Archive for October, 2010

This blog…

Posted: October 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

We finally got RSS feed links so you can subscribe to the Body-Improvements blog.  We made the links huge so you couldn’t miss them.  What’s that you ask? Why would anyone in their right mind waste space on their RSS feeder with a blog that rarely updates?

Yeah, I know.  This place sucked for a while.  It’s hanging on by a life line.  We still have quite a few people who check it out frequently.  To them, I say thanks.

I’m going to ask a favor of you.  Pass the address of this blog around to your friends and family – anyone you think would be interested in the sort of content we dish.  We’re going to try our best to revive this place.  I’d say we’re going to update weekly.  But that’d be a lie.  Definitely more short and random thoughts though.  No point in waiting for only those times we have articles to share from the main site.

If you’ve topics you’d like us to address or questions you’d like us to answer, please email them to us.

 

This was originally the meat of the last newsletter.  I figured it’s worthy of posting here as well.  On the longer side of things but it’s information people need to hear.

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We defined the problems infecting the personal training and gym industry in Part 1. Now let’s look at some of the issues the customers have. That’s right – you, the customer – aren’t free and clear. Without regulation in place, the only thing that can influence change in this field is you. The customer casts votes every time he or she spends a dollar on a professional, for a membership, or for a product. These votes matter.

My hope is that this article will remind you to think before casting your next vote.

As a society, we aren’t taught fitness and exercise – at least not like we are other subjects. For most consumers, an enormous void exists between what they presume to be true and reality. The players in this industry (have it be the media, authors, personal trainers, gym owners, etc.) thrive on this knowledge-gap. They realize we’re dealing with an era where social pressure to look a certain way is extremely intense. They also realize that a mass amount of emotional vulnerability accompanies this pressure.

Tugging on the right strings of emotionally vulnerable people typically leads to hopeless trust, sycophantic following, and easy selling with total disregard for integrity. It’s a “seller’s market” if you will. This is the primary reason there’s no shortage of gurus, books, pills, gyms and anything else that promises to give you the results you’re after.

This is real and this is happening.

What I’m going to present here is a bundle of tools that can prevent you from being ripped off.

KNOWLEDGE

I want to be careful with my wording here, as this advice could help fuel the vicious cycle of buying every single product that promises the next best kept secret. Knowledge typically comes by way of books, journals, and articles on the web. My recommendation is to pursue packaged knowledge like this but to be extremely selective.

Understanding the basics of exercise and nutrition can help you in a number of ways including self-reliance when it comes to decision-making about your program or diet and avoidance of gimmicky products.

Two tiers exist when it comes to information. There’s the foundational tier and there’s the extrapolative tier. The foundational tier is really the backbone that supports the extrapolative tier. Put differently, the foundational tier provides the basis for what all books are written about and what coaches/trainers talk about.

What you see on the shelves of most book stores and on the Internet are of extrapolative nature. This information is a product of what the author/coach has read on the foundational front. It’s their interpretation of the science, if you will. This doesn’t make them second-rate, mind you. Much of the foundational material is too complex for the lay person to pick up and understand. The foundational stuff is rooted in biology, chemistry, physics, and subsets of these including anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, biomechanics, etc.

Finding a decent interpretation or extrapolation will help bridge the gap between the foundational subject material and the application side of things for the lay reader. Let’s face it, most of you aren’t interested in biology—you’re interested in results.

Unfortunately, however, this is where a lot of the gimmicks and lies come into play. Many authors and trainers use the ignorance of the lay reader to their advantage. They understand that an air of mysticism helps promote reliance and trigger a purchase. They strive to keep their readers in the dark “just enough.” By doing so, their customers never catch on to the fact that they’re just rehashing the same principles and concepts again and again using different packaging. In the investment world this would be known as churning where investment professionals continually sell new but similar products to the same customer simply to earn more commissions. This is an illegal practice in that industry.

There are no secrets. And there’s really nothing earth-shatteringly new out there on the foundational side of things. The more exciting, novel, and complex a product sounds, the greater the chances it’s total bullshit.

So if the foundational stuff is beyond most people’s understanding and most extrapolative authors and coaches are conmen, what can be done?

For starters, if you’re interested in diving into the foundational stuff, start with 101 level textbooks dealing with the basic sciences at hand.

