead of fat because of inadequate nutrition.

Diet Is More Important Than Exercise

Woman hands cutting carrots on wooden board and fresh spring vegetables for vegetarian cooking on the table
Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Just because you burn calories at the gym doesn’t mean that you can eat anything you want. Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Suzanne Fisher says that diet makes up 80% of weight loss. When planning your diet, prioritize your meal choices.

Michele Olson, professor of physical education and exercise at Auburn University, says that you can technically lose weight through diet alone. However, exercise is still an important component. Dr. Olson emphasizes that, without exercise, you risk stripping weight away from muscle and bone density.

You CAN Reduce Food Cravings

Girl eating an ice-cream outside the McDonalds McDrive restaurant
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In 2018, researchers from Louisiana State University examined 28 studies on diet and cravings. They discovered that cravings don’t have to do with what our body “needs;” it’s what our body remembers. It’s a conditioned response that your body can unlearn over time.

The research states that two primary techniques can lower cravings. One is eating the food less. If your body doesn’t remember the taste, it won’t crave the food. On the flip-side, eating healthy foods frequently develops cravings for those foods. The other method is to shrink your stomach by not overeating. If you’re not hungry, you won’t crave sweets.

Stressing About Your Diet Makes It Worse

Man focuses on his laptop in a coffee shop

In 2018, a study published in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry stated that stress makes it harder to lose weight. Stress hormones prevent insulin sensitivity and stop fat from transforming into energy. According to psychologist Rachel Goldman, stress increases cortisol, which makes us crave comfort foods.

Highly intense emotions such as stress consume much of the body’s energy. When your brain grapples with responsibilities, it doesn’t have room to process anything else. If you’re working through stress, you may want to tackle your emotions before starting a new diet.

Fat In Foods Is Not Your Enemy

Three bowls of nuts on a table

Fats aren’t the enemy that some people have made them out to be. In food, there are several types of fat. One study, called the POUNDS LOST trial, discovered that people on high-fat and low-fat diets achieved the same results. The results depend on eating “healthy” fats and avoiding cholesterol-raising trans fats.

Monounsaturated fat is the “healthiest of all fats,” according to senior UCLA Dietitian Dana Hunnes. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3s and omega-6s, the healthy fats found in fish and plant-based oils. “Full-fat dairy products, nuts, and plant-based fats promote weight loss, not inhibit it,” explains Dietitian and Nutritionist Eliza Savage.

Lack Of Sleep Can Inhibit Your Progress

Man watches laptop, unable to fall asleep

Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Those who don’t receive that will become “metabolically groggy,” according to researchers at the University of Chicago. In their study, they found that tired bodies conserved more fat. Also, insulin sensitivity–the process which converts food into energy–dropped by over 30%.

When we’re tired, we’re more tempted to skip exercise and snack more. Research in the 2008 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted that sleep-deprived people were more likely to snack late at night and choose fatty, sugary treats. Aim for regular sleep if you want to avoid this fate.

Your Medications Could Be Hindering Your Progress

A patient holds capsules near a glass of water.
Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Several chronic medications may cause weight gain, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Some of these include antidepressants, epilepsy medicines, hormone influencers such as birth control, blood pressure-reducing medications, and asthma treatments.

These medications will make your weight loss journey harder. “If one needs to be on chronic medications, it’s best to be on weigh- neutral or weight-negative alternatives,” says Dr. Fiola Sowemimo. If you think your medication has caused weight gain, talk to your doctor. You can possibly switch to a weight-neutral or weight-negative alternative.

It’s Not Easy To Exercise Off Treats

Man holds a lit birthday cake in low light.

While consistent exercise efficiently destroys calories, burning off a dessert takes longer than most people think. The Royal Society for Public Health demonstrated how long it takes to burn off food by running or walking. According to them, one bar of milk chocolate requires a 42-minute walk or a 22-minute run.

On top of that, Harvard researchers learned that most people underestimate the calories of fast food meals. About 25% of participants underestimated a McDonald’s meal by 500 calories. Before you treat yourself, think about whether you’ll be willing to exercise it off later.

