I wrote this blog post for my community health class, and I thought y'all out there in the interwebs might find it interesting. It's a good follow-up to my last post about weight loss, too.
As is often the case, I got this article from my dad. He had and has the same issues as me with weight loss, and so we’re both always interested in new research and information. This article uses a review of obesity-related myths as a jumping-off point to consider why theories about weight loss are so scattered. Author Gina Kolata primarily quotes David B. Allison, the director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Allison, who participated in the review, said that more often than not, scientific evidence backing these claims is unconvincing or absent, regardless of the simplicity of the necessary study. He specifically references the idea that weighing oneself every day helps with weight maintenance. The claim apparently lacks proof backing it up, despite Allison’s noting how easy the study would be: “Take a couple of thousand people and randomly assign them to weigh themselves every day or not.”
I hadn’t quite realized how many myths exist surrounding weight loss. I have, of course, heard many of them, but it’s distressing to realize how many commonplace theories are unsubstantiated. I was particularly struck by the concept of “reasonableness bias,” where a piece of advice sounds so reasonable, it must be true. Or, at the very least, couldn’t possibly be false. I’ve definitely fallen prey to this before. Breakfast is a good example: start your day with a good breakfast and you’ll be thinner. It makes sense – if you consume more of your calories earlier in the day, you have the whole day to burn them off, right? According to Allison, the data on breakfast doesn’t prove a causal link between weight and breakfast-consumption, but only studied people who already happened to eat breakfast. I think people might assume that “reasonable” advice must already have been proven, else it wouldn’t be so commonly heard.
I found the myths that were examined to be fascinating. They are as follows:
Ideas not yet proven TRUE OR FALSE
FACTS — GOOD EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT
I have heard all of these at some point or another. When I considered where I heard them, a lot of them came up in testimonials from people who had lost a lot of weight. “I cut out snacking and I lost weight.” “I’m healthy today because my parents fed me healthy food.” “I changed little things, and it made a big difference.” The key point, however, is that nothing works for everyone who tries it. Everyone who says that such and such helped them lose so many pounds has probably omitted all the other things they tried to do first that failed, and all the other little things they changed as well. Someone who just walked a mile a day probably also drank more water, maybe ate a little healthier. It’s impossible to establish which pieces of advice will work for which people. The advice may be given at the wrong time. At the beginning of this semester, I decided to retry a diet I’d done back in my junior year of high school. It didn’t stick then, and I gained back the weight I’d lost. This time around, however, I’ve been consistently losing weight, and pretty happily changing my eating habits in a way I think is sustainable in the long term. The advice, meal plan, and information didn’t change much, but for whatever reason, I was more ready to implement them. Every myth listed above is trying to find a “magic bullet” solution to obesity, but it’s not there. Look at the list of facts carefully: none of them say “everyone” or “always.” They are qualified advice. Important, better, helps, in some people. If there were a perfect formula, no one would be overweight.