Everyone’s trying to sell a book (or a program, or a _______).
These days, it’s almost impossible to count the amount of diet books, plans, protocols, “experts”, etc that are available to or utilized by the public. And this includes fitness and nutrition.
Most come and go, but they all bear similar life cycles. They burst onto the scene, everyone starts talking about it, books fly off the shelves, there’s an evening news story or two describing them, and then they’re gone by the next season. Throughout their popularity, we all have those friends that are so indoctrinated and captivated by them that they are so annoying to be around that we consider deleting them from our Facebook.
Some stick around, some don’t. Some have moderate success, some become full blown cults. A lot of the time, people see great results. Sometimes those results even stick.
Here’s the thing to know about almost every single popular fitness and/or nutrition plan that works:
THEY ALL WORK!
Almost all of the popular plans, protocols, books, trainers, etc will work.
Wait, what? How can that be?! I thought Paleo was the only one true answer! What about Gluten?! I know someone who lost 50 pounds doing Keto! I heard that if I do Intermittent Fasting that I’ll get abs! I want the toned muscles I know you get from Yoga/Barre/Pilates. Wait, don’t you own a CrossFit gym?
Yes! No! Maybe to all of the above!
Seriously though, I’d like you to consider how crazily similar all of the various plans and programs are when you boil them down to the important details.
Every reputable plan out there will have you eating a majority of foods based around protein
Protein is very satiating (so you will eat less crap), it (generally) won't convert to body fat, and it's vital for tissue repair. Viola! Magical mystery food from the Gods!
Can you, and should you do this even if you're a Vegan, Vegetarian, Fruitatarian? Yes, you should.
Every reputable plan out there will have you eating a lot of vegetables to supplement your protein
Everyone wants to talk about Macros (protein, fat, carbs), but your Micronutrient intake is at least as important, if not more so.
Every reputable plan out there will have you earning your carbohydrates
If you’re exercising a lot or are a hard charging athlete, you will need carbohydrates for fuel. Yes, you can burn fat for fuel, but as soon as shit gets intense or your training load is high, you will need carbohydrates to burn. Anyone who says different has an angle, is trying to sell you something, or just plain doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Does that mean I should “cycle” my carbohydrates? Yes, it does, but it doesn’t mean anything other than that on days that you workout, you can eat more carbohydrates, ideally in a post workout window. This does not mean that you go hog wild on ice cream because you walked to the store to purchase that ice cream. It means you should eat some rice, potato, fruit, or other high quality, dense carbohydrates on training days, and that you stay relatively low on days you do not. WHOA!
Does this mean you should cut out Carbohydrates all-together? Nope. Ignoring an entire macronutrient group will leave your diet and body lacking in both fuel, nutrients and mood.
Every reputable plan out there will have you eating high quality Fats
Eating dietary fat is not necessarily going to make you fat. Dietary fat is however, very calorically dense. Fat has 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram. So when someone succeeds on a low fat diet, that could mean they did so by coincidentally cutting out a shit load of calories, not because Fat was directly the problem. Unfortunately, Fats are vital for proper heart, body and brain function, so they should not be ignored.
Every reputable plan out there will have you eating high quality foods.
What about gluten? Isn’t Gluten the devil? Screw Gluten and this wave of sudden intolerance. The amount of the population that actually has a gluten intolerance is dramatically small. However, the amount of people who have coincidentally lost weight and/or felt better when they cut out gluten is staggering. Why? Well, when they cut out Gluten, they accidentally cut out a lot of shitty, sugar filled foods they were eating, and they also dramatically decreased their carbohydrate intake. Oddly, this meant they lost weight and felt better. WEIRD!
If you eat locally sourced, minimally processed foods, you will look better and feel better.
Every reputable plan should have you learning and developing a good relationship with food
You should be learning about all of this stuff. You should be eating slowly and paying attention.
You should strive to develop good habits around these things, not look for a quick fix.
You should plan for and look to the long term, not yo yo your way through 20 pound losses and gains from season to season.
Sustainability and long term success is the absolute most important part of the whole equation.
If you can’t foresee doing what you’re doing for long into the future, don’t even bother starting. Unless it’s for an extreme example, if you don’t keep it up, you’ll screw up your body, you’ll be teaching yourself that failure is normal and expected and you’ll just end up frustrated.
Fitness is just a loose term that roughly defines intentional movement.
Fitness means different things to different people. Some people want to compete to know who is the fittest on earth. Some people want to walk around the block in an effort to offset calories.
- Neither end of that spectrum is wrong or right.
To lose weight, you should burn more calories than you consume.
Is a calorie a calorie? No.
Do you know how many calories I need to eat daily? Nope.
How many calories does “x” burn? I have no idea, and your Fitbit is lying to you.
But wait, if I eat 4000 calories a day of Broccolli and only burn 2000 calories a day, I’ll gain weight? No, you’ll get violently ill and you’ll possibly commit murder by the output of your small intestine.
It’s important to note that you are always burning calories, but the intensity and nature of what you are doing will determine how many and for how long you’ll be burning these calories.
For example, compared to sitting on the couch, walking burns more calories, but for most of you, once you stop walking, you will stop burning more calories. Your body will not have to do much adapting to that, and therefore will be right back to baseline.
Lifting weights for 3-5 sets of 10-12, progressively adding more and more weight until you can’t do 10-12, for example, will both burn calories while you’re doing those lifts, but will also cause your body to repair the “damage” that you’ve done during the training session. This will force your body to burn more calories for the time it takes to rebuild.
- But Kenny, I don’t want to look like one of those people! You won’t. Those people are guilty of one of the following: they’re trying really, really hard to look like that, their nutrition is screwy, or they have a hormone imbalance (possibly synthetically induced). Seriously. I work with a lot of people who do want more muscles, and they work their asses off to do so. It doesn’t happen by accidentally picking up a weight once in awhile.
Doing intense stuff, like hard sprints or short interval training will have a similar, but different effect than weight training, but the point remains. Prolonged period of repair and restoration = longer period of metabolic increase = weight/fat loss.
But what if you combine those two things, wouldn’t you be invincible and be the envy of everyone that sees you in a bathing suit? Probably. But only if you combine all the things I mentioned above about nutrition as well.
It’s generally a good idea to vary your training.
Too much of one thing can overstress the body. Through variance, you will ensure progress, and you will lower your risk of injury.
Variance allows you to do more training, and see results for a very very long time before making any dramatic changes.
Does this mean you should jump around and only do things once in a while? Not necessarily. If you want to get better at something, whether it’s running or squatting or playing frisbee, you must practice those specific events, so try to keep that in mind.
Having fun and continuing to do what you’re doing is quite literally the most important part of the whole equation.
If you can’t foresee doing what you’re doing for long into the future, don’t even bother starting. Unless it’s for an extreme example, if you don’t keep it up, you’ll screw up your body, you’ll be teaching yourself that failure is normal and expected and you’ll just end up frustrated. (Wait, where have I heard that before?)
So, what should you do with all of this information?
- Well, everything and nothing. It's important to know the reasons why you're doing something. It's also important to see through the baloney that's out there. If something sounds too good to be true, it most definitely is. However, if something sounds like it follows the tenants of the above, it seems like it would fit in with your lifestyle, and you feel like you could get into it, you should do it! Most importantly, this gives you plenty of ammunition for your annoying friends who won't shutup about their new ______. (Yes, I know I own a CrossFit gym)