Follow common fat-burning folklore, and you may very well find yourself crafting an elaborate plan involving hours of sit-ups, diet supplements, and meals comprised of nothing but celery. Misconceptions about metabolism are so wide-spread that following them can lead to a lot of work with very little to show for it. Here’s a quick look at seven common fat-burning myths, debunked from YahooHealth.
Myth: Eating before bed makes you fat
Fact: It’s true that nighttime eating seems to be correlated with weight gain. A small study looking at the food habits of just over 100 people using a computer-operated vending machine showed that those who ate between 11:00 PM and 6:00 AM gained about 14 more pounds than non-nighttime eaters.
However, nighttime snackers also ate about 500 more calories per day, which suggests that those extra pounds may have more to do with how much they ate than when they ate.
This isn’t to say that binging on a pint of ice cream or a whole bag of potato chips right before bed is a good idea. If you do eat at night, make sure to watch your portion size, stick with high-quality food and consider what you ate throughout the day.
Myth: Slow metabolism is the main cause of weight gain
Fact: Food intake and physical activity are far bigger determinants of weight gain than metabolism.
It is true that some diseases, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome, slow down metabolism and lead to weight gain—but these circumstances are less likely than putting on pounds due to a lack of exercise and unhealthy food choices or portion sizes.
Myth: Thin, fit people have a higher resting metabolism
Fact: Actually, the opposite is true. “The notion that overweight people have a slower metabolism is a myth. In general, the higher a person’s weight, the higher the body’s metabolic rate.,” Dr. Donald Hensrud explains on MayoClinic.org. This explains in part why it’s easier to lose the first 10 pounds than the last 10.
Myth: Foods such as celery and lettuce have “negative calories,” requiring your body to burn more calories digesting them than these foods contain
Fact: It’s true that your body burns some calories in digesting food, but there have been no reputable studies proving that eating celery or any other foods creates a caloric deficit. Although it is theoretically possible, the impact on your overall food intake would be miniscule. “If you substitute celery for cookies and pretzels, and those were things that were putting you over the top in terms of weight then yes, you will lose weight,” Cathy Nonas, a former researcher at the federally funded Obesity Research Center, told the New York Times. “But you’re not going to lose weight by chewing celery a couple times a day if you’re not exercising and changing what else you eat.”
In addition, it’s important to eat a wide variety of foods in order to get the important nutrients you need. Bottom line: a balanced diet and exercise is more effective for weight loss than so-called negative calorie foods.
Myth: Sit-ups are the best way to whittle your waistline
Fact: It’s true that sit-ups burn calories, just as any exercise does. A 160-lb. person, for example, can burn around 10 calories for each minute of vigorous sit-ups.
But aerobic interval training, in which you alternate intense activity with light activity or rest periods, is actually the best way to torch calories and lose weight (combined, of course, with a healthy diet.)
Interval training, in fact, is more effective at fat-burning and improving fitness than moderately intensive physical activity, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed. Participants who used interval training burned more fat and improved their cardiovascular fitness by 13 percent.
Myth: Each pound of muscle burns 100 or more calories per day
Fact: 10 kilograms (roughly 22 pounds) of lean mass translate to a difference in energy expenditure of about 100 calories a day, Robert Wolfe wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. That means a pound of muscle burns less than a quarter of a calorie per day. Obesity researcher Claude Bouchard from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center has a slightly higher estimate—a pound of muscle burns six calories a day at rest, four pounds more per day than fat does,he told the L.A. Times.
Myth: Diet supplements are a harmless way to jumpstart weight loss
Fact: Let the buyer beware. Diet supplements are often ineffective, and can even be hazardous to your health. Beware of claims like, “Melt your fat away” or “Magic diet pill,” says the Food and Drug Administration. Supplement companies are not required to prove that their products are safe or effective, and are barred from claiming weight-loss benefits beyond those you’d get from cutting calories alone.
“These [OTC weight-loss] products are not legal dietary supplements,” warns Michael Levy, director of the FDA’s Division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance. “They are actually very powerful drugs masquerading as ‘all-natural’ or ‘herbal’ supplements, and they carry significant risks to unsuspecting consumers.”
“We have seen deaths associated with these weight-loss products,” emphasizes Levy. “Make no mistake—they can kill you.” To avoid being defrauded—or harmed, visit the FDA’s consumer page on weight-loss supplements. And remember: the best—and safest—way to slim down is through a healthy reduced-calorie diet and regular exercise.