How Fitness Shortcuts Hurt Your Health
On January 1st, you set some New Year’s Resolutions. Today, you were thrilled to discover that you could achieve them all EASILY AND FAST in the next 30 days! Woohoo–what will you do with the rest of your year??!
Of course, I’m referring to the get-lean-quick shakes, the crash diets, and the zero-money-down gym sign-up programs that prey on people like us.
There ARE shortcuts to fitness. But there are also a lot of lies out there.
When can a shortcut help us, and when can it hurt us? Here’s a four-question test that I took from Seth Godin’s blog this morning.
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time, or is it a crash diet?
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health?
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time?
- Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret?
Let’s take a few examples of past fitness trends (and the stuff you’re probably being pitched in your Facebook feed today) and hold them up to our four filters of shortcut validity:
Weight Loss Shakes
- Is it repeatable? Can you stay on this diet of shakes forever? No. Are you really going to do this for the next 40 years?
- Is it non-harmful? Actually, they’re harmful. Every protein or weight-loss shake uses sweeteners, usually a corn derivative or a chemical. On one hand, you’re brought closer to insulin resistance (diabetes). On the other, you’re ingesting a laboratory experiment.
Most shakes also use a combination of appetite suppressants, caffeine and a mild laxative to keep you full and alert. But your body quickly downgrades its energy expenditure to match, and when you go “off” the shakes, you quickly gain weight–and it’s all fat. Longterm, weight loss shakes make you fatter and sicker.
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time? Well, you’ll probably start to hate taking protein shakes instead of eating real food. And every shake you drink is less effective than the one before (see above). You’re getting smaller by starving out your metabolism.
- Can it survive the crowd? Sure…except that, eventually, someone will tell you the truth. The only people sharing their huge weight loss from diets or shakes on Facebook are the people who make a commission by signing you up.
The Keto Diet / Paleo Diet / XYZ Diet
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time, or is it a crash diet? People have been using ketosis and intermittent fasting and high-fat diets since before recorded time. And if you’re trying to beat a sugar addiction, a short ketogenic period might actually help.
But the real question is, “Can I sustain this for the rest of my life?” and the answer to ALL “diets” is “no.”
If you stop eating grains, your body will lose the ability to process grains.
If you stop eating carbs, you’ll become less resistant to insulin in the short-term…but your body will learn, and become better at gluconeogenesis (breaking down your muscle tissue to trigger insulin response).
And if you eat in a different way than everyone around you, they’ll pull you into their habits.
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health? Long-term, kicking sugar is a very positive thing. But rapid weight loss, binge dieting, or any unsustainable practice will always have a rebound effect. You have a relationship with food. One-night stands with diets will always come back to haunt you.
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time? You might get better at eating paleo. But you might also become neurotic about food. There’s a reason people with eating disorders jump from diet to diet: they love the feeling of control, and diets give them a clear “good and bad” line. Unfortunately, that’s not sustainable in life, and everyone knows the term “yo-yo dieting” by now.
- Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret? If you’re part of a group and dieting together, you’ll definitely have more success. You eat like the people you spend most of your time around. If everyone eats a ketogenic diet, you’ll do better at sticking to the ketogenic diet. SHOULD you stick to it? See above.
Joining A Gym
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time? Yes. You can join a gym and keep going for 40 years. We think you should do coached fitness, but even a $9.95 access-only gym will benefit you long-term (if you show up.)
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health? Yes. There probably are no negative effects. Very few people get injured in the gym. When they occur, injuries are usually overuse problems (you bench press every Monday and do leg extensions every Friday) and don’t occur for a few years.
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time? Yes. Training with weights has a compounding effect. You get stronger, your muscles improve your metabolism, and you get better…UNLESS you’re sticking to the same old 3-sets-of-8-reps program you did last month. You need constant variety.
But in general, running becomes more fun the longer you run; weight lifting becomes more fun the longer you lift; and CrossFit gets even more exciting over time.
- Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret? Yes. Discount gyms will see a huge influx of new members until March 13 (the average date most new gym-goers give up and quit, except in coaching gyms like CrossFit Mahwah.) And you can’t really “fill” a discount gym, because their business model is based on members who never show up. We’re the opposite, so we have a membership cap.
Joining a Coaching Gym or Personal Trainer or Nutritionist
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time? Yes. I’ve been doing CrossFit for 11 years, and I still love it. Are there injuries? Yes–the same amount as a normal gym, far fewer than hockey or soccer. But CrossFit has also fixed my chronic problems. And I’m always eager to go.
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health? Yes. When a gym works 1:1 with its members to measure progress and set goals, the effects compound, and you don’t waste your time doing stuff that doesn’t work.
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time? Yes. When an objective source measures your results, they can point to what’s working and help you focus more.
- Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret? No. Coaching businesses are anti-crowd; because of the 1:1 relationships involved, coaching businesses can’t take 1,000 clients. But maybe that’s okay.
You’re going to get pitched alot. If you feel like you’re being sold, don’t buy. And if a new super secret fitness method isn’t sustainable, don’t start it: you’ll probably be moving backward.
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