Since the release of my book Eat Fat, Get Thin, I’ve noticed fierce debates on social media and other news sources about things like calorie counting, eating vs. avoiding fat and genetics.
When it comes to overall health and weight loss, there’s an excess of advice out there. Unfortunately, most of it is terrible, misguided, outdated and scientifically disproven.
This ubiquitously poor advice can create weight loss roadblocks and even damage your health. Here are four prevalent misguided myths that drive me nuts.
Myth #1 – All Calories are Created Equal
A calorie is a calorie, right? Wrong. This myth that refuses to die keeps people from getting and staying healthy, as well as losing weight and keeping it off.
The current thinking is as long as we burn more calories than we consume, we will lose weight. The multi-billion dollar weight loss industry perpetuates this lie and actually relies on you believing it to stay afloat.
Thinking that losing weight is all about energy balance or calories in/calories out, vastly oversimplifies the truth. The food industry and government agencies love this myth because it keeps you buying more junk food, which they suggest you eat in moderation. How’s that working out for America?
Truth is, there are good and bad calories. Your body is much more complex than a simple math problem. When we eat, our food interacts with our biology, a complex adaptive system that instantly transforms every bite. Food is more than just calories and flavors. Food is information telling our cells what to do.
In fact, every bite you eat affects your hormones, brain chemistry and metabolism. Sugar calories cause fat storage and spike hunger. Calories from fat and protein promote fat burning. What counts more is the quality, not the quantity, of the calories.
The highest-quality calories comes from whole foods. Calories from high-quality whole foods are naturally lower in calories as compared with processed foods. This is why calorie counting isn’t necessary when you eat fresh foods like those your great-grandma made.
These foods include quality proteins such as grass-fed animal products (not factory-farmed), organic eggs, chicken, small wild fish, nuts and seeds. It means good fats like avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut butter and omega-3 fats from fish. And it includes good carbs like vibrantly colored vegetables (the brighter the better), fruits like wild berries, apples and kiwis, and super foods like chia and hemp seeds.
Myth #2 – Your Genetics Define You and Your Health
Most conventional doctors still believe we are pre-dispositioned to weight gain due to familial history. In other words, if your mom is fat and your grandma is fat, that’s why you became fat. You drew the fat card or the diabetes card in the genetic lottery.
As a firm believer that food is medicine and information for our cells, I can assure you our genetics do not dictate future health outcomes. We possess much more power over them.
Consider this: There are 32 obesity-associated genes in the general population that account for only 9 percent of obesity cases. Even if you had all 32 obesity genes, you would put on only about 22 pounds.
Our genes only change 2 percent every 20,000 years. About 35 percent of Americans are obese today, yet by 2050 that number will rise to over 50 percent. Our genes simply don’t evolve that fast to keep up with the increase.
What changed drastically wasn’t our genes. It was that we went from eating about 10 pounds of sugar, per person, per year in 1800 to 152 pounds of sugar (and 146 pounds of flour) per person, per year today. These pharmacological doses of sugar and flour hijack our metabolism and make us fat and sick.
Numerous factors contribute to obesity, but the least of them is genetics.
Myth #3 – You Can Out-Exercise a Bad Diet
The myth that you can eat whatever you want and burn the calories with exercise is completely false and makes no sense if you understand how the human body works.
If you think you can exercise your way to weight loss, you’re in for a big disappointment if you treat yourself to a post-workout sugar-laden smoothie, muffin or other “healthy” snack. You can’t just suck back some Gatorade to quench your thirst after your 30 minutes on the treadmill.
If you’re relying on exercise to lose weight without changing your diet, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You can change your diet and lose weight, but if you exercise and keep your diet the same, you may gain some muscle, improve endurance and be healthier overall, but you won’t shed many pounds.
Put this into perspective: If you drink just one 20-ounce soda, you’ll have to walk four-and-a-half miles to burn it off. If you consume one super-sized fast-food meal, you’ll have to run four miles a day for one whole week to burn it off. If you eat that every day, you have to run a marathon every single day to burn it off.
You simply cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet. Yes, exercise is extremely important, but to lose weight and keep it off you need to couple exercise with a healthy diet filled with plenty of plant foods, healthy fats and protein.
Myth #4 – Fat Makes You Fat
Here’s another pet peeve: Eating fat makes you fat.
Fat is not a four-letter word! Eating fat not only doesn’t make you fat, it’s critical to health and weight loss.
Studies comparing a high-fat diet that is identical in calorie count to a high-sugar diet had totally different effects on metabolism. The higher-fat diet caused people to burn an extra 300 calories a day. That’s the equivalent of running for an hour without doing any exercise.
Dietary fat actually speeds up your metabolism, while sugar slows it down. The right kinds of fat cool down inflammation, while sugar fuels it.
In studies of animals that ate identical calorie diets of either low-fat (high-sugar) or higher-fat and protein diets showed that higher-sugar diets led to more fat deposition and muscle loss, while the higher-fat and protein diets led to more muscle mass and fat loss. Keep in mind they were eating exactly the same number of calories.
The right fats are actually your cells’ preferred fuel, especially those fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that come from foods like coconut oil and coconut butter.
Yes, stay away from trans fats, but good fats like extra-virgin olive oil, coconut butter, avocado, nuts, seeds and nut butters keep us full and lubricate the wheels of our metabolism. Please stop fearing fat!
I’ve created a plan to reset your body and move toward your best self that incorporates movement, supplementation and above all, food and dietary fats .
Thousands of people all over the world have completed this program, and the results have been astonishing. If you’re tired of typical calorie-deprivation diets that don’t work, I highly recommend joining our Eat Fat, Get Thin January challenge.
If you liked this information, please share it with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. And, help me continue to clear up nutrition and health confusion by submitting your questions to drhyman.com. Let’s spread real truth and inspire others!
Wishing you health & happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD