For as long as people have been searching for fat loss and fitness tips – they’ve been finding and following fitness myths. Chances are that you’ve heard some (if not all) of the below and if you’re anything like I am – you’ve probably believed them. So get yourself comfortable while we step through 10 of the most common fitness myths today and take a proper look at them to see if they hold any water.
1. “Fat makes you fat”
Probably one of the oldest fitness myths on the go! The idea that dietary fat will make you fat. It’s funny, if you tell someone that carbs will turn them into bread or that protein will turn them into a muscle they won’t believe you. But when someone decided that fat makes you fat then it became the number 1 diet rule. The myth boils down to two primary factors. That fat is easy to overeat and that fat contains “empty calories”.
Over Eating Fats
The idea that fat is easy to over eat is the result of simple maths: fats contain 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram from carbohydrates or proteins. Low fat diets lead to weight loss by virtue of the fact that less fat means less calories. As carbs and proteins contain fewer calories per gram, you can eat larger portions – so you’ll feel fuller longer right? Wrong. This study concludes the opposite – that foods high in fat actually increase satiety. Your bodies response to fats is to feel fuller quicker and for longer.
The trouble with fats occurs at the source. If your fat intake is a result of highly processed or junk food – then this response from your body is halted. Junk food like takeaways are manufactured to suppress this response, therefore making you want more.
Fat is empty calories
Fat is an essential nutrient for our bodies. It’s needed for cell production, hormone production, brain function and for energy. The argument that fat contains empty calories is simply saying that high fat foods contain a poor nutritional profile. I’ll show you a quote from the USDA regarding “high fat foods” in the American diet:
Some major food sources of solid fats in the American diet are grain-based desserts (11% of all solid fat intake); pizza (9%); regular (full-fat) cheese (8%); sausage, franks, bacon, and ribs (7%); and fried white potatoes (5%)
So it’s not so much a case that fat contains “empty calories” but that shitty junk food doesn’t have great nutritional value (and also happens to be high in fat).
Eggs, fish, nuts, oils, avocado – all great sources of fat and offer a great nutritional profile. So get some fats in your diet – just not from junk food. I’ve been working hard to incorporate more fats in my diet lately – I’ve enjoyed greater energy, better mood and focus as well as clearer skin. Fats are essential, so removing them from your diet is actually detrimental to your health and goals. Making this one of the more dangerous fitness myths you could follow!
2. “Cardio kills gains”
Ah the old gem – cardio will eat your muscle. If you’ve spent any time reading fitness forums or boards you’ll have come cross this one. While it is true that cardio can cause your body to burn muscle – it’s not the cardio that’s the problem but rather your diet.
The reason cardio has gotten a bad rap is because it’s often paired with huge calorie deficits. If you’re not consuming enough calories and protein your body will turn to your muscle for energy. Restricting your calories too much will change your metabolism and body chemistry causing it to break up your muscles for energy. You can check out this article from Scooby to learn how cardio can actually help you gain muscle!
3. Negative Calories
This has become one of the more prevalent fitness myths in recent times – foods that take more energy to digest than they contain. Celery is often the best example used. The idea is that a stalk of celery contains 6 calories give or take, but in order to digest it your body will burn say 10 calories. So the net effect is you have burned off 4 calories by eating the celery.
The trouble with this myth is that digesting foods you eat only accounts for 5-10% of your calorie burn each day. So I currently eat about 2,300 calories a day, which means that my body burns off about 115-230 calories each day just digesting food. So if we run the numbers – digesting your 6 calorie serving of celery burns off less than 1 calorie.
The reason people see results when eating “negative calorie” foods is down to the volume vs calorie content. Foods like celery, cucumber, lettuce and onion allow for a large portion with a very low calorie count. The larger volume of food means they feel fuller and are less likely to binge or over eat. That’s why they are a great addition to a balanced diet.
4. Lifting weights makes you bulky
This one is usually directed at the ladies. “Don’t lift weights, you’ll get all big”. “I don’t want to get all bulky, I just want to tone the muscle I have” – sound familiar?
The truth is – lifting weights won’t make you bulky or ripped. Just like buying a sports car doesn’t make you an F1 world champion. All those “ripped” and muscular ladies you see in the gym and competing on stage didn’t pick up a dumbbell and suddenly transform. It takes months (if not years) of dedicated and consistent training and nutrition to achieve that level of fitness and aesthetics.
Now would be the time that trainers and fitness professionals will tell you that building muscle increases your metabolism and helps you burn fat – but that tends to be a grossly exaggerated claim. What weight training will do when losing weight however is help prevent the loss of muscle mass – meaning you’ll look better when you hit your target weight and won’t just look like a smaller version of when you started. Plus the act of lifting heavy shit and putting it down repeatedly will burn calories.
5 . Fat turning to muscle (and vice versa)
This one is probably the most annoying of the fitness myths I hear and one of the most ridiculous – working out will turn your fat into muscle or when you stop working out the muscle will turn to fat. Lets keep this one short and sweet – fat and muscle are two entirely different things. Fat is made up of adipose tissue and muscle is made from proteins.
If you buy 10 oranges on Saturday and forget to eat them, you won’t suddenly find that they have become bananas. Water won’t turn to wine if you don’t drink it. Your Reebok runners won’t turn into Yeezy’s if you leave them in the wardrobe – you get the idea.
