Exercise and nutrition is an evergrowing science, with more data and information available everyday. It's amazing how far we have come in understanding exercise, nutrition, and navigating what works and what doesn't. However, with new fad diets and 'guaranteed weight loss' methods popping up everytime you turn your head, it's easy to get overwhelmed by and/or become misinformed about your exercise and nutrition habits. Because of this, your well intended New Years resolution or general goal to become healthier and more fit, can easily turn into a whirlwind of headache and heart break.
Before settling into the next 10 day weight loss plan, or investing in the latest low (insert nutrient here) diet to lose weight, it's worth taking the time to find which methods are fact and which are fiction. Below are the facts on some of the most common fitness myths that may be keeping you from your goals.
1. Eating Carbs Makes You Fat
Studies have found time and time again, that the mere action of eating carbs does not cause weight gain. Carbs are an important and necessary nutrient in nearly every diet, especially that of a healthy, active individual. Carbs are the nutrient responsible for giving you the majority of your energy. What will cause weight gain, however, is overconsumption of carbs. This isn't necessarily because of the extra carbs, but rather because consuming more calories than your body needs will always result in weight gain (carbs=calories, just like any other nutrient). Consuming too few carbs may result in weight loss, but that is only a result of eating less calories. If consuming fewer carbs means you are replacing those calories with those found in fats, you are spinning your wheels on the fast track to nowhere.
Bottom line: For an effective weight loss approach, moderately decrease calorie intake, while emphasizing balance of all major nutrients within the diet (tip: beware of any diets that completely eliminate certain food or food groups).
2. Working My Abs Will Give Me A Flat Stomach and/or Six Pack
If only it were that easy. The inconvenient truth is, there is no magic ab exercises, or number of crunches that you can do to give you a flat stomach or six pack abs. Having a tight, toned mid-section is going to depend more on your diet than anything else. There is no such thing as 'spot reducing' fat, which means that in order to lose fat in the midsection and achieve a flat stomach, you need to spend less time doing crunches and start paying attention to your diet. With the right nutrition program in play, you should be able to reduce the amount of bodyfat in your midsection, creating a flatter stomach. On the other hand, unless you are genetically blessed with prominent abs, it is likely that you won't see that six pack until you reach extreme levels of leanness, which is often unsustainable for long periods of time.
Bottom Line: In order to reduce the size of your midsection, get your nutrition on point first. For many, it may not be realistic to expect to maintain six pack abs all year around, but a smaller midsection is usually a manageable and maintainable goal.
3. In Order to Lose Weight, I Need To Do More Cardio
While cardio exercise can be a very effective tool in the weight loss tool box, it is not the best or most important factor. Cardio can be effective at burning off some extra calories, but overdoing it may be counterproductive. In order to lose weight, your goal should be to increase your metabolism while moderately decreasing your calorie intake, resulting in an overall calorie defecit. Cardio helps with your calorie defecit, but cardio exercise alone (aside from intense HIIT training) does little to nothing to speed your metabolism. In addition, too much cardio can cause elevated levels of hunger, leading to overreating post-workout only to undo all of your hard work.
Bottom Line: Moderate levels of cardio are important for weight loss and a healthy cardiovascular system, but more isn't always better. Make sure to include other forms of exercise as well, and keep your diet in check for best results.
4. If I start Exercising, I Don't Have to Worry About My Diet
An exercise program is a necessary element of living a healthier life, but that doesn't mean that implementing a workout into your daily routine a few times a week gives you the free pass to eat all the junk you want. It's important to eat to fuel your body to compliment your workouts and ensure the most optimal level of overall health, even when you're working out. If you are able to burn X amount of calories during a workout, that doesn't mean those calories are gone forever. If you go home and eat a huge plate of spaghetti, followed by a bowl of ice cream and a donut, you are likely eating well over the 'X' amount of calories that you burned during your workout, thus undoing all of your hard work at the gym. If you want to get the most out of your workouts, pair them with a healthy, sustainable, and complimentary diet to reach your goals.
Bottom Line: For the most efficient and effective approach in fitness, it is best to workout according to your goals, and pair your workouts with a complimentary diet that will enhance your performance, while allowing you to stay on track.
5. If It Worked For Her, It Will Work For Me
There is no one size fits all formula when it comes to fitness. Everyone has a different body type, different genetics, and different goals. This means that just because a certain approach worked for one person, doesn't mean that same thing will work out just as well for you. If you want to reach your goals with as little frustration as possible, it's important to learn how to adjust your exercise and nutrition to tailor to your body and goals. This is where a coach or trainer can often come in handy to help you understand what adjustments to make based on your fitness level, your goals, and your body.
Bottom Line: Everyone is different, therefor there is no one way or one size fits all formula to becoming fit and healthy. Just because it works for someone else, doesn't mean that it will work the same way for you and your body.
6. If I'm Not Thirsty, I Don't Need to Drink More Water
Many people think they drink enough water, when they are unknowingly walking around navigating their life dehydrated the majority of the time. Unfortunately, our body doesn't send us the signal that we're thirsty until after we're already dehydrated. This means that in order to avoid dehydration, we have to be proactive and constantly drink water throughout the day to ensure we are getting enough. Our bodies require much more water than most people realize, and even if you think you drink enough water, you probably don't.
Bottom Line: Drink more water. Even if you don't think you need to, you probably do, and will likely benefit from greater hydration.
