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Growing up, you were probably given a lot of advice about how to take care of yourself and your body. An apple a day keeps the doctor away! Don’t go to sleep with wet hair or you’ll get sick! How many times have you tried to track your daily water intake so you could reach the coveted eight glasses a day? I know I’ve done it more than once.

Much of this advice often comes from family members and friends, so you may not have checked the credibility of these so-called facts. The truth is, there are a lot of health myths out there, and it’s worth knowing the advice you should really be taking when it comes to the wellbeing of your mind and body.

Here are a few of the most common health myths, and what tips you should replace them with.

“Healthy and skinny are interchangeable terms.”

Oh, boy. Whether or not you were given this advice verbatim, it’s definitely an attitude that’s baked into our culture and needs to be addressed ASAP. The problem is that many people rely on metrics like BMI (body mass index) to determine their weight category (underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese), and then translate that category into a diagnosis of their overall health.

This perpetuates the idea that all people above a certain weight are unhealthy, and anyone who falls below that weight is healthy. Plain and simple, it’s fatphobic. It’s not even true!

According to the Conversation, people of a “healthy weight” are just as capable (and likely) of being unhealthy as those who are considered “overweight” — in other words, there’s a difference between being an unhealthy weight, and leading an unhealthy lifestyle. ABC News reported that you can be thin and still face the same health risks that someone who is obese does, e.g. heart disease, high cholesterol, etc.

This “skinny means healthy” mindset can also encourage a pattern of disordered eating, one symptom of which is feeling guilt or shame for eating more because they think it’s unhealthy. The upsetting irony there is that disordered eating is unhealthy in and of itself; you shouldn’t be skipping meals or intentionally fluctuating your weight in the name of health. Be kind to your body, and understand that a little extra weight is not something to be upset about.

“Organic foods are healthier than regular foods.”

To debunk this one, let’s first break down what “organic” really means, since it seems to have become a buzzword in food industry. According to Mayo Clinic, the term organic refers to the farming process of agricultural products. A product is organic if synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetic engineering, growth hormones, and more are omitted in order to reduce pollution, and generally create a more sustainable farm.

You can’t use the words “natural” and “organic” interchangeably — natural foods don’t contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, but may or may not have been grown with those inorganic materials or processes.

So should you actually be shelling out extra cash for organic produce when you head to the supermarket? Well, it’s up to you — but it’s not a necessity, according to some studies. Yes, organic foods do have some health benefits: Mayo Clinic points out that organic foods have lower levels of pesticide residue and a toxic metal known as cadmium, and also have increased levels of omega-3 fatty (which reduces your risk of cancer and heart disease, among other things). But a study published in the BMC Environmental Health journal found that most of the differences in cadmium and omega-3 fatty acid levels is “likely of marginal nutritional significance.” That same study argued that much of the evidence on the benefits of organic foods is not conclusive, because the people who are more likely to buy organic foods are also likely to have healthier lifestyles in general.

All this is to say, buying organic produce over fruits and veggies made through conventional farming practices is likely not going to hurt you, and can benefit you to an extent. But if you’re budgeting your groceries for the week and can’t justify paying extra for organic, don’t worry too much.

“Taking dietary supplements will make me healthier.”

“Dietary supplement” is an umbrella term — it refers to vitamins, protein powders, and other products intended to, well, supplement your regular diet and give you more nutrients. You’ve probably seen some of them advertised on Instagram (remember when, like, every celebrity was raving about those SugarBearHair gummies back in the day?).

While the promise that you can get your daily dose of Vitamin D or iron in a little pill is tempting, you should be wary of the effectiveness of dietary supplements. In fact, one study found that many supplements for vitamins and minerals was associated with increased mortality risk in older women. Another study by researchers at Harvard concluded that daily multivitamins did not have a significant impact on cardiovascular disease among their participants.

Ultimately, it seems like a lot of the appeal of taking dietary supplements is smoke and mirrors. The NHS website states that most people don’t actually need supplements as long as they’re getting all of the nutrients they need from their regular diet. Unless you’re a child or pregnant woman, they mostly recommend that you take a daily Vitamin D supplement only in the autumn and winter, when it’s more difficult to get Vitamin D directly from sunlight. The key with all supplements is to make sure you’re not taking too high a dosage — talk to your doctor for recommendations specific to your situation. And definitely don’t take wellness advice from influencers trying to sell you things — especially those that are trying to make a profit off of the current pandemic.

“I need to drink eight glasses of water a day.”

This is one of the most common, and possibly most random, wellness myths out there. Where did this “eight” even come from?

The New York Times published an article debunking this exact myth. Writer Aaron E. Carroll points out that the origin of it is likely a Food and Nutrition Board recommendation from 1945 (which, hello, I think we’ve learned a thing or two about health and wellness in the last 75 years). The recommendation mentioned 2.5 liters of water a day — but this is where they myth comes in. Carroll also emphasizes that drinking water straight is not the only way to actually get water into your system; foods like fruit and vegetables, as well as other drinks like juice, also contain a lot of water. Since you should be eating fruits and veggies anyway, measuring your liquid intake down to the glass is kind of silly.

FiveThirtyEight also discussed the eight-glasses myth, and found that very few studies actually showed an indication of health benefits from drinking more water. According to this study, it doesn’t even change your skin quality that much (sorry to the skin care fanatics). At the end of the day, drinking eight glasses of water is likely not going to change your life, and you’re probably already drinking more than you think just by eating. Don’t let yourself get dehydrated, of course, but don’t be stressed out if you’re not on glass number eight by the end of the day.

These myths are only scratching the surface of misinformation about health. If you hear someone make a claim about a certain food, product, or practice that will help you lead a “healthy lifestyle,” you should always be a bit skeptical at first — there are so many studies out there, you’re bound to find one that can corroborate or refute other people’s advice.

Trust the science, and trust yourself to know what you need; remember that not everyone has the same health situation, so what works for one person may not work for you. Let’s all do our best to stop the spread of misinformation now, and we’ll all be better off for it.

Erica Kam

Columbia Barnard '21

Erica is an Editor at Her Campus. She was formerly an Associate Editor (2021-22), Contributing Editor (2020-21), Wellness Editor (2019-20), High School Editor (2018-19), and Editorial Intern (2018). She graduated from Barnard College in 2021 with a degree in English and creative writing, and was the Senior Editor of Her Campus Columbia Barnard (2018-21). When she's not writing or editing (which is rare), she's probably looking at food pictures on Instagram.
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