So many things sound true, and are not so. Fairly often, my Nonsense-Meter goes off, even when it seems the rest of the world disagrees. Maybe you have a Nonsense-Meter, too, but it might be called something else, something I’ve heard others call a BS Detector. For instance, there are a few health myths and half-truths that I’ve heard espoused time and again, but something doesn’t seem right. If taken at face value, you might believe them. You might even adhere to them or adjust your life accordingly. On closer inspection, however, and by studying actual science and research, you might discover that many of these commonly held beliefs aren’t merely half-true, they’re false, completely UN-true.
Try this. Here’s a little True or False test:
- If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want. ❑ TRUE ❑ FALSE
- Fat can be spot-reduced. ❑ TRUE ❑ FALSE
- Everyone should poop daily. ❑ TRUE ❑ FALSE
- Being cold makes you catch a cold. ❑ TRUE ❑ FALSE
- Drinking water will help you lose weight. ❑ TRUE ❑ FALSE
- Coffee is unhealthy. ❑ TRUE ❑ FALSE
The fact is that all of these perfectly reasonable sounding statements are false. Let’s take a look:
1. If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want. Exercise, sadly, does not give you license to eat whatever you like. It’s pretty difficult to exercise enough to burn off a 10,000 calorie per day diet, unless you’re an Olympic athlete. Ed Ingebretsen, a American College of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer says, “If we eat more calories than we burn on a consistent basis, our bodies will accumulate these extra calories as fat regardless of the amount of exercise that we do,” The best way to be healthy is to exercise moderately and eat moderately. Balance is key.
2. Fat can be spot-reduced. When asked what she thought about targeting specific areas for fat-reduction, Shirley Archer, former fitness trainer at the Health Improvement Program at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, responded by calling that notion, “wishful thinking.” Similarly, Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Sport within the Cardiff School of Sport, Carly Stewart explains, “Doing sit-ups (or another type of spot training) will strengthen the abdominal muscles, but will not burn fat specific to that area. Fat is burned or lost throughout the body on a more even basis, and is accomplished through aerobic or cardiovascular exercise.” The idea, then, that you can target the specific fat in the upper left quadrant of your right thigh? A pipe dream. It’s better to focus on the whole than on the particular parts.
3. Everyone should poop daily. This simply is not true. Schedules vary and that is perfectly ok. Just because your high-fiber-consuming neighbor poops twice a day doesn’t make him better or healthier than you. Medical editor at Examine com, Dr. Spencer Nadolsky says, “The frequency of defecation is not something that should be put to a schedule, since it is a bit unreliable and dependent on food intake.” Dr. Nadolsky goes on to say that a better way of judging one’s stool is by studying the Bristol Stool Scale, which assesses poop health by its consistency and color. Please keep in mind, if you’re not feeling…regular, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re irregular overall or abnormal in the least.
PSA: It’s important to note that you’re not considered to be constipated unless you have fewer than three stools per week.
4. Being cold makes you catch a cold. Dr Aaron Carroll and Dr Rachel Vreeman who wrote a book called Don’t Cross Your Eyes, debunk various health myths, including the notion that being physically cold will lead you to catch a cold. They explain that there is no scientific study which indicates that getting chilled leads to the contraction of a common cold virus. If you go out into the snow, you might feel cold, but you probably won’t catch a cold. The hypothesis is that during winter months, people tend to stay cooped up indoors, which causes germs and viruses to flourish.
5. Drinking water will help you lose weight. Not true. Drinking water will help you….not feel thirsty! Most experts agree that you should drink to hydrate when you feel like you want to do so and pay attention to replenishing what you’ve lost in the course of the day. They indicate that drinking when you’re thirsty will tend to amount to about 4-6 glasses of water per day. As for me, I’m such a club soda guzzler that if the weight loss myth were true, I would weigh approximately 12 pounds by now.
6. Coffee is unhealthy. The opposite is true. In fact, coffee is a major source of antioxidants, even more than fruits and vegetables. Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of many diseases and tend to live longer. This piece of information is such great news for coffee lovers. It means we’ll live longer and have more years to enjoy our mugs of coffee.
The question remains: if these reasonable, widely accepted beliefs aren’t true, then who can we trust? How can we know what’s true and what’s not. The answer is that we should study up, follow the research, check with the scientists, test things out against our own experience and intuition. While it might be easier to believe everything we read, it’s smarter to double check. I’m reminded of President Ronald Reagan who adopted a Russian saying during the Russian Arms Control Agreements. He said, “doveryai, no proveryai,” which means “trust, but verify.”