7. Lifting Weights Makes Women Bulky
Many women hover around the cardio equipment at the gym and are scared to step foot in the free weight area because they fear developing a 'bulky' or 'manly' looking physique. Women simply don't produce enough testosterone to develop the extent of muscularity that attributes to 'bulky' looking muscles. But what about [insert jacked female's name here, with incredibly large, defined, borderline manly looking muscles]. I can tell you right now, without even seeing her, that she falls in one of two catergories: a) she uses steroids (it's an unfortunate truth), or b) she has worked years and years to develop her muscles to that degree, and it is certainly no fluke or accident. Either way, engaging in weight lifting will not result in bulky muscles or a manly physique for 99% of women. And if it does (which it won't), all you have to do is back off on the amount of weight you are lifting at that point.
Bottom Line: Lifting weights will give the muscles the desired 'toned' and curvy look, as opposed to bulking them up. Due to the fact that muscle is more dense than fat, it will also likely help with body composition (meaning that you could weigh the same amount, but have significantly less bodyfat and look smaller). Bulky muscles generally require a hormone balance that women don't naturally have.
8. I Can't Eat The Foods I Enjoy and Reach My Goals
It is a common misconception that eating anything other than a diet composed of 100% 'clean' foods will make staying fit and reaching your goals near impossible. The truth is, that as long as you are practicing moderation, it is completely okay to treat yourself to the foods you love. In fact, according to numerous studies, allowing some flexibility in the foods you eat may even lead to greater weight loss and ability to reach your goals long term. This is because when you don't feel the need to restrict yourself, you often crave those unhealthy foods even less. In addition, allowing the occasional cookie or burger here and there means that you don't feel as much of an urge to binge on unhealthy snacks on special occasions or 'cheat' days.
Bottom Line: Utilize moderation with your diet, composing the majority of your diet from healthy, whole foods, and allow yourself the foods you love in small portions.
9. Yoga Is a Great Workout
I am a huge fan of yoga. It has many benefits from joint rehabilitation to mental/emotional well-being to enhancing strength and flexibility. However, if you're looking to get a good workout in, build a decent amount of muscle, or blast calories, yoga may not be the best option. Due to the slower pace of yoga, and limited amount of resistance, it is very hard to get an efficient and effective strength or cardio workout from a yoga practice alone. Sure, it can be a great place to start, and something is certainly better than nothing, but if you're looking to transform the way you look, or significantly increase markers of strength, endurance, fat loss, etc., to get the most out of your time and money, alternative exercise options are most likely going to be a better bet.
Bottom Line: Yoga is a great compliment to any exercise regimen. However, if you're looking to get a good, highly effective and efficient workout in, a yoga studio alone likely isn't the best place to do so. But don't throw out your mats just yet, as there are many benefits to a regular yoga practice far beyond getting a good workout in.
10. I Can Eat As Much Fat As I Want -- As Long As It's 'Good' Fat
There is no denying that a certain amount of fat is necessary for good health, hormone regulation, and nutrient transportation. However, in recent years, with the rising popularity of 'good fats', many people have adopted diets high in fatty omega 3's and 'superfoods' in a quest for better health, and often even in an attempt to lose weight. However, just like any other nutrient, overeating fats is still not a good idea - even if they are the 'good' fats. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (otherwise known as the good fats) are important optimal health, but they are still just as high in calories as any other fat, meaning that overeating them may be causing your weight loss to stall.
Bottom Line: It's never a good idea to avoid any one nutrient in your diet. When it comes to fats, make sure you are consuming a small-moderate amount of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as a part of a well balanced diet, but don't overdo it on the superfoods, as too much fat is still too much fat - whether it's the good fat or not.
11. If You Want Results, You Have to Go All In
It's common when first beginning an exercise program to feel over-ambitious, and want to go all out on the first go. This can mean working out twice a day, cutting way back on calories, completely eliminating your favorite 'unhealthy' treats, etc. While it's great to have goals to work toward, you may be best starting off with smaller goals at first. Setting one small goal a week, i.e. workout for 45 minutes 3 days this week, and building on your goals each week may be a more effective long term approach. If you overwhelm yourself by trying to take on too much at once, it is a recipe for exhaustion and quitting prematurely. If you want to stay in it for the long run, and reach your goals once and for all, start with smaller goals and build your way up.
Bottom Line: Start with small goals, and slowly work your way up to the bigger goals to avoid overwhelming yourself. Remember, the goal is long term health and happiness, not short term fatigue and weight loss that will only reverse itself in a number of weeks. Keep your larger goals in mind, but break them down into smaller steps to ensure success.
12. Light weights 'tone', heavy weights 'build'
This point goes hand in hand with the idea that lifting weight will make you bulky. In an attempt to 'tone' muscles, many women opt for lighter weights in the gym, and perform more reps, sometimes upwards of 30 reps per set. While high rep training does have its place in any well rounded strength training regimen, training solely with light weights that don't challenge you, or never increasing strength in the weight room is likely to lead to minute results at best. There really is no such thing as 'toning' muscles. You either build muscle, or you build muscular endurance. Light weight, high rep training tends to be very effective when looking to build muscular endurance, although training all the way up to the 20 rep range has been shown to be effective in gaining muscle. Building muscular endurance is great, especially for those involved in endurance sports, but increasing endurance won't do much to enhance your overall physique. In order to get the toned, shapely look that many seek with high rep training, it may be more effective to lift heavier weights, and build the muscles, giving them shape and effectively training and 'toning' the targeted muscles.
Bottom Line: Lift heavy enough to challenge you in order to tone and shape the muscles. Include high rep training if it is what you enjoy, as it can be just as effective in gaining muscle. However, if your goal is to shape and tone the muscles, be sure to lift enough weight to challenge yourself by the end of the set, regardless of the rep range you utilizing (working close to failure anywhere in the 3-20 rep range should be sufficient).
There you have it. Some of the most common fitness myths floating around today that may be derailing your progress and standing between you and your fitness goals. Hope this helps you in your quest to conquering your fitness goals, and remember, keep training smart AND hard!