So much of our world is determined by representation. We see ads of fit and “swole” people for gyms and in fitness magazines. We see infomercials promising us we can “lose 10 pounds of weight in two days with this new fitness routine!” Or we see paparazzi-style photos of celebrities, with scandalous headlines like “You’ll never believe what they look like now!”
All of these things we see on a daily basis — in the grocery checkout line, or on ads in our newsfeed — can all warp our perception of the world. But they can also leak into common perceptions within society, creating myths that everyone will buy into. Myths that can be dangerous to believe and can result in extremely unhealthy habits.
Do you think you know what it means to be healthy? You may be surprised to find out the truth about them. I mean about these five common health and weight myths that have been popularized by the media.
Fat Foods Are Bad for You
It all started in the early 1960s when fat was declared the true enemy of health. The National Heart Association quickly started an “anti-fat” movement for foods. Trans fats, saturated fats, and cholesterol were all put on a “naughty list,” proving to Americans that the real reason our hearts were failing was that we ate too much fat.
But is that really true?
As it turns out, eating low or non-fat foods is actually more dangerous than just eating regular fat-rich foods. “Why,” you might ask? Because those non-fat “fad” diets are really just chalked full of sugar — which many health scientists are beginning to believe is the real danger to our hearts.
But how did our culture get to this point? Shouldn’t the National Heart Association have the population’s best interests in mind? As it turns out, much of our understanding about fat and sugar comes from a collection of studies done in the 1960s by Ancel Keys. This famous scientist cherry-picked his data to fit the results he wanted. However, it ended up being the main reason the Heart Association started targeting fat. Another lesser-known scientist, John Yudkin, tried to argue that sugar was responsible for this reason. Because your liver could only process so much sugar and would store the excess as fat. Unfortunately, he was largely ignored by his colleagues.
Fast forward to the modern day, and scientists are finally starting to understand the true dangers of sugar. However, the general population is becoming aware of the amount of money the sugar industry has put into hiding its damaging effects on the body. Now, scientists and nutritionists are beginning to give fat a better image and are suggesting cutting back on overconsumption of sugar. However, sugar is such a big part of our American diets that it’s hard to find food that doesn’t contain it.
Next time you go out grocery shopping, skip over those “low-fat” foods and opt for less-processed items instead. Be sure to read the ingredient labels on all your snacks and protein powders to ensure you’re eating clean, sugar-free foods. Sometimes sugar can be hidden because there are 61 different ways it can be referenced in the ingredients list. Remember: sugar is your enemy, not fat.
BMI is an Accurate Measurement
The body mass index (BMI) is a commonly used quantifier to determine someone’s height-to-weight measurement. It is used on a scale to help doctors determine if someone is underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. Doctors have used it to help determine the amount of fat in a person’s body since its inception in the mid-1800s. It became extremely popular and was officially coined as BMI when a study was done in 1972 by our favorite phony scientist: Ancel Keys.
But more recently, doctors are realizing the BMI is not very scientific at all. In fact, it often confuses muscle mass for fat (muscle weighs more, so it might tip the scales). It can easily label someone who is a bodybuilder as “obese.” The BMI is still being used regularly as a fast way for doctors to determine someone’s risk of overweight health issues. Though even that is bogus, as “normal” weight people are just as susceptible to health problems as those who are overweight.
The BMI shouldn’t be used, but for now, we’re stuck with a faulty system that is unscientific and inaccurate until someone finds a better alternative.
Your Weight Is a Signifier of Your Health
So much of our beliefs about health revolve around our weight. It’s an easy way to shame others or push ourselves to feel better based on our physical weight. But the reality is, weight and health are not always related.
In fact, although obesity rates are on the rise, scientists are discovering that our life expectancy is increasing as well. Much of this is believed to be because of our access to better medications and healthcare, but our diets are certainly improving as well. Just think about it: back in the early 1800s or 1900s, people were less likely to get nutritious food year round (especially in the winter). Now, we have access to fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains — even when they’re out of season in the Northern Hemisphere.
