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A Return To Common Sense Thinking With Nutrition And Exercise

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Weight Loss Strategies And Politics- Why They’re Both Failing Us” where I discussed how most everything is polarized these days.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about nutrition strategies for weight loss or how a nation should fix a health care dilemma. Each side has their own “camp” where ideas are vigorously defended and promoted.

The use of polls, charts, research, etc, is all used in attempts to prove the supremacy of a particular idea(s).

Look around you and you’ll see this happening everywhere in our society. We’re divided as a whole like never before. Somewhere in all this mess we have something called the “truth.”

The tricky thing however is the truth may not always be an absolute. In other words, the best possible solution to any problem often depends on the individual criteria.

Sure there are some things that are pretty black and white where the outcome is obvious regardless of criteria.

Consume more calories than you expend over a prolonged period of time and you’ll gain weight.

Spend more money than you have coming in and sooner or later the debt will be unsustainable.

Common sense right?

You’d think it would be, but we’re in a time now where people will argue over even the seemingly obvious.

My point in all of this is the division into “camps” is leading people away from using common sense thinking and open dialogue. In short, the “truth” may be right in front of our faces but we often miss it while trying to defend a belief with a closed mind.

The division with nutrition experts on what diet works best for human health and performance…

As someone who’s researched exercise and nutrition science for over 20 years, I’ve seen countless positions on the “best” ways to eat and provide the human body with physical activity.

Just like with politics, the more one of these positions is to the far sides of the center or fulcrum point, the greater the likelihood of holes in the argument.

The problem as I see it, is the failure to accept the realization that each person will be different.

Just because one particular technique or strategy is appealing or works well for one individual doesn’t mean it will be “best” for everyone else.

But isn’t that exactly what we see?

The recent Qualia review has shown how raw food crowd believes their way is best and criticizes other nutritional strategies. The low-carb, low-fat, high protein, low-calorie camps (we could go on and on with the list), all basically do the same thing.

The dirty little secret in all of this is there’s often a very strategic reason for the supremacy argument. It’s called making money by selling books, products, DVD’s, what have you.

Now I’m not knocking this and have no problem with anyone promoting an idea or belief of their choosing. Those who are looking for the same can benefit from the information. If living on an exclusively raw food diet for example is appealing and works for you, great, nobody needs to tell you anything different.

But to assume someone else is “wrong” if they elect to consume animal protein is short-sighted and arrogant at worst. The use of research to try and prove your argument can almost always be countered by research on the other side.

And what if a person’s particular way of eating (albeit different than yours) provides them with the health and quality of life they desire?

Each person has to experiment with diet and exercise to find what combination works best for them. Sure, there are fundamental truths along the way we should all be in agreement with.

Things like processed and refined foods, excess sugar, excess alcohol, etc, being detrimental to health. On the flip-side, things like live raw foods being beneficial to health. From there (although this list could obviously be longer) we get into the “it depends” category with food selection.

What I don’t see a lot of these far left or far right camps taking into consideration is the following:

- the individual’s age
- genetics
- insulin sensitivity
- energy demands
- amount of lean muscle
- current state of toxicity
- personal preferences with food choices
- religious or spiritual beliefs
- individual tolerances to allergens/irritants (as with dairy, wheat gluten, etc)
- availability of food choices
- individual preferences with activity and/or sport

I could keep going but you get the point…

Each person is simply different and the only thing that matters is what works best for him/her.

My call is for a return to common sense thinking with nutrition and exercise. If something is not working well for you then by all means change it up. Go ahead and search out experts in individual areas of nutrition and exercise science. See what they have to say and experiment.

Just don’t get so caught up in the dogma that you close your mind and become hesitant to deviate from the accepted thinking of that camp.

As a fitness and nutrition coach I have my own foundational beliefs on the most effective exercise and dietary routines for my niche market (middle age adults). I have come to these beliefs following years of research and real world experimentation working with hundreds of clients.

Does that make my way right and another way wrong? Of course not. I keep an open mind because at the end of the day my objective is always to help my clients achieve the results they desire. I’ve learned over time that if there’s one thing that’s for sure it’s that people are different.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop promoting the ideas and strategies that I’ve found to work best with the largest segment of my niche market. The idea is being open to adjusting as needed to meet each person’s bioindividuality.

