The Worst Pieces of Health Advice I Often Hear

health advice

Thanks to the internet, there are so many ideas out there about what fitness should look like, and what health tips people need to follow. Unfortunately, not all of this information is always 100% correct, and here are a few questionable ones that have piqued my interest over time.

“Falling short of your calorie goals once or twice is going to put you into starvation mode.”

The concept of starvation mode is confusing, especially because there are different definitions of “starvation mode” depending on who you ask. The general idea is that when you don’t eat enough, your metabolism slows down because your body starts to conserve what it has, ultimately making weight loss more difficult. However, this isn’t something that happens in a day, a week or even a month. In reality, starvation mode occurs after a prolonged state of too few calories (such as those who do not have access to enough food or those who have an eating disorder like anorexia) and typically you’re not actually starving but rather not offering your body enough of what it needs for your metabolism to functional optimally. For good overall health, it’s important that you’re getting enough of the calories and nutrients your body needs daily. If you fall short a day or two, don’t panic. Just make the necessary adjustments so that you’re eating within your recommended calorie range most of the time.


“You’ll burn more fat on an empty stomach.”

When you eat something, your body releases insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin partially inhibits the release of fat from fat cells, so, according to this oft-shared theory, if you exercise before eating, the fat is more easily released from fat cells. The truth is that exercising on an empty stomach does not help you burn more fat overall. When you burn more fat during a workout, it’s likely because you’re working at a lower intensity (where fat is the preferred fuel by the body). A lower-intensity workout means fewer total calories burned, which is really what matters when it comes to weight loss. If you feel better exercising on an empty stomach, that’s okay. But don’t do it because you think it’s going to affect the quality of the workout or your weight loss progress.

“Natural sweeteners like honey and syrup are better for you than white sugar.”

The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugar to less than 10 percent of daily calories, which is 120 calories or 7.5 teaspoons of sugar for a 1,200-calorie diet. Too much sugar, whether it’s marketed as “natural” or not, is not good for your health. There are a few types of sweeteners that offer some vitamins or minerals, but not in amounts significant enough to be a good source of nutrition. It’s important to enjoy the foods you love in moderation, so don’t feel like you have to swear off all sugar completely just recognize that sugar is sugar and your body treats it all in the same way.


“Protein shakes help with weight loss.”

Most health professionals recommend that about 10 to 35 percent of the total calories for humans come from protein, with a minimum of 60 grams for women and 75 grams for men. Protein performs many important functions in the body and helps with feelings of fullness. If you’re falling short on your daily protein goals despite your best efforts to get your protein from natural food sources, then supplements can be a good option. But the reality is that most of us get adequate amounts of protein in our regular diet and don’t need the fancy shakes and powders. Protein shakes themselves do nothing to help with weight loss. If you are getting enough protein in your diet, you can skip the shakes and your weight loss progress will be unaffected. If you aren’t getting enough protein and want to try a shake to supplement, be aware that some products out there are better than others.

“As long as you stay in your calorie range, you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight.”

I cringe every time I hear this one because I realize that not all calories are the same; while it’s true that you can lose weight on a fast food diet, it’s not recommended for a number of reasons. The reasons come down to our body’s natural hunger signals. When we eat, our bodies release the hormone leptin, which signals to the brain to stop eating when your stomach is full. When we indulge in junk food, our brain has a similar reaction to a drug, in which dopamine is released and we get excited about our fix. If we eat these kinds of foods often, it becomes more difficult to get the same “fix,” thus the brain convinces us to continue to eat beyond the point where we are full. Therefore you’re more likely to overeat. Your body also processes junk food and nutrient-rich food differently. Consider how you want to lose the weight. Do you want to do it in a way that’s healthy and sustainable, so that you can keep up your weight loss for a lifetime? If the answer is “yes,” then focus on the quality of your food, and not just the quantity.


“It’s okay to use supplements as a jump start to your weight loss.”

It can be very motivating to see big losses on the scale when you first start your healthy living journey, so who wouldn’t want a little help to make that happen? Most people know that taking supplements like diet pills aren’t a good idea long-term and won’t help with permanent weight loss. Yet the idea that they are a good way to “jump start” your program still persists. Why? Whether the long or short term, they aren’t a good idea for the same reasons. In addition to the health risks associated with supplements, they are not required to be regulated by the FDA, which means there doesn’t have to be reliable research to back up their weight loss claims. Most weight-loss supplements contain large amounts of caffeine or other stimulants, which speed up your metabolism temporarily. The problem is that as soon as you stop taking them, you’ll likely gain that weight back. You’re better off saving your money and using a healthy diet and regular exercise as a way to start the weight loss process.


“Detoxes are important to flush the bad stuff out of your system.”

If you’ve felt run down, tired or maybe you’ve fed your body too much junk lately, you might think you’re in need of a cleaning. Is a detox what you need to feel better? The answer is no. Your body is already very efficient at removing toxins naturally(hello, kidneys, liver, lungs, and intestines!) If a detox gives you an energy boost, it’s probably just because you’ve stopped eating foods high in sugar and fat, which will naturally improve energy levels. The best way to cleanse your body is through a healthy diet and regular exercise, no lemonade concoctions or crazy colon cleanses needed.

When seeking health advice, make sure you’re using trusted sources of information experts with the qualifications needed to answer your question correctly and websites or other resources with advice backed by reliable research. There is plenty of misinformation out there, so do your homework and don’t take the advice from strangers on the internet as a substitute for guidance from a qualified professional.