Ten weight loss myths

Feet on a scale

So much is said about losing weight that it can be hard to sort fact from fiction. Here's the truth about 10 common weight loss myths.

Recommended physical activity levels for adults

Adults who are overweight are likely to need to do more than the recommended amount of activity to lose weight, and this activity should be accompanied by changes to diet.

1. Starving myself is the best way to lose weight

Crash diets are unlikely to result in long-term weight loss. In fact, they can sometimes lead to longer term weight gain. The main problem is that this type of diet is too hard to maintain. Your body will be low on energy, causing you to crave high-fat and high-sugar foods. When you finally give in and eat those foods, you will often eat more calories than you need, causing weight gain. Learn more about a healthy diet in Eight tips for healthy eating.

2. A radical exercise regime is the only way to lose weight

Not true. Successful weight loss involves making small changes that you can stick to for a long time. That means building regular physical activity into your daily routine. Adults between 19 and 64 should get at least 150 minutes of physical activity – such as fast walking or cycling – every week, and those who are overweight are likely to need more than this to lose weight. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. This can be achieved by eating less, moving more or, best of all, a combination of both. Try the 12-week NHS weight loss plan.

3. Slimming pills are effective for long-term weight loss

No, they're not. Slimming pills alone will not help you keep the weight off long term. They should only be used when prescribed by a doctor.

4. Healthy foods are more expensive

In fact, healthy foods are not necessarily more expensive than their unhealthy alternatives. You'll typically pay more for a high-fat, high-salt ready meal than you would if you had bought fresh ingredients and made the meal yourself.

5. Foods labelled 'low fat' or 'reduced fat' are always a healthy choice

Be cautious. Foods labelled "low fat" have to meet legal criteria to use that label. Labels such as "reduced fat" do not have to meet the same criteria and can be misleading. A reduced-fat snack should contain less fat than the full-fat version, but that doesn't automatically make it a healthy choice: it could still contain a lot more fat than, say, a portion of fruit. Low-fat foods also sometimes contain high levels of sugar. Learn more in Fat: the facts.

'Eaten in the right quantities, carbohydrates will not cause weight gain'

6. Margarine contains less fat than butter

Margarine and butter contain different types of fat. Margarine is usually lower in saturated fat than butter. But it's more likely to contain hydrogenated fats. Hydrogenated fats, also called trans fats, may be more harmful to health than saturated fats. To lose weight, and for a healthy heart, reduce the amount of saturated and hydrogenated fats you eat. If oil in margarine has been hydrogenated, this has to be listed on the ingredient listing on packaging, so check labels carefully. Learn more in Eat less saturated fat.

7. Carbohydrates make you put on weight

Eaten in the right quantities, carbohydrates will not cause weight gain. A 2003 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that dieters on the best-known low-carb diet, the Atkins diet, tended to lose weight not because they ate fewer carbohydrates, but simply because they ate less overall. Eat whole grain and wholemeal carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholemeal bread, and don't fry starchy foods when trying to lose weight. Learn more in Starchy foods.

8. Cutting out all snacks can help you lose weight

Snacking isn't the problem when trying to lose weight: it's the type of snack. Many people need a snack in-between meals to maintain energy levels, especially if they have an active lifestyle. Choose fruit or vegetables instead of crisps, chocolate and other snacks that are high in sugar or saturated fat.

9. Drinking water helps you lose weight

Water does not cause you to lose weight, but it does keep you hydrated and might help you snack less. Water is essential for good health and wellbeing. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger – if you're thirsty you may snack more. The Department of Health recommends that we should drink about 1.2 litres of fluid every day. Learn more in Water and drinks.

10. Skipping meals is a good way to lose weight

Skipping meals is not a good idea. To lose weight and keep it off, you have to reduce the amount of calories you consume or increase the calories you burn through exercise. But skipping meals altogether can result in tiredness and poor nutrition. You will also be more likely to snack on high-fat and high-sugar foods, which could result in weight gain.

Page last reviewed: 20/09/2013

Next review due: 20/09/2015


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The 27 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Dali S said on 31 May 2014

1. Hey NHS,

thanks very much for the article.

2. Those 10 weight-loss myths make total sense for me although I would add the myth of being to inconsistent about the weight-loss.

