The United States is the world's fattest country. The sad truth is 67 percent of all Americans are overweight or obese. People in that group shouldn't give up though. With a little know-how, anyone can break bad eating habits.
Most people truly want to live healthy lives, but are confused about how to do it. Dr. Nancy Snyderman separates fact from fiction in her new book, Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat.
The "Today" show health correspondent and host of her own upcoming television show on MSNBC said,"It's really important for people to know the hype from the non-hype."
Myth #1: Your Weight is Your Fault
The truth is, American culture is in large part to blame for rising obesity in the U.S., with its proliferation of junk food, a sedentary lifestyle and unrealistic body images in the media.
Girls begin developing unhealthy attitudes about food at a young age when they compare themselves to the skinny, airbrushed models they see in magazines. Those unhealthy images can lead to eating disorders coupled with low self esteem. Snyderman says it's best to steer clear of the magazines and TV commercials that glorify tall, skinny big-breasted women.
Instead, she recommends getting out the old-fashioned tape measure when formulating a healthy body image. A realistic goal for women is about a 35 inch waist and for men 40 inches. Also, strive to be strong.
"When your body feels strong your brain feels stronger and you can tackle anything," Snyderman explained. "It's not about being skinny, having perfect breasts or having a 24 inch waist. It's about being strong."
Myth #2: Body Shape Doesn't Matter
Pear-shaped people, or those who retain fat at the hips and thighs, are better-off than apple-shaped people, who retain fat around their middle. Belly fat causes heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even dementia.
"This belly fat that you carry around your middle is toxic fat," Synderman said. "It wraps around your organs and releases stress chemicals like cortizol and adrenaline, and after a while it not only changes your heart and your lung function, but hits your brain too."
Myth #3 Carbs are Bad for You
For energy and weight loss, you should eat carbohydrates-- healthy carbs that is, like whole grains, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables.
Snyderman especially recommends bananas. In today's economy, they're one of the cheapest foods available, and are loaded with nutrition.
"The lowly banana has been maligned as a white food and a carb, but I think if God put a natural food on the earth that is consumed by two-thirds of the earth's population, something tells me it's not an evil food," she joked.
Myth #4 Carbs Are Good for You
Watch out for refined carbohydrates. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from most white foods, like white breads, white rice, white pasta and sugar.
Myth #5 Chocolate is Bad For You
Chocolate not only tastes good, but it also promotes good circulation, which makes it heart healthy. But this applies only to dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa. One ounce has 110 calories, so if you keep your portions small, you can eat chocolate every day, guilt-free.
Myth #6 Dieting is All That's Needed to Lose Weight
People have to exercise to raise their metabolism. When you reduce calorie intake, you lose fat but you also lose muscle, and losing muscle slows down the metabolism. Exercise builds muscle and therefore increases metabolism.
Myth #7 Calories Don't Count
Weight loss is a simple math equation of creating a deficit between the number of calories burned versus the number of calories consumed. What's the number of calories you should be eating? Snyderman says,
"For most women 1,200-1,500 , maybe 1,800 calories a day (and) for men about 2,000," Snyderman said. "When I was at the Olympics these people were eating 18,000 calories a day and had a hard time maintaining their weight, but if you have a sedentary lifestyle you have to dial back the calories."
Myth #8 We Automatically Gain Weight as We Age
This may appear true, but it's actually an optical illusion. People automatically get shorter as they age.
"You shouldn't get fatter, but our bodies change. We lose height. Gravity takes a toll," the doctor explained. "So you can't be this tall and skinny and then lose height without something going out."
The bottom line: take responsibility for your weight. American society can set you up for obesity, but learning to make the right lifestyle choices can lead to a healthier, happier life.
*Originally published June 24, 2009.