Welcome back to school, class.

Today’s lesson is on mythology. Forget Zeus, Hercules, Mars and Venus. Instead we will focus on fitness and nutrition myths and legends. 

Myth: If I exercise regularly, I can eat whatever I want.

Fact: Each pound of excess weight stores 3500 calories of energy. The average person burns approximately 100 calories when running a mile. You would have to run thirty-five miles to burn a super-sized fast food lunch and a calorie-laden dinner. The way to maintain normal weight is to eat sensibly. Even Mercury couldn’t run fast enough or far enough to overindulge on a regular basis.

Myth: Women who lift weights will develop huge bulky muscles.

Fact: Unless a woman takes steroids, it’s one-in-a-million that she’ll develop large, bulky muscles. Men are capable of bulking up due to the presence of testosterone. Strength training is a great way for a woman to maintain a strong, lean and toned healthy body. 

Myth: Doing a lot of sit-ups will flatten my potbelly.

Fact: Abdominal exercises will strengthen your muscles. But having strong abdominal muscles and a flat belly are not the same. Strong abs are important for posture, core stability, functional fitness and for protecting your low back. In fact, you may have strong abs, but they might be hiding under a layer of fat. To have strong abs that show, vary your core exercise routine and reduce your caloric intake. 

Myth: I can turn fat into muscle if I exercise like crazy.

Fact:  Fat comes from fat cells. Muscle comes from muscle cells. One can replace the other, but fat cannot transform itself into muscle. Only slick infomercials have turned fat into gold. With proper nutrition, cardio, strength training, and old-fashion patience, fat stores can be reduced and muscle mass increased.

Myth: The way to lose weight is to diet.

Fact: Losing weight is the easy part. Keeping it off is difficult. Dieting is a temporary depravation that sets you up failure. Over ninety percent of people who have used dieting alone to lose weight have gained the weight back within two years. The keys to long-term weight management are two fold: exercise and modification of eating habits. Mindful eating involves subtle changes in food choices and portion control, modifications you can live with for the rest of your life. By the way you still absorb the calories of food eaten in total darkness. The story of the supermodel that maintained her waifish weight by claiming she only eats in the dark is urban legend. 

Myth: I can burn more calories by eating hot or spicy foods.

Fact: Like many urban legends, this one has its basis in truth. The energy requirement to metabolize the food we consume is called the TEF, or thermogenic effect of food. Most foods use about ten percent of their calorie content during the digestion process. A 300-calorie donut will need about thirty calories to be digested. Food that is cold, hot or spicy may require a fifteen percent TEF to be digested. However, adding hot salsa to an extra cheese quesadilla will not keep the weight off.

Myth:  I’ve lived like Bacchus for more years than I can remember. It is just too late to get into shape.

Fact:  Research shows that regardless when you begin, exercise and lifestyle changes will improve the quality of your life. You may not be mistaken for Aphrodite or Adonis, but you’ll look and feel better. The right program of cardiovascular conditioning, strength training and nutritional guidance will halt your descent into Hades in a hand basket, and help you soar to Mount Olympus.

As a child, I grew up with the myth “Good boys are members of the Clean Plate Club.” Once I disabused my self of that unhelpful nonsense, I found it easier to maintain a healthy weight. What fitness and nutrition myths and legends do you embrace…and are they helping you to achieve your goals? I’d love to know.