3. What helped me a lot in order to get more consistent and motivated with my exercises were plenty blogs and article. Thanks again,


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Cazzers123 said on 04 March 2014

Hi bigjeeze, the best way to restrain yourself is to write yourself out a diet plan, carefully counting the calories as you go, how much you are allowed of x food and ensuring that you have a good balance. Whenever you eat, take this out of your pocket and put the correct quantity of food on your plate. Eat no more than this. At first it will be hard, but as you get accustomed to this your body becomes less hungry and you will be able to eat the right amount without even checking your plan.

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Bigjeeze said on 24 November 2011

There are some interesting comments on here. But there is also a lot of misinformation. Eating healthily , regimes and diets are not the issue. I for one am fully aware of what I should and shoudn't eat. I know what is healthy , I know what my real portion size should be and I know what a baanced diet is. What I don't have and what no one on this forum or any health professional has come up with is the way toi discipline yourself to not eat when you shouldn't etc. I know that is a personal thing but it is this where we ALL need help and no one has yet come up with an answer. I eat good healthy foods - but too much . I know I am doing it but can't stop myself. Who can help me with that?

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f3speechy said on 24 August 2011


Don't be embarassed - Follow the 'Whoops' guy round at the supermarket. If you think you want it, grab it. Go to the next aisle and assess what you need; put back the stuff that you don't want ;) Take your weekly menu so that you can alter it to accommodate a bargain. Love your freezer. If you see something cheap or on an offer, get it and freeze it, e.g. big bag of onions, chop the spares and put in portion sizes in freezer bags and freeze for later. Make soups from cheap veg and freeze it.

Grow a few pots on your windows - raddishes are expensive but easy to grow, so are herbs. You can buy the seeds in the £1 shops and plant them in any old container. If you think about it there is plenty of free soil around ;)

My last tip is go to the nearest charity shop and buy Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course (sometimes comes in 2 parts). Charity shops are fuill of them, but it's the best book I ever bought.

Hope I've helped!If there's a demand, I could publish stuff at www.burnleyswitch.org.uk for people to read (it's a UK Online Centre I help run), but people would need to say if it is of interest!

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f3speechy said on 24 August 2011

@Baseman - it's not easy to cook for 1 or eat on benefits, been there myself. You can make some healthy choices tho. The key is to stock your cupboards with basics, like sultanas, wholemeal flour, cinnamon, cocoa powder etc. Buy one thing each week, they'll keep for ages. Save up and get a £5 hand blender - you'll wonder how you lived without it. Work to a menu too - you'll shop smarter and waste less.

Forget fancy sachets, get a bag of oats, handful in a dish, top with skimmed milk and micro for 1m30s. As it's cooling add a touch of cinamon, jam or sugar to sweaten. Dirt cheap.

Scrap the chips, get a bag of spuds; One in a food bag, tie a knot, poke an air hole, 10 mins in the micro, done. Baked spud. Serve with beans or make coleslaw from a blob of mayo, 1 small grated carrot and a small sliced onion. Meal for under 50p.

Steam veg in a bag in the micro - one chopped carrot, spud and green beans. Just enough for one, but 2 of your 5 a day and a carb, steamed to keep the good in (and no washing up!!!)

Instead of the chips, get a £1 bag of mixed veg from Iceland. In a pan, water to cover. When cooked, whizz with the blender, season etc; soup! Fridge / freeze what you can't eat.

For a use-up pudding, stuff a slice of stale bread (wholemeal works) into a ramekin, top with any chopped fruit that's going over ripe; banana, apple etc. Add a few sultanas, maybe a sprinkle of coconut or cinnamon to flavour. 2 tablespoons of water over the top, cling film and micro for 1m30s. Cheap, quick and full of goodness. No ramekin? Save a plastic pot or look in the charity shop.

making pastry? Make a bit extra, add some sultanas, roll out, bake - Sad Cake, yum. Serve alone or with a bit of butter, jam or a banana on top.

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eimlou said on 08 June 2011

I found this article interesting but what is more helpful and interesting are the comments of others. We can search for advice and help and take or leave what we receive but ultimately the only advice we take and the only help we need is our own, by this I mean if I am truely aware of what I eat and how much I really move I can say I eat too much and move too little.
I eat healthily - well I buy fruit and veg, but generally I am not the person who eats it and I often throw it away and buy more.
I move plenty at work - I walk from dept. to dept. stopping and talking on the way, not being at a desk does not equal a heart raising workout.
I only eat X calories - but, being honest, the latte, bite of cake, glass of wine or nibble of leftovers should also count. And unless you weigh and record every mouthfull and are aware and honest with yourself you are not helping yourself.
I have looked in the mirror and said "who do you think you are fooling?"
Answer "Me!"

