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10 Diet and Exercise Myths that Make It Harder to Lose Weight

Experts weigh in on common diet and exercise myths that may slow weight loss

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Every year, millions of Americans resolve to lose weight, whether on New Year’s Day, their birthdays, or just some morning when their mirror or the bathroom scale seems particularly unkind. And every year, many get frustrated and give up before they reach their goals. Contributing to this problem is a host of bad information about diet and exercise that circulates through gyms, workplaces, and over the Internet.

To help more people achieve and maintain a healthy weight, Julie Bender, a dietitian with Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, and Phil Tyne, director of the Baylor Tom Landry Health and Wellness Center agreed to “weigh in” on many of the most common diet and exercise myths.

Diet and Exercise Myth #1: Crunches will get rid of your belly fat.

False. “You can’t pick and choose areas where you’d like to burn fat,” Tyne says. “In order to burn fat, you should create a workout that includes both cardiovascular and strength training elements. This will decrease your overall body fat content.”

Diet and Exercise Myth #2. Stretching before exercise is crucial.

False. Some studies have suggested that stretching actually makes muscles more susceptible to injury. They claim that by stretching, muscle fibers are lengthened and destabilized, making them less prepared for the strain of exercise. “You might want to warm-up and stretch before a run, but if you are lifting weights wait until after the workout to stretch your muscles,” Tyne suggests.

Diet and Exercise Myth #3. You should never eat before a workout.

False. "Fuel" from food and fluids is required to provide the energy for your muscles to work efficiently, even if you are doing an early morning workout. “Consider eating a small meal or snack one to three hours prior to exercise,” Bender says. “Load up your tank with premium ‘fuel’ and choose some fruit, yogurt, or whole wheat toast.”

Diet and Exercise Myth #4. Lifting weights will make women bulky.

False. “Most women’s bodies do not produce nearly enough testosterone to become ‘bulky’ like those body builders on TV,” Tyne says. If you do find yourself getting bigger than you would like, simply use less weight and more repetitions.

Diet and Exercise Myth #5. Fat is bad for you, no matter what kind.

False. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of “good fats” out there that are essential for good health and aid in disease prevention. “They are the ones that occur naturally in foods like avocados, nuts, and fish, as opposed to those that are manufactured,” Bender says. "Including small amounts of these foods at meal times can help you to feel full longer and therefore eat less.”

Diet and Exercise Myth #6. Restricting calories is the best way to lose weight.

False. Both cutting back on calories and moving more will help you lose weight and maintain the lean muscle mass needed to boost metabolism. People often believe the diet and exercise myth that they must take drastic measures to lose weight, such as eating less than 1200 calories per day, but such diets usually do not provide adequate fuel for the body and may slow metabolism. “Drastic measures rarely equal lasting results, so start small and eliminate 100-300 calories consistently from your daily diet, and you will reap the reward,” Bender says.

Diet and Exercise Myth #7. As long as you eat healthy foods, you can eat as much as you want.

False. A calorie is a calorie. Although oatmeal is healthy, if you eat four cups of oatmeal, the calories add up. “Healthy or otherwise, you still must be aware of portion sizes,” Bender says. "You must limit your caloric intake in order to lose weight, however, understanding how to ‘balance’ calorie intake throughout your day can help you avoid feelings of deprivation, hunger and despair.”

Diet and Exercise Myth #8. Exercise turns fat into muscle.

False. Fat and muscle tissue are composed of two entirely different types of cells. “While you can lose one and replace it with another, the two never “convert” into different forms,” Tyne says. “So fat will never turn into muscle.”

Diet and Exercise Myth #9. Eating late at night will make you gain weight.

False. “There are no ‘magic’ hours,” Bender says. “We associate late-night eating with weight gain because we usually consume more calories at night. We do this because we usually deprive our bodies of adequate calories the first half of the day. Start the day out with breakfast and eat every 3-4 hours. Keep lunch the same size as dinner, and you will be less likely to over-indulge at night, yet you can enjoy a small late-night snack without the fear of it sticking to your middle.”

Diet and Exercise Myth #10. You have to sweat to have a good workout.

False. “Sweating is not necessarily an indicator of exertion—sweating is your body’s way of cooling itself,” Tyne says. It is possible to burn a significant number of calories without breaking a sweat: try taking a walk, or doing some light weight training, or working out in a swimming pool.

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