The reason I promote burst training for exercise and some variation of a Primal Blueprint diet for nutrition, is because I’ve seen this combination simply work best with the majority of middle age adults. What you won’t hear me say however is that it’s the ONLY way.

Here’s an example of how individual preferences, biases, and beliefs can muddy the water for people searching for information on nutrition and exercise.

It comes from a review of presenters that spoke at the “Fitness Bloggers Conference.” In all fairness I didn’t attend this conference and the following is simply a review from an attendee.

“We then heard from Dr. Iñigo San Millán, a worldclass expert in exercise physiology who has trained seven Tour de France teams and established his credentials by saying he played for half a dozen years in the Real Madrid professional soccer program.

Dr. San Millán spends his time studying endurance athletes to learn from them how the rest of us can improve our health.

His main point was that professional endurance athletes, statistically the healthiest people on the planet, can eat almost anything they want and still won’t get heart disease or diabetes.

He showed us how the “low-carb diet” is probably not only a fad, but wrong, and that you simply need to exercise to be healthy. Diet alone won’t do it.” Go to reference.

Granted I respect the beliefs of Dr. Iñigo San Millán and by no means what to attack the man here. My problem is with some of the assertions that were made in what he apparently taught at the conference.

This individual has spent years coaching endurance athletes and that’s obviously his area of expertise. So if you’re looking to become an endurance athlete, he’s probably got some wisdom to share with you. But how does this correlate to the average overweight middle age adult looking to lose weight?

The assertion that professional endurance athletes are statistically the “healthiest” people on the planet and that they can eat almost anything and still won’t get heart disease or diabetes, is misleading to say the least.

There’s strong evidence showing that professional endurance athletes have increased risk of heart attack and cardiovascular health problems due to micro-trauma caused by repetitive over-exertion.

The idea that if you just become an endurance athlete you can eat anything you want and avoid heart disease and diabetes doesn’t even pass the “common sense” test.

Sure you’d be more likely to burn off the substrates from what you’ve eaten as energy due to the high caloric expenditure, but long-duration exercise has it’s own set of downsides.

Casual observance of those who regularly participate in ultra-endurance type activities doesn’t reflect a picture of health. Heck, they’ll be the first to tell you the demands their activity of choice places on their body. It’s the “price to be paid” for competing at a high level. To say it’s a recipe for health and wellness is certainly arguable however.

Finally, there’s the assertion that…

“A “low-carb diet” is probably not only a fad, but wrong, and that you simply need to exercise to be healthy.”

Ohh….ok, really? All you need to do is exercise to be healthy. Tell that to the hordes of people tredging away on the treadmill every day but not seeing significant weight loss.

Diet is far more important than exercise alone. Unless you’re going to start spending hours upon hours each week training like an endurance athlete, diet is going to be the main factor in your weight loss.

This whole idea that a  low-carb diet being a fad and “wrong” is the exact bias I’ve been talking about. Wrong for who, everyone? What do you say to individual who has lost a significant amount of weight and improved their health with a low-carb diet?

See what I’m getting at. Granted, a low-carb diet would work terribly for an endurance athlete because they have exceptionally high energy demands. But not everyone is an endurance athlete and will have the same body type, energy demands, etc.

If all of this was prefaced around the discussion…..”How to excel as an endurance athlete,” it would be more relevant and less controversial. But some people will hear/read this kind of sentiment and believe it’s sound advice for the general population.

I wish more health, fitness, and nutrition experts would simply make a case for a particular strategy, technique, etc, and share the research and/or experience with the realization that not everyone will fall into the same wants/needs category.

Opposing beliefs and experiences are a good thing because they can help people who are still looking for solutions to best meet their needs. Just be aware that you’ll often have to find these answers on your own with experimentation.

Supremacy with any exercise or nutrition strategy is relevant to the wants and needs of the individual. Anyone who tries to blindly convince you otherwise is probably more interested in selling you something than truly helping you find an individual solution.

The only “wrong” way is the way that doesn’t produce the desired outcomes you’re looking for.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness consulting in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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Category: Shane's Commentary.