Pop Culture

Dr. Nancy Snyderman debunks ‘Diet Myths’

Dr. Nancy Snyderman takes on diet myths both big and small. Ever wonder if muscle really weighs more than fat? If you can eat after 8 p.m. and not gain weight? Do you feel confused over the true meanings of low carb, low cal, reduced fat, low fat? Do you wonder, as so many of us do, if carbs really are the enemy? Throughout the book Dr. Snyderman explains the history and underlying meaning of these myths — and the truths behind them.

Myth 1: Your weight is your fault
Myth 2: Your body shape doesn’t matter
Myth 3: Calories don’t count
Myth 4: Carbs are bad for you
Myth 5: Carbs are good for you
Myth 6: Diet drugs are a magic bullet
Myth 7: Dieting is all you need to lose weight
Myth 8: Supplements will make you thin and happy

Very few of us are ever entirely happy with our weight, and I hate the feeling of putting on a few extra pounds. But I’ve found some healthy and acceptable ways to get down to a healthy weight— things that really work. If you’re like I once was — tired of going on and off diets and up and down in weight — I’m going to help you get and stay naturally fit while eating anything you want, not depriving yourself, and appreciating the wonderful body you have.

How can I make such claims? I am a veteran of the diet wars, a doctor, and a reporter. Between medical school, my internship, and my residency, getting pregnant for the first time in my thirties and the second time in my forties, and doing live television, I’ve done it all: I’ve starved myself, and I’ve pigged out; I’ve binged, dieted, skipped meals, and lived to tell about it.

I subsisted on vanilla wafers and black coffee while serving my residency in pediatrics. I relied on graham crackers and peanut butter during my surgical training. I’ve been on liquid diets and protein diets — one week this diet, the next week that diet. I’ve exercised in sauna suits, and I’ve dieted on carrot sticks. There are times when I spent so much time poking my head in the fridge that my nose got frostbite. Add what ever you’ve done to this list, and I would understand. But finally, when diet became a four-letter word to me, I said, Enough is enough. I started making friends with food. So now I have an easy rule. I regard food as fuel. I eat foods I like — even some things that might not be so good for me. As a result, I find it easier to lose weight — I just eat a bit less and exercise a bit more and it falls off.

I’m not a member of a health club — it’s just not my thing. I prefer walking, hiking, or biking outdoors to keep fit. I watch my weight, but I’m not obsessive about it. And I wouldn’t deny myself something I really wanted. Every week, I try to enjoy something from each of my four favorite food groups: the chocolate group, the ice-cream group, the pizza group, and the chips group. But most of the time, I choose healthy foods. Do I have a perfect body? Far from it — but I know I’m healthy. Making friends with food, with diets, and with your body isn’t easy. And a big reason is that most of us have been following certain “rules” for losing weight all our lives. These rules come and go. We are fascinated by them; we follow them. We throw out everything we’re doing and embrace the latest rule. If it doesn’t work, we blame ourselves for messing up. The truth is that these rules are largely “myths,” misinformation that is often considered to be true. Nutrition is a fairly new science and it’s pretty boring stuff unless you are a dietitian. But the most important thing we all need to remember is it is always changing.

That constant change generates loads of myths, many of which I’ll explode in this book — myths like calories don’t count, carbs are bad, and you can’t keep pounds off. How do such myths start, and why do they continue? Some myths are holdovers from our mothers and grandmothers, such as “Bread crusts will make your hair curly,” or “Gum takes seven years to pass through the digestive system.” Others come from fad-diet promoters who use only part of accurate nutrition statements but don’t tell you the whole story. Most are interested in making a buck, not in helping you lose weight or keep it off. Other times, the media report news based on incomplete research or the half-truths these diet promoters provide. Tips on how to eat and exercise, stemming from the latest pronouncements by anyone wearing a lab coat or looking good in Lycra, have often been made on very weak data. In all fairness, they may have been the best guess at the moment. But you hear them repeated so many times that you forget they were rough guesses in the first place and come to believe they represent hard facts.

When I began my career as a medical correspondent in the 1980s, I was frequently concerned that one day I would run out of medical subjects, including nutrition, to talk about. Back then, I had no way of foreseeing the bewildering and conflicting flood of diet advice that would continue to pour in week after week. Americans have been bombarded with all kinds of conflicting nutrition news: whether it’s about cholesterol and heart-healthy diets or lack of fiber as a cause of cancer, whether it’s the latest “miracle” supplement or the dangers of sugar and food coloring, or even whether vegetables are as healthy if they’re store bought as they are when purchased at the farmers’ market. One day, the supplement vitamin E is magic, an antioxidant hedge against heart disease. Then, just as vitamin companies saturate the market with capsules, research shows that vitamin E takers could be more susceptible to heart attacks than those not taking the supplements.

