Myth: All dietary fat is created equally
This is the biggest mistake people get hung up on, when in fact those in the know says it's crucial to understand how good fat can be. "All fats provide nine calories per gram, but different types of fats have different chemical structures and different nutritional implications," explains Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, a New York City-based dietitian and author of The F-Factor Diet: Discover the Secret to Permanent Weight Loss and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories & Fat Disappear the F-Factor Way–With Fiber! There are three different types of fat. Trans fats (which may be the worst type) hidden in processed foods, baked goods and margarine, have zero health benefits. Saturated fats (think red meat, full-fat dairy and butter) raise cholesterol levels, which increase risk of heart disease, while healthy unsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils, avocado, nuts and seeds help prevent heart disease and stroke.
Taking a draconian approach to all fat in the diet could mean losing weight loss and health benefits as healthy fat allows us to feel full longer, controlling our appetite. What's more, the American Heart Association recently stated that replacing saturated fat with healthier fat in the diet lowers cardiovascular disease risk as much as taking powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Myth: All body fat is created equally
Truth: Some types of body fat are more dangerous than others. "Stress produces cortisol (your body's stress hormone), which is known to increase visceral fat," Zuckerbrot says. "Visceral fat wraps around your organs and is harmful and linked to metabolic disease and insulin resistance, she says. By contrast, subcutaneous fat lies directly under your skin and is not harmful, she says. There's also brown fat which burns calories at a rapid rate, speeding weight loss.
Myth: You can't lose belly fat specifically
"Abdominal fat is associated with inflammation so consuming inflammatory foods such as fried foods, sugar and refined grains can inhibit your ability to lose it," Zuckerbrot explains. Understanding how to lose body fat in certain places starts with finding out what is causing it and then tailoring it from there—either by dealing with stressful situations, eating a well-balanced diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory foods, she says.
Myth: Eating fat makes us fat
Nope, says Lauren Blake, RD, LDN, a dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. "Good fat is good for you and won't make you fat, but we still have this mentality that eating fat makes us fat." Good fats—avocado, olive oil, nuts and nut butter—take more time to digest and keep us felling fuller longer than carbs and protein which, in turn, reduces cravings and the temptation to overeat.
Myth: Fat has no redeeming properties
Healthy fats—which can actually help you lose weight—help us absorb key fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A, D and K as well as two potent antioxidants' lycopene and beta carotene, Blake says. "Healthy omega-3 fatty acids such as found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds are good for the brain and heart." The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week. Eating lean protein such as fish instead of red meat or other high-fat sources can aid weight loss and maintenance.
Myth: Fat loss is always reflected on the scale
"We get frustrated when we don't see changes on the scale and that may make us want to give up, but when you lose inches around waist, you are losing more visceral fat which surrounds organs and is more detrimental," Blake says. "Yes, you want to see the numbers go down, but losing these inches is better for your overall health, well-being and physique."
Myth: A low-fat diet is best for weight loss
Many people believe that following a low-fat diet is the key to weight loss. However, fat is a major source of energy and is essential for cell growth, Zuckerbrot says. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines advise the public to replace saturated and trans fat with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. "Avoiding all fats does not necessarily lead to weight loss. It is equally as important to be conscious of what you are replacing saturated fat with, for example refined carbohydrates consumed in excess can lead to weight gain."
Myth: Excess fat is shameworthy
There's nothing wrong with accepting your body for what it is. "It is harder to lose weight when we are fat-shamed and/or fat-shame ourselves," says Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, the director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C. "When we focus this shame inward, we increase the likelihood of unhealthy weight-related behaviors and see a surge in stress hormones, which lead to emotional eating." This negativity gets in the way of weight loss efforts, and changing your attitude may take work including talk therapy.
Myth: Fat is all that matters
"A lot of us get hung up on fat versus carbs whereas we have quite good data that it is the calories you eat or don't eat that leads to weight changes," Dr. Kahan says. Don't hyperfocus on fat. Instead, eat the foods you like within reason as long as your caloric intake is at a level that is consistent with weight loss says."
Myth: Achieving fat-burning state is the key to weight loss
Ketosis—fat burning—is the holy grail of low- or no-carb, high-protein diets, but it's not necessarily ideal for everyone. (Read more about how low-carb diets aren't always the answer.) During ketosis, your body breaks down stored fat, causing ketones to build up. Side effects may include nausea, headache, mental and physical fatigue, and bad breath, according to Mayo Clinic research The best way to get your body burning calories more efficiently is to increase lean muscle mass through exercise, Kahan says. "Talk to your doctor or a dietician to determine the best way for you to lose weight," Kahan says