Let The Madness Begin!

…. and let it begin “around” you and not “to” you!  If you spend any time around the health and fitness world, you cropped-logo2015_512x512.jpgbegin to see more or less the same things keep circling around – most of which are either 1) derivative of each other, 2) outright bogus, 3) pretty far fetched yet pitched as believable or 4) oddly, though often deceptively, effective but not sustainable.  Before you jump at someone’s offer to give you some quick fix formula that is finally the thing that will work, let me offend a few people and offer a few suggestions (way too many of these are of the “don’t ask me how I know that” variety, if you know what I mean…)

Step 1 (and 2, 3, 4 and beyond…).  Approach everything of this ilk with a bit of healthy skepticism.  While there really are some good products and programs out there, they are, sadly, not in the majority.

Along with some skepticism, turn up the volume on your common sense.  If you think through some of the claims, they don’t logically hold any water.  There are some fundamental principles that you could consider to make sure what you are hearing actually makes sense.  Let’s take a peek at some of those…

Humans are engineered to do some core things… we “move” and do so in a variety of ways.  So if the “fix” doesn’t involve in some way a requirement for movement, be very skeptical of claims.   We have teeth and are programmed to use them as part of the refueling process.  I have nothing in particular against shakes, but if you are replacing a meal with a shake, you are psychologically going to miss the act of eating and will easily succumb to temptation to eat something, making that meal replacement ADDED, rather than SUBTRACTED intake.  We also need to rest.  We’re not all wired alike on this front, but we do all seem to share a fundamental requirement to rest in the form of sleep and if any sort of rigorous exercise is in your daily activity, you probably need to recover from it.

I firmly believe (and am living proof many times over…) in the body’s ability to heal itself when nourished properly – and I use “nourished” in a broad sense.  But realize it isn’t going to happen overnight. Remember? Common sense! Let’s say you are actually** overweight in some significant way.   It isn’t like you were a competitive athlete last Tuesday and then today you woke up and were overweight.  It took a while to get where you are, so you should expect it to take a while to reverse the effect.   And since we’re on the subject of weight, realize that there are really only 3 ways for your weight to go down …. you reduce body fat, you reduce muscle or you shed water.  We’ll come back to those.

Okay, so what are some things that maybe should give us some pause….??  Realizing that I’m probably going to offend a few people, some of whom are friends, here are a few things that make me roll my eyes….

  1.  Detox.  Think about it. How are toxins (let’s assume there are some, though I’d invite you to ask whoever is selling you the detox system to name them and point you to a study that proves first that they exist and second that the system makes them go away….) going to leave your body?  We don’t really have a lot of mechanisms for this and without getting overly graphic, they boil down to 2 — waste and sweat.   Make sure you understand exactly what is happening in the process.  For the most part, when you hear “detox”, you’ve fallen for a nifty buzzword and while you may be starting down the path of the better habit that over time will help your internal plumbing, you are unlikely to identify any particular toxins suddenly exiting your body.
  2. Anything you wear on your body that claims weight loss effects.  Unless that thing you are wearing is heavy and you are building muscle by virtue of wearing it, you’re caught in something that might be “true” but not particularly “useful”.  What you are doing is losing water. So yes, the number of the scale might temporarily go down, but you haven’t done anything to make the effect sustainable.
  3. Fix.  Another buzzword that makes me a little crazy.  First, it implies you are broken. You’re not broken. Perhaps you’ve fallen into some habits that could use a little work, but broken? Second, these “fixes” have shockingly short lifespans … if you’ve spent 20 years finely honing your bad habit, you’ve not only got to break the habit but also have to reverse the effects. These things take time. There are no quick fixes. You may see some fairly rapid “changes”, but unless you have formed some new and better habits, those changes will not be sustainable.
  4. Anything that encourages you to “join their team” and/or join something to get discounted product.  Realizing that I’m swimming upstream here, think hard about the whole MLM model. There are, by design, multiple layers of people that need to make money by someone actually selling a product. Never mind the quality of the product, you’re looking at many layers of added product cost so that everyone can get their cut.  The reason you have to be lured in with discounts and wild dreams of free cars and such is that the products are quite expensive.  Now, let me backtrack just a tad.  Some of the products are actually quite good and we’re they available in some other model at a reasonable price, it might be worth a look. But even that assumes a whole bunch of other stuff isn’t an additional problem ….

