Myth No. 9: Diet Foods Help You Diet
The theory: Low-fat, low-carb, and artificially sweetened packaged foods make losing weight painless.
The reality: Low-fat and low-carb don't always mean low-cal, and if you're trying to lose weight, stocking up on these treats could undermine your efforts. In a series of recent studies, for instance, participants ate up to 50 percent more of foods that the researchers falsely labeled "low-fat" than they did of the same exact foods with real labels. "Consumers expect that low-fat M&M's contain 20 percent fewer calories than their regular counterparts," concluded the authors of the studies, Brian Wansink, Ph.D., and Pierre Chandon, Ph.D., in the Journal of Marketing Research, in November 2006. "Importantly, as a result, they expect that comparable increases in serving sizes are justified." Some experts also believe that consuming artificial sweeteners might backfire. Two long-term studies looking at the drinking habits of thousands of people have found a correlation between drinking diet soda and being overweight.
The best advice: When you're tempted by a snack food that's labeled "light" or "low-fat," check the nutrition label. Look at how many calories are in a serving, then compare that number with the calories in a comparable product that's not making a label claim. And then consider having just a small amount of the real thing. You may end up consuming fewer calories with, say, a full-fat product than you would with a low-fat version, because fat tends to be more satisfying. And take care that you don't decide―consciously or not―that substituting a diet soda for a full-sugar one gives you license to eat a box of Valentine's chocolates instead.