Health and Fitness Crusader

Too often we get ourselves pigeonholed in to different camps of health and fitness. We end up treating diets, training methods and all the rest as religions. It adds confusion and honestly does more harm than good to us.

Let’s say you are suffering from back pain, a yogi will tell you that yoga is the answer to a better back health. Talk to chiros and some of them might recommend frequent visits to “align the spine”. Pilates teachers will teach you to “activate the core”, whatever that means. Surgeons might tell you that the only way to fix something is to operate. Physio therapists might treat your back with a needles and heat pads. Personal trainer or a strength coach says that you’re in pain because you’re not strong enough. Your doctor might prescribe you some painkillers for the inflammation. Let’s see did I miss someone? Oh yeah, some alternative medicine people might explain how the pain starts from your gut, “here, take these herbs for it.” Yes, I might be exaggerating here. Or am I?

The point I am trying to make is that often the professionals of a certain training method see the problem through tinted glasses. You know, when all you have is a hammer everything starts looking like nails.

This same cult-ish view can be transferred to our clients and patients. If yoga helped with your back you will tell everyone with back pain how yoga fixes everything from sore backs to poor red and green colour vision. No, actually yoga will give me sciatica and the sweat gets into my eyes so I can’t see at all.

Just because yoga cleared Stephen’s back pain it doesn’t necessarily work for Stephanie. It might make her back worse. I know that Stephen means well but there’s a point when his solution becomes a religious mantra where everyone and their dog should do yoga because “it’s soooo gooood for you!” Again, it was good for Stephen. But not everyone’s cause of pain is the same and therefore you might need a different approach.

I am not having a dig at yogis here. It’s just the first example that came to mind and the one that I hear about the most. There’s a place for yoga and I should probably do more of it. We personal trainers do similar mistakes as well, “I am the strongest while doing a conventional barbell deadlift off the floor toes pointing forward so EVERYONE should do it”. Well, no. As a matter of fact some of us don’t have the right hips to pull weight off the ground. It’s nothing to do with flexibility, mobility, strength or motor control. You can foam roll and stretch your hamstrings until the cows come home with no improvement. It has everything to do with your parents and the hips that you were born with. It sucks but it’s the reality. That’s why it’s called “personal” training, tailored to individual’s body and skill level.

“Everyone should do powerlifting!” “Bodybuilding is the way to go!” “CrossFit for all!” Who has the right answer? Well, it depends which you enjoy doing. If you enjoy powerlifting don’t let anyone tell you how you should do more body part splits. If you love bodybuilding more than I love potatoes don’t get pushed around thinking that you should do CrossFit. Whatever gets you moving while keeping you healthy is what you should be doing. If this means participating in the water polo championships played with kettlebells so be it. Sink or swim…

We can see the same cult-like following in different diets. Just because you do really well with high fat/low carb diet doesn’t mean that it works for your co-worker Simon. Beyond the obvious “eat mostly whole foods”, you have to experiment what’s right for you for the long-term. Maybe it is high carb/low fat. Maybe you do really well by only eating cloudberries grown in the midnight sun (I doubt it, but then again…) I don’t know, and you won’t either until you try.

Pick up any reasonably sane diet book in the book store and they usually have few things in common: eat four serves of protein a day, plenty of vegetables, focus mostly on whole foods and don’t drink your calories. Eating healthy is just as complicated as the last sentence sounds and that recommendation works roughly for 99% of people. The rest 1% need the advanced high carb, low carb, high fat, low fat, only eat during the high tide, only use one chopstick while eating a soup and so.

Then what happens is that one of these 1% diets works for a certain group of people, they go on to morning television to talk about it and everyone starts doing them. Suddenly, once again, we’ve made something very simple into very complicated. We hear all about someone’s success of 100kg weight loss in 10 weeks while a bunch of people are wondering “It’s not working. What am I doing wrong?” You see this magnified if one of the diet followers is a celebrity. “Gwyneth’s Miracle Weight Loss Strategy for All of Humankind – eat only the stems of celery for a month to achieve abs to die for” – sadly, quite literally in some cases. And this is how a new diet cult/religion is born.

Stick to basic and keep it simple. Stop chasing all things new and shiny. And whatever you do don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. Don’t follow the herd who’s after the latest magic bullet. Step aside and observe over time how this same cycle repeats itself over and over again and each time it seems as we’ve learned nothing.

 If it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t right for you. However, just because it feels hard doesn’t mean it’s not right for you. If you’ve lived your life so far eating corn flakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner you need to understand that changing that up will be hard. The silver bullet? Hard work, dedication and surround yourself with supportive and likeminded people.

And once you find your answer you can give helpful recommendations for others. But don’t become a crusader trying to turn everyone into followers of you fitness religion. It’s annoying and you might actually do more harm than good. Even when your intentions are good.


Music that got my creative juices flowing this week
Bruce Springsteen – Jungleland

[I tried a technique of listening the same song on repeat while writing. It worked.]


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