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11 Myth Busters To Help You Take Charge of Your Health

by Tom Gilliam

With the dismal economy keeping you upset and the stressful holiday season looming, you may be searching for something you can control. Here are some dieting and exercise myths that must be rejected in order to take charge of your health.

No doubt about it: Most of us have never felt less in control of our destinies. The stock market is bottoming out and no one knows what to do about it. Jobs are down, food prices are up, who knows what’s going on with gas, and to make things even more expensive, the holidays are upon us. Mix all these factors together and you have a recipe for runaway stress and anxiety. But there is one thing you can control: your body weight. That’s right. Now is the time to get fit, lose any extra pounds that might be hanging around, and develop the habits that will keep your weight at a healthful level over the long term.

Soothing yourself with comfort food and spending hours on the couch obsessing over TV news reports won’t make the economy better, and they certainly won’t make you better. If you want to feel more in control, take charge of your health. Not only will you feel better physically, your emotional state will improve as well.

Here’s the problem. Because we tend to live in a dieting-obsessed, “quick fix” society, most of us have absorbed some common misinformation that might actually be hindering our fitness goals.

To really be successful, you must first debunk the myths that you might have read on the Internet or received as advice from friends or coworkers.

Think you know your stuff? Read on for the revealing answers to common weight loss blunders that might trip you up in your quest to get healthy:

MYTH #1: Weight loss is all about the cardio. Anyone who believes cardio exercise alone will burn off the pounds hasn’t gotten up an hour early every day for two months to hit the treadmill…only to be disappointed when the scale doesn’t budge. While it’s true that cardio is highly beneficial, you won’t really see results until you add equal amounts of strength training to your exercise plan. That’s because muscle burns more calories than fat in a process called protein metabolism.

Quite simply, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn each day. Lifting weights is also critical as you grow older, because it will prevent you from losing muscle. In short, keep the cardio but add the strength training. The combination will help you to burn the fat and calories you desire in a healthy and balanced way.

MYTH #2: Salads are the best choice for healthy eating. A salad full of fresh vegetables can be packed with healthy vitamins and minerals, but depending on what else you throw on top, it can also be loaded with calories. For most people, cheese, croutons, and salad dressings are a must, but often these salad accessories are high in fat and calories, practically negating all the healthful veggies that lie underneath.

Many people don’t know that because of all of the extras they add, salads at fast food restaurants can contain more calories than a hamburger. Be conscious of the extras you’re adding to your salads. If you can’t stick to the vegetables and a light dressing on the side, you might be better off choosing a small burger and an order of fruit or a plain baked potato.

MYTH #3: Vegetarian = Healthy. When we hear the word “vegetarian,” we automatically assume it’s healthful. But the reality is that dishes at restaurants that are labeled as such can be deceiving to patrons trying to make a conscious choice about their meal.

Many vegetarian options replace meat with flavor boosters like mayonnaise, cheese, and dressings, causing the calorie count to soar. Be wary of the ingredients in vegetarian dishes. Just because it sounds healthful, doesn’t mean it is.

MYTH #4: Reduced fat means low in fat. It’s easy to be persuaded to pick up items at the grocery store or out at restaurants that are labeled “reduced fat.” But before you assume that reduced fat equals low fat, consider what the food’s original fat content may have been.

The FDA says in order for a label to claim a food has “reduced” fat content, it must contain 25 percent less of the nutrient than the regular product. If an item contains 10 grams of fat, it need only reduce its fat content to 7 ½ grams to qualify for the reduced fat label. So, while it has less fat than its original counterpart, it’s only marginally more healthful, and may still contain more fat than you need to consume.

MYTH #5: Fresh is better than frozen. With an increasing number of products being marketed as “organic” and “fresh” as part of the current health food trend, it can be easy to assume that fresh foods are naturally better for you than frozen ones. However, we forget that in order for the so-called “fresh” food to get to the stores, it often has to travel long distances from its place of origin. During the journey, fresh fruits and vegetables can lose some of their nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables that have been flash frozen (or even canned!) immediately after harvest maintain their nutritional value until they are consumed. As a bonus, frozen and canned goods can be much less expensive to buy when they are out of season, helping you to stay healthier year-round.

