5 Diet & Exercise Myths That Won’t Help You Get In Shape (& What To Do Instead!)

Between New Year’s resolutions and getting ready for Spring Break you might be ready to try just about anything to shed some pounds or tighten up those abs. But just like fashion fads come a go, so do diet and exercise fads. And it’s usually for the best when these trends do fade away, especially when they claim to make you “lose 15 pounds in 5 days!”—yeah, right.  

Getting into shape is more than just numbers on the scale. Instead, you want to find a stable diet and exercise routine that gives you energy and makes you feel good. It’s no easy task to find a diet and workout routine that works for you, but we’re here to help by busting popular exercise and diet myths that won’t deliver what they promise so you won’t waste your time or effort. Once you have the facts straight, you can finally get the results you want and deserve! 

“If I lift weights I will look like a man.”

It’s understandable that most of us don’t want to muscle up like the Incredible Hulk from our workouts. That’s why many women avoid the weights section of a gym. But it turns out that weight training could be just what you need to rev up your workout and tone up! 

“Many ladies fear that using weights will make them bulky or build muscle like men,” says David Gonzalez, a Labrada Nutrition Athlete. “Quite the contrary, it actually tones and assists with fat burning.” Another added bonus of lifting weights? You can build muscle (again, not Hulk-sized ones), which burns more calories than fat—so you can actually increase your calorie burn even after you’re done working out! 

Whether you want defined arms or a flatter stomach, there are plenty of weight lifting exercises you can do to tighten up your trouble zones. Check out this introduction to weight training to get started! 

You can start small, with 3-5 pound weights, and do as many repetitions of simple movements as you can, and then you can work your way up toward more complex exercises using heavier weights. If you’re scared of trying it on your own, you could try a class at your campus or local gym that incorporates weights, such as a barre, body pump, or circuit class. 

AnnaMarie Reinhofer, a collegiette at Boston University, has experienced the benefits of weight training firsthand. When she began college and couldn’t rely on sports practices for exercise, she found a new workout routine that focused more on weight training and high intensity interval training—cardio that alternates between a moderate pace and short bursts of intense activity. 

“My physique change and I dropped weight I didn’t know I had,” she says. “Lifting weights, light or heavy, has completely changed my physique in a positive way.”

 “Only eat low-fat and non-fat foods to lose weight.”

Although low-fat foods are sometimes a better option, it’s not a catch-all for dieting. The best option is to choose naturally low-fat foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These types of foods make you feel fuller faster because of the good kinds of nutrients that they provide, says Joan Salge-Blake, author of Nutrition & You. But when you opt for snacks like fat-free cookies or ice cream, sometimes they actually aren’t much better for you than the original food when it comes to losing weight.

Salge-Blake explains that even if a food is low-fat, it often still has the same amount of calories as the original. “And when it says ‘no fat’, sometimes that lets you think that you can eat more,” she says. Since losing weight comes from lowering your calorie intake, this “low-fat” effort is fruitless (pun intended).

Just like there are different kinds of carbs, there are different kinds of fats—some good, and some you should limit. Two healthy types of fats are called polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, which are found in energizing foods like nuts, avocado, natural peanut butter, and fish. On the other hand, the unhealthy fats that you want to avoid are trans fats and saturated fats. It’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that less than 10% of the calories that you consume come from these kinds of fat. Control your intake of these foods by being aware that they are found in foods like in ice cream, butter, and high fat cheese. So with these kinds of food, it might be better to opt for the low-fat option, or to limit your intake overall.

“Machines can tell you exactly how many calories you burn during a workout.”

In this amazing world of technology, you’ve probably learned that machines don’t always work correctly (I mean, how many times has your computer crashed?). Workout machines are no different. The way you calculate the number of “calories burned” during your workout is based on your physical make-up: your age, weight, height, gender, etc. Even though most machines give you the option to plug these numbers in, there is not always complete accuracy. Instead of getting caught up in how many calories you are burning, you should be listening to your body. 

“I have a heart rate monitor,” AnnaMarie says. “I go off of my max heart rate, so I can do medium or high rate activity.” 

Calculating a workout in terms of how high you’re getting your heart rate gives you a much better sense of how your workout is actually going. It also helps you learn more about your physical health. When you know your body, you can begin to make it the best it can possibly be. It is also good to not only keep track of individual workout sessions, but multiple sessions.

“Track your progress,” Gonzalez says. “Keep a journal of how you felt, and what you look like. It not only makes a great reference to look back on what worked, but it also serves as a motivation to see visually the progress you made from Day One.”

 “Cutting carbs will help you lose weight.”

Most people have heard of the Atkins diet, which links weight loss with cutting carbs out of your diet. But according Salge-Blake, the part of a diet that helps you lose weight (in terms of what you eat) has to do with shaving off calories. This means that no food is really “off-limits,” you just have to be careful how much you eat of certain things. 

“The problem is not carbs itself,” Salge-Blake says, “it’s where the carbs are coming from.”

Carbs are found in nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, which Salge-Blake promotes as great sources of healthy energy, so you don’t want to cut these out of your diet in fear of carbs. You want to find complex carbs, which will give you longer-lasting energy, as compared to simple carbs. Complex carbs are rich in fiber and help digestion, but simple carbs contain added sugars, so they don’t have as much nutrients. Snacks like bagels and pastries are examples of simple carbs that you’d be better off limiting. You can find good, complex carbs in foods like whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, beans, skim milk and even popcorn! According to the CDC, it is recommended that you get 14 grams of fiber in your diet for every 1,000 calories that you consume. 

And if you’re confused about whether or not butter is a carb, don’t trust Mean Girls (it’s actually a fat).

“This new juicing trend will help you drop weight so fast!” 

This liquid diet trend, which consists of extracting the juice from fruits and veggies, might not be the worst idea, but it’s definitely not a long-term solution for weight loss. It can be a great way to get fruits and vegetables into your diet (because it’s so much more fun to slurp them up through a straw!), but there are some important nutrients that you miss out on with juicing. When you take out all the juice from a fruit or vegetable you lose the fiber, which is what makes you feel full, Salge-Blake says. So although you intake all the good nutrients, it won’t make you feel as full as when you actually eat the full fruit or vegetable.

The big catch with juicing is that it can be a great cleanse for your body, but it is only a temporary diet plan. You can lose some water weight when you do this, but it usually comes back once you start eating solid foods again. 

Another aspect to be wary of with juicing is that it can be very expensive to do, especially for college students. If you follow a plan from a juicing company they often make you buy specific juices or produce, and that can rack up a large bill. But if you don’t think you can swing your budget for this, don’t worry. Good old-fashioned fruits and veggies are always a great option!

Rather than sticking to an all-juice diet for a few days, which can leave you with digestive issues and a headache that’ll distract you in class, try just incorporating fresh juices into your regular diet. Or, start your day off with a nutrient-rich smoothie. 

“I like to play around with fresh juice recipes and have them as a snack or if I crave something sweet,” says Melanie Burbules from Boston University. “I really needed a boost to propel and motivate me to be healthy,” she says. “I felt wonderful and it really was a kick start into a healthy diet.