There's a huge amount of weight loss advice and information out there. Much of it is of questionable value and some of it is quite misleading. This can even be the case for reports from seemingly legitimate scientific studies. So how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to deciding who and what to believe?
1. Beware of the quick fix
Putting on weight is easy compared to losing it. As you did not put weight on overnight, do you really think you can lose it that quickly?
Many products and programs will lead you to believe that you can lose a huge amount of weight in a short time.
It's true that you can lose quite a few pounds in the early weeks on a weight loss program. If you are very overweight, you will probably lose a lot of weight at the start. But it's mainly water rather than fat. And that rate is not sustainable over the long term. So if you're told you can lose more than a pound or two a week on a particular weight loss program don't believe anything else they say either.
2. Too good to be true
If anything promises you can lose weight without changing what you eat or how much you move, then it's either dangerous or pulling the wool over your eyes. HEALTHY weight loss is always the result of eating fewer calories (and usually better quality food) or taking more exercise or both.
3. A biased study
If a study supported by chocolate manufacturers emphasises the value of chocolate and downplays the downsides then don't be surprised! Many "studies" are designed to show a product in a good light rather than to increase our knowledge of what works and what doesn't.
4. Drawing simple conclusions
Weight loss is a complex issue and huge amounts of data will come out of any study using a sizable group of people. It's difficult to isolate individual factors in a study because we all have different lifestyles, eating styles and exercise styles. If it were easy for us to keep to whatever regime was being studied, we wouldn't have problems losing weight in the first place. People are difficult to regulate! If any study tries to draw simple "black and white" conclusions, it is likely to be trying to sway you (unscientifically) in a particular direction.
5. A tiny sample
If only a few people have been studied then it's unlikely that the results can be sensibly extrapolated into the population as a whole. Thousands of people are needed in a study before a true pattern emerges.
6. Missing Evidence
Some ads quote doctors, whose medical school records or qualifications you can't find any trace of or studies you can't read about in any reputable scientific journals. Take these with a large pinch of salt especially if claims are made about miracle solutions you have to pay for. Do a little research before you buy.
7. Statements are refuted
With a little research online you can also often find leading scientists and scientific journals refuting some of the more dramatic claims from studies published in the media. Seek out the truth before you blindly follow advice in the popular press.
8. Animal testing
Just because something happens in mice, it does not follow it will happen in the same way for you. Also if a product has been tested with animals it's unlikely to hit the general public for some years (if it ever does) due to the stringent testing new (legal) products need to receive. So do not hold your breath waiting for a solution in that way.
9. No control group
Any study carried out should have a parallel study with a similar group who are not practising the behaviour or using the product being studied. This is so that they can measure the differences in the two groups. The gap has to be statistically significant to point to any meaningful result. Otherwise a group being studied may show a result just because the members of the group are being monitored and assessed.
10. Dramatic statements
Studies sometimes show that particular foods are good for you or cause this or that disease and these are often reported with dramatic headlines in the newspapers. In truth all foods in moderation are probably OK so read between the lines and see how much of a particular food you would have to eat to have a problem, or to gain the benefit they are describing. These statements are often made to grab your attention in the headlines rather than to give you useful information.
So where should you go to get weight loss advice?
If you want good sound advice about losing weight, you can do a lot worse than follow the latest government guidelines about healthy eating and exercise. While they may not be perfect, there would not be a huge obesity problem in the Western world, if we all followed them.
The fact is we don't even follow the simplest most straight forward advice, although most of us are already familiar with it. Advice about eating less fat, sugar and salt, increasing our intake of fruit and vegetables and taking 30 minutes exercise three times a week is ignored by most people.
So why oh why do we try and follow every mad study that comes along in the hope that it will have an answer? Follow the simplest advice first to see the most dramatic changes and then you won't ever have to wonder if you are being told a weight loss fairy story.
Copyright 2005, Janice Elizabeth Small