You hear a new get-thin-quick promise on social media nearly every day. Do this workout! Give up that snack! Only eat grapefruit! But we're calling BS on many of them. Here, we asked experts to share the silliest, unhealthiest, and just plain wrong weight-loss tips they've ever heard.
Bad Advice: Always Choose Low-Fat Instead of Full-Fat
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Why it's wrong: "The low-fat craze of the '90s and 2000s has left a lot of people thinking that they have to eat low-fat everything in order to lose weight," says Lindsay Livingston, R.D., of The Lean Green Bean. "In reality, when you take the fat out, you have to replace it with something else to keep the taste, and that usually means adding a lot more sugar or salt." Not to mention, fat could actually help you lose weight. A 2014 study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found a low-carb diet trumps a low-fat diet when it comes to weight loss. The low-carb dieters in the study lost an extra 8 pounds over the course of 12 months even though the two groups stuck to a similar number of calories.
Bad Advice: Indulge In a Cheat Day Once a Week
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Why it's wrong: Eating healthy six days a week and then digging into what you've been missing on day seven is a pretty common dieting practice. But in reality, the plan could undermine your weight-loss efforts altogether. "Psychologically, the idea that you are 'cheating' on something, that you are saving up some day to go hog wild and eat whatever you want, is not a very healthy one," says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., the plant-powered dietitian and author of Plant-Powered for Life. "This idea sets up negative feelings about food and health in one's mind." This way of thinking also suggests the diet is temporary rather than a lifestyle you can stick to for the long haul, she adds. Instead, treat yourself in moderation each day.
Bad Advice: Everyone Should Go Vegan or Vegetarian
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Why it's wrong: "Many people assume that switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet means they will automatically lose weight," says Tory Tedrow, R.D., C.N.S.C, head nutritionist of SugarChecked. It's true that vegan and vegetarian diets are heavy on fruits and vegetables, but not all of the approved foods are virtuous. "There are plenty of vegan junk foods—Oreos, potato chips, Cracker Jacks, to name a few," says Tedrow. Plus, vegans and vegetarians may be prone to loading up on unhealthy carbs, like bread and pasta, to satisfy their hunger when nixing animal protein.
Bad Advice: Avoid Fruit—It's Loaded with Sugar
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Why it's wrong: Eating a cup of grapes isn't the same as grabbing a handful of Nerds. "Yes, fruit contains sugar, but it also contains fiber and vitamins and minerals, nutrients that your body needs to support weight loss," says Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., author of Nourish Your Namaste and The Foodie Dietitian Blog. "It's important to look at the entire nutrient package of foods when it comes to weight loss and not just focus on one single component." Certain fruits can even help with weight management: A BMJ study published earlier this year found eating high-flavonoid fruits, like apples, pears, and berries, helps with weight control.
Bad Advice: Eat 6 Meals a Day
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Why it's wrong: This weight-loss strategy challenges the three-meals-a-day concept, but it turns out it's more about what and how much you're eating rather than whether you prefer big meals or small ones. "There is simply no evidence to support this," says Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., chef and creator of Clean Eating Cooking School and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. "While you probably will feel better and more energized if you spread three meals throughout the day and sprinkle in a couple snacks to curb a growling stomach, for normal, healthy individuals without medical conditions, there is no need to force yourself to eat six meals per day."
Bad Advice: Do a Juice Cleanse
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Why it's wrong: "You don't need to drink disgusting juice for a week and suffer through headaches and hunger to detox," says Lydon. "Our bodies are innately designed to detox—that's what the liver is for." Plus, sipping your meals for a week means you'll miss out on protein, and your body will start to break down muscle tissue, says Caroline Cederquist, M.D., metabolism and weight-loss expert and founder of BistroMD. That becomes even worse when you consider veggies turn into simple carbohydrates (sugar, essentially) when they're juiced. "So juice-fasters are losing muscle and having simple sugars as the only source of calories," Cederquist says. Which could negatively affect blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Bad Advice: Eat Whatever You Want—So Long As You Exercise
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Why it's wrong: We all want a free pass to indulge, but spending 45 minutes on the elliptical isn't going to cut it. "When it comes to weight loss, diet is king," says Tedrow. A 2014 meta-analysis published in Systematic Reviews looked at whether diet, exercise, or diet plus exercise had the greatest long-term effect on your health. Turns out, diet was a much more effective way to lose weight and fat than exercise alone, though diet plus exercise was even better. "Unfortunately, most people (and exercise machines) overestimate the number of calories burned during a workout, which gives people a false sense of 'I can eat anything,' which can actually lead to weight gain," he says.