Secondly, just as the honest trainers are the minority in their profession, the honest authors and product pushers are a minority here. We have a links page on our website which is entirely objective. It’s full of recommended authors and useful resources. In a roundabout way, you can use us as your filter to strain out quality information. More often than not, as we turn you onto other professionals and resources, they’ll turn you onto their own, and it’s a cycle where your resource base will grow and grow.

If you’d like recommendations regarding specific topics (foundational or extrapolative in nature), please feel free to shoot me an email.

MANAGEMENT OF EXPECTATIONS

Without fail many people expect unrealistic outcomes. This is predominantly driven by the hucksters who use dishonest advertising promising bogus results from their programs, products, or pills. The pressure applied by these guys is so great that many folks actually start believing the impossible. It’s also fueled by the overwhelming mentality of instant gratification our society has, where we demand everything here and now.

Instant gratification sounds great and all, but it’s not very realistic. At least not the type that’s going to be long lasting and meaningful.

Most customers of the weight loss and body composition industries are the equivalent of folks who rely on the lottery to get them to retirement. “Screw hard and honest work – I just want to pick some numbers or scratch a card and get rich.”

Unfortunately, the percentage of people who win lotteries pales in comparison to the number of people who play lotteries. This analogy makes sense too. Think about the success rates of long-term weight loss. We often see percentages thrown around like 90, 95, or even 98% of diets fail in the long-term. Could this have something to do with the expectations of the dieter? You bet. There’s certainly more to it than that… but it’s a large component of the failures we commonly see.

Here’s a newsflash: we live in a culture that promotes obesity. We are biologically hardwired to store energy much more easily than we are to expend energy. Achieving and maintaining a good physique takes a lot of hard work, consistency, and dedication. It’s a slow, arduous process. We can’t selectively lose fat from our problem areas. We are bound by our genetics. If you’re short and stocky you’re never going to be long and lean like the cover models. No exercise transforms fat into muscle. Yes, you need to work out for longer than 10 minutes per week. No, there are no foods that make you skinny or fat regardless of context (calories, nutrient composition, etc).

Do more than read these words. Believe them.

Next time you’re entering the industry as a customer, keep this in mind. It’ll help objectivity drive your purchase opposed to your emotions.

SKEPTICISM

Being skeptical isn’t a single act. It’s a mindset. It’s a unique approach, in this case, to being a consumer of information and services.

Where most people purchase goods and services based on faith and emotion – the skeptic demands more. The skeptic demands evidence based products and services. It’s not about being a pain in the ass for the sole sake of being a pain in the ass. On the contrary, it’s about being a cautious and informed consumer. It’s about being critical or selective.

What’s evidence?

Evidence can come in many forms. The strictest is peer-reviewed academic research. Many folks lack the requisite foundational knowledge described above and aren’t versed in research methodology and statistics. Therefore, these published papers seem to be written in a foreign language to many. Plus, unless you have access to a database, they’re expensive.

Just because an author or marketer cites numerous academic papers doesn’t mean they’re applicable to his product or claim. Many professionals today expect their readers to not understand research and therefore use scientific citations as another means to con the consumer.

Thankfully there are places on the Internet that can help you decipher various papers or claims. A few such places are:

Our placeLyle McDonaldMatt PerrymanAlan AragonJames KriegerKelly BaggetJoel JamiesonTom VenutoJamie Hale

There are a number of others and you’ll find their links on our site. Obviously each caters to a select niche, but we have a wide array of readers with varying goals. Suffice it to say – these folks have an interest in maintaining the integrity of information and ensuring the unsuspecting consumers have a fair chance at accessing quality information.

Evidence can also come in anecdotal forms. This certainly isn’t as stringent as peer-reviewed academic research, but it can still be telling. For instance, a strength coach who has successfully and repeatedly produced great improvements in athletes probably knows a thing or two. They may not be able to direct you to the peer-reviewed papers that support their ideas and knowledge but in this case, you’re paying for their experience. They don’t need to know the exact causative variables responsible for the improvements. They get results that you can observe and they can reasonably explain.

Paying someone like this for information or products would be much more sensible than purchasing something from Joe Jock Trainer who trains at LA Fitness and has nothing to show for his knowledge, but a touched-up “before and after” of some random woman. Or worse yet, Joe Smith who has a website and has never trained someone in his life.