But besides our improved diets and health care, bodies are constantly under scrutiny due to their size. Yet weight or size is not an indicator of health, as many professional athletes can tell you. Bodies are extremely diverse in height, weight, metabolism, and health. Keeping healthy is a personal journey — forming a personal relationship with food, regular exercise, and water. All in an effort to better understand what our body needs and how we can nourish it.
Body discrimination will possibly always exist in the media. Being large can mean you’re an easy target for ridicule due to years of targeted discrimination. But only you will know what your body needs and whether you feel healthy or not.
Extreme Weight Loss and Dieting Is Healthy (The Biggest Loser)
America loves to watch transformation stories. “The Biggest Loser” has been one of the most popular reality television shows in the past decade, but it’s hiding one big secret: those transformations never last.
What the Biggest Loser loves to show is the transformation from obese to skinny. But once those cameras go off — despite the contestants best efforts to stay at their new weight. However, most of them end up regaining the weight they lost.
In an interview with researcher Dr. Kevin D. Hall, television host Adam Conover showcased just how problematic this show can be. Dr. Hall works for the National Institute of Health and conducted a six-year study on the “Biggest Loser” contestants. What he found was that most of the contestants were able to decrease their metabolic rate considerably — forcing them to burn fat and lose weight rapidly.
However, once the show was over, this low metabolism backfired. 80 percent of the contestants regained the weight, as their body attempted to compensate with the lower metabolism. Despite this, even those that maintained the same habits from the show (exercising hours a day and eating minimal calories) still found their body bouncing back to its original size.
Unfortunately, losing weight faster can make it harder to stay thin. The Biggest Loser doesn’t want people to know about that dark reality. But past contestants have since spoken up and are trying to raise awareness around the harmful culture of the show.
Counting Calories Can Help You Lose Weight
Another very common health myth is that of “calorie counting.” The idea goes that everybody needs about 2000 calories per day. Also, if you eat less than that amount, you automatically start to burn off excess energy (stored in fat). However, there are so many issues with calorie counting that it’s an extremely inaccurate way to lose weight.
To start, all bodies are different. There is no “average” amount of calories that each body needs every day. This is because it’s all dependent on height, weight, age, sex, metabolism, and other individual characteristics. According to a scathing Atlantic article from 2011, the FDA chose 2,350 calories simply to over-generalize and find a benchmark that they could use to help the general public recognize their daily limits. Of course, when you fit the entire population into a single bracket of calorie consumption, it never works. Additionally, 2,350 is less than most grown women reported eating when the FDA conducted their initial survey. Also, almost half of what grown men reported eating every day, according to the research conducted by the Atlantic. This generalized calorie number is simply an unhealthy expectation to set on people.
Outside of the daily intake, calories in food are extremely difficult to track as well. Each batch of any given food item can vary greatly in terms of contents and calorie count. Also, many modern-day estimates on calories can come from century-old data. To top it off, if you’re someone who calculates your calories to a T. Then you could very well be anywhere from 50 to 200 calories off. That’s because the FDA allows a margin of error of about 20 percent for calorie count labels on food. Calorie counting is no way to lose weight, and it’s no way to promote a healthy lifestyle.
The Truth About Losing Weight
It’s difficult to break away from these commonly held beliefs, but it’s important to know that these myths can do more harm than good. But where do you go from here?
First, you should set aside any unrealistic goals and expectations, and work on gradually seeking out the healthy lifestyle that you want. Work on eating less-processed foods, or low-sugar foods. Stop counting calories and pounds, and start counting steps instead. Buy yourself a fitness tracker, as they can help many people feel better about their health and feel more knowledgeable about what their body needs. Work on slowly making your body better, and don’t beat you up if your progress is slow.
Don’t let these myths discourage you from seeking out your ideal healthy body. When so many myths perpetuate our society, it only hinders our ability to accurate seek out and find the lifestyle that works best for us. Now that you know which myths to avoid, you can work on making the right choices for your body. Remember, knowledge is power!