Health and Fitness Myths that I Used to Believe and Wish Were True (but aren’t)

For some reason, I genuinely believe that there has been a special era in the health and fitness community that distributed all kinds of misinformation…I say has been because we are experiencing what one would consider the same era but with different notions and rumors that simply aren’t true (at least not proven based on sound and valid scientific literature that is peer-reviewed and well-conducted and executed). I’ve decided to resurrect the previous (almost ancient-sounding) misconceptions and myths I bought into–some of them literally bought into–because I didn’t know any better. Oh, imagine the time and energy I could have channeled into more worthy endeavors than exhausting myself by obsessing over all of these nonsensical falsities! That’s okay. Here we are now.

Let’s start off 2021 right, shall we? Enough with the lies, the B.S., and the approaches that are based entirely off of speculation and completely disregard science. EVIDENCE-BASED and peer-reviewed SCIENCE. The very least we can do is cut through the noise and stick to the very, very basics. Specifically, dissecting the myths I used to fall for and, while wishing some of them were actually true or possible, alleviating much of the stress that comes with trying to reach your health and fitness goals.

Quick disclaimer: I am not a registered dietitian, personal trainer, nutritionist, nor do I have a degree specializing in nutrition or kinesiology. All of these facts are from accredited resources provided by those who do have these educational backgrounds and expertise.

