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Weight Loss Pop Quiz Answers

On the home page I presented a pop-quiz comprised of True/False statements to help determine if you have been infected by the flood of confusing, contradictory, and/or misleading information about weight loss that dominates culture.

On the home page I said that every single one of the statements was misleading at best, mostly false at worst. Almost certainly this will contradict what you’ve heard, so let me point out the problem with each statement.


Eating natural, unprocessed, organic, unrefined foods help you lose weight while eating highly refined, processed, artificial foods cause weight gain

There is a plausible claim that more natural, unprocessed foods have a higher “thermic cost of ingestion” or “thermic effect”. Simply put, “thermic effect” is the amount of calories your body burns in order to process the food. So a food with a high thermic effect might cause your body to burn 30% of the calories in the food just to process it. This would mean that 100 calories of such a food would only become 70 calories net.

Protein has the highest thermal effect. Many proteins require up to 30 percent of its calories to be burned just processing it. So, 100 calories of tuna might require 30 calories just to process, leaving you with a net caloric intake of 70.

But 100 calories of fat has very little thermic effect. 100 calories of fat requires maybe 3 calories to process. So, a 120 calorie tablespoon of mayonnaise nets you at least 116 calories.

The thermic effect of most carbohydrates fall between that of proteins and fats.

The AVERAGE thermic effect of food is around 5-10%.

Now let’s put this whole idea into perspective. If your body burns 2200 calories per day and you eat 1700 calories per day of only fats, you will lose a pound of fat per week.

But if you eat 1700 calories per day exclusively of lean, natural protein, you’ll really be consuming 1200 NET calories per day and will probably lose two pounds per week. This is because your body must burn some of those calories to absorb them.

But the foods with very low thermic effect don’t CAUSE weight gain (unless you eat too much!).

Salads are better than hamburgers for weight loss

A Big Mac has around 550 calories. A TASTY salad can easily have over 700 or 800 calories.

A “tasty salad” is one with lots of oil/cream-based dressing, cheese, and bacon, plus maybe a few other high-calorie items I’m not thinking of. And even if you’re reasonably careful with the salad toppings it’ll still be hard to make the calorie count come out lower than the Big Mac.

But, if your salads consist ONLY of spinach, lettuce, tomato, peppers, onions, and cucumbers with NO dressing, cheese, bacon, etc., then your salad would be better than a hamburger. But I’m guessing your salads aren’t this spartan.

Drastically limiting carbohydrate and sugar intake helps you lose weight

This statement is half true, and consequently it is half false. It’s half true because if you limit carbs and sugar, it CAN result in a lower calorie count. The lower calorie count causes the weight loss.

But if you limit your carbs and sugars but still run a calorie surplus, you’ll gain weight. AND conversely, if you eat lots of carbs and sugars but still run a calorie deficit you will lose weight.

Counting calories is an antiquated concept that has been scientifically proven to not work

Limiting caloric intake to lose weight is antiquated like gravity is antiquated. Just because it’s a tried, proven, true concept for a long time doesn’t make it false, even if you’re tired of hearing it and want something unique, interesting, and fresh. And it certainly has not been disproven by science!

Alcohol consumption makes weight loss almost impossible

There’s almost no true part to this statement. There is nothing magical about alcohol that prevents weight loss OTHER THAN CALORIES. So if you’re downing 1000 calories of beer along with your 800 calories of pizza and chips while you watch football, you won’t lose weight!

But if you’re burning 2000 calories/day and consuming 1500 calories/day, and if part of that 1500 calories is comprised of alcohol, you will lose weight.

AND, if you’re a party/social animal for whom alcohol plays a large role, you CAN budget for it by cutting calories in other areas.

I know people who do this. One guy I know dates a LOT. He knows that women are more attracted to lean fit men than to fat men. He also likes drinking a LOT, which indicentally often goes along with the “dating a lot” concept. So, he eats VERY LITTLE and drinks a LOT. But he counts his calories and makes sure his calorie count every day comes in under budget, and, wouldn’t you know it, he stays lean and fit.

