Myths that DIE HARD

Answers to 5 questions inquiring minds want to know


Truth be told, I don’t care much for the word “myth” — too definitive, devoid of context, if you will. The world of nutrition and exercise, with scant exception, operates in shades of grey.

Moreover, by now we know that women won’t bulk up if they lift weights, low fat isn’t the way to go and crunches won’t take fat off your belly. Instead, it’s time to tackle the fallacies that persist — even in many expert circles.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup Makes you Fat
With the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) exploding over the past couple of decades it’s no wonder the scientific community and the public at large have declared war. Excess sugar of any kind is not advisable. To suggest there is something particularly dangerous or fat-promoting about HFCS is pretty much baseless. Studies showing ill-effects are generally when HFCS is consumed in unrealistically high amounts. There is no study that shows adverse effects of HFCS in reasonable amounts in either a calorie balance or deficit. A 2012 meta-analysis at the University of Toronto, showed that fructose is no more fat-inducing than other carbohydrates. Moderation and sensibility win again.  

Eat Often for Best Results
“Eat often to stoke your metabolism and burn more fat.” So many mainstream sources parrot these edicts that we don’t bother questioning it anymore. When you look at the science, however, there is very little in the way of well-controlled research to suggest either that eating breakfast or eating often will do anything of substance for your metabolism. In fact, a recent study showed that three meals left subjects fuller than those who ate six times a day. Also noteworthy (but understudied) is the emerging concept of intermittent fasting — alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating. This eating pattern has produced some substantial results, anecdotally, and is starting to percolate in scientific literature, with a recent mouse study showing more favourable results in time-restricted eating than free eating (but with equal calories).

Muscle is a Big Metabolism Booster
An inordinate number of workout gurus grossly exaggerate the impact of muscle when it comes to increasing metabolism. The standard claim is anywhere from 35 to 100 extra calories burned per day for every pound of muscle.

It may be disappointing to learn the actual number is closer to six — according to more accurate studies done at Creighton University. Keep on lifting, however — strength training should still be the cornerstone to any fitness program for a multitude of other reasons.

Exercise Makes You Hungry
With plenty of anecdotal accounts, this one just seems logical enough to skip the fact-checking. Do a little digging, however and it turns out the evidence cupboard is relatively bare when it comes to the “exercise causes hunger” edict. While individual differences vary (women and so-termed “compensators” were more prone to overeat after exercise), a review of the evidence at the University of Leeds suggests otherwise — in many cases having the opposite effect. If you are a compensator by nature — pay special attention to control cravings and food choices post workout. Exercise, however, for most, does not drive hunger.

Hormones, Not Calories Regulate Weight
You can blame the diet book industry for this one. The best-selling diet books insist that calories don’t matter, or, at least play a lesser role in your weight. Insulin, in particular, has been branded the evil hormone responsible for the excess weight of Western society, with carbohydrate consumption shouldering the blame. Without getting into a lengthy and overly complicated discussion on the role of insulin (it has many and only temporarily suppresses fat-burning under certain circumstances), the weight of evidence shows that calories are king when it comes to weight regulation. Long-term studies done  at the Rockerfeller University show no advantage of insulin-supressing diets. Staying in a chronic caloric deficit (when protein is adequate) affects hormones and fat loss — not the other way around.

There is no universally right answer to nutrition and exercise for everyone. Do your homework, and do what works for you. Be open-minded, but skeptical and, as science sorts itself out, focus on training hard, getting adequate R & R, eat a variety of minimally processed foods most of the time and enjoy life!

Mike Howard is a 17-year fitness industry veteran specializing in youth fitness, fat loss and corrective exercise. He writes on health and nutrition from his base in Vancouver, B.C.



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