The Worst Fitness Advice Around (June 13, 2013)

For my June 13 article about the oh-so-common terrible fitness tips, The Worst Fitness Advice Around, either click here or keep reading!

 

It’s no secret that we live in a 24/7 information economy. Not only do we have access to information on our smartphones, tablets and our computers, but the barrage of never-ending news scrolls through our televisions 24 hours a day. We can discover the definition of a word with the click of a button, take a virtual tour of far-away cities in a flash, and can read articles and e-books until our heart’s content.

This information overflow takes no exception with the world of diet and fitness. TV shows, magazines and books tell us how to get our “dream bikini bodies,” and it’s likely that there are more weight-loss websites than people in the world. I’m surrounded by it for a living, and though we’re surrounded by a surplus of great fitness information, we’re also surrounded by a surplus of terrible fitness information. An incorrect website or a poorly researched article here and there is one thing, but some bad advice just won’t quit. With that in mind, here are my top six (in no particular order) terrible fitness tips.

Spot reduction

Repeat after me: There is no such thing as spot reduction.

Most everyone, no matter how fit, dislikes a certain part of their body. Whether it’s a lower stomach pooch or saddlebags that just won’t scram, we all have little parts of our body we wish we could change. This is the reality that makes the concept of spot reduction so darn alluring. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a diet plan that targets, then removes, that pesky upper arm jiggle? Or a machine that just takes away those love handles? Countless exercise gadgets, fitness DVDs, and diet programs have preyed on this universal weakness, promising a swift death to those areas we all hate.

They don’t work.

They don’t work because you cannot lose weight in one place and one place alone. Can you tone a specific muscle? Sure. But even a super toned muscle has a hard time peaking through a thick layer of fat. My father jokes that “we all have a six pack, it’s just a matter of what is on top of it,” and he’s right. We lose weight in layers. So, when you lose 10 pounds, it is 10 pounds over your entire body.

Every human has a body shape; we all tend to gain weight and accumulate fat in specific areas. For example, my legs will always be proportionally larger than the rest of my body. No matter what I do, my “gymnast thighs” (as they’ve been called) are thicker than the rest of my body. They were at my heaviest, and they are at my lightest. And while they look terrible in white skinny jeans, they’re also strong. They take me for long runs and get me through even the toughest squats. And while they’ll likely never be my favourite part of my body, I’ve accepted that I can only do so much to change them.

This is the answer to spot reduction. Focus on the good, not the bad. Accept the body genetics has given you, and work to get your best body possible. No gadgets required.

Eat six mini-meals a day instead of three normal meals

This advice is given out alarmingly frequently. The concept is simple; by making your meals smaller and spreading them throughout the day, you’ll keep your metabolism active and “revving in high gear.”

There are two problems with this. First off, there is very little scientific proof that eating more frequently will increase metabolic rate. Some studies claim an increase, others claim it makes very little difference. Neither side has the proverbial smoking gun.

Secondly (and in my view, more importantly), this technique can easily and sneakily lead to increased calorie consumption, and actually make you gain weight. When nutritionists use the term mini-meals, they mean meals in snack-sized portions. These mini-meals appear shockingly small to most people, so portions grow. And, before they know it, people are eating six regular meals a day. Nothing mini is going to come from that.

Simplify things. Instead of sticking to a rigid schedule or plan, eat healthy foods when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.

The elliptical is the best machine for a cardio workout

If you’re a regular gym-goer, you likely know that the elliptical is usually the most popular in the cardio room. A machine that uses a continuous skiing-like motion, the elliptical has more devotees than Justin Bieber has Twitter followers. I’m neither.

We believe what we want to believe, which is why we believe it when, after 30 minutes and barely breaking a sweat, the elliptical tells us we’ve burned 565,567,291,561 calories.

It’s lying.

I’m exaggerating, of course. But it seems to me that there is a correlation between the elliptical’s ever-growing popularity and its totally out of whack “calories burned” monitor. It’s an easy machine to use. So easy, in fact, that it is often recommended as the initial cardio tool for the obese, and is frequently placed in senior citizens’ communities. And despite all of this, it claims to burn about three times the calories as the treadmill.

If you don’t feel like you’re working hard, you aren’t working hard. This machine does not have superpowers; it feels easy because it is, in fact, easy. Listen to your body and gauge your physical responses. Steer clear of the fancy gadgets and “calorie burn” monitors, and take note of your heartbeat and RPE (rate of perceived exertion) for results that’ll beat the elliptical any day.

Carbohydrates and gluten are unnecessary poisons, making us fat

Ever since Dr. Atkins came out with his eponymous diet plan, we’ve been collectively terrified of bread. Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a dieter quite like a baguette, and now, with the popularity of Wheat Belly, even the protein in wheat has us quaking in our boots.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Carbohydrates are an important nutritional group just like any other; our bodies need them to function properly. Should you be eating box after box of Kraft Dinner? Of course not. But you also shouldn’t be eating pounds of meat while avoiding fruit because of the threat of carbohydrates.

While it’s true that, as a country, we consume too many carbohydrates, it isn’t the whole story. We also consume too much fat, too much protein, too much sugar and too many calories. Overconsumption is doing us in, not carbohydrates. Instead of adopting a radical program and throwing away anything in your kitchen that has even passed by a piece of pasta, incorporate healthy carbs and the principle of moderation into your diet. Unless you’re Celiac, don’t give gluten a second thought, and be mindful of your portion sizes. Don’t forget to occasionally treat yourself with some warm, fresh baked bread … it’s worth the splurge.

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie

No, it’s not. Not to your body, anyway. You cannot eat 1,000 calories of Snickers bars and 1,000 calories of steamed spinach and expect the same results in your body. It simply doesn’t work that way.

Our bodies process and metabolize food in complicated and varied ways. Though the science is complex and ever-evolving, it’s clear that calories aren’t the only factor. Sugar, fat, protein and carbohydrates all affect our systems and, in turn, our waistlines. For a truly healthy diet, you must be mindful of more than just your food’s calorie count.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you should all together ignore calories. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Period. Be aware of nutrient groups, and know how they benefit your body. Need energy? Healthy carbohydrates are your friend. Want to stay fuller, longer? Add protein to your meals and snacks. Keep a balance of healthy fats, protein, fibre and carbohydrates, and your body will function at its best.

And finally, the granddaddy of all fitness misconceptions; to avoid bulking up, women shouldn’t lift more than five pounds

Far too weighty an issue to summarize, this exercise myth deserves an article all on its own. Check back next week to find out exactly why this misconception is quite so wrong.

Molly Daley is a nutritionist and runs the healthy cooking, fitness, and wellness website, Diary of a Formerly Fat Girl. Find her at www.DiaryofaFormerlyFatGirl.com, or follow her on Twitter, @DOAFFG

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