Most fitness programs are the same and only differ in how they apply the basic elements of fitness and health:
- To get stronger/gain more muscle, you have to lift more weight or do more work.
- To lose fat, you will have to lower calories or burn more than you take in.
- To get better at an activity, you will have to practice the activity.
Unless you’re a genetically abnormal individual, this holds for everyone…you are not special. Once you accept that, the notion of health and fitness becomes pretty boring or thousand-yard stare inducing. You don’t get something for nothing and will have to work for any changes or improvements you make. This is where framing or “the dream” comes into play.
To create an emotional commitment to a program, create a mythology. Once the mythology is in place, with a nice story likely filled with narrative fallacy, one is better able to commit to the endeavor about to be embarked upon. Examples:
- The Atkins Diet: take carbohydrates intake down to nearly zero, focus on protein and fat consumption, which increases satiety and improves insulin sensitivity. You can still overeat but, because of the protein, it becomes a chore and you tend to lose weight. Boring, right? Since this was clearly a PR problem, the diehards changed the name to “Paleo” in honor of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Now where there was once science there is a story: human beings roamed, picked, and killed for thousands of years and we’re nearly genetically identical. The image of roaming the outdoors lean, tanned, and warm sounds fantastic when you’re hunched over your monitor, overfat, in some 68* office building. Add in the notion that if you occasionally fast you don’t need to worry about calories; our ancestors didn’t eat all the time because kills weren’t regular. So by not eating for a combined 48 to 72 hours each week, you can eat whatever you want. That amount of not eating adds up to 6 to 7 thousand calories per week, which is nearly 2lbs of fat loss based on the maths. But calories don’t matter, remember?
- The Mediterranean Diet: take a look at the peoples of the countries that border the Mediterranean north shore. They’re lean, tan, don’t wear socks with their loafers, and seemingly eat endless pasta…what is their secret? The answer, supposedly, is that in addition to eating pasta, breads, and salads, they eat more fat in the form of monounsaturated extra virgin olive oil, fattier cuts of meat, and cheese. In addition, they enjoy red wine on a regular basis. So that’s the story, the reality of this is tenuous at best. Americans will see this and think “I’ve already got bread and pasta, I just need to add olive oil and wine!” First, there is no “one” Mediterranean Diet, as pointed out by Scott at Fitness Spotlight. Second, fattier cuts of meat are used , usually in the form of pork fat, for cooking and flavor. Finally, not only are the portions smaller, but the calorie-bomb dressing is considered a condiment, not a soup. So once you remove the story, it comes down to this: eating smaller portions, with more veggies, and higher fat meats mean your lipids improve and you are satisfied with less total calories. Less total calories. And don’t even get me started on the lower stress lifestyle.
- The Zone Diet: the problem isn’t the foods, it’s the ratio of the macronutrients in the foods. By moving closer to the “magic” ratio of 30% protein, 40% carbohydrate, 30% fat, your body will become a fat burning furnace and you won’t have to worry about how much you eat, only what percentages you ingest. Never mind that there is a complicated system of tracking your food intake that basically sticks everyone to around 1200 calories…it’s all about the ratio. The reality of it is that if a person is eating around these ratios, they’re going to keep their blood sugar fairly stable, eat enough fat and protein to sate fairly quickly and cover essential fatty/amino acid requirements, and increase fiber by encouraging less refined carb sources. Them’s the facts: less crappy food, more sating protein and fat, thus lowering your food intake. Reducing calories. Sense a trend here?
Look, I love a great story, only I’m not going to bullshit clients into thinking that the latest miracle diet is going to solve their waistline woes. It is just the newest, or most recently recycled, way to package lower calories. It’s no different than those fucking ab devices that sell on late night television. They slip the diet in the back door of the advert,but that is what is going to get you that “slim sexy stomach you’ve always wanted.”
So what do I tell my clients? How do I get them to lose weight? Simple:
- I give them the rant I just gave you, so they start to recognize the bullshit they’re being force-fed. I also tell them they are at fault for their weight, just as much as they’re at fault for their earned degree.
- I move them toward eating more real food. Not only does it taste better, but food in its natural packaging tends to sate way better because of the reasons listed above: more fiber, more protein, more bulk. This isn’t for any “paleo diet” reasons: we’re a melting pot, so a paleo diet for someone from Tibet is different than a paleo diet for someone from Samoa. I have a 67 year old client who recently was complaining that she was “too full” on her diet while losing weight. I had her increase her protein intake from meat…that’s it. That’s a complaint most individuals looking to lose fat would like to have.
- I manage emotional issues with eating. I give them Lyle’s talk about cookies, namely 2 won’t ruin your diet…unless you think they did and thus eat a whole bag, runing your diet. I move them closer to Berardi’s 90% adherance policy, which gives them freedom to enjoy social engagements without guilting themselves into a binge or a hermitage.
- I tell them to buy cookbooks and relearn how to cook. I’ve reviewed Gourmet Nutrition on here before, but I’m also a fan of “Two Dudes One Pan” because of the simplicity of every dish. You’ll eat less and it will taste better.
So that’s it: the dream of a magic diet, the story that keeps you hooked, the notion that your body isn’t smarter than you…I hope I broke it down enough to get you to step back from what you are doing and see if you’re not following a little bit of lore.