Let’s be honest: there’s an incredible amount of crap out there, as far as misinformation about diet and exercise. It seems that every week there’s a new weight loss miracle diet or pill that claims it is going to magically transform your life and your figure. With such a high rate of obesity in the United States (most states have a prevalence of over 20 percent and some have one of over 30 percent!), it’s understandable that people are looking to drop pounds and get in shape. But that doesn’t mean it can be super fast and super easy (read: yo-yo dieting).
Some myths have real staying power. They’re like gum on the bottom of your shoe that you just can’t scrape off, no matter how much you try to rub it off against grass or the edge of the sidewalk. They harm our collective ability to gain control of our health once and for all. Let’s look at some of the major diet and exercise myths that just won’t go away:
1. Calories are all that matter
This is simply not true. While it’s true that eating too many calories can, indeed, cause you to gain weight, there’s more to food than just its calorie count. Calories (actually kilocalories), are a measure of thermodynamic (heat) energy. In short, a calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 °C. While we often refer to calories as food energy, it is in fact a measure of energy for all simple thermodynamic machines. Here’s the problem: your body isn’t a simple thermodynamic machine. If it was, then calories would be a very accurate, one-sized fits all way to measure how food might make us gain weight.
The human body is a complex biological unit. Measuring weight loss/weight gain potential solely on calories is a gross oversimplification of something that is remarkably complex.
Instead of the thermodynamic energy of foods, we need to look at the nutritional content of them. Our body takes macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) from food, as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Loading up on low-cal foods filled with artificial sweeteners and other chemicals, for instance, won’t help you lose weight for the long run.
A food’s nutritional content is far more important than its calorie count; however, that doesn’t meant that if you are eating highly nutritious foods you can eat as much as your heart desires without gaining weight. If you eat a large number of calorically dense nutritious foods, you still may gain weight. That’s why I recommend eating low-cal foods with a great nutritional payoff: vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. You can also eat small amounts of more nutritionally dense plant foods like nuts and seeds, although I recommend eating just an ounce or two per day in order to help keep calories and grams of fat consumed manageable.
2. As long as it’s low fat or fat-free, it’s good for you
It is true that certain types of fat can lead to poor blood lipid profiles, but you do need some fat, and you should avoid all processed foods that have these glitzy “fat-free” marketing labels. Because it is calorically dense, fat also ups the caloric intake of foods that contain it, so it can lead to weight gain. That doesn’t mean, however, that leaving the fat out of processed foods make them healthy.
Most processed foods labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free” use other ingredients (like sugar and artificial flavors) to amp up the flavor profile of the foods. The result is an unhealthy chemical concoction that, while it may be lower in fat and/or calories, is made up of a bunch of ingredients that simply aren’t good for your health. Whole fruits, veggies and whole grains like quinoa, on the other hand, are naturally low in fat (with a few exceptions) and contain the vitamins, minerals and enzymes your body needs for vibrant health. Plant foods such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, avocados, nuts and seeds can be eaten in moderate amounts and will give you all the fat you need. I do recommend keeping all oils to a strict minimum- get your fat from whole foods instead.
3. Diet soda is a weight loss food
It’s not. It’s a brew of acidifying chemicals and contains the neurotoxic ingredient, aspartame. Do you know anyone that looks truly vibrantly healthy who drinks a lot of diet soda? I don’t (and maybe that’s because I convert everyone in my path away from it!). In fact, drinking diet soda may have more unintended consequences than filling your body full of toxic chemicals. It may also lead to weight gain. A University of Texas rodent study and another human data review linked diet soda to a greater chance of developing abdominal fat in humans, as well as higher levels of fasting blood glucose in rodents. Instead, drink pure water with lemon.
4. You can spot train an area
The spot training myth is one that just won’t go away. So many girls ask me about cellulite. It’s understandable that if you have a flabby tummy or bat wing underarms, what you really want to do is to make that fat disappear with the minimum of effort. Unfortunately, spot training a body part won’t make fat disappear in that area. Spot training is a myth. Your body tends to lose fat in the reverse order in which it was gained. So if your belly paunch was the first place your body gained fat, it’s likely going to be the last holdout as you lose it.
