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Do Diet and Exercise Really Make You Fat? Experts Respond to the TED Talk People Are Buzzing About

In his recent TEDx Talk, Jay Cardiello argued that when it comes to our health, we’ve got it all wrong: “Diet and exercise makes you fat,” the strength and conditioning coach told the audience. And the health and fitness industry? “It’s a complete lie.”

Cardiello, who has trained both professional athletes and stars like Sofia Vergara and Jennifer Lopez, went on to highlight the misconceptions the industry creates. Dietitians who devise complicated weight-loss strategies (“they swap this food for that food, you eat this, don’t eat this”) are confusing people, he said. Labels like “all natural” and “gluten-free” on packaged foods are designed to trick us. And wellness brands are out to profit from our health problems.

Take fads like juice cleanses, for example. They leave people undernourished and fatigued, not fit. “The industry plays upon our emotions,” Cardiello said.

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Health’s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, RD, MPH, agrees with some of Cardiello’s grievances. She says it’s important that consumers be skeptical of products and plans that aren’t backed by science. But calling the entire industry a farce isn’t fair either.

“There are many qualified nutrition and fitness practitioners that are motivated by helping people live healthier lives,” Sass says. As for food labels, Sass agrees they can be misleading: “Gluten-free” doesn’t automatically make a food healthy, for example. “Gluten-free foods can contain refined grains like white rice, added sugars, and lack nutrients.”

“But not every food labeled ‘gluten-free’ falls into this category,” she adds.

There is one diet plan that Cardiello does recommend: “Eat as if you have one day to live, or there’s a health scare.” In his TEDx talk, Cardiello made the case that staying healthy is simple as long as we get enough sleep, drink water, eat vegetables, surround ourselves with people that believe in us, and give to others.

And fitness isn’t about push-ups and squats, Cardiello adds. “It’s about the quality of life that you’re living.” 

Los Angeles-based celebrity trainer Mike Donavanik is only half on-board with that notion: “I agree that everyone strives for a better quality of life—but doing exercises like push-ups and squats is what will give you that,” he says. 

Cardiello goes so far to say “the answer to fitness is walking”—a claim Donavanik strongly disagrees with. “Walking is not going to be enough,” the trainer told Health. “If you want more out of life, you have to work out hard and put in the effort,” he says. “There’s just no way around it.”