5 BS Fitness Ideas That Need To Go Away
Watch this video.
Watch it and if your reaction is anything other than compassion stay the actual f*#k away from me.
I’m not kidding. At all.
If you go over to YouTube, where this video was originally posted last summer, and read the comments people have left you will, I hope, understand where I’m coming from here. We live in a culture in the United States where we are very, very quick to blame the victim, especially if we perceive that victim as being weak or flawed in some way. You see it all the time with women, unfortunately, who get blamed for being sexually assaulted. The anonymity and distance created by online communication has only made this tendency worse because many people who would never say a hateful thing to someone’s face feel no hesitation about being abusive online.
Change is hard. It’s hard for everyone.
10 years ago I was overweight and sick, and parts of me hurt pretty much all the time that shouldn’t have. I was nowhere near the place Francis is at, physically. At my heaviest I was between 70 and 80 pounds overweight (which is a lot – don’t get me wrong – I’m a short guy and my ideal weight is between 130 and 140, so we’re talking carrying around and extra half a healthy version of myself). Even at 50 pounds overweight my body was malfunctioning and manifesting ailments no healthy person has, and pain from doing perfectly normal things like walking more than a few blocks.
Getting my body where it needed to be took a lot of work, a ton of patience and a lot of changes to the way I did things.
Along the way I learned that most of the advice and conventional wisdom about fitness and health is bullshit. I also learned that people want you to fail, even people who love you a lot (so you can imagine how much people who don’t care about you want you to fail). Here’s 5 ideas that are very common about health and fitness that need to go the hell away:
Losing weight is easy, you just have to eat less and move more.
People who say this need to be slapped. If you’re obese your body is broken. It hurts to move more and your brain has become wired to overeat. Francis’s case is, granted, extreme, but watch the dang video and listen to how he talks about his relationship with food. I could write a book full of the reasons why someone might have an unhealthy relationship with food and the way that’s related to hormone and neurotransmitter responses to pleasure stimuli, but no one would read it because most people have bought into the idiotic idea that if someone is obese it’s because they lack willpower and self-control.
Let me put it to rest this way – there are millions of obese people in the US. Almost all of them do all kinds of things every single day that require willpower and self-control. They go to work, they feed their kids, they don’t punch anyone in the throat for unnecessarily judging them. And many, many of them are struggling and working hard to make changes, every, single, day.
2. Weight loss is as simple as doing math, and people who can’t do it are just bad at math.
This one bugs me a lot. It’s the calories in/calories out thing and basically just another version of “eat less, move more.” Francis gives a great example of how he actually has only had dramatic success following a ketogenic eating plan. My own experience was that until I went almost totally grain-free I was stuck on a plateau with about 25 pounds left to lose.
Calorie counting is helpful for some people. But it has to suit you and your personality. That’s part of it. The other part is that nutrition is complicated. If you’re fit and healthy then not so much (pretty much, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), but if you are struggling to get your body composition to change or find you cannot lose weight no matter what you do, then it’s possible you’ve got a more complex situation going on. I discovered, through trial and error, that my digestive system doesn’t do its job particularly well if I’m consistently putting grains into it. It’s fairly likely that my genetic makeup is such that I’ve got a low capacity to produce amylase, which means starches cause my blood sugar to spike, which over time can cause insulin resistance.
My point here is that if you’re stuck, and you’re pretty confident you’re doing that whole calorie math thing well, you might need to try some other things. For some folks it’s cutting out dairy. For others it’s grains. Some folks may find they have a hormonal imbalance due to a thyroid condition. It ain’t just math.
3. You just need to do more cardio!
Ugh. If lots of cardio = weight loss then the ellipticals and treadmills at the gym would be full of skinny people.
You cannot outrun a bad diet. You also cannot outrun your genes and your emotional and mental issues. When people ask me how to lose weight they always sigh when they hear my answer – focus 90% of your effort on your diet and lift weights.
If all you are willing to do is spend an hour a day on a treadmill then be prepared to not succeed with weight loss. Again, watch the video because Francis really does a great job of explaining one of his biggest challenges – the inability to build muscle mass. He’s got a hormonal barrier (lack of testosterone) that’s pretty difficult to overcome. It’s one he shares with most obese and overweight women.
For women trying to lose weight cardio is not the answer because it can often work counter to building muscle, and chronic cardio can increase stress to the point where the hormone cortisol gets overproduced, which then causes the body to store more fat. Women shy away from resistance training out of an irrational fear of looking manly. The reality is that unless you are supplementing with male androgenic hormones (testosterone) or have an abnormally high level of them naturally, this is pretty much impossible.
