I think everyone has a few ideas on diet they cling onto for no reason at all. I know fruit is no worse (or should I say no better?) for me than potatoes, but I still love potatoes and neglect fruit. I probably believe or do some things that are completely nonsensical because I picked them up and never let them go.
But some of these myths are held by so many people that sometimes we have to complain. And that’s what I’m going to do. Here are five diet myths that are demonstrably false which you probably actually do believe.
1. X/Y/Z Is Bad For You.
Yes, we all use it as an expression. But we also genuinely believe it about certain things. You may think meat is bad for you, carbs are bad for you, sugar is bad for you, salt is bad for you, alcohol is bad for you, etc. And we incorporate this into our daily diets and the diet advice we dole out. And to a degree, it’s true. Alcohol does your liver some harm in any amount. Junk food messes with your metabolism. Sugar strains your pancreas. But there is an implicit falsehood in it.
You’ve probably already heard “everything in moderation”, the argument that nothing is inherently “Bad”, just that it can be consumed in too high a quantity. But there is another side to that argument: nothing is actually inherently “Good” for you either. Everything we consume has necessary nutrients, every nutrient is necessary. Everything puts some strain on the body or has some toxic products or byproducts. Avoiding one or two specific things is as meaningless as eating one or two specific things. Teetotalism makes you no more a saint of health than eating Goji berries does. It’s better to work out how your body, on an individual basis, processes all sorts of foods and to balance the right amount of everything.
And, mentioning toxins…
Detoxes are a joke. Think about this rationally. If you drink enough alcohol that your liver can’t eliminate the toxins, you die. If you eat an apple pip, you body processes the cyanide, if you eat cyanide crystals, your body detoxes too slowly and you die. So, if your body wasn’t detoxing, you’d not be here.
And what about progressive buildup? Well, that’s a whole other can of worms. For the sake of simplicity: if you are keeping your body consistently just below the mark for poisoning, do you really think fasting, drinking green smoothies or some magic shake is going to undo all that damage and filter all that out? And do you really think a detox is a better option than not poisoning yourself to begin with? Seriously?
3. Dietary Variety.
Now, what isn’t a myth is that dietary variety benefits you. But the two main benefits of dietary variety are that you’re less likely to be poisoned and guaranteed nutritional variety. However most people throughout the world avoided poisoning and nutritional deficiencies on a fairly plain diet at some point in history or another. And with modern sanitation we can keep our food clean and with modern nutritional data we can assess our food’s nutritional quality. So there is no longer any actual need for dietary variety. Hell, teenagers can survive on chicken nuggets and you can meet your requirements for every nutrient on a diet of potatoes, bananas, liver, sardines, eggs and sunflower seeds.
Now, your health may be improved if you add some variety and the need to meticulously weigh every serving of food goes away. But the sheer amount of variety some people think we need is not only historically impossible, but is also not at all required for life and general fitness.
4. Going All Out On Cheat Days.
Not so much a rule or belief as an action that has just as negative an effect. When we diet strictly or diet at all, when we’re trying to lose weight or get fit or get healthy, we have cravings for foods we’re not allowed. You could go on an “only my 5 favourite foods” diet and eventually get sick of them and crave something you never thought was all that great. So, we allow cheat days. And the general idea of a cheat day is to go all out, eat and drink everything you can’t eat or drink the rest of the time. And we somehow think this is healthy.
But overwhelming your body isn’t healthy. Let’s use the pancreas as an example. It secretes insulin in response to sugar, enzymes in response to fat, protein or alcohol and triggers hormonal regulation that affects youth thyroid and adrenal glands, among other things. If you eat low carb, no junk food, moderate fat, just the right amount of protein and no alcohol for six days and then on the seventh day you eat four pizzas, a steak and chips, a tub of ice-cream and a bottle of vodka, you are throwing a week’s worth of work onto your pancreas in one go. Your body just isn’t designed to deal with that. That is why alcoholics get liver disease but some people get severe acute pancreatitis from two beers.
In short, either restrict your cheats to a single meal or follow the 80/20 rule, unless you want to overwhelm your body and make yourself ill.
5. I’ll Just Work It Off.
Surely eating too much or eating junk or drinking too much doesn’t matter, because you can burn it off at the end of the day? Well, we only believe that because we conflate being slim with being healthy. In reality, plenty of thin people have metabolic disorder, heart attacks, liver disease and colon cancer. So working off the calories in your food will not fix you or make you less prone to illness.
In reality, whilst nothing is inherently just “Bad” or “Good” for you, if you do overconsume something that wears your body down, the calories aren’t the only thing impacting your health. And you just can’t “work off” insulin resistance, liver scars, diverticulae or thyroid imbalances. You can only prevent these things from happening by eating a healthy, balanced diet.
And those are five diet myths you probably believed. Do you know any other diet myths that are demonstrably false? What advice would you give to anyone struggling with the issues here? How do you keep fit and healthy? Please share in the comments!
TTFN and Happy Hunting!