Thursday, September 12, 2013

Calling Shenanigans on Three Magazine Diet Myths

Photo Credit: bravenewtraveler via Compfight cc
Americans are more insecure about their weight now than ever before. Women are conditioned from a young age to believe they are overweight just because they don’t look like the emaciated women they see on screens and in magazines. While many are not as fat as they think they are, obesity is on the rise among children and adults across the first world. Magazines only contribute to this problem while pretending to offer solutions.

Go to any grocery store aisle and take a look for yourself. The average magazine cover is designed to play on your insecurities and make you feel inferior. They are strategically located in an area where you are likely to be doing a bit of reflection about the food you are planning to eat over the next week. Catchy headlines simultaneously point out all your flaws and offer supposedly easy solutions to eliminate them. The first thing you see when you look away is a huge rack of candy bars. You have to be smart if you want to fight this level of manipulation. In my work as a nutrition consultant, I have seen firsthand how hundreds of people have been duped by magazine diet and fitness claims.  Every day, I have to talk men and women out of their preconceived notions of nutrition.
Here are three popular magazine myths that are touted as truths in the check-out line and some of the most common misconceptions my clients have:
1) Dieting is the best way to shed pounds.
Most weight-loss fads you read about in magazines involve dieting. These include guidelines on what to eat, when to eat, and foods to avoid in your daily meals. Some say you can lose weight by eating nothing but chicken soup. Some involve counting calories, having more and smaller meals throughout the day, eating only this, not eating that, etc. You can read all kinds of things in these articles, such as testimonies from people who have tried it and medical professionals who recommend it as a viable weight-loss option. Yet very few of them mention the other components to a healthy lifestyle.

News flash! You cannot lose weight and keep it off only by changing what you eat. Good health isn’t just a series of eating habits, it is a complete lifestyle. It is about more than just your body weight, too. So many people don’t even pay attention to good health until they start to lose it, and these are going to be the folks who have the hardest work to do. If you want to make big changes to your body, you will have to make equally big changes to your lifestyle. Everything from your self-image to your mental attitude and your activity level has a role to play in creating a sustainable system for maintaining good health. Those who start with a healthy diet and a good fitness regimen will find that the other components follow a bit more naturally. However you cannot expect to magically see the progress you are hoping for just by picking one easy thing to change.

It’s time to get out of the diet mindset and move towards overall nutrition—this shifts the focus from short term results to lifelong health.

2) Juice Fasts are an easy way to drop weight fast or jumpstart your nutrition.
Ask anyone, and they will probably agree that drinking nothing but juice for days on end is a great way to detox and lose weight. How many of them can tell you why they believe this? Many of my clients who have tried this saw only insignificant and temporary results in terms of weight loss. Since they have no way of knowing for sure how many toxins left their body, it just goes without saying that this must have worked.

In reality, even homemade juice contains little more than water and sugars. When you juice multiple fruits into one glass of liquid, you are taking in all the calories of each fruit with none of the good stuff. Raw fruits and veggies normally offer lots of vital nutrients and fiber. However, these tend to reside in the pulp and skin of the fruit. Guess what you are throwing into the trash when you empty the filter from your juicer? Everything your body actually needs in order to function.

Those who fast for too many days often experience symptoms of food poisoning. My clients think that this is a sign that the detox is working--the scientific community, on the other hand, agrees that this is your body’s way of telling you it is not getting what it needs and you should probably eat a sandwich. It is perfectly fine to have juice as part of your diet, and it is much better to make your juice at home than to purchase it pasteurized from the store. However, if you are looking to maintain the full nutritional value of raw fruits and veggies, try making them into smoothies instead of juice.

3) Carbs must be avoided like the plague.
Even though the Atkins Diet craze has long since passed, I bet you still find yourself irrationally avoiding carbohydrates on a regular basis. Some people have even started avoiding gluten because they think it is bad for everyone. The truth is gluten is harmless unless your body has a specific kind of intolerance, and carbs are absolutely essential to a healthy diet.

It is perfectly fine to avoid highly processed and refined carbohydrates such as pasta and bread, but not because they are carbohydrates. You should avoid them because they are high in fat and difficult for your body to process. A diet completely devoid of carbs is missing some very important components. Carbohydrates are your body’s top source of fuel. It is much easier for your body to access these fuels in natural carbohydrates such as veggies, fruit and whole grains, so it doesn’t hurt to avoid the super-processed stuff. Just don’t be fooled into thinking your body has no use for carbs and you should avoid them altogether.
The Bottom Line
The truth is there’s no easy way to lose weight and keep it off. The lifestyle habits that lead to weight gain and obesity are not likely to be changed without serious dedication and very hard work. However, people just don’t want to hear this. All it takes is for an “expert” of indeterminate origin to mention an easy way out, and they will completely ignore time tested truths in favor of the shortcut. Those who waste time and energy on these fake solutions are much more likely to fail than to succeed in their quest for a healthier lifestyle.

Carolyn Heintz works in San Diego as a personal nutrition consultant, as a mom to two daughters, and as an advocate for the health screenings that helped saved her father’s life. When she’s not working, she’s soaking up any nutritional, fitness, or wellness knowledge that she can get her hands on and sharing that information on her blog.



  1. I can't tell you how many times I've rolled my eyes at a co-worker telling me that I just need to completely stop eating carbs to lose weight. The reality is that it's not easy, and it takes a lot of hard work!

  2. i am totally anti-diet! i feel like i tried so many diets and none of them ever worked. it's only when i stopped dieting that i lost weight.

  3. Very well said, these fad diets are just quick fix solutions for people who don't want to make overall healthy choices and exercise part of their regiment. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for calling these diet fads out and holding them accountable. They "feed" on our desire for quick fixes, taking the easy way out. You're right. It takes a lot more than a fad diet to get us on the straight and narrow to losing weight. I have pretty much given up. Instead, I'm just trying to exercise at least 3 times a week and walk every day. Every little bit helps!

  5. Leslie,
    Isn't that the truth. I have a friend who has become obsessed with eating gluten-free by choice instead of out of necessity. Just concentrating on eating a healthy balanced diet seems so much easier to me.

  6. Tanya,
    Unfortunately most of the people I know who've lost weight on fad diets gain it all back once they go back to their old habits. So discouraging.

  7. Catherine,
    That is good to know.

  8. Monica,
    I agree. I feel the same goes with fad exercises/equipment (think boot camp). We are better off just going for a walk than hurting ourselves in some crazy bootcamp class that pushes us to kick the was or do pushup crawls across the room.

  9. I've tried just about every diet going. I'm not even overweight! But in the past I've wanted to lose a few pounds to feel better about myself. These things all seem to work temporarily but lead to food cravings so the temptation to give in after a short while takes over. I've found everything in moderation is really the best way to keep the weight off long term.

  10. debtfreeoneday,
    I noticed in the past when I've slipped up while dieting I lose all control and binge. Perhaps you are on to something. Don't deprive myself, but eat in moderation.