So, here’s an idea for a post that I’ve had for a little while… and I want to start by letting you know that it is partially an observation and commentary on the fitness industry, but it will have a conclusion that will not only be applicable to the general public, but actually could be of potentially life changing significance to serious fitness enthusiasts who struggle with the nutrition side of things.
This was inspired by something that came across my social media feeds last week which I don’t seem to be able to find again right now, so perhaps I’ll misquote this, but it got me thinking anyway. It was something to the effect of “how to change your client’s belief systems about foods” so that they’ll have good adherence, or… be successful… or something.
Now, this got me thinking because generally speaking, when you look into these things you tend to find that the “change in belief systems” actually infers adopting a lot of beliefs that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny and aren’t actually factual. These sorts of things are intriguing to me. It’s easy enough to just write everyone off as a scam artist or a Pete Evans style delusional simpleton repeating a bunch of nonsense and trying to brainwash other people into believing it… but in some cases that would be a little unfair, as you have actually quite decent people with the best intentions of contributing positively to the industry by teaching valuable skills to aspiring professional coaches.
With all that said, the question remains: why is that good and intelligent people would believe so passionately in things that just aren’t factual?
Well, that was a long introduction so let’s cut from the chase from this point on. Refer to my rather excellent flow chart below, and let’s start at the top and then work down just the green boxes on the left hand side.
Pretty simple, right?
You read… oh, let’s say you read “Good Calories Bad Calories” or you watch one of those food documentaries on Netflix, and it tells you “this is the problem, and this is the solution”. Fortunately for you, your reaction happens to be “hmm… well, that seems to make some kind of sense, and doesn’t sound too difficult to me, so I’ll give it a go”. And what do you know, it actually works and you actually see good results.
Fantastic. So, seeing results you have every reason to believe “obviously this works” and it’s not unreasonable to extend that to “obviously this works, and it works for the reasons I have been taught. This is what everyone needs to do”.
That’d be an understandable conclusion, but really… all we really know at this point is that it happened to suit you, and it happened to work. We don’t necessarily know that it worked because what convinced you to try it in the first place was 100% factual.
Now let’s back up though and we’ll follow the chart but end up in some of those red boxes.
You hear about something or are instructed to do something by your coach, and you can see these other people very enthusiastic and having a good time with it. Maybe you think “ok that sounds easy enough”, or maybe you think “this sounds awful, but fuck, what choice do I have if that’s what it takes?”. Either way, in this example, you give it your best shot, but for some reason you just can’t seem to make it work.
Or… actually you know what? Maybe you don’t even give it a shot because it sounds that awful and you’re just that lacking in optimism about your chances of pulling it off. Contrary to the way a lot of the fitness industry seems to think, this can be entirely understandable. You’re told a diet that is high in animal fats is required, and you want to be a vegan. Or you’re told a grain free diet is required, but you love bread and cereal. Or you might even be told a vegan diet is required, but you love steak. Maybe you’re just one of these people who only really likes a rather limited variety of foods and isn’t very good at trying new ones. I’m in the minority but for whatever it’s worth, I for one would not blame you for giving up without even trying under any of those or similar circumstances.
But in any case, in these red squares… either you’re not enthusiastic and not able to adhere to it, you attempt to force yourself but it still doesn’t work, or you were actually quite enthusiastic and you’re pretty sure you’re doing everything you’ve been told, but it’s still not working. If you or your coach really believes “it you do this it works, if it’s not working you’re not doing it right, and it has to be done like this and no other way”, then you’re screwed. Especially if you’re one of those unfortunate people who spent a lot of time mouthing off online about how stupid everyone else must be, and then found your condition going backwards no matter how much harder you tried to stay in ketosis, just saying.
Here’s the wild card though. That other box all the way on it’s own on the right.
Let’s start again from the top. You get told about something and how great it is, it may or may not really make sense, it may or may not be based in reality, but either way you already have some other approach that you like, which is working out very nicely for you.
Now, for some reason… that’s a situation that not many people in the online fitness world seem to be able to imagine. Think about it… how could two different people be doing two different things, and both of them successfully? How could someone think that is good, when I think this is good? Are they trying to insult me, or what?
Honestly, it gets so silly. But here’s the thing.
As per what’s in the green section of the chart, here’s what we can assume about every person out there who is having a good time and maintaining improvements in condition.
- They have a decent approach to training that they get stuck into enthusiastically.
- They have an approach to nutrition that they believe is the best, that happens to suit them, and actually does consistently give them enough of all the energy and nutritional resources that they need to facilitate results, at least to the level at which they’ve achieved so far.
Also let’s specify that we’re talking about people who’ve maintained a degree of success for… oh, let’s say five or more years. We’re not talking about people who did some “miraculous transformation” for about half a season but then regained 30kg or something like that, and we’re not talking about the people who will eventually come clean and confess that they were miserable the whole time either.
We can probably safely say that no one who has been successful long term was doing something that didn’t appeal to them, that didn’t suit them, that they hated, or that they forced themselves to believe in even though it didn’t really seem to make sense. We can definitely say that they don’t have the same approach, or even necessarily a similar approach to one another. And while many people will want to believe that there is a specific, scientific reason why their personally preferred approach is “the best” approach for anyone… if you like the approach, if the approach is working out for you satisfactorily, it should be enough just to be confident and to be enthusiastic about having found the approach that is best for you.
In short, the belief that you need to change is that there is ANYONE out there being successful by doing ANYTHING other than what happens to most appeal to them and what happens to best suit them. And if they try to tell you anything else, they’re full of shit.
So, the take home point from all of this, for you.
For everyone out there saying, “but you can’t do it unless you cut out grains and never eat cereal for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch again”, there are people out there who are doing it while eating cereal for breakfast or whatever else. For everyone out there saying “but you can’t do it on a vegan diet” there are some incredibly successful vegan athletes out there as well. The same goes for anything to do with the number of meals per day, the timing and frequency of meals across the day, the same again for any other, more elitist ideals about what people “need to” do, or what they should and should not want to do as far as their approach to nutrition goes as well.
Now obviously there are some technically concerns that come into this. Your dietary habits cannot be conducive to excessive energy intake if you expect to develop a leaner condition. At the same time, your dietary habits must provide an adequate total level of energy intake, and an adequate level of protein intake, to facilitate improvements in performance, recovery after training, and to maintain and increase lean mass. Also you need to get enough fibre, vitamins and minerals from some of the healthy stuff.
Aside from that? You require an approach that you’re enthusiastic about, and are able to adhere to with a reasonable level of consistency. What better reason to be enthusiastic than because you truly believe it is best approach for you? What better reason to believe that, than because you have actually designed and continued to refine the approach to be what is best for you?
This is how I like to do it, the way that suits me best, and I’m more than happy with the results. How anyone else prefers to go about it is irrelevant. I have my own story. They aint me and this isn’t their life.
Now, as coaches I believe it is fine to only offer one approach that you specialise in. I only offer one approach, and if someone tells me they’re looking for something different, they’re free to and in fact best to go looking for another coach who specialises in that, because I won’t accept them as a client. But as coaches whatever we are telling people in support of our preferred approach should be truthful, and where applicable should be able to be supported by credible scientific evidence as well as every day observations. It shouldn’t be bullshit that robs the people who aren’t suited to that approach of the belief that they too can be successful.