Someone gets a tidbit of diet information from a friend. Mind you, said friend could be anyone from a high-performance athlete on a very specialized diet to a person who is completely full of crap. They’ll then take that advice to heart. But they’ll absorb other advice too, and add that into the mix. Before you know it they’ve built a Frankenstein diet from popular advice, half-truths, and dieting myths and will wind up more or less the same as when they started.
The worst dieting tips ever repeated to me:
1. “Carbs are bad for you.” A carryover from the massively popular Atkins Diet, this is perhaps the most destructive single piece of dieting advice ever popularized. I’ve actually seen websites on which users support each other in their mutual quests to eat less than 50g of carbs per day. Carbohydrates fuel your body. If you don’t eat them you’ll be too tired to exercise, or even think straight. What’s more, if you quit getting enough of them, your body will start cannibalizing your muscle. That’s right — not eating carbs IS bad for you! And once a low-carb dieter caves to cravings, the sugar binge that ensues often lasts for days.
2. “All calories are the same — it’s just calories in, calories out.” A lot of dieticians and popular fitness gurus talk about calories in/calories out and how, as long as the calories out exceeds the calories in, you’ll lose weight. This is true. But, if people listened a little further, most responsible fitness experts also say something like “But get a lot of fiber, and protein, and avoid processed foods…” Instead, dieters like to turn off their ears after the “calories in, calories out” part and think they have a license to eat whatever they want, as long as they’re jogging a few laps in the morning. But a doughnut breakfast will leave most people feeling bad (and hungry) regardless.
3. Fats, fruits, and milk myths. From “I’ve heard that healthy fats at every meal are good for you!” to “I’ve heard humans aren’t supposed to drink cow’s milk…,” the world is cluttered with misguided ideas about nutrition. Many people think we can eat limitless amounts of fruit (afterall, it’s natural!) despite the amount of sugar it contains. Of course, many people think the same thing about milk too. Other people are dehydrating themselves to avoid water weight, or trying to lose weight by going vegan. In reality, different amounts of different nutrients are useful for different people in different situations, and the only way to know what’s right for you is to stop listening to pieces of second-hand diet advice and to get on a program designed by a nutritionist. Quit listening to your friends. Get a professional on the case.
4. “Eat multiple meals per day to lose weight!” This is a great idea when properly applied, and I do it to control my weight and avoid getting hungry. The thing is, this does not mean that a person should eat a full breakfast and, three hours later, a bucket of chicken. The portion sizes have to be somewhat limited compared to what we in America typically consider a meal. A serving of meat, for example, should be about the size of a deck of playing cards.
5. “You can get into shape without exercising if you just watch your diet!” You can lose some weight if you watch your diet. Of course, you can lose weight by getting trapped at the bottom of a well for a week also. Losing weight doesn’t mean you’re in shape. In fact, it might just mean you look a little better but feel infinitely worse than when you started, depending on how many screwed up dieting myths you’re subscribing to. If you want to be “in shape” you need to combine diet and exercise. To keep track of your eating and exercise, try Everyday Health’s free calorie counter.