The Final Diet Solution Does NOT Exist
I do my best to keep myself healthy year round. This means exercising consistently 3 to 4 times a week, and eating healthy. Sometimes I’m able to train more, and other times less. But at the end of the day, I’m very consistent. Two times in my life I’ve worked my way into what most people would call “tremendous” shape. I was lean, muscular, and felt great.
The problem? Each time I took completely different approaches. In one situation I was eating 6 meals a day, training 6 days per week, and eating so many carbs that you would expect my insulin levels to explode. The other time I was “only” training 3 days per week, practicing intermittent fasting while eating 2 to 3 meals per day, and generally following a Paleo-type approach of protein, fat, and veggies. (For the record, I now eat much closer to the latter description and keep carbs lower. Hard to deny the growing research over the years)
My results were essentially identical, which taught me a simple lesson: Many diet and fitness strategies can work. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to fight for a particular viewpoint. Yes, some diets are good and have a basis. Others are genuinely bad. But most diets depend on an unpredictable variable–YOU. You need to find a plan that you can sustain. One that keeps you happy, works for your schedule and life, and is sustainable.
I know this should seem like common sense, but too many people are either looking for a quick 4-week fix (doesn’t exist), or the one solution that will solve everyone’s problems. Not going to happen.
Here’s what does: Finding the symptoms that lead to your dietary struggles; taking a step-by-step approach to changing the behaviors that make following a healthy diet difficult. This incremental approach is behavioral psychology 101. Before you can find the miracle diet, you must identify why you struggle. Make a list of everything that is difficult (hungry all morning, overeating at night, no time to exercise, no fruits or vegetables, lack of protein, oversnacking at work), and then begin working one step at a time. You’ll not only end up finding which diet will play to your strengths, you’ll also have a better idea of the real enemy.
Some Experts are A-Holes
This needs to be said for the sake of your sanity. Some fitness and nutrition experts really don’t care about you. I’ve worked with many people who are blinded by their own arrogance, and interviewed several others who have masqueraded as those who offer a good solution to your health only to be completely driven by the wrong motivations. But there are two important distinctions:
1) Just because someone is trying to make money, that doesn’t mean they aren’t an expert or don’t want to help. Some of the best programs or influencers I’ve met are labeled as “internet marketers.” Some of the worst people I’ve met also fall into that category. Discovering who has good content and who genuinely works hard to guarantee results is the bottom line.
2) Just because you try a program and it doesn’t work, that isn’t an excuse to condemn the entire fitness industry. Don’t let the charlatans of the world ruin what is, in general, a very altruistic field filled with incredible people, brilliant minds, and those who work themselves to the bone to help others.
It unfortunate when people are misled, especially in an industry where many people are vulnerable. Those with knowledge are the gatekeepers of your health. It’s why I’m constantly working to help you identify the best experts. I want LIVESTRONG.COM to be the site where you can find great information and experts you can trust. That starts with our advisors, and continues with the people who write our feature articles and contribute to these blogs.
In the end, sometimes you might become frustrated by sensational “sells.” And that can lead to frustration so intense that you quit on your health. Don’t do that. Forget the negative energy and the failed attempts. Push it out of your life. Feeling sorry for yourself or expecting others to feel sorry for you won’t change the fact that you still need to find a way to be healthy. Complain about what you don’t like. Get it out of your system. And then smile.
Remind yourself that a solution does exist. And then get back to work and find a better one. This is a much better approach. And in the end, the assholes will still be assholes. And you will have found a way to live a healthier, happier life.
You can Survive with Less Sleep
Don’t take this the wrong way–sleep is still one of the most important elements of good health. Most of the time all you hear is that you need 7, 8, or 9 hours of sleep to be healthy. This is true, but there are exceptions. Sometimes you’re just not going to get that much sleep. And you know what? It doesn’t mean your body has to fall apart. If you can improve the quality of your sleep, you can survive in the short term without missing a beat. (But then please make sure you prioritize sleep because it really is important.)
For better quality, you should focus on a few key aspects. To start, it’d be great if you could avoid electronic media before you go to bed. The light from a TV or your computer actually affects your brain in a way that negatively affects your sleep. Research has even confirmed this theory.
Exercise can also help you sleep better by priming your hormones for restfulness and recovery. This can be something as simple as a 30-minute walk. Avoiding alcohol, eating carbs (they’ll make you sleepy), or even a colder room can all make for a better night of sleep. Try it and improve your quality so you can feel more rested despite falling short of the optimal number of hours.
Reps and Sets are Misleading
I highly suggest that everyone read this great article by Jon Goodman. In it, you’ll learn (if you didn’t know it already) the prototypical recipe for building muscle, adding strength, or losing fat. But as Goodman points out, the rules of reps and sets are not written in stone. And oftentimes, the best thing you can do is to break the rules and train in a different rep range than what is typically prescribed. There are personality variables that can impact the results that you experience. And there’s also another little known fact…
Muscle “Tone” is BS
Sorry, muscle “tone” is one of the most misleading concepts in fitness. Most people are familiar with this idea: Train high reps for “muscle tone.” Only problem? High reps oftentimes won’t make your muscles look more toned. It’ll do the opposite.