4. Women’s Fitness vs. Men’s Fitness
Sort of related to the above – the stupid idea that men and women are so physiologically different as to require an entire different, segregated camp of fitness programs for each.
The result is women doing Zumba and Pilates and/or yoga and men doing weight training, which equals lots of physically weak (but flexible) ladies with great cardiovascular conditioning and lots of men who can lift heavy things but have lousy range of motion and no sense of rhythm. (Ok, the last bit is kind of a joke, but also serious – men need to dance more.)
I’ll pick on Beachbody here for a second. A few years ago they introduced a home strength training program called Body Beast. It’s a great program. But the videos are embarrassing to watch. The cast includes no women, and the dialog as Sagi Kalev is leading the dudes through the routines is culturally tone-deaf. It’s a bunch of dudes being dudish. Sagi insults the cast members for being “girlie” and calls one of them “Barbie.” Not a very woman-friendly program.
Here’s the kicker. Body Beast has been nowhere near as successful a program as it should have been because of this cultural tone-deafness. For one thing, marketing it to guys was a bust because most men who want to lift want to do so in a gym, and most women who want to try lifting don’t because weight rooms at gyms are notoriously unfriendly places to be a woman. The very people most likely to give Body Beast a shot weren’t marketed to, and are mocked in the workouts themselves.
The irony is that if you go take a look at women who have made stunning physical transformations and won real cash money in the Beachbody Challenge you’ll see a pretty high number of them did it with Body Beast.
On the other hand, marketing mobility workouts like Pilates and yoga strictly to women is equally dumb because men need flexibility and the ability for their muscles to work in their full range of motion, especially if they’re on the athletic side. And like I said, men need to dance more.
5. Diet pills, magic elixirs and cleanses.
Get comfortable, this part is going to take a while.
First off, there are thermogenic drugs and supplement stacks that will cause you to burn body fat at a higher rate. Body builders use them in order to get “cut” for competition. I mention this because I don’t want to come off as if I’m saying that there is no such thing as a pill you can take to help you lose weight. There are. They work.
They are, however, dangerous and can have serious and unpleasant health consequences if used often or over a long period of time. Thermogenics basically work by triggering your organs (particularly your liver and kidneys) to lock into high gear and do the job they normally do (detoxifying the body and converting stored fat to glucose for energy) at a faster rate. When you combine this with exercise it can have a pronounced effect on fat loss.
Like I said, they work.
The problem is, they overwork vital organs and interfere with normal metabolic processes. If you’re taking prescription medications, for instance, taking thermogenics at the same time can block the process by which toxins produced by the metabolism of those drugs are cleared from your system, leading to organ damage or even death. Most thermogenic compounds also come packaged with stimulants, and it takes a very short time for you to become dependent on them in order to feel good. Miss a dose or stop them and you’re likely to feel pretty lousy. And the hyperclocked metabolism the produce is temporary. Once you stop using them your metabolism will slow back down and any physiological impact will disappear.
Translation: stop taking the pills and you’ll put the fat back on, perhaps even more than you had to begin with depending on how tweaked the stuff made your metabolism.
Obviously, there’s also a lot of snake oil out there purporting to help you magically lose weight. At best, it won’t reduce anything but the girth of your bank account. At worst, it might be harmful.
I recommend and rep Shakeology, and regularly have to explain to people why it’s not snake oil. First, I never represent it as anything other than a nutritional supplement. If Shakeology helps you lose weight it will do it by improving the nutritional profile of your diet by filling nutritional gaps caused by either your otherwise poor eating habits (Beachbody CEO, Carl Daikeler, is a walking example of this – he hates vegetables and generally refuses to eat them), or deficiencies in the nutritional quality of the food you eat caused by modern agriculture (I could write a whole other blog post on this topic). So, not a magic elixir. Great product though. What is it? Food. I drink it every single day.
On the other end of the spectrum I’m going to pick on Herbalife Nutrition Shakes for a minute. 3 of the top ingredients in this stuff are all, on their own, red flags that tell you two things: (1) the manufacturer of this product is more interested in their profits than quality, and (2) this is not food. What are they? Soy, fructose and cellulose powder.
Here’s a free lesson on nutritional supplements.
