Dedicated to Lauren and Anjuli. Now get back to work.
I am going to say some things in this post that a lot of people already know. However, as a person who has been on numerous diets over the years, I think it is a good idea to expose the sorts of well accepted snake oil doled out to an unsuspecting public with alarming regularity. I am going to begin by making a statement that will probably upset a lot of you:
Almost everything you have ever heard about healthy living is a lie.
Like most things we learn in grade school, the food pyramid is wrong. If we follow the food pyramid recommendations and eat a large quantity of carbs and such every day, we will get fat. If you don’t, it is because you exercise a lot and/or have good metabolism. However, considering that 1/4 of Americans are technically obese (and I do say technically, because a good portion of people that are actually healthy could be considered obese under the extremely flawed BMI system of measurement) there is clearly something wrong. That being said, I am not going to expound heartily upon the benefits of a paleo or low carb diet, except to say that they work. The best, in my opinion, is the slow-carb diet described by Tim Ferriss in his book, The Four Hour Body.
But I digress. The following are my three favorite healthy fads that just plain don’t work, and in some cases are actually harmful to you.
Now, many people are aware that there is no magic pill that will cause you to lose weight. If there was one, it would be the most popular thing ever, everyone would take one, and the manufacturer would be a billionaire. However, that doesn’t stop numerous companies from marketing weight loss drugs, with fairly lucrative results, regularly. Of these, I know of only one that has been proven by the FDA to actually do anything. It is a delightful little drug called Alli.
So, there has got to be a drawback, right? I am so glad you asked! If you visit Alli’s website and dig deep enough, you will find a helpful little tab describing treatment effects, so labeled because they are not side effects. Side effects imply that they will happen to some users, sometimes. Treatment effects actually indicate that the treatment is working correctly. What are these effects? According to Alli, it is oily spotting and loose or uncontrollable bowel movements. This is normal because Alli stops the absorption of fat. The Alli site cheerfully describes The fact that you will find this fat floating in the toilet after you…ahem…go, and that it will look like, “the oil on top of a pizza.”
So, considering the fact that Alli makes you poop your pants and fart pizza grease, what is the upside? According to people who know what they are talking about, you may lose between three and five extra pounds, as long as you are already following a healthy diet and exercising. Oh, by the way, that’s an extra three to five pounds a year. So, you get to potentially publicly embarrass yourself in the most awkward way possible and encounter frequent and unpleasant gastrointestinal discomfort in order to lose a fraction of a pound more per month than if we’re just living a healthy lifestyle. I’ll pass, thanks.
Vitamins may or may not work to prevent health issues, with the exception of calcium and vitamin D supplements, which have been proven to help bone growth and such. In fact, most Americans receive all the vitamins they need through their normal intake of food. So, at best, most vitamins are a waste of money, including those wonderful multivitamins that you can pick up at the drug store.
However, vitamins can actually be harmful in some cases. For instance, in the SELECT study more than 35,000 men took Selenium and vitamin E to see if they could reduce instances of prostate cancer. In 2008, participants received a rather disturbing phone call that told them to stop the pills. The reason? Not only did the pills not reduce cancer rates, but they apparently increased them.
So, I appeal to the masses, unless a doctor recommends that you take a certain vitamin supplement, do not do so. Just taking them with the thought that there is “no harm in it” could actually have serious ramifications for your health.
Calories In, Calories Out
I said I wouldn’t tread on Paleo and low carb turf, but I’m gonna have to a little bit for this one. Basically, the idea that calories are equal is just plain wrong. Certain sources of food will cause you to gain weight, while others will force you to lose weight. For more information on this, I recommend you check out the documentary Fat Head, and pick up just about any book on low-carb diets (again, I like The Four Hour Body, but there are many good ones).
Basically, the lipid hypothesis is wrong. Eating fat, including bacon, butter, steaks, pork chops, etc., does not make you fat. It was a notion that was never effectively proven even when it was proposed, and it isn’t true today. If you want to lose weight, follow a low carb diet and eat plenty of protein, fat, and vegetables. Anything else is just not nearly as effective.
So, those are my favorite healthy living myths. What are yours?