There are many fat loss myths, or as I call them "Fat Loss Unicorns," that have little to no effect on your progress. Here's how to identify them, 5 of the biggest myths, and what to do instead.
Unicorns are awesome.
Seriously, they're freakn' magical horses that fly around and poop rainbows!
Unfortunately, unicorns are a fantasy... and unless Elon Musk finds them on Mars, we'll probably never see them frolicking around in everyday life...
You may be thinking to yourself, "Okay, why is this fitness guy still talking about unicorns, and how in the heck does this relate to helping me lose fat?"
There are a lot of myths surround fat loss diets and exercise. They're things that sound good in theory, but don't provide much, if any benefit. In some cases, they actually make losing weight harder!
I like to call these things "Fat Loss Unicorns," and in this article, you'll learn how to spot diet and exercise advice that is nothing more than a marketing lie or myth. You'll also learn about 5 of the biggest myths circulating the dieting world.
What Are Fat Loss Unicorns?
There are a lot of different ideas and opinions on how to lose fat. Some of these ideas are good and will help you reach your fitness goals faster or in a more enjoyable way.
But for every good idea, there seems to be one that is completely false or doesn't provide much, if any benefit to you...
These false ideas and myths are the Fat Loss Unicorns of the health & fitness world.
Fat Loss Unicorns Are Everywhere...
Fat Loss Unicorns are everywhere you look, and they come in many different forms:
- They're the "magic solution" products that stock the walls of your grocery store's diet isle
- The topic of a new viral Facebook article revealing the latest "scientific discovery" claiming to be the solution to all of your weight loss woes
- The new and flashy weight loss book you see on the Dr. Oz show
- Some weird piece of equipment that supposedly burns more fat than regular exercise
Fat Loss Unicorns either a) glorify a particular aspect of diet or exercise as the ultimate weight loss solution, and/or b) villanize a single aspect of diet or exercise as the cause of all our unwanted weight gain.
How to Spot a Fat Loss Unicron
Identifying a Fat Loss Unicorn can be tough, but there are a few simple ways to spot these myths before you end up wasting your money or putting effort into a lost cause.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when you're looking for Fat Loss Unicorns. (If a product or piece of advice does one or more of these things, it's safe to assume that it's a myth and likely not as effective as you're being told.)
Does It claim to be the single solution for losing weight?
If a diet or exercise routine touts itself as the only thing you need to do or change to lose weight, then you can pretty much write it off as a Fat Loss Unicorn.
While some strategies are better than others, the reality is that weight loss doesn't happen from a single change. Instead, it's about making many small diet and exercise changes that become habits over time.
Does it glorify a single component of diet or exercise?
"You have to detox your body with juicing!"
"You need to supplement with raspberry ketones to lose fat!"
"You need to eat [Insert food] for breakfast to kickstart your metabolism!"
"You have to be sore after working out. If not, you didn't work hard enough!"
If the phrases "you have to," "you must do," or "you need to include" are used to describe a single component of diet and exercises, chances are it's a Fat Loss Unicorn.
Remember, no single food or exercise is the solution.
Does it villanize a single component of diet or exercise?
"All sugar is evil!"
"Saturated fat is to blame!"
"It's gluten! That's the culprit!"
For the most part, no single food or style of exercise that's bad for our health. (unless you have a food allergy like lactose intolerance or autoimmune disease like celiac disease)
Rather, it's when we overindulge in certain foods or perform exercises incorrectly/that are too advanced that we run into problems.
The poison is in the dose.
Things like alcohol and candy can be a problem in excessive amounts. But if you use moderation, they're harmless when combined with an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle.
Can You Drink Alcohol and Still Burn Fat?
5 Fat loss Unicorns & What To Do Instead
Before I wrap this article up, I want to smack a big shiny red bow on it by going over five of the biggest and most prevailing Fat Loss Unicorns (i.e. myths).
Some of them are harmless in that they don't really help or hurt you, but a few are bad enough that they can easily end up negatively affecting your weight loss results!
Fat Loss Unicorn #1 - Sugar is Evil
With obesity on the rise, there's been a lot of finger-pointing going on. Right now, it's sugar that seems to be front and center.
Demonizing sugar is easy.
Study after study shows that the higher the sugar intake of a population, the greater percentage of diet-related health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Additionally, sugar seems to be the main ingredient in all of the foods that make us fat. Ice cream, cookies, cake, soda...those things are loaded with sugar!
The problem, though, is in assuming that ALL types and quantities of sugar are bad.
Those studies that show high sugar intakes leading to health issues? It's a correlation, which doesn't mean sugar directly CAUSES those issues...
Just because those populations are eating a lot of sugar doesn't mean that sugar is all to blame.
Populations that eat a lot of sugar ALSO tend to eat too many calories, eat more processed foods, eat very few fruits and veggies, and are mostly or entirely sedentary.
