Why People Believe Weight Loss and Diet Myths

woman reading diet magazineWhy do seemingly intelligent and rational people consistently get duped into believing that weight loss miracles exist? The answer is complex by I hope to shed some light on the subject by examining the typical behaviors that influence our belief systems and ultimately make us susceptible to diet myths and modern weight loss folklore.

“Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs arrived at for non-smart reasons.”


1.  Social proof

People just like to do what everyone else is doing. We want to be part of the group. There is very little consideration if everyone else is right or wrong. This behavior breeds ignorance and the end result is a bunch of followers following other followers. If everyone else is doing it it must work. It is this need to conform that many people will fail at losing weight. Always looking for a solution without understanding the fundamentals. The solution? Do the opposite. If 97% of people are doing it and obesity is still on the rise, then clearly the solution exists elsewhere. Learn to think for yourself.

“Does history record any case in which the majority was right?” —Robert Heinlein


2. Loyalty to the gurus

Everyone loves a leader. A weight loss messiah, sent from above to deliver us from our bulging waistlines. Blind faith in any one system will be one dimensional at best. Even if it’s good information, your probably missing the bigger picture. Most gurus have a firm grasp on the basics but usually only give you the hundred mile view of  the truth. You’re left putting fragmented information (articles,blogs,reports etc.) together in hopes of it all making sense. This is far from ideal learning.

Not all fitness gurus are correct in thier approach. Some may have expetise in one specific area of fitness and very little in others. And what biases does the guru have. We’ve all got them. You need to consider what thier motivtions are. What is thier professional ambition? Are they affiliated with a nutritional supplement company or engage in other related product endorsements? Do they have political agendas? Even notable scientists are not immune to lying for money. Do their views swing too far in one direction and conform to thier own personal ideology?

The bottom line here is that authority doesn’t matter but facts do!  Always verify information coming from even the most trusted authorities.

3. Wishful thinking

Living in a fantasy will lead you down a path of inactivity. Dreaming of miracles or instant results will make you a huge target for weight loss marketers. While your waiting for your miraculous transformation to happen, precious time is wasted where you could actually be doing something really productive to lose the weight.

4. Habitual thinking/appeal to routine.

When we experience success with a given protocol, it is human nature to want to repeat it. The problem is when the law of diminishing returns arises. You can’t keep doing the same program and expect different results. Change and challenge are the keys to continual progression or your weight loss will stagnate. Increase your exercise demands even a little and you’ll see the scale finally budging once again.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”


5. Confirmation bias.

These people only seek information and weight loss solutions that confirm their own beliefs. They will reject anything that contradicts their current belief systems. Why would anyone be so narrow minded? Is it just narcissism? We all feel good when we are right and generally don’t like to be wrong but at some point we need to exercise little humility if we hope to become enlightened to the truth.

6. The media says so

The media, in all it’s forms don’t always convey facts accurately. I’m sure most journalists try to deliver news accuratley and objectively. Quite often they are under big pressure to serve up the next “big scoop” and don’t always have time to research (or know how to) and weigh the facts on an issue. They often present second hand information without checked out primary sources.

Sensational headlines that invoke fear in our minds is big business in the media. This captures our attention and makes the information more memorable, right or wrong. So this might not be the best way to get your weight loss information but if you’re looking for information on current events then your local news station has you covered. The bottom line here is take the weight loss and health information you get from media sources with a grain of salt and be prepared to corroborate claims with your own intensive research.

7. Testimonials.

Many people are seek out product reviews before they commit to a particular product or services, and that is a good thing. The problem is that there are advertisers out there who use false testimony to persuade people to buy. With photo enhancing tools like photoshop, it’s easy for anyone to make detailed alterations to before and after pictures. In fact many of these are setups and outright fakes. Then there are paid celebrity endorsements and affiliate review sites that perpetuate the advertising falsehoods.

Unfortunately the few that are guilty of this charge ruin it for everyone else and it has become challenging to see the truth through the smoke and mirrors. Testimonials should be viewed as little more than hearsay and never accept them at face value. They can add support to the facts but by themselves are worthless.

8. Confusing correlation with causation

Correlation does not equal causation. People who do not make this distinction will often believe that something related to their weight loss problem must in fact be the source of problem. Here are some examples.

    • T.V. causes obesity

While it’s true the excessive hours spent watching television is correlated with weight gain, is it really the cause? Does the T.V. emit rays of energy that convert your body into a vessel of fat storage? Of course not. People who watch a lot of T.V  are more likely to engage in other unhealthy activities that bring about weight gain.

    •  Restaurants make you gain weight

Many healthy and lean people eat at restaurants all the time. Overweight people tend to consume more calorie dense foods and oversized portions compared to lean people. So the restaurant is not the cause, rather it’s the individual’s choices that are made once inside, that impact body fat.

    •  Night-time feeding makes you fat

People who eat at night tend to eat mindlessly and opt for calorie dense comfort foods. But eating at night itself, does not cause you to become fat.

    •  Diet sodas make you fat

Certain studies have shown that overweight people tend to drink a lot of diet soda, but did it cause the weight gain? Of course not. In all of these examples, shifting the blame to only the related variables only serves to distract them from understanding the true reason they’re overweight.

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It’s ultimately up to you to make informed decisions about what nutritional strategies you employ on a weight loss program. It’s not a lack of information that the problem, it’s the inability of the consumer to differentiate fact from fiction in an industry plagued with marketing hype and pseudo-science. Until these things change, you can bet people will continue to believe in weight loss miracles for years to come.

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Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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