Eating While Distracted Can Be Detrimental

Woman using her phone before eating.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Recently, nutritionists have recommended eating slower to feel fuller. During a 2013 study, scientists discovered that eating while distracted–watching TV, scrolling through your phone, or playing video games–leads to eventual weight gain.

Distracted eating causes people to eat more since they aren’t focusing on when they’re full. Researchers have also found that people who focus on their meals feel fuller afterward. “Mindful eating is a fundamental part of losing weight and keeping it off,” asserts Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Gisela Bouvier.

Aim For A New Lifestyle, Not A Number

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“I wish clients understood that losing weight is about more than the number on the scale,” says Nutritionist Chanté Wiegand, Director of Education at The Synergy Company. To lose weight for good, you’ll have to change your diet, habits, and exercise routine permanently, she adds.

According to Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Wesley Delbridge, healthy weight loss only sheds one to two pounds a week. Losing weight rapidly sends your body into survival mode, causing it to store more fat and gain weight soon after. “It’s a marathon and not a sprint,” Dr. Delbridge told Men’s Health.

Keeping A Food Journal Will Double Your Progress

Person writes in a diary in a coffee shop

Many nutritionists have recommended keeping a food diary to record your daily meals and calorie count. While this might sound extraneous, science proves that it works. In 2008, researchers from Kaiser Permanente examined people who used a food diary and found that they lost more pounds than previous studies.

“The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost,” said lead author and researcher Jack Hollis. If you don’t want to keep a formal journal, the researchers say just writing it down helps. Use a Post-It note, email, or the notes app on your phone to motivate yourself.

You’re Probably Eating Too Quickly

Woman eats pizza at a restaurant and drinks beer

Eating quickly creates a similar result to distracted eating. During a 2019 study, Japanese researchers discovered that fast eaters were 89% more likely to develop metabolic syndrome over five years. All fast eaters experienced high blood sugar and weight gain, according to Circulation.

“When people eat fast, they tend not to feel full and are more likely to overeat,” says Dr. Takayuki Yamaji, the study’s lead author. Sipping water in between bites can slow your eating and help you feel fuller. Some people slow down their eating by using chopsticks instead of forks.

Use Smaller Plates

Hungry Monkey restaurant says downsizing plates by 2 inches reduce an individuals food intake by up to 22 percent
Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images
Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images

You can eat all the healthy food in the world, but if you don’t control your portions, you’ll still gain weight. Psychologist and exercise scientist Eamonn Leaver recommends eating off of smaller plates, which will force you to limit your portions. A 2013 study proved that eating off smaller plates forced participants to eat fewer calories.

“Portion control is so underrated in weight loss,” Leaver says. Like a food diary, dishing smaller portions forces people to self-monitor. Even taking pictures of your food before eating can help you eat less, according to a 2008 study in the International Journal of Consumer Studies.

Fiber Is Your Best Friend

Kristine Cera and Anna Fogelmane eat strawberries and cream
Stephen Pond – PA Images via Getty Images
Stephen Pond – PA Images via Getty Images

Not only does fiber help your gut, but it also helps you feel fuller. A study from Nutrition found that high-fiber diets make people eat less. It also helps the body absorb nutrients and breaks down sugar. “Having a diet high in fiber is an incredible way to lose weight,” says Registered Dietitian Brooke Zigler.

Dr. Zigler recommends 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men. Along with weight loss, researchers from Australia’s Westmead Institute found that high-fiber diets give you an 80% higher chance of living longer.

Before You Buy, Read The Nutrition Label

A bottle of baby food with improper nutrition label is shown in press conference of the Consumer Council in North Point.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Even “low fat” foods can have a lot of sugar. Know exactly what you’re eating by checking the nutrition label before you buy it. The American Heart Associations recommends choosing foods with low (less than 5% Daily Value) trans fat, sodium, and saturated fat. The top three ingredients listed are the most prevalent in the dish.

“Focus on the ingredients, not the numbers,” says Certified Holistic Health Coach Tanuja Paruchuri. She adds that the worst ingredient is sugar. Some other names for sugar include can juice, fructose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, and dextrose.