Diet and exercise are essential in any effective weight loss program

This statement is mostly false because exercise is NOT “essential” for weight loss. It just isn’t. I promise. It CAN HELP, but even then only if you do the RIGHT KIND of exercises. Otherwise it can sometimes even hinder your weight loss efforts.

At Exercise and Weight Loss I thoroughly address this subject.

Fast food/junk food are completely incompatible with weight loss

I’ve already covered the Burger vs Salad question above.

Still don’t believe me? See Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds. See A teacher who lost 56 pounds eating only McDonald’s.

Additionally, I personally know a “Twinkie Dieter”. Well, almost anyway. I know a girl who was REALLY FAT in high school and decided that wasn’t for her. She had the crazy belief that weight control was all about the calorie count. So she counted her calories, MANY of which came from very Twinkie-like foods. She kept her calorie count in line and lost weight AND kept it off.

That pretty well covers fast food AND junk food. I’m not advocating a junk food diet. It definitely lacks important nutrients the body needs. But if you are 5-5 and 300 lbs, losing weight will make you far healthier far faster than eating “healthy foods”. And EATING FEWER CALORIES makes you lose weight, not eating healthier calories.

To lose weight you should eat smaller, more frequent meals because it keeps your metabolism active and causes your body to burn more calories

While eating larger meals can create more of an insulin spike which could encourage fat storage, if one is running a calorie deficit then it is very unlikely that any meal will be large enough to trigger an insulin spike.

The concept is just one more piece of information clutter to distract you from the calorie count.

Eating larger, less frequent meals causes your body to enter a crisis mode where it cuts back on burning calories and makes weight loss more difficult

I already addressed the larger, less frequent meals part of this question in the previous point. But this “crisis mode” (sometimes called “starvation mode”) concept is priceless, and patently ridiculous.

At Starvation Mode I thoroughly address this concept.

Eating in the evening promotes weight gain because those calories just sit all night and turn to fat – Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and since it is consumed early, the body is better able to burn it off throughout the day

I grouped these two together because they are the same issue.

When you eat, your body uses the nutrients to rebuild and refuel. If you eat more then it takes to accomplish this, it tries to store it as fat for a rainy day (i.e. when you’re starving).

But these statements practically imply that calories consumed must be immediately used or they are converted to stored fat.

But this cycle isn’t nearly such an instant/immediate thing unless you’re on a grueling, non-stop, high-intensity, long-duration activity like a hard 2+ hour bike ride or a 90+ minute run. In THOSE cases your muscles can completely empty of stored, usable fuel, and anything you consume goes into nearly immediate use in a very short period of time.

This is why in marathons and bike races like the Tour de France the participants take all these energy drinks and energy gels. The body can’t store enough energy in the muscles to get one through a high intensity event like this that lasts longer than 2-3 hours.

Except for such extreme circumstances the food you eat doesn’t need to be put to immediate use to avoid turning into fat.

So eating earlier in the day and avoiding eating in the evening doesn’t really do much to affect whether the calories are burned or stored.

“Good fats” promote testosterone production which promotes muscle growth which results in a higher rate of fat burn

This is another one of those true-but-misleading concepts. Certain fats are definitely needed and helpful, and they are integral to many important processes in the body. And more muscle definitely burns more fuel. But JUST eating more “good fats” won’t make all those good things happen, and if you eat enough of those good fats to put you over your calorie budget, YOU WILL GAIN WEIGHT.

So, definitely eat those “good fats”, but don’t ignore the calories!

The Keto Diet is the holy grail of weight loss because it trains the body to burn fat instead of storing it

See Keto Diet. I address this exact question there.


No matter how logical, illogical, scientific, or interesting something may be, don’t get distracted! If you struggle with weight – which will probably be true of most people who will read this site – the ONLY thing that really matters is CALORIES. You can follow all this other stuff if you want, but the only thing you really need is to learn how to count and measure everything you eat, and train yourself to keep your calories in line.



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