The Bottom Line: Sugar is only a problem in excessive amounts (which leads to too many calories) or when you're eating too many highly processed junk foods. If you are consuming few enough calories to be in a calorie deficit and eating plenty of micronutrient-dense foods, sugar will not negatively affect your fat loss.
Fat Loss Unicorn #2 - You Have To Eat Small Meals Throughout The Day
You may have heard that eating smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism revving so that your body burns fat instead of storing it.
This idea makes sense in theory - if you are eating small bits of food throughout the day, then you'd imagine your body would always be using the calories for energy.
Likewise, it seems that one big meal would result in excess calories being stored as fat.
However, this isn't the case...
There's no scientific proof that smaller and more frequent meals are better for burning fat than larger and less frequent ones.
In fact, one study set out to see if there was a difference in weight loss between dieters that consumed the same number of total calories, but different frequencies of meals. The meals per day ranged anywhere from 17 meals to one large meal. (source)
They found that there was no difference in weight loss between the groups.
This means that you could eat 17 meals or 1 meal per day and as long as the calories match, you'll lose the same amount of weight.
The Bottom Line: The number of meals you eat per day is irrelevant for losing weight. The only thing that matters is your total calorie intake at the end of the day. In my experience, I've observed that most of my clients do best with 2-5 meals per day.
Fat Loss Unicorn #3 - You Need To Cut Carbs
A surprisingly high number of people I've interacted with think that carbs are evil and cause weight gain.
Yes, too many carbs will lead to weight gain, but not for the reason most people think. Similar to sugar, it's the excess calories that come from eating too many carbs that result in extra fat.
Carbs are also similar to sugar in that many foods high in carbohydrates are foods people tend to overeat.
Things like bread, pasta, chips, and cookies are all high in carbs and sugar and typically low in fiber and protein - both of which help fill you up.
Think about how much easier it would be to overeat cookies and cake as opposed to high-fiber vegetables (i.e. broccoli) or high-protein foods (i.e. chicken breast).
When people lose weight from cutting carbs, one or all of these things tend to happen:
- They naturally consume fewer calories
- They end up eating more protein (which increases fullness)
- They include more vegetables in their diet (which increases their fiber and micronutrient intake)
- They stop overeating and snacking (since most convenient snack foods are high in fiberless carbs)
The Bottom Line: Carb cutting works because it leads to fewer total calories, more protein, more veggies, and less snacking. Instead of cutting out carbs, you'd get the same benefits from simply reducing your calories and eating more protein, fiber, and micronutrient-rich foods.
Fat Loss Unicorn #4 - Cardio is a MUST
One of the most misguided beliefs people have about losing weight is that they have to do tons of cardio to see results.
There's no denying that cardio has many health benefits, but weight loss just isn't really one of them...
Sure, cardio helps you burn more calories, but people who use cardio alone to lose weight tend to do one or both of these two things. They either replace the calories they burn by eating more later or they subconsciously move less the rest of the day.
The Bottom Line: If your goal is fat loss, focus on diet first and then cardio. If you want to get the most fat loss benefit from your exercise plan, this is the approach I recommend.
Fat Loss Unicron #5 - You Have To Eat Breakfast
Breakfast... the most important meal of the day, right?
Many people believe that skipping breakfast is unhealthy and leads to weight gain. Heck, there's even research showing how breakfast skippers tend to weigh more. (source)
The problem, though, is similar to the studies I mentioned earlier that looked at sugar intake and disease. People who regularly skip breakfast tend to ALSO have other unhealthy diet habits.
While eating breakfast (especially one high in protein) may help regulate your hunger during the day, skipping it will NOT make you gain weight or slow down your metabolism.
The Bottom Line: Whether or not you choose to eat breakfast should be up to you and your personal preferences. Similar to meal frequency, what matters for weight loss is the total number of calories you're consuming over the course of the day.
As much as I hate to say it, I don't think we are going to see these Fat Loss Unicorns disappear anytime soon...
The Health and Diet Industry is a profitable business, and it relies on sexy and flashy claims to sell the newest supplements, diet books, and workout equipment.
Luckily, you now know what to do when a Fat Loss Unicorn presents itself to you. If something:
- Claims to be the single solution to losing weight
- Glorifies a particular component of diet and exercise
- Villainizes a particular component of diet and exercise
Then your Fat Loss Unicorn radar should start going off...
Stick to the fundamentals of weight loss...
- Eating in a calorie deficit
- Include plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole foods in your diet
- Consuming a decent amount of protein
- Use cardio sparingly, and focus on strength training to build muscle
If you do those things consistently and continually learn and grow your knowledge of fitness, then I guarantee you'll lose weight and build the body (and health) of your dreams!
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