We’re bombarded with diet, exercise and health facts and figures – but just how much weight can we put behind them?
Does eating after 8pm really make you pile on the pounds? And will 100 sit-ups a day give you washboard abs?
With so much conflicting information, it’s no wonder we sometimes feel overwhelmed and confused.
But today, the Sunday People is here to bust the myths and the big fat lies.
We’ve asked the experts to delve into eight common diet and fitness fables and separate the truth from the porkies.
MYTH: Some foods burn more calories while being digested than they actually contain.
FACT: “Negative calorie” foods simply don’t exist.
Anita Bean, author of The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition, says: “People will fall for anything that promises results without effort.
“Sure, drinking ice cold water can lower body temperature slightly but in order to see that translate to significant caloric benefits, you would have to drink about 200 pints of it!”
That same rule applies to celery and green peppers. Eating 50 calories of either veg may take a little more energy for your body to metabolise than 50 calories of something filled with fat and sugar, such as ice cream or cake.
But Anita says: “That doesn’t mean there’s no calorie contribution from the celery or the green pepper.
“In fact, starving or withholding certain food groups only makes the body panic and shut down its metabolism – making it even harder for you to lose weight.”
MYTH: Doing 100 sit-ups a day will give you a six-pack.
FACT: Sit-ups can strengthen your rectus abdominus, or six-pack, but they won’t reduce stomach fat. So to reveal your abs, you must reduce your body weight. Combine high-intensity activities, such as running or swimming, with breathing and postural exercises, like pelvic tilts.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat, push your lower back flat into the floor, suck in your abdomen hard and hold for five seconds. Repeat 50 times, twice a day.
MYTH: Lifting weights makes you look too bulky.
FACT: Building large muscles occurs only after years of serious weight-training and strict diet. It’s even more difficult for women to bulk up as they lack the testosterone levels necessary to do so.
But weight training can help strengthen your bones, increase your metabolism – so you burn more calories – and improve your balance, posture and recovery.
Combining weights with cardio will create a greater proportion of lean body mass to body fat, making you look more streamlined.
MYTH: Reducing your calorie intake is the best way to lose weight.
FACT: If you sink below your body’s basic energy requirements (about 1,200 calories a day for women, 1,500 for men), it goes into survival mode to slow down your metabolism and save energy.
So while you may lose weight in the short term, you’ll put it back on when you start eating normally.
Aim to cut 500 calories a day and eat more lean protein, such as poultry and fish. Also eat regular meals that include complex carbs from fruit and veg and essential fats from nuts, seeds and olive oil. Proteins and fats tell the body it has had enough food and keep your metabolism revved up.
MYTH: You have to do at least 20 minutes of exercise before you start burning body fat.
FACT: Your body starts tapping fat for fuel the moment it creates an energy deficit. If you create that deficit by exercising regularly and cutting calories, you will burn off flab all day long.
It was once believed you needed to exercise in a range between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate. Any lower was thought to be too easy and any higher made it difficult to use fat for fuel.
But your body uses up more energy during high intensity exercise – just look at the physique of a sprinter – so stick to interval workouts with short bursts of high-intensity movement, followed by active recovery periods.
Walk briskly between two lampposts, run between the next two and repeat. This will be better for your heart and for fat loss.
MYTH: Carbs will make you fat.
FACT: Nobody is going to say that a diet of chips three times a day will be good for you, but there’s more to chips – and almost any other comfort food – than carbohydrates.
“Weight loss is independent of the micronutrient composition of the diet,” says Dr Richard Cottrell, nutritionist at The Sugar Bureau.
“If you eat less energy than you expend, you lose weight.”
And that is the truth, no matter what you eat. In fact, Richard says: “Carbs and protein are more satiating than other foods, so are better for weight control.”
It’s easy to confuse high-carb foods with high-fat ones because the two ingredients often appear together, especially in baked or fried products like cakes and chips.
But Richard says: “It’s high-fat foods that obese people crave, not the carbs.”
MYTH: We all gain weight as we age.
FACT: An inactive retirement or a desk job is more to blame for your belly than getting older, according to Amelia Lake, of Newcastle University’s Human Nutrition Research Centre.
She says: “When you adopt a more sedentary lifestyle, you lose muscle mass so you burn fewer calories.”
Losing two or three pounds of lean tissue means you’ll burn around 100 fewer calories a day – 10lb in a year.
Amelia says: “It’s a misconception that your metabolism naturally slows as you get older. It’s all about activity.”
The best way to maintain muscle mass is strength training – working those muscles – once a week.
MYTH: Eating after 8pm will make you pile on the pounds.
FACT: It doesn’t matter what time of day you eat – it’s how much you have eaten during the whole day and how much exercise you have done that will make you gain or lose weight.
Your body will store extra calories as fat, no matter when you eat. But if you fancy a snack before bedtime, try to think about how many calories you have already eaten that day.
Anita Bean says: “Try not to snack while doing other things like watching telly, reading or using the computer.
“If you eat in the kitchen or dining room, you’re less likely to be distracted and more likely to be aware of what, and how much, you are eating.”