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Published: 8/24/2009

Myth busters: The big, fat truth about diet and exercise

BY DR. MELISSA HARRIS-MARTORANA
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

Each month physicians and others in health-related fields from ProMedica and Mercy Health Partners will write columns about weight loss and fitness.

True or false? You re having a hard time developing a healthy diet and fitness routine because you don t know what to believe.

Let me dispel some myths about diet and exercise you may have heard.

Myth: Late-night eating will make you gain weight.

Fact: Calories are calories, no matter when you consume them. The reason we often feel so hungry at night is because we re not eating enough earlier in the day. Start the day off with a healthy breakfast of protein, carbohydrates, and some fat, and eat every three to four hours to curb late-night cravings.

Myth: Weight gain as you age is inevitable.

Fact: As we grow older, it s easy to gain weight because our metabolism slows and our activity level may decrease, which causes us to burn fewer calories throughout the day.

But this does not translate to inevitable weight gain. If you exercise regularly and eat a proper diet, maintaining a healthy weight will follow.

Myth: Skipping meals helps you lose weight.

Fact: Skipping meals works against weight loss for two reasons. First, skipping meals (especially breakfast) causes you to eat more later in the day to satisfy your hunger. Second, over time, eating fewer meals throughout the day slows your metabolism.

Patients always tell me they don t eat breakfast or lunch because they re not hungry in the morning, says Sharon Gutman, registered dietitian at ProMedica Health System s Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center. I try to remind them that when you don t eat regularly throughout the day, your calorie needs will go down because your metabolism goes down too, Ms. Gutman says. And if you re not hungry four or five hours after a meal, it means you ate too much.

Try to eat five to six smaller meals a day to keep your metabolism high and your cravings to a minimum.

Myth: You should exercise on an empty stomach.

Fact: Many believe if you have no food in your stomach during a workout, your body will resort to burning excess fat for energy. In reality, your body goes into survival mode and stores the fat in your body, using muscle for fuel instead.

All it takes to signal your body to burn fat instead of muscle is a small amount of food (think a banana or wheat toast with low-fat peanut butter). If you re exercising in the morning or it has been at least three hours since your last meal, try a small snack of 100-200 calories.

Myth: Drinking water makes you lose weight.

Fact: Water is the best supplement to any diet and exercise plan. But, while drinking lots of water and eating water-based foods such as soup will make you feel fuller and want to eat less, there s no evidence that water itself helps you shed pounds.

Myth: Muscle soreness after a workout is a good thing.

Fact: When your muscles are sore and achy a day or two after a hard workout, it means you worked too hard for too long. As you gain strength, you will be able to work out harder and longer without sore muscles.

It is always better to ease into a new routine. You ll see the payoff when you can work out more without taking time off because of sore muscles.

Myth: Red meat is bad for you.

Fact: While you should try to avoid high-fat meats such as bacon, sausage, and ribs, leaner meats such as pork and sirloin are an excellent source of protein and may be part of a healthy diet.

Myth: Any amount of physical activity will provide health benefits.

Fact: Of course any physical activity is better than no physical activity. However, it takes a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes of activity each day to receive cardiovascular benefits from exercise. If 30 to 45 minutes is too much, try three sessions a day of 10 to 15 minutes each.

To begin a healthy exercise program, start small, says Dr. Steven Freeman, a family physician at Bay Park Community Hospital who specializes in sports medicine. Walking even short distances is a good way to increase your aerobic activity and condition muscles for strength and flexibility training.

Myth: If you avoid carbohydrates, you ll lose weight.

Fact: Foods that fall into the carbohydrate family tend to pack a lot of calories and not always a ton of nutritional value, such as pastas and deserts. Yes, avoiding these foods will help you lose weight, but it s the alternatives you choose that can really provide the benefits. If you are trying to lose weight it s best to eat foods that make you feel full and satisfy your hunger, but that don t carry too many calories (like fruits and vegetables).

The most important fact all dieticians and experts agree on is this: If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Likewise, if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. Keep this in mind and, as always, speak with your physician before beginning any diet or fitness plan.

Dr. Melissa Harris-Martorana is an internal medicine physician and member of ProMedica Physician Group. She is the newest physician practicing at Woodley Park Internal Medicine in Toledo.



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