Written by Alex Parren, Nutritionist, Personal Trainer and Athlete
Can drinking lemon water really help you lose weight? Do carbs make you fat? These are the questions you may be asking yourself if you're currently on a weight loss journey.
The global weight loss industry is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, with people around the world trying to find ways to slim down and tone up. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there around fat loss and it can be easy to get confused about what’s true and what’s a myth.
We get the expert insight from Barney Linssen, a Sports Nutritionist with a Master of Science Degree who is registered with the British Dietetic Association, on the truth behind the most popular fat loss myths.
1. Starvation Mode
The Myth: People believe that at a point of eating too few calories, the body will go into ‘starvation mode’ and hold onto fat, therefore halting any weight loss progress.
The Facts: This myth has emerged from truth, as starvation mode is a real thing. However, it doesn’t work in the way most people think. Studies show that the metabolism does slow down when a person loses ‘massive’ amounts of weight and that the body enters a state of ‘adaptive thermogenesis’ in order to maintain energy balance.
Barney explains, “This downregulation of resting metabolic rate (RMR) is sometimes referred to as ‘metabolic damage’ and is suggested to be a key reason why people struggle to lose weight or end up regaining weight over time.” However, it’s unlikely that ‘starvation mode’ will be a key factor limiting weight loss.
Barney goes on to explain, “If we want to see if starvation mode is heightened and prevents dieters in severe cases of negative energy balance, we can look back to an extreme case of energy restriction in a study carried out towards the end of the second world war. The research project was carried out in Minnesota and sought to understand the effects of starvation and methods for rehabilitation. 36 participants underwent a severe weight loss diet over a 6-month period, resulting in around 25% body weight losses for participants (as well as a plethora of significant mental and physical side effects). While the results of this study are in no way desirable, it does serve as a reminder that energy balance above all else will determine gains and losses in body mass.”
2. Targeted Fat Loss
The Myth: Some people believe that you can lose weight in certain parts of the body by targeting just that part. For example, someone who wishes to lose belly fat may only do sit-ups and abdominal workouts in order to burn fat in that one area.
The Facts: Studies have found that spot reduction is a myth, and targeting one localised area of the body will not significantly affect regional fat mass.
Barney explains, “Unfortunately, we don’t get control over where our bodies store fat, and all the ab exercises in the world won’t burn stubborn tummy fat if we’re not creating an environment that will stimulate an overall reduction in body fat, i.e. an energy deficit.”
Spot reduction often sees people trying to target areas with relatively small muscles, such as the arms or abs, which results in modest energy expenditure. Barney explains, “In essence, even if your chosen exercise does promote fat-burning in a specific area, this will not result in a reduction of total body fat as your body is not being forced to turn to stored bodily tissue to meet its energy needs.”
Barney goes on to say, “My advice would be to focus on the types of exercise you enjoy and will stick to consistently. When it comes to selection of exercises in the gym, build 70-80% of your plan around compound exercises and fill the remaining 20-30% with exercises you feel will help fill any gaps in your development, whether this is from a fat loss or muscular development standpoint.”
3. Carbs Make You Fat
The Myth: Due to prevalence in popular culture (“Bread makes you fat!” being a direct quote from a popular 2010 movie) and a surge in low-carb diets, a very common misconception is that eating any amount of carbs will make you fat.
The Facts: The relationship of a low-carb diet to weight loss is double-edged. The myth that carbs will make you fat is indeed false, however it’s true that a low-carb diet could help you lose weight. What this means is that if you are currently at a healthy weight and exercise regularly, eating bread will definitely not ‘make you fat’. However, if you are overweight and thinking about trying to get healthier, reducing your carb intake could help.
Studies have found a relationship between low-carb diets and a healthier heart. However, when following a low-carb diet it’s incredibly important to make sure that your fat and protein sources are high quality. Superzeros cereal is low in carbs but high in protein, so could help you to lose weight and reduce cravings and hunger. Not only that, it’s sugar-free so won’t cause any nasty blood sugar spikes.
4. Skipping Breakfast Myth
The Myth: A lot of people believe in ‘fasted cardio’ and that skipping breakfast to work out on an empty stomach will help you burn more fat.
The Facts: Exercising on an empty stomach does have benefits, but only for specific applications. The most notable being marathon runners and other endurance athletes who need to train their body to perform well when running low on fuel. For the everyday exerciser, studies prove there is no difference to your fat loss whether you skip breakfast or not.
In fact, fuelling yourself with a healthy, protein-packed breakfast like Superzeros cereal could actually lead to improved performance and even (albeit minimally) enhanced fat loss, according to one study.
Barney explains, “If you have a hard morning training session planned, you’re likely to be able to push harder if you’re going into this session fuelled rather than fasted. Skipping breakfast entirely may also make it hard to achieve your key daily nutrition goals, for example if you’re aiming to eat a certain amount of protein per day. Skipping breakfast will make it harder to achieve this daily intake across only two meals and snacks.”
In short, while cutting out a meal does reduce your overall calorie intake in theory, if this results in increased hunger or cravings later in your day, it’s quite likely it won’t actually result in you consuming less, and in some cases it may even increase your calorie intake for the day.
5. Fat Loss Quick Fixes
The Myth: Particularly after a troubling video of Tom Daley was published saying he “tricks his body into thinking it’s going to get food”, people believe that drinking lemon water will speed up weight loss and help them get the washboard abs of an Olympic athlete.
The Facts: Tom Daley was widely criticised for the video, as it promotes disordered eating habits and most importantly - simply isn’t true. Barney says, “It’s important to acknowledge that losing weight is not easy and will require some level of compromise and discipline. But if the restriction is so extreme that you can only manage a week or two of the diet, it’s likely this will not work for your body composition goals longer term.”
It’s important to note that for this particular fad, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to back it up. A study was done in 2013 on animals to explore the relationship between lemon water and weight loss in mice, but this certainly does not translate over to humans.
As with many other fat loss myths, this one is based in some truth. Drinking more water is inarguably good for you, and many of us could stand to increase our daily water intake. A study from 2008 concluded that increased water intake can lead to reduced energy intake and therefore weight loss, however this is water - not specifically lemon water.
As with all weight loss plans, it’s important to remember that there are no shortcuts and you will be far more successful if you make healthy, wholesome habits that you can sustain for the long term.
About the author: Alex Parren is a Freelance Health & Fitness writer as well as a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.