hen I was an undergraduate kinesiology student, just a short decade ago (good lord, I’m getting old), I was taught to believe the generally accepted rhetoric about health: eat lots of whole grains, avoid saturated fat, engage in cardiovascular activity, avoid eggs and red meat, eat oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, avoid high protein, etc. Fast-forward 10 years and I’m fighting tooth and nail to re-educate the brains which have been polluted with such misleading and harmful information. It has taken me years of anecdotal experience and hundreds of clients to fully reframe my approach on nutrition, and that is why I’m writing this article today. Despite the spread of new scientifically-backed information and real-world results, I continue to see knowledgeable clients slipping back into outdated ideologies with their goals being stunted along the way. If you’re having issues improving your health or reaching your goals, remember that these common beliefs could still be affecting your subconscious mind…
Low-fat is healthy
Quite possibly the biggest and most detrimental mistruth in Western health is that low-fat = healthy. In case you’re still living in the 80s, it’s time to wake up; dietary fat is the most critical component to overall health. The list of benefits goes on and on, but just follow this one simple train of thought:
Dietary fat (including saturated fat, which is healthy and very important!) is necessary for the synthesis of the hormones that are directly tied to fat storage and lean body mass; if the body lacks dietary fat, hormone production will falter, fertility and metabolic rates will drop, and it will be more difficult to maintain lean muscle mass and far easier to pack on unwanted fat.
In my experience with clients, those following a low fat diet are typically overdoing it on carbs, which will decrease insulin sensitivity, further compounding fat storage and setting the stage for chronic diseases like diabetes. Still think low fat is healthy?
Conclusion: Opt for full-fat food options, while reducing dietary carb intake.
Fruit is a healthy snack
Just like with anything else, fruit in moderation won’t kill you. However, eating a lot of fruit isn’t exactly a healthy habit for one simple reason: fruit is almost entirely comprised of sugar. Some fruit options are worse than others, but in general you should treat fruit like you would any other sugar-based food item.
Be honest with yourself; if you eat a lot of fruit, it’s because it tastes good, it’s convenient on the go and you believe it to be healthy. There is nothing to prove that fruit is “healthy”; evidence tends to show that fruit was primarily used to put on body fat before winter/drought. Fruit is as delicious and convenient as that Snicker’s bar you’re slamming back, which has only a few grams of sugar less than most common pieces of fruit.
Conclusion: Eliminate fruit from your diet, or consume it in moderation like any sugar-based treat.
Cardio is the best form of exercise
I’ll keep this one simple: exercise is a good thing, but cardio is only beneficial in moderation. Excessive cardio leads to depressed hormones and metabolism, compromised joints and bones, and a skinny-fat physique. If you want a healthy metabolism, enough muscle mass to give you a “toned” physique and a wardrobe that doesn’t contain reflective spandex shorts, try lifting some weights.
Conclusion: Lift weights, and use cardio sparingly when necessary for your specific goals.
Vegetarianism is healthy
Limiting your diet due to religious beliefs or allergies/food intolerances is totally understandable. Outside of these factors, however, any kind of restrictive diet is without reason. It is completely possible to eat any kind of food sustainably, so if this is your reasoning for omitting certain kinds of food, you’re lazy and irresponsible, not healthy. A diet that includes variety, containing both animal products and fresh produce, is without a doubt the best diet for overall health. Limiting things such as meat and the associated B-vitamins, lean protein and saturated fat, is downright silly; if you’re serious about your health, source quality food and give your body everything it needs to thrive.
Conclusion: Eat a well-balanced diet and don’t limit important foods for irrelevant reasons.
Calorie-control is the key to health
Hand-in-hand with the low-fat health claims, calorie-counting is just as farcical. If you gratuitously limit calories, will you lose weight? For most people, you absolutely will. With that being said, lots of that weight will be muscle, and falling along with your weight will be your hormone levels, your metabolic rate and other important physiological factors of health. Sure, you’ll get smaller, but your health will also plummet. It’s wise to keep calories within a reasonable range to avoid gaining unwanted fat, but the human body is far more complex than a simple abacus, and you can’t rely on math to maintain optimal levels of health and body composition.
Conclusion: Eat real food, eat to satiety, and let your hunger cues manage your caloric intake.
The moral of the story here is that you should always be critical of generally accepted norms and remember that common knowledge isn’t necessarily common sense. When using nutrition to improve your health and tackle your body composition and performance goals, start by understanding how the human body works, and experiment accordingly. We all respond differently to different nutritional protocols, but by starting with what actually makes sense, you’ll put yourself in the best position to do right by your health and goals!