Being a skeptic sounds difficult to some. Here’s the thing – just ask questions. Many times simply putting a professional on the spot will unveil a weakness. They might get defensive. They might dance around the subject. Regardless, many times if you provide them with enough rope, they’ll hang themselves. Remember, many of them are mostly interested in making money so they generally aren’t ready to back their claims. They’re accustomed to people injudiciously following their advice.

OBJECTIVITY

In our society it’s commonplace to marry someone you’re in love with. The idea is to devote yourself to that person unconditionally. It doesn’t work out so well for many, unfortunately, but the concept remains. Quite amazingly people tend to take this concept and apply it to their purchases.

Many folks are married to their trainers, their diet and exercise strategies, who they listen to, etc. It’s akin to religious zealotry and we see it time and time again. What’s amazing is people will continue to follow a particular protocol or use a particular product for lengthy spans of time even when they’ve no results to show for it or when they’re hating the process.

Here’s a simple rule. If you’ve been paying a professional, using a product, or following a program AND you’ve been wholeheartedly applying yourself consistently per the instruction AND you haven’t derived meaning benefits from it – what are you doing still following or using it?

Be analytical and deliberate. Track how you’re responding to various programs and products and if the bang for your buck isn’t there, ditch it. Remember, there are many ways to skin a cat and some of these ways are more suitable for some than others. This isn’t an invitation to change things for the sake of change. All I’m suggesting is nobody, regardless of their position in the industry, has all the answers. Better yet, nobody has The Answer as there’s no such thing given the variance across individuals and goals.

Why are you currently using or following what you are? If you can’t come up with logical and sensible answers to this question you might consider reassessing your current perspective and objective.

LOGIC

Tied closely to skepticism and critical thinking is logic. Logic is an area of study that is quite complex if you’ve not had exposure to it. Logic 101 is beyond the scope of this article. I’d actually suggest picking up a textbook written by Copi and Cohen called “Introduction to Logic” if you’re interested. If you’d rather a looser approach, you could simply use Google as there are a number of websites dedicated to explaining logical reasoning.

In the meantime, I’d like to highlight some of the common logical fallacies or errors in reasoning that creep into the fitness realm. It’s my hope that these examples will help you pick up on them in real time.

Non Sequitur – Happens when a conclusion is drawn from weak or false premises.

Example: Arnold Schwarzenegger lifted weights. I lift weights. Therefore I’m going to look like Arnold.

We can apply basic reasoning and science to discredit this. We know there are a host of variables at play behind a physique such as Arnold’s (pre-politician days) such as amazing genetics, lots of drugs, and a diet and training that’s based on muscle growth. So if you’re a female, by definition you have poor hormonal profiles for impressive muscle growth. If you’re genetics aren’t there, you’re not using drugs, and you’re dieting… guess what? You’re not going to get big and bulky. Look around the gym. You’re sure to have an ample sample of people who lift weights for long lengths of time yet never make significant changes to their muscle mass.

Red Herring – Presenting an unrelated or irrelevant idea, topic or fact in a debate or discussion in order to distract the opponent or audience from the relevant information.

Example: While doing cardio, you really shouldn’t go above the fat burning heart rate zone if your goal is to improve bodycomposition.

Many people turn to cardio in an attempt to improve their appearances. However, the fat burning zone is simply working at an intensity level that preferentially uses stored fat as fuel. Fuel substrate used during exercise is, for the most part, irrelevant to improving body composition. If fat loss is the goal, you need to expend more energy (calories) than you’re consuming. This fat burning zone happens to be at an intensity that’s relatively low. If you worked harder, you’d use less fat as fuel by percentage but more total energy.

Ad Hominen – A personal and irrelevant accusation, dialog or attack is made on the opponent/individual in an attempt to undermine the argument being made by the opponent/individual.

Example: You bully everyone on this forum. All you do is trash other’s ideas. Why would anyone listen to you?

Even if the individual in question is a bully and does trash other’s ideas, why should people disregard what he or she has to say if he/she’s actually an expert or authority in the topic at hand? People sometimes expect good information to come wrapped in a pretty little box with a pretty little bow. But that’s not how things always work. Judge information on its own merit – not by who’s providing it or how it’s packaged.

