Oh glorious summer, how we look forward to you! Beach days, hanging out by the pool, lemonade, and hammocks, the long days of summer are something even us Californians can appreciate and look forward to. What I don’t look forward to though, is the onslaught of diet ads that suddenly flood my social media feeds or favorite cable channels, and magazines with gorgeous women in bikinis and headlines offering to help us all get “bikini ready” blazoned across their glossy covers. In January it starts off as gentle encouragement and worthwhile resolutions to get healthy and feel great in the new year, but by May it turns into this frantic scream to “GET THAT BODY LOOKING FINE IN A SWIMSUIT!!!” It’s both horrific and demoralizing to feel like our current self is never good enough, and sad that our society so willingly encourages health and physical fitness for a select period of time versus striving to be our best all year long.
Many are fighting against this notion of quick-fix solutions and absurd diet claims that ensure success for long-lasting health goals. A recent LA Times op-ed piece poked fun at our current diet crazes including veganism and going gluten-free, while scores of people from doctors to journalists to everyday moms (who also happen to author best-selling books) are hearkening a return to a more traditional way of eating that includes the moderate consumption of all food groups. But we still have a ways to go on re-educating men and women on nutrition and finding the right balance of foods that will offer individualized health benefits, including losing weight and keeping it off, for the rest of their lives. Not one “diet” fits all, and optimal overall physical health isn’t something that can be achieved in seven days, or even 30 days. Here are just six diet fallacies that too many women (and men) still believe and fall prey to.
1. Carbohydrates make you fat
As Michael Pollan outlines in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, somewhere in the early 2000s, amid new diet fads (Atkins in particular) and a few scientific studies, Americans came to the conclusion that carbohydrates, including breads and pastas, were the real reason Americans were gaining weight, and if they just laid off the carbs, they could eat more meat and still lose weight. The truth is, not all carbs are created equal, and in fact carbohydrates are a crucial part of our daily dietary needs, with most nutritionists and even the CDC advising our average meal to contain a good portion of carbs consisting of fiber and grains. The end message shouldn’t be to stay away from all carbs, but stay away from the “bad” carbs, which are foods that contain refined sugars. This includes cakes, candy, white breads and pastas, and sugar-added fruit juices, which offer limited or zero nutritional value. Consuming “good” carbs like vegetables, whole grains, and legumes actually act as fuel for our body and are what we need to not only lead an active lifestyle, but just get through the day without feeling like a slug.
2. Artificial, zero-calorie sweeteners help you lose weight
The advancement of science has produced many wonderful things, but artificial sweeteners and even chemically processed so-called “natural” sweeteners, aren’t one of them. In an effort to have our cake and eat it too, many folks continue to consume the foods they love, from soda pop to “sugar-free” candy, and still hope to lose weight in the process. But study after study show that this line of thinking is not just counterintuitive, but can actually trick our bodies and actually damage our diet efforts. Even more recent research that seems to show that diet soda drinkers could lose more weight than those who only drink water, was paid for by the American Beverage Association. The end message here should be that regardless of what science tells you, consume that which nature made, not what science created in a lab.
3. A seven-day juice cleanse will kick start weight loss
I love my daily green juices and gulp them down with utter delight. I feel wonderful after drinking them and experience a short burst of energy following their consumption. But even I wouldn’t consider following a seven-day, three-day, or even one-day juice cleanse for the sake of losing weight. Not only does that sound super miserable, it also doesn’t do much to help out our metabolisms, which can often be thrown off-guard and go into starvation mode, slowing down its natural processes and actually resulting in muscle loss. Besides, if you aren’t eating all that healthy to begin with, chances are a juice cleanse isn’t really going to fix the original problem that got you where you are in the first place. The end message here should be to look at green juices as an added benefit to an already healthy diet, not as a quick-fix to solve a poor diet. Instead focus on making changes to your unhealthy habits so that you feel good on a continual basis and thus don’t feel the need to “cleanse.”
4. Consider going vegan or dairy-free or gluten-free (insert diet trend here) to lose weight
I have a strong respect for those who have to follow a strict diet because of health issues, allergies, or even for ethical reasons, so for those who follow any above mentioned diets for these specific reasons, these statements don’t apply to you. However, to the man or woman who heard from a friend’s neighbor’s cousin that if you ditch the cheese or eliminate gluten, you will drop 10 pounds and feel fabulous, I’m talking to you. If you follow any of these elimination type diets that have now become quite “trendy,” and you’ve lost considerable amounts of weight, ponder if it was really going “gluten-free” that helped you lose weight, or was it the elimination of all the processed food products that helped you shed the pounds? When you cut out gluten or dairy or any animal products in general, you naturally eliminate a lot of processed foods which contain these ingredients, and you also eliminate foods that can be high in fat and calories. This alone will naturally help you shed weight and is in theory a good place to start because we don’t need to consume loads of processed foods anyhow. But the road to permanent weight-loss shouldn’t have to be paved with never-ending absolutes. The end message here should be that quality “real” foods including cheese, bread, and even bacon, can all be included back into your diet, in moderation, and with enjoyment.
5. Cardio is the best way to lose weight, and any type of strength-training involving weights, makes you bulk up
My old idea of cardiovascular exercise included images of women running for miles on end in black plastic suits to burn more calories or images of dizzying amounts of high-intense “jazzercise” type classes at my local gym. Thank goodness my current idea of cardio is more well-rounded and includes jump roping, playing ultimate frisbee, and yes, lifting weights till I feel the burn. This current mindset is also reflected in the recent surge of Crossfit-type gyms and workouts, which include a wide array of different exercises like weight lifting in order to strengthen, tone, and even lose weight. While cardiovascular exercise like running and cycling are still important in building endurance, increasing lung capacity, reducing stress, and yes, burning calories, strength training also builds muscle mass and helps your body to burn calories more efficiently, even after the workout is done. And strength training is what helps to define all those beautiful muscles, something that running on its own can’t do. The end message here is that women no longer have to feel like a hamster on the never-ending treadmill, but should feel free to venture to other parts of the gym and lift a few weights for a more well-rounded exercise routine.