In reality, there are two types of “tone”: neurogenic and myogenic. That’s a lot of jargon that fitness and science nerds tend to care about. What it means: You want myogenic tone, but that happens best with heavier weights at lower reps. That’s exactly why women should be lifting weights–and not just the tiny ones.
Does this mean you can’t get “toned” without lifting heavy? Of course not. Plenty of women have shown that this can happen with higher reps. But many more have proven that you’ll get the lean look you want–FASTER–by using heavier weights. Push the intensity–whether you’re a man or woman–and you’ll be surprised how quickly your body will change in the way you want. Men will look healthier and stronger and women will look leaner and sexier. Trust me on this one.
Muscle Confusion is Confusing
This is not an attack on P90X. This is just a mega-dose of reality for people who wonder why they oftentimes don’t see physical improvements. There’s no need to change programs so often. In fact, taking a little more time with the same program will probably do your body good. Changing programs too often is a quick road to failure. This is exercise science and something that’s been proven for decades.
I know that you don’t want to become bored with your training. But a good program doesn’t mean that each and every workout has to be the same. Someone who understands how to design a workout should have enough variability to keep you challenged and entertained. More importantly, you’ll be seeing results. And no matter how “fresh” a workout might seem, let’s be honest–that’s the payoff your really want from your time in the gym.
Science is Great–Sometimes
I love research as much as anyone. I read journals every morning at the crack of dawn, and usually finish each night reading a few more. The majority of my Twitter feed is usually filled up with cool studies that I’ve read–and that’s really only a small fraction of what I see. (I have subscription services and I can’t link you to the full text articles)
In the field of health and fitness, science SHOULD lead the way with what we know and understand. It substantiates claims and helps guide us to what we “know” is correct. But there are two problems:
1) Study limitations: That is, many studies don’t research the topics we want. Why? Because some very cool topics just don’t receive funding. It’s the unwritten rule of academia: You need money to run a study. No money, no science to back up claims. This is why oftentimes what happens on the training room floor or in your nutritionists office is AHEAD of the research. Research and published studies are oftentimes behind the trends.
This is dangerous, though, as many “experts” take advantage of this reality to claim that they know the next big thing in health and fitness. It’s made it more difficult to differentiate the real experts from those who are just full of crap. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that everything that works can’t or isn’t proved by science–at least not in real time.
2) Studies need time to be proven both reliable and valid. What we find out today might not be true 5 years from now. That’s just the nature of the business. People become frustrated by the overwhelming literature on different foods, exercise techniques, and health trends. But this is all part of the learning process and the need to be flexible. Just because you alter your stance on something doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It just means you’re becoming smarter and improving. If we steadfastly held to the belief that all fat was bad, then we’d be stubbornly following a pattern that will lead to unhealthy habits.
The bottom line is simple: Science is the foundation of what we know, but it’s not all we know. Use it as a basis of knowledge and a way to confirm certain ideas, but understand that if a fact isn’t backed by science, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. It could just be that it hasn’t been tested yet.
Being In Good Shape Makes Life Easier
This isn’t arrogance–it’s just the cold, hard truth. The leaner you are the easier it becomes to maintain your body, pack on new muscle, and eat the foods that you like. A variety of factors play into this, but improved insulin sensitivity (from lower levels of fat) is a big influence.
Is this meant to discourage you? No! It should provide you with even more motivation to get into the type of shape you want. Because once you do, everything becomes easier. In reality, it’s no different than anything else in life. With your job, you typically have to grind until you reach the top. Once you do, you have more perks and benefits. Your body is the same way. Remember that, and take an “intern” mentality to your work ethic, your workouts, and your diet. Like your career, a relentless attitude will pay off and be worth the time and effort you spent.
Here’s a story that will either make you feel better or worse about your situation. For years I would supervise fitness shoots when I worked as a magazine editor. The models, as you could imagine, were all in phenomenal condition. They looked great. The problem? Many of them didn’t perform exercises so well–even some of the most basic moves.
On one instance, it was so bad that we spent more than an hour just trying to shoot a pushup. Yep–just your traditional pushup. Should this Greek God have been able to perform a pushup with ease? Of course. Was his body more show than go and the benefit of great genetics? Probably.
I know lots of people who are strong, healthy, and fit and could never appear on the cover of a magazine. Does that make them unhealthy? NO. Does it mean they can’t have abs? Also no. I know that anyone can get abs; it just takes some more time than others.
Some people have it easier, but that’s not an excuse. Come to terms with reality, and then enjoy what you have and make the best of it. The longer journey to success will taste even sweeter when you remember where you started.
Diet is More Important Than Exercise
Getting back in shape is not an equal relationship. If you want to lose weight or gain muscle, diet is the more important element of the equation. That’s not to say exercise isn’t important. It’s extremely valuable for many reasons. But as the saying goes, “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” It’s true. And it’s the reason why many people who do everything right in the gym still are frustrated with how they look and feel.
Track your foods to improve your awareness of what you eat. Focus on small behavioral changes. And be patient. Diet changes don’t have to be difficult. And they don’t have to include complete withdrawal of all your favorite foods. But change must occur on some level if your goals are aesthetically based. Sorry, but gym time alone won’t cut it.
-Adam Bornstein, Livestrong.com
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