• Image about Paul Garbarino

PAUL GARBARINO KNOWS how a typical flabby citizen can turn into a trim and tight picture of lean muscularity. But Garbarino, the director of operations for the National Council on Strength and Fitness in Miami, has yet to figure out why more people don’t do just that. “We have more health clubs open than ever before,” he says. “We have more low-fat foods. There are more books about diets and more gimmicks for exercise. And people know the benefits of physical fitness. Why are we a fatter, less-healthy country today than we were 20 years ago?”

One reason might be that before people can learn the right way to stay healthy, they have to unlearn much of what they think they know. Time and again, fitness professionals like Garbarino find themselves having to bust their clients’ myths about health and fitness before they can teach them about the right foods to eat and the best way to exercise. “The health-and-fitness IQ in America,” Garbarino says with a sigh, “is not very high.” And that’s where we, dear readers, are stepping in. In order to help you boost your health-and-fitness IQ, we’re going to bust a few of the most prominent fitness myths circulating out there.

Myth 1: Your weight is your primary fitness indicator.
Fact: Fitness experts agree that the vast majority of people who exercise and watch what they eat have weight loss as their primary goal. But weight alone isn’t the right thing to focus on, says Brian Calkins, a personal trainer in Cincinnati. “They give the bathroom scale way too much control over how they feel and the results they’re looking for,” he says.

Too often, people begin working out and dieting with energy and commitment, but find a month later that they weigh the same or have even gained weight, and then they quit in disgust. What’s happening, says Calkins, is that they’re losing fat but gaining muscle, so their weight changes only a little, if at all. In this case, looking only at the scale is misleading. A better approach is to check your body-fat percentage, a measurement that personal trainers and health clubs can do for you. You can also focus on how you feel and look, and how your clothes fit.

Myth 2: Eating after seven p.m. will make you fat.
Fact: What time you eat is less important than how much you eat. “If this myth were true, then everyone who worked second or third shift would be fat since they have to eat after seven p.m.,” Calkins says. If you want to lose body fat, focus on the calendar rather than on the clock. Specifically, strive for a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit each day. The deficit is the difference between the number of calories you take in and number you burn by exercising and performing daily activities. “If it’s after seven p.m. and someone needs to eat, and they’re still maintaining their calorie deficit, there’s nothing bad about eating at that time,” Calkins says.