The Worst Health Advice I Ever Received

Most of us try to do what we can to live healthy lives and take care of our bodies. In an effort to live well, we sometimes seek advice from books, TV, medical professionals, and even friends and family. However, it’s important to be very careful about where you get your advice.

The Cheat Sheet spoke with a few health experts and asked them to share their experiences with bad health advice. Here is some of the worst health advice they ever received.

1. If you want to lose weight, drastically reduce calories

Woman on a scale

Drastically reducing calories is unlikely to yield the results you want. | Thinkstock

The worst health advice I have ever gotten: “In order to lose weight you need to cut calories drastically. This will result in your body burning fat for energy and in turn produce a slimmer you.” This is terrible advice. When you cut calories drastically (less than 1,200 calories in per day) your body does not respond favorably. The hormonal response becomes EMERGENCY rather than shortage. Cutting calories is a surefire way to lose weight, but in order to do this safely, you need to maintain a certain intake in order to support major bodily functions and brain health. When you drop below 1,200 calories a day most people will actually experience some nasty side effects: headache, irritability, fatigue, bloating, and you guessed it — hunger!

Shortcut to safe weight loss: Restrict your diet by 500 calories a day for a week and see how your body responds. After a week you can continue to restrict but should never drop below suggested calorie intakes. A restricted diet and the addition of more movement in your life will have a favorable outcome on your weight.

Alex Haschen, C.P.T. and C.E.O. of Verto Fitness

2. Don’t take depression medication

Sad woman grasping her head

See a medical health professional before making big changes to your medication. | iStock.com

The worst health advice I’ve ever personally received was to stop taking my depression medication (Prozac) and go see a naturopathic doctor who switched me to Saint John’s Wort and some sort of powdered bovine thyroid pills. I managed not to kill myself, and even kept my job … barely. As an alternative, I’d suggest a thorough and competent diagnosis by a mental health practitioner followed by appropriate treatment — usually a combination of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication.

Peter Dobos, community manager at Obstacle Course Training

 3. Don’t weigh yourself, just see how your clothes fit

Man in button-down shirt

Allow the scale to become your best friend. | iStock.com

“Do not weigh yourself, just check how your clothes fit” is the worst health advice ever. People who don’t weigh themselves gain weight. You can gain five or 10 pounds before you even notice it in your clothes. The scale is your best friend. You will see even half a pound on the scale before you notice it in your clothes, which is much easier to lose! Wearing stretch pants and sweat pants allows weight to creep up unnoticed and can easily become 10 to 20 pounds.

Our weight is never exactly the same. It generally fluctuates about three pounds. It depends on how much you go to the bathroom, how much salt you ate, or the time of the month. Whenever you go out of your three-pound range, just care. Choose your favorite lighter meals, or go for a walk, and weight goes right back down. Be comfortable with the scale, the scale is your best friend. If weight goes up, you want to know. Weighing yourself daily is the best way to lose and maintain weight. The scale should be a motivator and a guide to keep you in line.

Millie Shedorick, M.S., R.D., author of The On-a-Diet, Off-a-Diet Syndrome

4. Avoid fats

Man relaxing and enjoying a burger

It’s important to eat fats to maintain a healthy diet. | iStock.com

Fat is important in our diets. It keeps us full and our brains need it to function. When we eat something low fat, especially something altered to make it low in fat, it is either already high in sugar, has sugar added so it doesn’t taste like cardboard, or it has a lot of crazy chemicals in it to make it taste so good that our bodies don’t know what to do. Whichever it is, it usually causes our blood sugar to spike and crash, causing our energy to do the same. If we break that cycle (by eating more fat, a reasonable amount of protein, and fewer carbohydrates), our bodies use our stored body fat for energy instead of first burning off whatever we just ate.

When you are fat adapted, when you wake up, you should have enough energy to sustain you until you actually feel hungry. I am a big proponent of intermittent fasting and intuitive eating — eating when you are actually hungry, as opposed to when you think you should!

Mandie Mutchie, lifestyle blogger and health coach   

5. It’s OK to delay or skip vaccines

Children at school

Make sure your children are vaccinated on time. | iStock.com

The worst health advice comes from pediatricians who tell parents that it is OK to delay or skip vaccines. It has been shown that following any kind of alternative vaccine schedule doesn’t reduce side effects or the risk of vaccine injury, it simply leaves kids at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and pertussis.

Vincent Iannelli, M.D., Verywell expert on pediatrics

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[Editor’s note: This story was originally published September 2016]