There are a lot of tips floating around out there about the best way to lose weight, and even though you're following them to a T, the pounds are actually piling on instead of melting off. If you subscribe to one of the tips below, it may be the reason you're gaining weight — time to separate myth from fact.
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Myth: Don't Eat After 8 p.m.
Truth: What time you eat doesn't matter, but daily calorie intake does.
Despite popular belief, food you consume at night does not automatically get stored as fat, so giving yourself a cutoff time to stop eating is not going to help you slim down. The best way to drop pounds is to watch your calorie intake throughout the entire day without exceeding the number of calories right for you.
Research does show, however, that many women consume half their daily calories at or after dinner , and stress eating plays a huge role. Keep in mind that eating the wrong kinds of food at night — namely high-cal, high-fat — can affect digestion, making you toss and turn in bed. And not enough sleep can then cause you to overeat the next day to make up for low energy. That's why some experts suggest eating most of your calories earlier in the day with your biggest meal being at lunch , then eating a lighter dinner. But if you know you like to nosh on a little something after dinner, save 150 to 200 calories for later. These dessert-style Greek yogurt recipes  are perfect.
Myth: "Light" Foods Are Better
Truth: "Light" foods may contain fewer calories or fat, but not without increasing the sodium, sugar, chemical additives, or artificial sweeteners.
For instance, when you compare real cream cheese to the fat-free version, you may save 15 calories , but you gain 11 milligrams of sodium . It may not seem like much, but every little bit adds up, and too much sodium is a major cause of bloating. Not only that, when people perceive a food as being light, they tend to eat more of it, consuming the same amount or more calories  than if they had just gone with the original version.
It's best to avoid "light" and "fat-free" foods like cheese, chips, ice cream, and orange juice and go for the real deal; just choose smaller portions. The more natural the ingredients, the better.
Myth: You Can Eat All You Want, as Long as It's Healthy
Truth: Healthy foods still contain calories, sugar, sodium, and fat.
Whole-wheat bread and pasta, nuts and nut butters , avocado, dried fruits, oatmeal, fresh-pressed juices — all these foods are healthy, but they're not void of calories. In fact, they're actually quite high — half an avocado is 161 calories  and 18 cashews is 163 calories . This means you can't mindlessly spoon into a jar of peanut butter just because it's good for you — one tablespoon will run you 105 calories . Counting calories and watching portions is still important, even when eating nutritious foods.
Photo: Jenny Sugar
Myth: Going Vegan Automatically Means Weight Loss
Truth: Vegan foods can contain empty calories.
French fries, potato chips, dark chocolate, pasta, and homemade vegan Snickers  — all of these foods are vegan, but if your diet is full of them, guess what? You definitely won't lose weight, and you just might end up gaining weight instead . Choosing to go vegan for the sole purpose of weight loss won't happen unless you eat a balanced diet containing lots of fruits, veggies, vegan protein sources like beans and tofu, and whole grains. And be sure to keep track of calories.
Photo: Jenny Sugar
Myth: Exercise, and You Can Eat All You Want
Truth: Your workout probably doesn't burn as many calories as you think.
A 30-minute run at a moderate 10-minute-per-mile pace burns just under 300 calories. So if you indulge in a cheeseburger, fries, and a beer, that's well over 700 calories. For weight loss, it's all about simple math: you need to burn or cut out 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week. After that 300-calorie-burning run, you would still need to cut out 200 calories from your diet. Exercising should definitely be part of your weight-loss plan, but so should monitoring your calorie intake.
Myth: Skipping Meals Speeds Up Weight Loss
Truth: Not eating can slow down your metabolism, making you shed pounds slower.
To keep your metabolism going, eat breakfast and continue eating every few hours throughout the day . Aside from affecting your metabolism, not eating makes you cranky and ravenous, which will drive you to overindulge later in the day.
Myth: Eat Salads, Lose Weight
Truth: While veggies are low in calories, all the toppings are not.
Consider this: two cups of mesclun greens is just 10 calories ! But when you start adding feta (90 calories ), walnuts (93 calories), bacon bits (50 calories), chicken salad (139 calories ), dried cranberries (46 calories), croutons (100 calories), hard-boiled egg (78 calories), avocado (114 calories), and a healthy drizzle of dressing (76 calories ), your healthy lunch is pushing 800 calories! Eating a big salad once a day for lunch or dinner is a great way to lose weight since the veggies are high in filling fiber — just be mindful of all those high-calorie toppings.
Myth: You Can't Eat Carbs, Even Fruit
Truth: While you may end up losing weight initially, you'll gain it back when you return to your old carb-eating ways.
Carbs can actually aid in weight loss , but it has to be the right kinds of carbs. Ditch the refined carbs like foods made with enriched flour, and go for whole grains like quinoa and oats, whole-wheat pasta, and fruits. These foods contain fiber, which keeps you feeling fuller longer and also offers sustained energy — all of which can help you consume fewer total calories per day. The fiber also keeps things moving along, preventing a bloated belly.
Myth: Going Gluten-Free Causes Weight Loss
Truth: Losing weight is all about calorie intake, and plenty of gluten-free foods are high in calories.
If you swap your usual slice of pizza for a crust made from quinoa , it's still about the same amount of calories, so you won't end up losing weight. However, if you know you've been eating tons of bread, pasta, cookies, and pizza and giving those up encourages you to eat more veggies and lean proteins, then that's a healthy way to lose weight going gluten-free. Choosing to go gluten-free isn't the magic solution  — it's still all about calorie intake.
Photo: Jenny Sugar
Myth: You Have to Give Up the Foods You Crave
Truth: On the contrary, allowing yourself to indulge in a little taste every so often can satisfy cravings and help you lose weight.
Depriving yourself of the foods you desire will only make you want them more. Pastries, chocolate, cookies, french fries, pizza, wine — these aren't the healthiest for you, but you don't have to give them up entirely. And a study found that you shouldn't feel like you need to increase your workout intensity the day after an ice cream cone — a daily variance of as much as 600 calories won't reflect on your waistline , as long as you maintain a healthy diet most of the time. Allowing yourself one small indulgence a day will curb those cravings  and prevent binge eating on your favorite foods.