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The 10 Most Misunderstood Diet and Fitness Strategies

Myth: Eating at Night Makes You Fat

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FACT: If your overall calorie intake is appropriate for weight loss or maintenance, it may benefit you to eat something after dinner, says Joni Rampolla, RD, Director of Nutrition and Wellness for Medifast.

Late-night calories will ultimately get used the next day (and even while you sleep). To keep your energy levels up, it is better to spread your calories out during the day when your body needs fuel. Aim to eat something every two or three hours. This will stabilize blood sugar levels and help you feel full and energized all day.

If you do need a late-night snack, consider keeping it to 200 calories or less. Check out some of our favorite post-dinner bites here.

Myth: Hunger is Always a Sign that You Need Food

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FACT: The body commonly sends cues of hunger when it is dehydrated, sleep deprived, or sensing psychological hunger. If you’re not drinking enough water or getting enough sleep, this alone can cause you to sense hunger, even though you’re full, Rampolla says.

Myth: Losing Weight is Harder than Keeping it Off

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FACT: More than 90 percent of dieters regain the weight they lost (or more) once they “finish” their plan, Rampolla says. If you resume eating the foods you ate before losing weight, you will gain the weight back—and maybe a few extra pounds. Here’s why: After weight loss, your slimmer body requires fewer calories to function. Plus, if your weight-loss plan does not include enough protein, you might lose muscle mass, in addition to excess fat. Why that’s bad: Muscle burns more calories than fat does, so losing muscle will lower your metabolism.

Every day, make a positive decision to stay on track with your new healthy lifestyle. Maintaining healthy eating habits is a lifelong commitment and takes persistence, Rampolla says.

Myth: Exercise Makes You Tired

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FACT: As the body gets in better shape, most people feel exercising gives them more energy than before. Regular exercise can also help fight fatigue, improve your sleep, and manage your stress, says Gina Crome, MS, MPH, RD, and Top 10 trainer.

Myth: Working Out is a Big Time Commitment

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FACT: To maintain a healthy weight, you can work out as little as 20 to 40 minutes most days of the week. If your goal is to lose weight, it’s advised that you aim for about 45 to 60 minutes each day, Crome says.

The best part: You don’t need to fit it all into one session. Most of us can find five to 10 minutes to spare at different points in the day. Using these spare minutes throughout the day to be active adds up quickly and eventually becomes a regular part of your healthy lifestyle.

Myth: To Trim Your Thighs, Train Your Thighs

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FACT: The type of exercise you do does not affect the number of fat cells in a specific area, Crome says. Even if you do 100 abs exercises every day, without proper nutrition, quality sleep, and a well-rounded fitness routine, you might never achieve the toned, flat stomach you want. You will help develop the muscles in that area, but that doesn’t equate to fat loss.

When the body loses fat, it does so in a systemic fashion—all over the body at the same time. Aside from surgical procedures such as liposuction, there is no way to direct or influence the elimination of fat from specific areas, Crome says.

Myth: Only Eat Carbs When You're Active

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FACT: This myth is based on the belief that since carbs are the body’s preferred energy source, you shouldn’t eat them when you’re inactive—like most people are in the evening. However, many individuals have atypical schedules or regularly exercise after work. These people benefit from consuming appropriate amounts of carbohydrates in the evening to fuel their lifestyle, says John Bosse, RD and Member of the Research & Development team for USANA Health Sciences.

For someone who is sedentary in the evening, a small, high-protein snack such as 2/3 cup of full-fat cottage cheese or a protein shake can actually help you stay slim. Research shows that eating high-quality protein at regular intervals promotes better body composition, and since a lot of time passes between dinner and breakfast, this small snack is a smart, strategic move.

Myth: Heavy Weights Will Make You Bulky

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FACT: Unless you’re taking in substances that alter your hormone profile (anabolic steroids), it is highly unlikely that you will gain large amounts of muscle, Bosse says. Doing a high number of reps (20+) using light weights and stopping each set well before the point of muscular failure certainly helps improve fitness and burn calories, but it’s not the best way to get a lean, toned body. What is? Integrate periods of heavier training (six to 10 reps) with some sets taken to muscular failure. The ability to build muscle is very different for men and women and should not be confused, Bosse says.

Myth: A Juice Cleanse Helps Your Body Detox and Resets Your Metabolism

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FACT: Our bodies are extremely smart and have built-in processes for detoxing every day, says Kristen Carlucci, RD, registered dietitian and nutrition expert for Pitney Bowes Inc.

Yes, people lose weight on juice cleanses, but not because of any miracle ingredient or because your body is cleared of toxins that are slowing down your metabolism. Weight lost during a cleanse is most likely a result of taking in far fewer calories than usual. While filling up on fruits and vegetables is a positive thing, the problem with juice cleanses is that they are a temporary fix. They don't teach you the balanced nutrition habits you should be forming in order to lose weight and keep it off for good, Carlucci says.

Myth: All Carbs Are the Enemy

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FACT: With the onset of the low-carb diet craze, many people deny themselves this major food group. This concept is misunderstood because it's not the carbohydrates themselves that cause weight gain, it's the fact that for many of us, it's difficult to control the portion sizes, Carlucci says.

Instead of cutting out carbs altogether (which does not sound fun at all!), focus on choosing the right carbs in the proper portions. Stick with whole-grain pastas and breads (each slice should have 100 calories or less and should contain at least 3 grams of fiber), and try to fill no more than 1/4 of your plate with starch. Limit pasta to 1 cup cooked, and choose potatoes that are about the size of a computer mouse.