When it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle, we often don’t make the progress we’d like because we’re operating under erroneous assumptions. Here, Warren Honeycutt shines a light on eight common myths about nutrition and fitness.
When it comes to losing weight and getting fit, do you find yourself unable to make progress despite your best efforts? If so, you’re not alone in your frustration—and it may not be entirely your fault. According to Warren Honeycutt, marketers in the nutrition and fitness industries are very good at obscuring inconvenient facts that might keep consumers from buying their products. And beyond that, he says, misinformation about what’s healthy and what’s not often masquerades as “common knowledge” and “common sense.”
“If you want to move the needle on your fitness, you have to separate fact from fiction, once and for all,” says Honeycutt, author of Get Lean for Life: 7 Keys to Lasting Weight Loss” While willpower and motivation are crucial ingredients of positive change, they won’t do you much good if they are driving unhealthy habits.”
#1. Cardio is all you need.
Most of us know that cardio (i.e., aerobic activities like running, swimming, biking, etc.) is great for the heart, lungs, and burning fat. So as long as you’re raising your heart rate and breaking a sweat on a regular basis, you should start seeing the results you want, right? Well, yes—but only to an extent. While cardio will help you lose weight, it does little to tone muscles, strengthen ligaments and tendons, or increase bone density.
“Most people want to not only lose fat; they also want to look and feel good in the process,” says Honeycutt. “So if you’re working toward a more toned and trimmed body, you’ll need to add strength and resistance training activities into your repertoire, too. This will help you develop the shape you desire.
“I recommend spending 30 minutes doing resistance training three times each week, immediately followed by 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity,” he adds. “By doing resistance training first, you’ll deplete your body of glycogen, meaning that when you start the cardio portion of your workout, you’ll begin burning fat immediately. However, if cardio is first, it will take roughly 30 minutes before you begin to burn fat.”
#2. When it comes to weight loss, all you need to remember is “calories in, calories out.”
Yes, it would be nice if weight loss worked just like basic arithmetic, and all you had to do was burn more calories than you eat. However, not all calories are created equal.
“In reality, the body digests and metabolizes different foods very differently. For example, if you eat 100 calories of simple carbohydrates, they will be digested quickly—and if you don’t burn them almost immediately, they will be stored as fat. However, 100 calories of protein will be digested much more slowly and can be burned over the course of several hours.”
#3. “If I can get it off, I can keep it off.”
Many people assume that once they can finally fit back into their “skinny” jeans, they’ll be home free. But according to Honeycutt, that all depends on how they lose the weight. For instance, many people who use boxed meal programs gain back the lost weight and then some once they go off the program because they haven’t been educated on how to eat for life. Similarly, restrictive diets tend not to provide lasting results because practitioners simply aren’t willing to avoid a long list of foods for the rest of their lives.
“This is why I really don’t use the word ‘diet’. It makes people think that once the desired weight has been lost, they can ‘stop dieting,'” he shares. “The only way to keep weight off after you’ve lost it is to make sustainable changes that you can stick with for a lifetime.”
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#4. Salads are always a healthy choice.
Their primary ingredient is leafy greens, and, usually, they involve other vegetables too. So salads must be one of the healthiest choices on any menu, right? Not always. Depending on the dressing and other toppings like cheese, croutons, and meat, many salads are actually full of unhealthy sugar, calories, and fat.
“For instance, the quesadilla explosion salad at Chili’s has 1,430 calories,” Honeycutt points out. “Compare that to the grilled chicken sandwich, which has 1,100 calories, the chipotle steak bowl with 970 calories, or the ancho salmon with 600 calories.
#5. When shopping, look for items that say “natural” or “healthy.”
If you’re faced with two similar products at the grocery store and you purchase the one that claims to be made with “natural ingredients,” you probably assume that you’re doing your health a favor, right? Not necessarily. Unfortunately, you can’t always take food packaging at face value.
“Remember that marketers’ jobs are to make you buy their products, not to safeguard your health,” Honeycutt says. “Just because a package says ‘all natural’ or ‘whole grain’ doesn’t mean it’s not still loaded with sugar or calories. For instance, one popular cereal that’s generally reckoned to be healthy has 11 grams of sugar per serving! If you want to get an accurate picture of what you’re buying, read the nutrition facts and ingredients, not just claims on the box front.”
#6. Writing everything down can’t make that much of a difference.
You may have heard that when you’re starting a new nutrition plan, it helps to write down everything you eat and drink, right down to the smallest snack and sip of soda. You may also have thought, That just sounds like a lot of work for very little reward. I can remember what I ate without writing it down.
“But that’s the thing—we don’t remember…or we remember selectively,” Honeycutt comments. “It’s so easy to forget about the piece of candy you picked up from a bowl on a colleague’s desk, or to tell yourself that you didn’t eat that many French fries. But when you get into the habit of writing everything down, you’re forced to pay attention, and you make better decisions. The good news is, after the first month or two, you really can rely on your memory, because healthy habits will be second nature.”
#7. “I’ve been exercising and eating healthy for four months. I’m home free.”
Sooner or later, maybe even after months of living healthy, something will happen that causes you to veer off track. Perhaps you’ll overindulge in decadent meals while on vacation, or you’ll get out of the habit of exercising during a busy period at work. Then you think, Well, that’s it. I failed. I’m not cut out for this kind of lifestyle. And before you know it, you’re back to your old unhealthy habits.
“First, let me assure you that everyone—yours truly included—falls of the wagon sometimes,” Honeycutt says. “WHEN, not IF, it happens to you, keep your focus forward. Instead of beating yourself up about your mistakes, direct your mental energy to planning your next meal or workout. Remind yourself that tomorrow is a fresh chance to make good decisions. Think about it this way: If we all gave up the first time we stalled while learning to drive, we’d all still be walking! Treat your fitness mistakes the same way you would mistakes in any new endeavor.”
#8. “Joining a gym will help me kick start my fitness journey.”
Once you’ve made the decision to get fit, it’s tempting to head to the gym and sign up for a membership. But while enthusiasm is a good thing, allowing it to convince you to shell out a bunch of cash up front probably isn’t the best idea.
“If you talk to gym employees, they’re likely to tell you many new members show up regularly for a few weeks, then drop off the face of the earth,” Honeycutt shares. “Often, the problem is a lack of motivation once the initial enthusiasm fades. And sometimes, gym rookies are so intimidated by the ‘regulars’ they stop coming! That’s why I advise you to start small when integrating exercise into your life. A pair of tennis shoes, elastic exercise bands, and 5- or 10-pound dumbbells are all you need to get started. Once you have established a physical fitness habit, then you can upgrade to that gym membership.”