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Kaizen said on 20 November 2010

Re point 7 - Carbohydrates: The post says "Eaten in the right quantities, carbohydrates will not cause weight gain." Surely this is true of all food groups! The big question is what is the right quantity? In my experience it is usually excess carbohydrate consumption, and not excess fat consumption that is causing weight gain!

In fact avoiding fat might cause weight gain.....

Perhaps what is more useful for people to know is that eating different foods (carbs, proteins, fats and fibre) will affect how much you eat and how often via hormones! Ho many people know this?

Meals high in protein, keep you "fuller for longer" and Marks and Spencers now have a range of foods along this principle.

Eat too many carbs, and your body will have no choice but to store the extra energy as fat! In addition you will feel lethargic in the process, and then you soon feel hungry for..... more carbs!

Carbs aren't bad, they are needed to give us energy however its very easy to overeat them! I'd urge a little caution....

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babybunny1 said on 26 October 2010

it seems everyone is saying we need to lose weight and eat less and educate ourselves on healthy eating, it states that there is help out there, only to discover that when we aask for help it is not available, and we are scorned for being overweight. Big people are still treated as misfits in this society. i have a full time job, I am active. i do not sit at home all day eating

I have for 4 years now been asking for help with my weight, I eat low fat, less than 1000 calories a day, I excercise regularly, at least 3 times a week and still I can't lose weight. In fact the opposite, i have gained in the last week half a stone, and have not eaten any more than my normal intake.

i have been advised to have a gastric band by my specialist at eh hospital, and been told by my GP that I have to fit certain criteria for this, well i have BMi of 47.7 and this is one of the criteria.
i get very angry at people who seem to think all obese people over eat, I wish I could eat half of the amount some people put away.

It is disheartening when no one believes that you don't eat all the pies, I constantly have to keep a food diary to show to dieticians and GP's, even the dietician at the hospital said she can't help.

so where is a person to go to get help. Do I have to get to the size that means I can't move before someone will help.
apparently there is no medical reason for me to keep gaining wioeght. i have now been told to cut my calorie intake yet again, and to still feel hungry after eating, and fill up with weater, well I will try this and see if this works, what if it doesn't, will i still be left to get bigger without any help.

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Uzume said on 22 September 2010

This article is useful for basic information. However,people like Faye and Missderbydoll are the usual misinformed people who think that there is one way to get fat and one way to lose it.... across the board. It's plain ignorance and the cause of a lot of bullying behaviour toward the obese.

Of course from a scientific viewpoint there is a simple, clinical formula for the process, but people are not clinical beings and life can often get in the way of the best intentions of any person. Obesity can be medical, emotional, psychological and yes, down to an inactive lifestyle with no effort made at all. I would suggest, given the millions of pounds spent each year on well known diet group meetings, that the lack of effort aspect is in the minority of cases.

Equally, there are reports and medical journal entries regularly reporting on the different aspects of obesity and weight loss, from genetics to the fact that the health risks of obesity are as much a thin person problem as a visibly obese one. The days of fat=lazy and lacking in will power are surely outdated concepts and account for only a portion of overweight people. It's all there in the real science if you can be bothered to update your old-fashioned thinking.

That said, the obesity epidemic is worrying. There is no argument here that something needs to be done about it. The question is, how can we update the treatments and support to encourage a new way of looking at the problem and get away from the inherent, negative approach which treats the obese like the lepers of the 21st century. This isolating and judgemental attitude is a sure fire way to ensure the continuation of obesity, not a way to solve it.

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emmakb said on 12 August 2009

I think people sometimes forget as well that your body is a machine that works by a series of chemical reactions that occur regulary in your cells.
For this to happen your body needs fuel - ie. food.

If you have a car and it runs on diesel but you put un-leaded in it then your car will not function correctly. It will for a bit then it will stop.
The same is for your body. You fill it with rubbish or not enough food and water then gradually it will break down and not function correctly causing you to be tired, rundown, irritable, lack of concentration, bad complexion etc. And rather than lose weight you put it on because your body craves a quick and instant fix which you interpret as chocolate, sweets, crisps, hamburger etc cravings.

