Nutritional disorders are everywhere these days while access to information is at an all-time high.
Is it just me, or do I sense a real disconnect here?
It’s been my observation that most fitness professionals in mainstream gyms are under 30, have never had a weight problem, and have always been into sports and fitness. They then proceed to give advice to people with weight issues and because their clients look at them as role models they proceed to follow these guidelines even if the trainer has never had to follow such advice themselves.
This seems problematic to me because most trainers are just repeating dogmatic advice from their textbooks or fitness magazines, not from personal experience. While I believe their intentions are good, I honestly feel the advice is generally very bad and might cause nutritional disorders.
So here is an observation from a trainer that has had a weight problem and started dieting at the age of 8: diets don’t work. Calorie restriction and deprivation doesn’t work. Body shaming doesn’t work. Considering that 99% of diets fail, I really feel there is a better way to look at this issue.
I have always believed that excess weight is a symptom of a greater mental or emotional issue. It’s great to come to the gym to move your body, increase circulation, build lean muscle mass and improve your posture, but its not the best strategy for removing fat from the body. I would even go so far as to say that mainstream nutrition advice may be harming your relationship with your body, creating issues around food and causing nutritional disorders.
Here are some bad ideas I still see being promoted at the gym:
(1) Calorie restriction
Picture a 300-pound individual coming to the gym for the first time. He’s 30 years old, never exercises and is 175cm tall.
In order to maintain this body weight, he needs to consume approximately 3000 calories per day to keep his metabolic functions working properly and maintain his body temperature.
I have a basic meal plan in front of me given to me by a trainer as I type this, and do you know what the daily calorie count is? 1700!!! That’s insane. Literally, it will make you insane.
Cutting someone’s base calories in half is basically starvation. It will affect their metabolism, mental processes and emotional well-being.
An experiment conducted in 1941 by a doctor named Ancel Keys documented what happens during long-term calorie restriction. He placed 36 men on an eating plan of 1600 calories per day for 24 weeks. Side effects included incessant hunger, weakness, exhaustion, dizziness, muscle wasting, hair loss and reduced coordination. For a good summary of the experiment, click here.
There is a better way to help someone with their eating than a drastic change in calories. More on that later…
(2) Creating nutritional disorders by cutting out food groups
Next up is elimination of entire food groups. Since I’ve tried many diets over the last couple decades I’ve seen trends come and go: fat-free, meat-free, raw food , “cleansing” and fasting. The latest villain is “simple” sugars and carbohydrates.
I think this latest low carbohydrate innovation seems to work because processed foods containing additives, preservatives and other chemicals are generally carbohydrate-dense. But that doesn’t mean that people need to omit the natural grains, roots and rice that their ancestors have been eating for thousands of years to stay healthy.
It makes sense to get rid of processed junk food but the elimination of perfectly healthy sources of carbohydrates just isn’t necessary. The body needs fibrous carbohydrates to maintain your metabolism, fibre to keep your bowels moving and to keep a balance of good bacteria in the gut. Your thyroid likes them too.
(3) Rewards and punishments
This is quite possibly the worst of them all.
It makes me silently vomit on the inside when I hear someone say they’ve been “bad” for eating cake on their daughter’s birthday. Or that they’ve been “bad” for eating a piece of bread at a restaurant or a cookie at a cafe while having coffee with a friend.
How about being pushed to do 20 extra push-ups in anticipation of a party on the weekend? Or an extra session of long-distance cardio?
Such reward and punishment behaviours imprint patterns into the brain. If you are “punishing” yourself with exercise, how do you think your subconscious mind will perceive exercise in the future?
No wonder people generally dislike exercise so much!
Also, do you think a 300-calorie piece of cake on your daughter’s birthday makes such a difference when your weekly calorie count is between 14,000 and 21,000? Let’s consider such “bad” behaviours in context of the greater picture.
The body self-regulates how much energy it needs. Too many calories one day will result in decreased appetite the next day. We just need to trust our bodies, and the results we want will follow.
Next up is a post on the real culprit of weight-gain: mindless eating & eating to medicate emotions. Until then, let’s just consider that food is a source of energy, and we are so lucky to have as much as we need in this part of the world. And also, please be kind to yourself and block out the voices trying to convince you that you need to punish, restrict or deprive yourself. It’s really not necessary, and does more harm in the long run by creating eating and nutritional disorders.