If you are able to buy locally grown produce, you should. Garden-grown foods do have the best flavor, and if it’s grown locally, you can be sure that the time between picking and eating is reduced.

MYTH #6: All fat is bad for you. For years we have had it drilled into our brains that fat is public enemy number one when it comes to losing weight and staying fit. And it is true that you want to avoid saturated fats such as those found in fried foods, sweets, and full-cream dairy products. However, if you avoid all fat all the time, your body will be missing out on important nutrition that it needs to function properly.

Of course, you should never overindulge, but you do need healthy fats in your diet to be on the top of your fitness game. Great options include moderate servings of nuts, seeds, and fish. Keeping your fat intake in check will make for a healthier lifestyle than one with no fat at all.

MYTH #7: If you exercise, you need to consume a sports drink. While sports drinks can be beneficial for those individuals involved in long continuous exercise routines (lasting more than 2 hours) or working out in a very hot and humid environment, most of us Average Joes and Jills don’t need them. True, these drinks have electrolytes that are critical for normal body function such as muscle contraction and heart function, but these same electrolytes can be obtained from our daily diet. So unless you are exercising in extreme conditions or for an extended period of time, water is a better way to go.

What people often forget is that sports drinks contain calories, which in many cases cancel out the ones you just burned during your workout. Stick with water. You’ll get all the hydration and none of the added calories.

MYTH #8: You should work out as much as possible. If exercise has overall health benefits in addition to contributing to weight loss, the more we exercise, the better—right? Not so. Weight lifting should be done only every other day, three days a week. That’s because strength training breaks down muscle, and the day off between workouts allows time for the muscle to rebuild. You should also be careful not to overdo it on cardio. Too much can cause excess wear and tear on your tendons and joints, which over time can lead to joint pain or discomfort, especially in the knees, lower back, and shoulders.

You simply need to remember to give your body time to recover from its workout. Consider taking a day off once or twice a week as an “exercise holiday.” If you abuse your body, you will have difficulty achieving the results you are looking for. Keep in mind the new federal guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine when you plan your workout routine for the week. It recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week plus your strength training. It may seem cliché, but the saying rings true—slow and steady does win the race.

MYTH #9: Stretching before exercising is critical. It’s no secret that stretching after a workout can be beneficial and improve results. However, many people mistakenly assume that stretching before a workout is good as well. The truth is that stretching before a workout does not actually increase our range of motion, as previously thought.

Warming up is actually a better pre-workout exercise than stretching. Great warm-up activities are running in place and jumping jacks. They will get your blood flowing and your heart pumping. Save the stretching for after your workout and look forward to maximizing your results.

MYTH #10: Your weight is the best way to tell if your “get healthy” efforts are working. Research is clear that weighing yourself every day is critical to a weight loss program, but many people don’t realize that taking their waist measurement is just as important. A simple tape measure can tell you what kind of progress you are making and can sometimes be a better indicator than the scale.

We’ve all stepped on a scale that won’t budge and wondered why our weight isn’t going down even though our clothes are feeling loose. Here’s why that happens. When you first begin to exercise, two things will happen: 1. You will gain muscle mass, which is good, and 2. You will lose fat weight, which is also good. The increase in muscle mass offsets the loss of fat, which is why the scale has not changed, but your tape measure shows an improved waistline. This process occurs for about the first six months of your exercise program, and then finally the increase in muscle mass levels off or plateaus but your fat loss continues, which is then reflected on your scale.