If you want to lose weight you still need to eat. Just reduce your portion sizes, eat fresh foods not processed meals which contain high levels of salt and sugar, swap snacks such as crisps, chocolate bars etc for rice crackers, nuts, dried and fresh fruit. Cut back (or cut out) on alcohol. Or change what you drink. Clear spirits have less calories than dark ones, beer and wine are the worst and be aware of your mixers.
Only eat as much as you need, don't overdo it just because you can.

Sometimes you just need to change your outlook on food.
It is there to fuel your body.
It is a necessity for life.
Yes treat yourself every now and again but keep it as a treat not something that you have regulary. You'll also appreciate it more then.

Your body is a machine, even if you are trying to lose weight you still need to eat regulary because the mintue you go back to eating 'normally' once you've achieved your desired weight then the pounds creap will right back on and you'll be back at square one.
(also if you starve your body then it won't work properly and you will suffer if you try to lose weight)
Just think realisticly about it.

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MissDerbyDoll said on 02 August 2009

Faye hit the nail on the head...

"People need to wake up.
To lose weight its simple - eat less an move more"

Baseman... walking is free.. do it.
Eating less is free and your food will last longer... do it.
Simple as.
It's not rocket science.

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Cushing0 said on 16 February 2009

whats money and being on benefits got to do with eating healthy proven faact is a salad is cheaper then fish and chips.

if people got active ie got a job and stopped felling sorry for themselves then they would lose weight.

if you sit around all day doing nothing but watching jeremy kyle and eating junk food your never going to lose weight.

motavation is the key.

its all about having a 'can do attitude' its alnegative vibes what am reading

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sugaray said on 18 December 2008

Can i just add people that this website is correct in saying that you need to cut down 500 calories a day to loose 2lb this is because your body loses 60 to 70% of its energy by itself in its resting position. also the more muscle your body has the more calories it burns at its resting position, this is because muscle burns more calories than fat. therefore this is a no brainer really, the more fat you have the more work you have to do to lose the remaining 30 to 40 % of calories. i hope this makes sense because it took me a long time to make sense of and when i finally did it had made the difference because i previously thought that i had to be running all day to loose weight. i would like to know more about these fun runs if any body knows anything.

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Andy said on 11 December 2008

I agree...totally

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Dan1234 said on 27 October 2008

I've been losing around 2lbs a week without consciously dieting at all. How? I've gone back to basics.

Dress it up any way you like, but if you burn more energy than you put in, then you'll lose weight. I took up running (very slowly) after reaching 20 stone (okay - more than that!). I ran every two days after work for 15mins, 20mins and then 30mins as I got stronger over two months. to make sure I keep it up, I've been doing one fun run a month too.

The funny thing is, because I've been working so hard (well, even running at a slow pace for 30 mins is hard!) I've now realised I consciously shy away from all the snacks and treats I used eat. After all, what's the point making all the effort if you eat your own body weight the same day(!)

Yes, it takes commitment and time, but I have a child to look after, I don't get home from work until late at night and I don't often sit down in front of the telly until 9pm at night - but I'd had enough of my weight. If you want to lose weight, you have to make the time. Call in favours for childcare, blackmail yourself by entering 5k fun runs - just assume you have to go out and exercise, like your life depends on it. Which in a way, it does...

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Taffy said on 23 October 2008

Baseman ... how about getting an allotment? The hard work will keep you fit and get you out in the fresh air, and the vegetables will taste so much better than anything you can buy in the shops? Plus, you'll probably make some new friends there.

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Roy G-s- said on 07 October 2008

If you are starting a weight loss programme, give your tummy a chance to settle down . You can have the last four meals still circulating in your intestines daily! Have a one day fast to start with, drinking lemon tea, etc. Do this one day a week.
That's what they do in Health Clubs, and it is beneficial. You will find that your stomach will begin to flatten, and your backache will disappear!
Cheap food...visit large stores about one hour before closing time. They will want to dispose of nearly expired time- dated foodstuffs quickly and cheaply!
Good hunting, chaps!

