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Diet And Exercise Myths That Are Limiting Your Health

Supplements can't replace a balanced diet.

12/02/2017 6:42 AM AEDT | Updated 20/02/2017 10:07 AM AEDT

Many of us have misconceptions about health, and often while we think we're doing the right things, we could potentially be doing ourselves more harm than good.

Here are some of the more common health misconceptions;

Myth: Lifting weights will bulk you up

While weight training will result in an increase in muscle mass, it's more likely to impact the body in other ways. This includes toned muscles, increased bone density, increased muscle strength and increased fat loss.

Leanne Hall, personal trainer and author of Head First, Health Fast, said the benefits of weight training are multiple, but people have to be focused on doing certain things for it to result in 'bulk'.

"Heavy weights and increased reps will increase muscle size, and if your protein and carbohydrate intake is higher than normal this will also contribute," she said.

"For women, lifting weights alone is unlikely to cause "bulk", due to the fact that our natural testosterone levels are not as high as men."

Myth: Pushing yourself to the max is the only way to get results

Fitness and diet industries often promote that 100 percent effort is required to achieve desired results. Subsequently, they encourage pushing yourself to the max.

Hall said "being too healthy can be unhealthy". Pushing to the max can place too much stress on the body, resulting in increased cortisol, which causes inflammation and triggers an immune response.

Similarly, overtraining syndrome can result, which causes fatigue, depression, decreased productivity, low output and high risk of injury.

"Rest and recovery is just as important as training," said Hall. "It's during this time when the body learns to adapt to the stress of exercise, repairs itself and gets stronger."

Myth: Exercising on an empty stomach will increase weight loss and fat burn

"The reality is that, although training on an empty stomach does train the body to use fat for fuel during exercise, it doesn't necessarily result in overall fat loss," Hall said.

Exercising while hungry leads to poorer performance because of lack of energy and, because you don't burn more fat beyond the time you exercise, Hall notes that it's quite common to eat more than usual afterwards.

Some of the best snacks to eat prior to exercise include banana, honey on toast, trail mix, hummus with carrot & celery sticks, or greek yoghurt.

"You can increase weight loss and fat burn by ensuring that calories don't exceed energy output, while also making sure that they are adequate to sustain exercise," Hall said.

"Both over eating and under eating can disrupt weight loss when exercising."

Myth: You can eat more sweet stuff if you work out

According to accredited practicing dietician Caitlin Rabel, a lot of people view exercise as a way of "burning off" what they've eaten, regardless of what it is. Other people use sweet food as a 'reward'.

"We should be exercising because it feels good, not so we can eat extra cake. And vice versa, we should be enjoying cake when we want, rather than because we've exercised," Rabel said.

Associating 'treats' with exercise can potentially lead to disordered food and exercise habits, as well as guilt.

Instead of a sweet treat post workout, Rabel suggests a glass of milk, as it contains protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes for recovery. Alternatively, choose a snack containing carbohydrates and protein.

"If you really want something sweet, grab some fruit. It contains naturally occurring sugar, but also lots of great vitamins, minerals and fibre."

Myth: Elimination diets work

While elimination diets may work in the short term because of calorie reduction, they're not sustainable or enjoyable.

"Over time people can't maintain the diet, and their body naturally works towards getting back to the weight it was," Rabel said.

Restrictive dieting is a huge risk factor for developing disordered eating, especially binge eating disorder. Cutting out whole food groups can also result in nutrient deficiencies.

"Remember that there's no food (provided it's not rotten, mouldy or off) that cannot be included as part of a healthy diet," Rabel said.

"If you're struggling with what you "should" or "shouldn't" eat, consider speaking to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian."

Myth: Vitamins and supplements replace real food

Advertising and marketing would have us believe that we need a multitude of supplements to be healthy. However, Rabel said this is simply not true.

"People often try to make up for "gaps" in their diet with supplements," she said.

"The problem with this is that, in nature, vitamins don't appear by themselves. They're part of a food surrounded by things such as fibre, carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients."

There are also some vitamins that are absorbed better when consumed with other vitamins, and others that compete with each other and prevent absorption.

"Not getting your vitamins from food can result in deficiencies, and vitamin supplements do not make up for a poor diet," Rabel said.

"Unless you have a specific medical condition, there's no reason you can't get all the vitamins and minerals you need from food."

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