MYTH #11: If you’re sick, you can get better by sweating it out. Many people think that a great all-natural cure for what ails them is to hit the gym and try to “sweat out” their illness. That’s just not the case. If anything, it will only slow the recovery process. And chances are you won’t benefit from your illness workout in any other way, because your performance will likely be below par. The best thing to do when you’re sick is to take a break from exercising. Allowing your body to recover will quicken your response to the illness and get you back to working out at full steam before you know it.

Successful weight management is really about education and mindfulness. It means rejecting the myths and making a conscious choice every day to eat the right foods and get the right amount of exercise. And there really is a tremendous satisfaction in making that choice. Once you realize that you can pursue and achieve good health, you’ll feel calmer and more in control. Getting healthy is truly empowering. Whatever the future may hold, you’re taking the best possible care of yourself—and that’s a great feeling in any economy.

# # #

About the Authors:

Thomas B. Gilliam, Ph.D., is the founder and president of T. Gilliam & Associates, coauthor of the book Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.: The Simple Truth About Achieving & Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight, creator of the Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.® wellness program, designed to teach workers how to achieve a healthy body weight, creator of www.moveitloseitlivehealthy.com, and founder and owner of Industrial Physical Capability Services, Inc. (IPCS).

Since 1982, Dr. Gilliam has designed and managed many corporate fitness centers ranging from 500 square feet to 34,000 square feet. He has established a variety of wellness programs to deal with such health issues as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, physical inactivity, stress, osteoporosis, low back pain, and many more.

In addition, Dr. Gilliam is a pioneer and acknowledged expert in the field of dynamic strength testing for industry based on the sports medicine model. Since 1982, he has provided isokinetic physical capability assessments for Fortune 1000 companies through his company Industrial Physical Capability Services, Inc. (IPCS) (www.ipcs-inc.com). Dr. Gilliam’s programs have dramatically reduced workers’ compensation costs and decreased injury incidence and severity rates for major industrial clients. In addition, Dr. Gilliam has been instrumental in identifying and presenting to industry the higher risk for injury and disease caused by obesity in the workplace.

Dr. Gilliam is the creator of the Heart “E” Heart program, which is a healthy lifestyle program for children and their families. He was the principal investigator in a National Institutes of Health research study investigating the impact of physical activity and nutritional habits on heart disease risk in young children. Conducted in the late 1970s, this research resulted in numerous scholarly publications and television and radio interviews throughout the world, including NBC’s Today Show and NBC’s Nightly News with its science editor, Robert Basel.

In 1973, Dr. Gilliam earned a doctorate degree in exercise physiology with a minor in graduate statistics and research design from Michigan State University. From 1974 to 1982, Dr. Gilliam was a tenured faculty member at the University of Michigan. Before resigning from his tenured faculty position, he was involved with numerous funded research projects (i.e., N.I.H., Kellogg Foundation, State of Michigan, and others) that resulted in twenty-nine refereed scholarly publications.

Jane C. Neill, R.D., L.D., is the 2004 recipient of the Nutritionist of the Year Award for the State of Alabama Public Health. She is an active member of the American Dietetic Association and currently employed by the Alabama Department of Public Health, where she works with the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program as a WIC coordinator and a licensed dietitian. She has worked in the WIC program for over ten years, providing daily nutrition counseling for women, infants, and children.

While on the staff as a registered dietitian at the University of Michigan Health System in the late 1970s, Jane was instrumental in working with Dr. Gilliam as an investigator on the National Institutes of Health research study to investigate the impact of physical activity and nutritional habits on heart disease risk in children ages six to eight years.

Ms. Neill is a member of the team that developed and wrote the Heart “E” Heart program for children and their families.

She received her bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Alabama in 1977 in food, nutrition, and institutional management. Ms. Neill has been working as a registered dietitian for over twenty-seven years.

About the Book:

Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.: The Simple Truth About Achieving & Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight (Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy., LLC, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0-9762703-5-5, ISBN-10: 0-9762703-5-8, $19.95) is available in bookstores nationwide and through all major online booksellers.

For more information, visit www.moveitloseitlivehealthy.com.

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