Okay, here we go – the genetics argument. The holy grail of fitness myths. “I can’t lose weight, all my family are overweight”. There is a seemingly endless debate about whether obesity and being overweight are linked to your genetics or your lifestyle. And it’s likely a mix of both. There are genes that effect how your body reacts to different hormones – so some people may in fact have an issue recognising when they are full. You can read a more in depth article here.
The truth is however that for a lot of people it’s an excuse. Take for example a family where the mother and father are overweight. They have 2 sons – both overweight. Now if one or both of the parents are inactive a lot of the time and make poor decisions with their diet – this is what the kids pick up on. The kids are fat because of their parents – but not because of their DNA but because of their environment. Many anti-smoking campaigns target parents with the message that their children will imitate their habits – therefore they shouldn’t smoke around them. Yet when parents practice bad habits with their diet and activity levels in front of their children – it’s probably their genetics.
The other problem is that people will straight up lie. Relentlessly. “I hardly ever eat and I put on so much weight”. A little over a year ago I was having a chat with a friend and he said he couldn’t understand how he was gaining weight and couldn’t lose it. “Must be genetic or something” he said. We spent the next 15 minutes logging approximate quantities of the food he’d eaten that day in MyFitnessPal – he was well in excess of 3,000 calories. Same goes for that friend who “only eats takeaways” and never puts on weight. It ain’t great genetics – they just don’t eat a large amount of food in general.
Now before you jump down my throat and I get a tonne of e-mails calling me a dickhead – let me say this. There are people who suffer with metabolic conditions. People who have slower metabolisms whose bodies struggle to burn off calories at an average rate. There are also certain medications which will effect your appetite and how your body reacts to foods. I am not disputing that.
However – these conditions are rare and are often treated with strict nutrition and exercise. Likewise with medications that effect your appetite you need to be stricter with your diet where appropriate. As above, these are often used as a crutch or excuse for weight gain. I’ve been there – I blamed stress and college for weight gain. It makes you feel better short term, but long term you need to be honest with yourself.
7. Spot Reducing Fat
We all have those 1 or 2 body parts we’re unhappy with. If we could only trim the fat from here or there that would be great. Maybe an inch or two off our tummy, while keeping our arms and legs the same. Sadly however, this isn’t possible. Our desire for it to be real though is the reason it’s one of the more common fitness myths.
Crunches won’t burn belly fat. Bicep curls won’t burn arm fat. Squats won’t burn leg fat. An effective diet and training plan will lead to a reduction of body fat. Personally I lose fat from my face, neck and shoulders first. Then my legs and finally my chest and belly. Everyone is different in this regard. There have been several studies on this topic and all concluded the same – you can’t spot reduce fat. Sadly though it seems intuitive that working your arms will burn fat in that area, which is why this is such a common fitness myth.
You can read more here from the Yale scientific on the topic.
8. Crunches for abs
This one ties in with number 7 above. Based on it’s popularity however it deserves it’s own spot on the list. We all know someone who does crunches everyday for weeks leading up to their holidays. All in the attempt to get sweet 6 pack abs.
The trouble with abs however is that you will never see them so long as there is a layer of fat on top. Think of your abs like a high end sports car. You can work your ass off to get it, but no one will see it if you keep it locked in the garage 24/7!
The old adage goes that abs are built in the kitchen. All the crunches in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t get your body fat down. So get the diet on point and start working on the grand reveal!
9. Out Train Your Diet
Stressful day/week in the office? Have that pint of ice-cream and a bottle of wine – you’ve earned it! This is the common mentality shared by many in regard to their diet. And it’s impacting your goals. Here’s why you need to eat right and why this is one of those fitness myths better left in the past:
Food isn’t a comfort or reward – it’s fuel. Your body needs calories to function and grow. Filling it with the wrong foods will negatively impact your goals and stall your weight loss. If you blitz 600 calories with a morning HIIT session, then reward yourself with a takeaway on Friday night you’ve just undone your workout.
The logical solution is surely just do an extra HIIT session and get back in balance right? Maybe not. When you think of food as a fuel you have a better appreciation for what you put in your body. A 400 calorie take-away and a 400 calorie meal of chicken and rice are not equal. Both will illicit very different hormonal reactions from your body – which can make our break your goals. By all means, enjoy a “cheat” or junk food in your diet as you require, but make it part of a well balanced and structured diet plan – here’s a good article with a lot more info!
10. Squats are bad for your knees
Squat’s aren’t bad for your knees – squats done with shitty form are bad for your knees.
I struggled with my squat form for the longest time. And by struggled I mean I cursed the squat because of the pain and injuries I was getting. Then I sorted out my form and hey, squatting pain free. I’m a software developer, so I spend the majority of my day sitting at a desk. That leads to a whole host of muscle imbalances.
Dodgy hip flexors, weak glutes and other muscle issues make it difficult to squat with correct form. If your knees are hurting when you squat (and you don’t have an injury) then you need to address your form. Check out this guide on how to do it.
So there you have it – 10 of the most common fitness myths we all need to forget and move on from. So many beginners live their lives by some or all of the above and it’s causing undue stress and worry. If you have any fitness myths that you believed, let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,