Soy is garbage. Why would it be in a product? So the manufacturer can tell you there’s protein in it without spending much money on that protein source. Soy is cheap, plentiful and in North America has a 9 to 1 chance of being from a GMO crop. Now I’m not an anti-GMO crusader, but in the case of soy the purpose of the gene modification is to make the crop impervious to glyphosate, otherwise known as Round-Up. The jury is still out on whether or not carpet-bombing soy crops with Round-Up contaminates the soy and means consuming it is effectively consuming a toxic herbicide known to be a carcinogen, but in my book, better safe than sorry.
Fructose is sugar. Not only that but it is a type of sugar that is not particularly well handled by the human body. Sure, fructose occurs in fruit, but when eating fruit you’re getting a relatively low amount of fructose versus dietary fiber, which slows it’s absorption way down. Why is it in diet shakes? Because it’s twice as sweet as glucose (ordinary table sugar) and that means it’s, again cheaper to use as a sweetener. Now if it shows up low on the list of ingredients there’s not much to worry about, but when it shows up as the 2nd ingredient on the list, then that product is packing a major fructose wallop, which is going to spike your blood sugar, and since fructose cannot be cleared from the blood stream by insulin, it goes to the liver, where it can really only do one thing – be turned into stored body fat.
Cellulose powder is basically sawdust. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
If you buy a food item or supplement that lists cellulose powder anywhere on the label, chuck it and don’t throw your money down that pit again. Cellulose powder is put into food products and supplements by unscrupulous manufacturers who are banking on your ignorance. Like I said, it’s basically sawdust. You cannot digest it. It’s there to create bulk.
To put it another way, cellulose in a food product is there to fool you into thinking you’re buying a tub full of something when really all you’re doing is buying a tub full of pencil shavings. Will it hurt you? No. But what it will do is provide no more nutrition than chewing on your dining room table would. Cellulose on the label means the manufacturer is selling you sawmill scraps. Literally.
Last, but hardly least, we have cleanses.
Cleanses are such a clever product. Why? Because you’re being sold something you don’t need to buy.
Your body has two major organs – your liver and kidneys – whose job it is to cleanse your system. It is what they do, all the time. Drinking lemon juice, or kale juice for a week will not cleanse your blood and body any more than not drinking them will. The body, quite simply, does not work that way.
If your liver and kidneys stop purging your body of toxins you die. Simple as that.
The trick of a juice or other cleanse is that you’re sold on the idea of having to DO something to make cleansing happen, when it is quite literally happening all the time. It’s like buying a product to help your heart beat and your lungs respirate.
Now, you can help your liver and kidneys do their jobs by limiting or eliminating your exposure to deliberate toxins like alcohol or other drugs. Eliminating meat from your diet for a few days can help clear your colon. You can eat less artificially flavored and colored food too, and that will take the load off your body’s own natural cleansing system, and if you need a protocol or program to help you do that, that’s fine. Just know that there is no other actual physiological boost derived from any commercially available cleanse. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant or lying.
Struggling to lose weight or improve your level of fitness are hard.
There’s two kinds of people who have an interest in telling you otherwise: People who lack compassion and people who are more interested in selling you something than helping you.
Maybe you tell yourself that you’re not succeeding with your fitness goals and you should be because it’s easy. That’s lacking compassion for yourself and you need to quit that, right now. See, if it’s someone else who is telling you you’re dumb, or lazy or whatever and that’s why you can’t lose weight, well you need to make that person have less of a presence in your life. If it’s you who stands in front of the mirror and tells yourself you’re dumb, or lazy or whatever unkind thing you need to work on that and stop it.
I’m guessing when you watched the video above that all sorts of things raced through your mind you wanted to say to Francis, to let him know it’s ok. I know I did. Here’s an exercise you can do to help have more compassion for yourself: Make a list of your challenges and struggles – the things that are bumming you out or holding you back. Now, imagine that list belongs to someone else who you care about a lot. Take another sheet of paper and make a list of the things you’d say to that person to make them feel better. That’s your list of things to remind yourself of when you’re feeling beat down and worthless. You ought to treat yourself with at least as much love as you would someone else.
Lastly, I’m going to apologize on behalf of the people who thought more about selling you something than they thought about helping you out. I’ve done it. When I started coaching I wanted to have customers and make sales. I wasn’t trying to cheat anyone or push bad stuff. I just kept missing a step.
The point is not to sell someone a training program or supplement. The point is to help someone achieve his or her goals. If I tell you, “Oh, this program is easy, anyone can do it.” That’s way easier than finding a match for you based on your limitations, your preferences and what can actually help you reach your goals. Selling you something hard takes more work, and more compassion. Everyone in this fitness industry needs to remember that.