  • The best way to obtain flat abs is by doing a million targeted ab exercises. Oh, if only. I used to view this as gospel in the very, very beginning of my fitness journey. Truth of a matter is, if ab exercises were all we needed, everybody would have washboard six-pack abdominals to sport. For some people, this is all they’d have to do, but in the case for many others, it takes more work: a healthy diet with lots of high nutrient-low energy-dense foods, plenty of REM sleep, low stress, a mix of cardio and strength training, consistency, and patience. Of course, ab exercises should be integrated into any workout routine, but you shouldn’t depend on it entirely for flat abs.
  • Lots of reps is the key to burning the most calories and building muscle. I always thought that when in doubt, do more reps. Well, it depends on what you’d like. In weight training, there are times where you should push yourself to complete as many reps with lighter weights for muscle endurance, but for muscle growth, a lower amount of high-quality reps with substantially heavier weights are more effective. More muscle mass entails burning more calories at rest AND during physical exercise. Muscular endurance is crucial to exercise more efficiently with better form for longer periods of time–without this, you can’t progress in your strength and physical fitness. The short answer: you need both ratios of weight mightiness to rep quantity to burn the most calories, so combine both in your routine.
  • Only 1-2 rest days allowed. While this mantra can be true for many routines, it’s not the case for every regimen. Sometimes you’ll need upwards of 3 rest days if you are going ALL ALL ALL out on your exercise sessions. While some Olympic athletes do not take any rest days at all, most people should ensure they recover properly with as much rest as they need. Obviously, these rest days do not have to involve never leaving the couch–walking, cycling, yoga, anything to move your body without elevating stress can be part of a healthy active rest day. I hardly took days off of exercise and felt incredibly guilty if I didn’t spend at least an hour working out. Now, I realize that sometimes it’s best to skip a day for better sleep and less stress as opposed to feeling less guilty short-term but prolonging stress long-term.
  • White meat is the healthiest type of meat. Even though white meat is lower in saturated fat and can be less calorically dense than red meat, the impact both have on cholesterol may very well be the same. Moreover, red meat and white meat both offer their own array of health benefits and detriments, so it really depends on your health goals. In spite of the fact that I ate both, we generally consumed white meat more often and I was more conservative with the portions of beef I’d consume as opposed to chicken, turkey, or white fish in my household. I was wary of cholesterol and saturated fat, but because we only ate red meat once or twice a week either at restaurants or at home, I didn’t ever find myself panicking about my heart health or cholesterol levels.
  • Salt is the devil. BOY OH BOY, did I follow this like no tomorrow! I would hardly ever salt my food and only rely on those Mrs. Dash seasonings or get upset with my mother if she added soy sauce or a helping of salt to her recipes because I didn’t want to wake up an extra pound heavier in the morning. Looking back, I know how ridiculous this is because salt doesn’t make you fat. Sure, it will make you look more puffy and bloated, but this is easily removable by breaking a good sweat and drinking lots of water as well as piling up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Yes, you shouldn’t eat salt with EVERYTHING, but adding a little bit to your dishes can make your healthy meals 10X more enjoyable as opposed to cutting out salt entirely. Don’t you want your steamed broccoli to taste yummy, anyways?
  • So are white carbs like white rice, white potatoes, white bread, etc. This is a myth that I actually kind of wish was true because it is a little discouraging to recognize that all forms of carbohydrates break down in the blood stream in the same outcome, even if you choose whole wheat bread over white bread. Having said that, it is still better to select fiber-rich carbohydrates since fiber is very healthy for your gut microbiome and the rate of carbohydrate absorption should often be slower (unless you need a quick energy boost for exercising intensely, like cycling or HIIT). Having said that, it’s not like white rice is going to kill you or white potatoes will make you lose all your progress. Enjoy what you like, swap out what you can afford to substitute, and that’s that.
  • Same goes with oil. Wanna know what made me even more heated than adding salt to food? Adding oil to food. I knew that oils were calorie dense (and they are) and freaked out every time I saw oil dripping out of a vegetable or piece of meat. But for real, it’s not the devil! Yes, oil does have a high amount of calories and cutting it out can aid with weight loss significantly, it’s almost impossible to avoid entirely. Like salt, oil has functional properties of its own: browning, cooking, textural enhancement, flavor elevation, and assistance in moisture. You can substitute oil for certain foods like pumpkin puree, applesauce, avocado, broth, nut butter, and water, but let’s be honest: oil is special. It’s okay to not eat oil at home, but at restaurants, is it really practical to ask the server to hound the chef not to cook with oil and risk ruining some pans? Also, you shouldn’t put any energy into fearing oil to begin with.
  • The lower the body fat percentage, the better. Perhaps I was deeply internally fatphobic for some time at one point due to trauma I underwent in my childhood, but any form of fat that would jiggle or protrude in a way I found unflattering would easily ruin my mood. Of course, high body fat percentages are associated with more health risks and detrimental health conditions than low body fat percentages, but other studies have proven otherwise in which metabolic health matters most regardless of body fat percentage. Moreover, maintaining an extremely low body fat can also perpetuate hormonal imbalances, heart disease, diminished organ health and protection, and just overall misery. Personally, I have never maintained a body fat that was too, too low (bikini-competition shredded, not skinny fat), but even being underweight was bad enough–not worth it, my friends!
  • Women shouldn’t train their chests. Not that there was any health denigration in training chests, but the myth stems from the notion that training the chest as a lady doesn’t look attractive. Oh me oh MY…the fact that I gave into this fact is mortifying. There are more than plenty of wonderful chest workouts directed towards women so that your girlies can potentially grow, firm up, or at least look larger–both weighted and unweighted! It’s almost like the notion that men don’t have to train their glutes (*rolls eyes towards the back of my head)…technically, you don’t have to, but it’s not a forbidden body part…furthermore, FACE IT. Most people find muscular glutes on a man look very attractive as most think perky taa-taa’s look appealing.
  • There are definite “good” foods and “bad” foods. Sadly, most people buy into this notion…both literally and metaphorically. So many food labels will say “we’re free of the bad stuff and we only use the good stuff!” without specifically defining anything. There are also so many foods that are challenging to define as “good” or “bad” because they could be considered either one: protein bars, soy sauce, granola, peanuts, popcorn, for instance…many view these as perfectly healthy foods, though plenty would disagree. Honestly, let’s leave all the energy we expended in fearing bad foods and obsessively eating good foods in the 2000s and 2010s. Thanks.
  • Sleep is not as important as working out–no matter how late it is at night, workout if you haven’t already. Such a situation to decide between working out or sleeping is a rare incident, but say it happens. It’s later than 9 P.M. and you STILL have not exercised. Should you get ready for bed or workout for an hour? There really is no one-size-fits-all answer; it depends on how your sleep schedule has been throughout the week and whether you are able to knock in at least eight hours of sleep the same night. However, more often than not, it’s easy to guilt trip yourself into one more often in such an extreme where you either start working out and skimping on essential sleep OR you procrastinate on exercise too often. Just listen to your body, but also be logical on sticking to a healthy routine.
  • You can’t workout the same body part every single day. In general, you shouldn’t workout the same body part every day IF you have exercised it hard enough…to injure the specific body part OR you absolutely cannot move the next day. However, it’s been proven that training frequently every single day–specifically the entire body–is incredibly effective at improving results and progression. You will know when you have overtrained from pretty obvious signs that will impede the efficiency, effectiveness, and enjoyability of your workouts. Of course, you do not have to train your entire body every single time you exercise; stick to what you prefer and can recover from the most optimally.
  • Your body can’t possibly crave foods that come from a package. Remember those charts that address cravings and the underlying root cause issues? “You’re not craving chocolate–you’re actually craving spinach! You don’t really want salt–have tomatoes instead!” I’d say–don’t buy it. To be fair, this chart is not wrong and should be acknowledged if you constantly crave these foods and do not currently consume any or at least enough of these foods for your physiological needs. Yes, cravings can be satisfied with healthier alternatives or drinking some water and finding something to occupy your time. But you shouldn’t neglect cravings if you constantly feel deprived of these foods and presently avoid them at all costs. Have a piece of dark chocolate and peanut butter or a handful of pretzels if you fancy. Again, be reasonable, kind, and honest with yourself.
  • Lastly, everybody can follow the same diet advice. In the back of my head, I knew this wasn’t true. I simply did not practice this truth and tried to take inspiration from every single health and fitness guru I came across. Workout like this influencer, eat this Instagrammer’s diet, and try to look like that fitness model. While I still believe it is beneficial to learn all kinds of lifestyles because you can learn valuable information, it’s so easy to view anything as gospel if you’re convinced. That’s why it’s so important to understand what your body needs and what is feasible for your lifestyle and time to achieve your goals. If you’re a seventeen year-old high school student, then it’s not necessarily practical to follow the diet and workout routine of a twenty two year-old full-time personal trainer or bikini competition model. Again, feasibility and comprehending your body are key.

What are some health and fitness myths we should leave in the dust?

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