Bad Advice: Do Whatever Worked for Your BFF
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Why it's wrong: Weight-loss tips that say everyone and anyone will benefit from avoiding a certain food or eating at certain times of the day should be warning signs, says Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D.N., nutrition expert and strategist. "We all have a unique makeup of genes, cultural and family background, medical and metabolic needs, and even a daily routine that determines the dietary pattern best suited for us," she says. A study from Arizona researchers found that even when study participants were restricted to the same number of calories, some people lost significantly more weight than others, likely due to differences in their biological makeup.
Bad Advice: Go Paleo
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Why it's wrong: Any diet that eliminates entire food groups should be a no-no, says Dina Garcia, R.D., L.D.N., dietitian-nutritionist and mindful eating coach. "There is nothing wrong with eating legumes and 100 percent whole grains," she says. "In fact, they are quite healthy and can aid in cholesterol and weight management." A meta-analysis published earlier this year found eating beans, lentils, chickpeas, and dried peas can actually aid in weight-loss efforts.
Bad Advice: Follow Beyoncé's Diet and You'll Look Like Beyoncé
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Why it's wrong: Queen Bee, who has now gone vegan, made news when she drank a potion of maple syrup, lemon juice, water, and cayenne pepper to lose weight for Dreamgirls. And while we usually praise everything she does, this weight-loss method just isn't worth the hype. "In reality, this diet is just ridiculous," says Nichola Whitehead, registered dietitian and author of Nic's Nutrition. "It's lacking in essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, fiber, vital vitamins and minerals, and calories that are needed for optimal bodily function and energy levels." You'll likely see a temporary drop in weight because you're losing glycogen and water, but it's not sustainable. You'll have to put up with extreme headaches, exhaustion, and a reduced metabolism as your body tries to conserve energy, she says.
Bad Advice: Don't Eat After 8 P.M.
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Why it's wrong: It comes down to simple math. "Eating more calories than you are burning will lead to weight gain, not the time of day when those calories are consumed," says Lauren Simmons, R.D., of Core Dynamics. In other words, if you get caught up at work and don't have a chance to sit down for dinner until 9 p.m., don't sweat it. "Just try to make the last meal of the day a balanced one with healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates," Simmons suggests. (These late-night snacks are a healthy choice that won't wreck the day's progress.)
Bad Advice: Swear Off Gluten
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Why it's wrong: You'll likely lose weight when you eliminate gluten-laden cakes, cookies, and bread, but it's probably the result of slashing calories rather than gluten, says Jennifer Christman, R.D.N., L.D.N., a corporate dietitian for Medifast. If you don't have a real gluten intolerance or celiac disease, you're teaching your body to forget how to process gluten. "The reality is the human body has been processing gluten for centuries and if you stop eating it, you could be missing out on whole grains that have been shown to benefit your health," she says. (Essentially, stop feeling guilty about eating bread!)
Bad Advice: Don't Snack Between Meals
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Why it's wrong: Snacking can actually keep you on track and prevent blood sugar roller coasters that leave you hangry, says Cassie Bjork, R.D., L.D., of Dietitian Cassie. "When you don't snack, your body learns to live in 'starvation mode,' and your metabolism slows down as your body adjusts and compensates," she says. "Your body then hangs onto extra energy at meals by turning it into fat because it's expecting that it will need that fat in case you don't eat for a while." Just choose your snacks wisely: A mix of protein, healthy fat, and vegetable and fruit carbohydrates every few hours will keep your metabolism running, Bjork says.