…. which brings me to poster child for what is wrong with the whole industry surrounding getting people in shape .. that is, the stuff they want us to ingest. Here are my red flags…. meal replacement shakes top the list because every vendor seems to have one and they mostly suffer from a few common problems.  First, as already mentioned, we’re engineering to “eat” our meals, not drink them. These things tend to be pretty calorie laden owing to the addition of sweeteners to keep them from tasting less than awful to begin with but this get compounded when, as so many end up experiencing, they don’t act as “replacements” at all, but add ons.  Second, read the label. There’s some interesting stuff in many of these! Third, once the vendor gets you locked into these, it is complicated to stop .. on the order of escaping a cult.

Another side of what we’re putting in the tank is supplements .. I won’t elaborate much here beyond saying that it is quite true that we’ve corrupted our food supply in ways that make it very difficult to get the essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids we need from our food and if you can identify gaps, it is a good idea to cover them.  But for the vast majority of us, we can stop there. Unless you’ve got very specific goals (ie, you are a powerlifter or figure competitor or you have a diagnosed medical condition that requires nutritional intervention), taking an awful lot of this stuff is like hunting mosquitoes with an elephant gun.  Now I’m okay with a little nutritional “insurance”, but let’s be reasonable about it.

And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention protein.  If you exercise with the goal of building lean muscle to enhance your metabolism (the only sustainable way to manage weight, by the way…), then you need the building blocks of that muscle and for the average person, that translates to protein.  A couple weeks ago, someone asked me what protein I favored .. the question was probing for the name of a powder .. my answer? Eggs.  Yes, I have an above average bit of lean muscle for a man in his early 50s. No, I don’t use protein powders.   If I wanted to amp up the muscle building a bit and didn’t quite think I was getting as much protein as my training and goals would call for, I would go down the path.  But again, know what you are ingesting. Many people are sensitive to whey based products.  Men should be at least a little wary of intentionally upping their consumption of soy. And so on ..

So … what SHOULD you do?  Everyone’s mileage will vary, but here is the formula that put me on a path to where I am today.  I’m 52 years old, teach anyway from 18-25 boot camp style fitness class weekly.  My weekdays begin with a 4:15 am alarm and the first class starting at 5:15 am.  I manage the day to day household logistic for a large and busy family with kids scattered across 4 schools and an array of extra activities that keeps us on the move every single day. As I approached my mid 40s, I noticed as a youth soccer coach that I was struggling a bit to keep up with the kids and I was in a fair amount of pain most of the times. And had a couple other medical conditions which had me taking pills.  All a normal part of getting older?  Don’t kid yourself. That stuff isn’t normal. We bring it on ourselves by not doing some basic stuff to keep us feeling good.  If you doubt my cred to say this stuff, try to keep up with me for a few days …. 😉

  1.  Do moderate to intense exercise for about 30 minutes every other day. Take 2 days off if you feel you need it, but try to avoid 3 consecutive days without something rigorous.  On the other days, be mindfully active. And it is worth noting that for most people, the notion of “just press play” and working out in the comfort and convenience of your own home sounds really good but is not very effective. We are, by nature, creatures that desire community and putting a support system around us makes most of us much more successful.
  2. Eat real food.  Most of us know what that means and these days with schedules for most of us being what they are, we fall back on some weak substitutions sometimes. Do what you can.. this is the easiest way to start feeling better – even without rigorous exercise.
  3. Take care of your relationships .. your significant other, your family, your work life and your spiritual life.
  4. Rest is part of the program.  We live very stressful lives and stress comes in many forms. If you get #1 and #3 in hand, you’ve got the makings of having a handle on stress management. Consider #4 the third leg of that stool.

    There you have it.  If I have educated you, good for both of us. If I have offended you, I’m perhaps a little bit sorry about that but hope I’ve given you some food for thought.  If you’re already on board with most of this, hopefully is what just a little refresher and pep talk. We can all use that from time to time.



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