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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Myths and Misconceptions about Health: Diet Frenzy

Diet talk is everywhere. You hear or read about it in a variety of settings. Even a simple commute to the grocery store might result in unsolicited dietary advice. For instance, at the market, you may encounter advertisements or overhear a person’s weight loss experience. On the road, you might see diet programs plastered on billboards with before and after photos. In the car, while listening to the radio, you might hear broadcasters raving about the effectiveness of a high protein diet. Simply browsing social media might lead you to the latest “fat-burning foods.”

Although there is an enormous amount of information on diet and health spread across different mediums, the integrity of these programs is certainly questionable. Unless you’re searching through a medical library, your sources (if they are like the ones mentioned above) might not be optimal. Many of these so-called diet advisors are trying to profit from their advice and don’t mind altering some of their claims. This is especially the case when we consider that most people do not bother doing any further research.

Unfortunately, this causes fad diets to emerge, mostly because people are so infatuated with dietary programs that lead to rapid weight loss. These diets almost always entail removing a particular food (i.e., carbs or sugar) because that seems to be the only way to lose weight at the rate that people would like. People (usually from the U.S. and other Western societies) live in a pragmatic culture. Results are everything, and if they are not immediately visible, then the plan is discarded and deemed inoperative.

Of the numerous dietary misconceptions, I want to briefly discuss five that I have often come across.

  1. Numbers tell all: calories and the scale.

For a pragmatic society, numbers end up being crucial indications of results. The most important numbers, it seems, are calories and a person’s weight on a scale. Your diet becomes only as good as the numbers you receive. Therefore, the faster you receive lower numbers, the better the diet. This misconceived fixation on numbers is futile because it can lead to crash dieting, which is inevitably unsustainable. Gradual weight loss is just not as appealing to a culture so focused on hastily achieving an outcome.

The idea that “calories are the enemy” results from the logic mentioned above. People, especially those following crash diets, avoid calorie consumption at any chance they have. They substitute in lower or zero calorie foods and sometimes even skip a meal altogether. There are diets where people will only eat cabbage or restrict themselves to a liquid fast. These diets are deeply rigorous, but they do produce the results people are seeking. However, the weight loss usually doesn’t last very long. Eventually people are not able to live off of these immensely restrictive diets, so they bounce back to their old eating habits and regain the weight.

Calories are not the enemy— they give you energy and give your body the essential nutrients it needs to live. Drastically cutting them down won’t do you any good, unless you consider no energy and constant hunger to be good. The sources of your calories are what you should really look out for. Instead of counting calories, you should look at what it is that you are eating. A four hundred calorie bowl of oatmeal and fruit is a much better choice than a hundred calorie granola bar with a ton of additives. Eat foods that are energy rich, that digest well and aren’t laden with unnecessary chemicals. Your best bet is to avoid highly processed foods, because even though many of them can be low calorie they aren’t automatically “healthy.”

If you eat whole foods with tons of fruits and vegetables and get a sufficient amount of calories, you will be on your way to a healthy, gradual and sustainable weight loss.

  1. You need copious exercise.

A fair amount of people tend to think that if they just exercise a lot more, they will lose weight. This is mostly because some individuals attribute their extra weight solely to their lack of physical activity. Although exercise is helpful for losing weight, it isn’t the only factor, nor the most important one. You can exercise every single day, but your results won’t be great if you’re eating foods that your body doesn’t thrive on.

  1. Stay away from sugar.

Many diets demonize sugar, calling it the culprit behind any added weight. As a result, people turn to crazy sugar-free diets. Cutting out highly refined sugars isn’t a bad idea, but telling people not to eat any sugar is a bit extreme. For instance, people might start only eating foods labeled “sugar-free,” not acknowledging all of the odd chemicals added in to compensate for the lack of sugar. Others might even begin to fear eating fruits and other natural sugars because “all sugars are bad.”

No, not all sugars are evil. Natural sugars such as agave nectar, honey or the sugar found in fruit are different from artificial or refined sugars in that they have additional nutrients and minerals. White or brown sugar and high fructose corn syrup are just extracted from their sources and have no nutritional value. Therefore, avoiding sugars will deprive you of vital, naturally found nutrients.

  1. Carbs will make you gain weight.

If it’s not sugar that diet regimes tell you to reduce or remove, it’s carbs. So-called diet experts attribute carbs to excessive weight. However, it is not necessarily the carbs themselves that are causing the weight gain, but instead the things being added to the products. Slathering potatoes and rice in oil will not have very positive effects on the inside and outside of the body. Eating carbs in their whole forms, avoiding or at least minimizing the amounts of fats being added, will cause eating carbs to have less of an impact on weight. You shouldn’t opt out of eating carbs just because some diet online says that it will make you lose ten pounds in three weeks. Carbs are critical energy sources and shouldn’t be removed.

  1. Diets are temporary.

Lastly, a lot of people look at diets as temporary. This notion mostly stems from the fact that many of the diets people follow are restrictive, and thus not sustainable in the long-term. In fact, the term “diet” itself seems to popularly connote a course of time in which one restricts food, instead of simply expressing the types of food a person eats or prefers. Diets shouldn’t be short-term, quick fixes. They ought to be long-term, manageable lifestyle changes.

Graphic by Tiffany Choi.

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