Let’s Stop Believing These 3 Things About Calories

Science-supported methods are more likely to help with healthier eating habits.

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If you’re looking to lose weight—you already know there’s tons of information out there touting shortcuts to shedding pounds or programs that promise to overhaul your diet overnight. But (sorry!) there’s no quick fix for weight loss; instead, it’s about finding a holistic, realistic, and sustainable way to approach healthy eating. Wise up to these widespread weight-loss myths and get—or stay—on the right track with expert advice from a nutritionist.

Myth #1: Cutting calories or limiting what you eat is the only way to lose weight.

So many diets are based on restriction: To lose weight, they claim, you have to cut out a certain food group, skip meals, significantly shrink portions, or swap in sub-par alternatives for your favorite treat.

Yes, it’s true that to promote weight loss, you need a calorie deficit—meaning you need to take in fewer calories than you burn. But “skipping meals or heavily restricting ourselves is simply unsustainable—what happens when we get invited to happy hour or want to enjoy a slice of birthday cake?” says Laura Smith, M.S., the Director of Program Innovation at WW. “While we may see some results in the short-term, it’s not a realistic or enjoyable way to approach life .” In fact, though popular diets like paleo or keto do lead to weight loss and lower blood pressure, those effects largely disappear after a year, a 2020 study published in the journal BMJ found.

Rather than following strict restrictive rules, “we know that what works best for weight loss is making small changes to your habits that you can sustain for the long run,” says Smith. Yet it can be tricky for most of us to figure out what kinds of changes have an impact. That’s where the new WW comes in, providing a personalized nutrition plan that delivers results, without eliminating any foods or imposing a daily calorie limit.

“Our new PersonalPoints™ program starts by understanding the foods you enjoy eating most days so that we can build a program around your food preferences,” she explains. “When we make it easier to fit in the foods we love, we’re more likely to stick to the new pattern of eating and keep healthy habits.”

Myth #2: All calories are created equal.

Guess what: If you consume 100 calories of broccoli, that’s going to affect your body very differently from 100 calories of a brownie, says Smith. “Both are a source of carbohydrates, but the brownie also likely has saturated fats (the unhealthy kinds!), added sugar, and is probably low in fiber,” she explains. “The broccoli, on the other hand, has fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 100 calories worth of broccoli will also be a much larger volume of food compared to 100 calories of a brownie. If you just counted calories, you’d miss out on these nuances.”

The research backs her up: the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest people should have an eating pattern that limits foods and beverages higher in added sugars and saturated fats, thus highlighting the benefits of looking beyond calories alone. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or simply maintain a healthy weight, you need to be eating in a way that helps you feel full and satisfied—and thinking about food as more than just calories.

PersonalPoints is our way of evaluating food that goes beyond calories,” says Smith. “The more unsaturated fat (the healthy kind!), fiber, and protein food contain, the lower the Points value will be. This helps us eat more of these nutrients! The more saturated fat and added sugar, the higher the Points value will be, helping us eat less of these nutrients—thus, guiding members to a healthy pattern of eating.”

FYI: That means you can go ahead and enjoy that brownie. A nutritious diet is all about finding a balanced pattern of eating that includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and all of the foods you love most, Smith adds.

Myth #3: Weight loss is only about what you eat.

Remember what we said, you have to burn more calories than you take in. You sizzle a certain number of calories just by existing (your body needs the energy to breathe, circulate blood, produce cells, etc.), but you can obviously up the amount of calories you use for fuel with exercise. “Scientific literature suggests that changing what a person eats and increasing physical activity leads to 20 percent greater weight loss than changing eating habits alone,” says Smith. “Additionally, research suggests that physical activity may be the single greatest predictor of who keeps weight off and who doesn’t.”

What type of workout you do matters, too. Research shows that higher-intensity activity is linked to greater weight loss. All movement can help support your weight-loss and wellness goals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and moderate total-body muscle-strengthening sessions on two or more days a week to maintain your health. How you choose to hit that goal is totally up to you: You can opt for several, short bouts of movement in a typical day or a single, longer bout. What’s most important is finding the type of activity you’ll want to do often, as consistent exercise is key to achieving and maintaining weight loss.

WW’s new PersonalPoints program gets this—which is why, for the first time, you can now add points for doing your favorite workouts and just moving more throughout the day. The plan is grounded in behavior change research from end-to-end, so getting more physical activity and sticking with other healthy habits becomes easier. It’s no wonder why WW members lose two times more weight than those who go about it on their own.