It can seem as if every food poses a risk for cancer — and that every food contains cancer- fighting agents. Several years ago, health experts promoted a low-fat diet for everyone. Then came the high-protein diet in which promoters said fat is fine, but you need to steer clear of carbohydrates. Eggs used to be bad; now they are good. Butter used to be bad; now we know it’s better than margarine. There is so much misinformation and confusion about what to eat. It gets to a point where there is nothing “safe” left in the refrigerator but the ice maker. As for the shape we’re in, we get fat over the course of years, but we want it off by next Thursday. Hardly a week goes by without some expert somewhere issuing a new report declaring that a certain diet or pill or surgery is the latest magic bullet for weight loss. After being a doctor for more than thirty years, having reported on thousands of diet and nutrition stories, and being a professional dieter myself, I can tell you this:

What we need is a new and smart strategy for successful weight loss. Statistics show that forty-five million Americans are dieting at any moment in time, and we’re spending more than $30 billion a year on weight loss. Yet obesity is rarely treated successfully. We have a serious problem: We are the only animals on the planet that will eat ourselves into an early grave. Two centuries ago, people died of starvation. That trend is changing. Ours will be the first generation to die from food excess. It’s insane! Since the early 1980s, Americans increasingly have grown larger. We are ten pounds heavier, on average, than we were fifteen years ago and eat 15 percent more calories today than in 1984. Adult obesity has doubled since 1980, increasing in every region of the country, in both males and females and across all age, race, and socioeconomic groups. As we grow bigger, so have our risk factors for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, elevated cholesterol levels, kidney failure, and certain cancers. We’re at a tipping point in this country, where obesity has started to cost us our longevity.

Proper weight is not just a matter of looking good; it is about health. Being healthy is knowing you can count on your body. Being healthy is about enjoying a well-rounded life: pursuing physical activities you love, enjoying a balanced diet that makes room for all foods in moderation, and tuning in to your emotional and spiritual health. One answer to our national paunch is to stop obsessing about what we eat and start sorting out the sound advice from the babble. In spite of all the conflicting information, the tried-and-true still holds: Load up on real foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; practice portion control; and exercise regularly. It couldn’t be simpler. And because it’s so simple, people find it really boring. But these actions are the only safe and stable ways to lose weight. Try not to react to every new nutritional study that comes down the pike, either, since much of this information will be replaced by a new panacea next month. And start savoring your food, whether it’s a steaming bowl of oatmeal or a piece of double-fudge cake you share with your friends at a great restaurant.

Food is good for you, and it’s good for your soul. Enjoy it! I feel that beyond being a myth buster, this book should also act as a pal. I can help you most effectively if I give you enough truthful information to guide you out of the confusing diet maze. Then you can say, “Enough is enough. Tomorrow I’m starting on a new course that is best for me.” So treat this book as a resource, a constant companion, and a lifetime guide for taking weight off and keeping it off.

Many of us have been fed (excuse the pun) bad information about diet, nutrition, and weight loss. Bad information means bad choices, and bad choices mean bad results — or no results. You can’t get in shape and stay healthy unless you know the truth. This book will bring you face-to-face with the truth about dieting and weight loss, and armed with that truth, you’ll learn how to:

Check out information before you act on it. For example, if you were told that eating fifteen grapefruits each day would help you burn fat, would you go to the nearest supermarket and stock up? Or would you check it out first?

Make informed decisions using sound, straightforward information. Question whether a popular diet will really work for you.

Learn to make a friend of food and exercise. This will allow you to safely sprinkle the not-so healthy stuff through your diet and not feel deprived.

Understand that being overweight isn’t always the result of overeating and underexercising. There’s a lot more to fatness than lack of willpower. For many of you, being overweight is not your fault. Yet there are still many factors that are within your power to change.

How you eat can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers.

Discover little-known yet powerful facts and motivating ideas that can keep you trim and energetic.

Make important permanent changes — the kind you can live with for the rest of your life — in your eating habits.

Escape the forbidden-food mentality, allow yourself some leeway, and learn to enjoy food again with my Treat Yourself Diet — and lose weight in the process. Whether your weight-loss goal is 5 pounds, 50 pounds, or more, you can achieve it in some of the most enjoyable ways possible — by eating the foods you love in satisfying moderation. It’s not about becoming supermodel thin or adhering to someone else’s ideal, either — it’s about being healthy and feeling great. And it’s never too late to begin the journey. I am living proof that decades-old diet patterns can, with intervention and commitment, be changed. I am at peace with food. And I want you to be at peace, too.

Excerpted from "Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat" by Dr. Nancy Snyderman. Copyright (c) 2009, reprinted with permission from Random House.