Spot training is a great way to firm up the muscles underneath the flab so that, as fat disappears, you have great muscular tone and definition. It won’t make the fat go away, however. Only a healthy diet and exercise will help you lose fat, by losing it overall.
5. Exercise burns a lot of calories
Many people are surprised to learn that most types of exercise don’t burn nearly the amount of calories they think it does. Because there is a widespread belief that exercise burns so many calories, many people overcompensate by eating even more than they burned. For example, a 135-pound woman walking for 30 minutes at moderate intensity (3 m.p.h.) burns only 133 calories. That’s roughly the number of calories contained in a ½ cup of brown rice.
That doesn’t mean exercise does no good, however. Exercising helps protect your heart, can help reduce stress, and keeps you strong and healthy so you can enjoy a good quality of life as you go about your daily activities. You just need to understand the relationship between exercise and weight loss in order to not overcompensate for your activity with more food.6. To lose weight, you need to go on a lifestyle (ie permanent) diet. I don’t like the word “diet” in the context of weight loss. A diet implies a temporary change in habits to bring about a desired outcome. Unfortunately, if a diet is a temporary change, then it has a beginning and an end. What happens, then, when you return to your pre-diet eating habits? As millions of Americans discover every year, you regain the weight.
Instead of dieting, it is essential to change your eating habits. Getting healthy once and for all is about making a permanent lifestyle change, not a temporary one. We need to move beyond the desire to be thin and realize that what is really important is health. Making permanent changes to a healthier way of eating that includes whole plant foods and minimizes processed and animal foods and beverages is the best way to not only get your weight under control, but to look and feel better than you ever have.
6. With diet and exercise, it’s all or nothing
Unfortunately, this all or nothing attitude is the reason many people give up on healthy choices they are trying to make. Would it be better if you ate only organic plant foods all the time? Would it be better if you got exercise most days of the week? Sure, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Don’t let life get in the way and rob you of your choice for health. There’s room to slip here and there, and it doesn’t mean you need to give up your new healthy habits just because you did. Aim to make healthy choices a majority of the time, and you’ll start feeling so good you’ll be motivated to continue.
Likewise, you don’t have to suddenly change everything all at once to develop a healthy lifestyle. This isn’t The Matrix where you can only choose the red pill or the blue pill. You can make changes gradually, one or two at a time, and allow those changes to develop as a habit before you make another and another.
7. If you strength train, you’ll be muscle-bound
Trust me on this, it’s not true. It takes supreme effort and special training methods to turn bodybuilders into muscle-bound hulks. While it’s true that some people have a genetic body type (mesomorphic) that tends to build muscle, strength training isn’t going to make you look like Popeye.
There are many good reasons why you should pursue strength training, as well. Along with improving muscular strength and endurance that enables you to enjoy a better quality of life, strength training has been shown to increase bone density. I feel really strong from my yoga practice, which requires that you hold up your own body weight for many poses.
8. The best way to get fit is to join a gym
While this clearly provides motivation for some people, you don’t need a gym to exercise, nor do you need to engage in “formal” exercise programs. The best way to get fit is to find a type of exercise that you enjoy. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re more likely to do it. So take a dance class, play in an adult sports league, go bicycling, hike, or any other activity option that appeals to you. The most important thing is that you get moving and do it regularly.
9. There’s a miracle method for weight loss
This myth takes many different forms that change over the years with whatever the latest diet fad is. It may be a diet pill, a magic ingredient, or an all-grapefruit diet that’s come to the forefront, and all sorts of people will tout anecdotal evidence that suggests the miracle method has helped them drop tons of weight in a very short time. Remember when resveratrol pills were all the rage? Now it’s raspberry ketones.
When you peek under the skirt of these fads, however, you’re likely to discover that what you’re hearing is marketing hype. Sometimes there is some tiny kernel of truth that started the hype, but the real truth is this: the best way to get healthy and stay healthy is by eating a healthy diet such as the one outlined in The Beauty Detox Solution, and engaging in some form of regular exercise. Everything else is very likely a waste of your time, energy, and money. Weight loss isn’t about miracle ingredients. It’s about committing to making healthy choices.
Don’t let common diet and exercise myths distract you from your goals of getting healthier. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so keep joining us in The Beauty Detox Community to get straight talk about diet and exercise.