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User40930 said on 12 September 2008

I agree with Clare (2nd July 2008). How bad is it that an NHS site cant get the maths right?? 3500 calories equals 1 lb. Dont let them tell you different!

I know its hard to manage on benefits, I'm on Incpacity Benefits at mo. But pulses are cheap, filling and with some value onions and value tomatoes a tasty dish can be made.
Try checking out Martin Lewis Moneysavingexpert.com for more cheap meals
You also say youre not active enough cos you dont work at mo. Try looking at it positevely, maybe you have the time to do an hours walk a day. This has been proved to be beneficial in helping depression.

Respect and good luck to you!

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Baseman said on 11 September 2008

You say healthy foods are not necessarily more expensive than unhealthy food. I can tell you it is. I am unemployed and have hit a vicious circle. Because I don't work I'm not active enough and have put on a lot of weight. My benefits are very low and with the recent energy price rises I can only afford to buy cheap food. Vegetables are NOT cheap. I find myself with only £10 to spend on food a week you try buying a weeks worth of meals with that, it's impossible.

I find myself in places like iceland buying things like chips which are just £1 and will last all the week and processed food like burgers and pancakes. I am a very good cook and know what foods to cook that are healthy but I simply cannot afford it right now, because healthy food IS expensive and shelf life is not good. Extra weight have lead to high blood pressure and unemployment to depression.

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Antilock said on 29 August 2008

I think this article offered good sensible advice, what people need to realise is that there is no miracle to losing weight, you have to change your eating habits. My main problem was eating one meal a day early evening then snacking later on. My weight increased to 18 stone, then I had problems with my gall bladder and spent a week in hospital, they didnt remove it, but advised that I changed my diet. I now eat fruit with Bio yoghurt for breakfast, a sandwich with fruit for lunch, and fresh vegetables and fish tuna or salmon for tea. I never feel hungry, hardly feel tired, my skin complexion has improved....and even though I am eating loads more, I have lost 1 and 1/2 stone in just four weeks. The only other thing I have changed is from margerine to Flora Proactive extra light, and semi skimmed to skimmed milk. Another bonus is that the weekly shopping bill has reduced...give it a try you may be surprised.

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d said on 26 August 2008

I think that the information given on this page is helpful, but there could be a timeline, showing how much weight one should lose in a week, and how much should ideally be lost in a month, for both sexes in different age groups.

Other than that, the article does provide some good information. It could however give some sort of meal plans for both vegetarians and non-veg.

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Faye said on 30 July 2008

People need to wake up.
To lose weight its simple - eat less an move more

I think some meal suggestions would be helpful though...

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Clare said on 02 July 2008

'2. To shift 900g (2lbs) a week, you need to reduce your calorie intake by around 500 calories a day. '

Interesting. Given that a 1lb loss is generated by a calorie deficit of 3500 calories, I'd be interested to know how one can lose 2lb in a week by creating a calorie deficit of ony 500 cals per day? (500cal deficit x 7 days = 3500 cals = 1lb.) That's losing weight at a 50% slower rate than your information predicts. And no doubt, if the patient queries this with their GP, it's the patient's fault for not achieveing it!

It's misleading and contradictory information like this that causes people to be dimayed and give up; and causes me to be sceptical when I'm trying to find scientifically sound guidance. If you can't get the basic maths right?

It would really be helpful if the information given was consistent and accurate across all of your pages.

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Kat said on 03 June 2008

Thanks Galga, it seems people didn't even read the above!!
By the way not eating decreases your metabolism, meaning when you don't eat your body thinks that you are either starving or fasting and reduces your metabolism to keep your vital organs working; you do loose weight but when you start eating like you used to your metabolism is so low at that point and your body thinks that may be this is the last time you will eat (as you've been starving) that you actually start gaining even more weight. This is why you gain weight after starving, not because you start eating high fat food.

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retsil said on 03 June 2008

Wake up, there is no magic pill! Eat sensibly, stop when you are full, have plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit and get out and walk a bit more. I should write a book!

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Azam said on 02 June 2008

This article goes in detail to say what we can do to lose weight but completely ignores the society we live in.

We need a quick fix! which pill is best???

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rebecca said on 29 May 2008

i think you should add some more and tell people how they can actully loose weight and how long it will take i tried not eating meals it does work but you dont loose much weight.can you tell me how to loose about a stone in 5 weeks.

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