False Dichotomy – When an individual limits themselves to a very abbreviated list of options or possibilities. Otherwise known as the either/or dilemma.

Example: I either stay fat eating highly-processed and calorie-dense food or I shape up by eating nothing but lean meats and vegetables.

This is a very common error in reasoning that typically frustrates a lot of dieters. They’re either on a rigid diet that’s nearly impossible to follow for any appreciable length of time or they’re pigging out. They’re only thinking in black and white terms when in reality the stuff that matters typically happens in gray. We know that there are a few core tenets that need to be in place if a diet is going to “work” in that it’s going to cause weight loss and optimize body composition. Knowing how many calories you’re eating and the macronutrient composition that’s providing said calories is of utmost importance. While worrying about how “clean” your food is most likely has a role in the health-promoting qualities of your diet, being overly strict and rigid about food selection while dieting isn’t critical to success on the body composition front.

False Cause – Inappropriately claiming one thing is the cause of another. This is similar to the non sequitur.

Example: Doing 100 crunches before going to bed every night will give you ripped abs.

In research, it’s important to control confounding variables. If you have many moving parts while you’re testing, it’s impossible to say which moving part was to blame for the cause. In free living people, there are always many moving parts. In the example above, this person most likely tweaked her diet and added other forms of exercise on top of the crunches. It’s impossible to say which of these factors led to the increased leanness of her midsection. If I had to put money on it, I’d go with the dietary changes she made—not the crunches.

Appeal to the Masses – Using the number of people who believe or follow a certain person or thing to reason why it’s worthy, true, or effective.

Example: Look how many people purchased the program. I mean he has 25,000,000,007 readers on his blog. His program has to be legit.

This is something parents and teachers try and teach young people. Hell, all of these fallacies should be second-hand to us, yet they’re not in this country… but I digress. If everyone started eating poop because some guru claims it’s the key to physique-awesomeness… would you? Don’t be a crowd follower. The number of customers a professional or company has is likely a product of intelligent and aggressive marketing rather than efficacy.

Wishful Thinking – Claiming something is true simply on the basis that you sincerely hope that it is.

Example: I just know that eventually my abs are going to “pop” if I keep doing 500 crunches before going to bed each night.

You can wish and wish and wish, but reality isn’t built on wishes. In this case, all you’re really doing when you do endless crunches is building the oxidative/endurance qualities of your abdominal muscles. Subcutaneous fat resides under your skin and on top of your muscles. The crunches aren’t doing much of anything to this fat. Until you reduce it, your muscles are going to stay hidden no matter how oxidative you make them.

Confirmation Bias – This is a tendency for people to filter out only the information that supports their preconceptions. They confirm their biases. This is similar to cherry-picking only the research or parts of research that support your claim.

Example: This supplement is the greatest thing – it gives you steroid-like effects yet it’s legal and safe. Look, here’s some before and afters of people who’ve used it. Better yet, here’s research (financially backed by the supplement company mind you) that confirms how effective it is.

In his haste to confirm his bias, this individual never considered the possibility that other studies exist proving the ineffectiveness of the supplement at hand and he never thought of possible different causal factors in the one study he read. Basically he’s blinded by his rush to confirm what he’s thinking is correct. If he had come across conflicting data and intentionally ignored it, that’d be cherrypicking.

Appeal to Authority – Backing up your claims by appealing to someone in a position of authority who supports your claims.

Example: This diet is prescribed by my doctor and you’re not a doctor, so who are you to tell me it’s stupid?

This seems so basic it’s silly, but you’d be surprised how often people use this sort of reasoning. I’ve had clients who refused to ditch the ridiculous programs they’re following simply because they were prescribed by a personal trainer. Or because Jillian Michaels “says.” Based on part 1 of this article, we all know how great personal trainers are. In the case of this example, medical doctors don’t receive a ton of training on the nutrition front.

Appeal to Emotion – Reasoning with someone on an emotional level rather than a factual level.

Example: I know you’ve been struggling with your weight for a very long time. It must be very frustrating to try to no avail for so long. And I bet you deal with a lot of crap from society being obese, right? If you hire me, I’ll help you lose the weight!

Don’t hire fitness professionals or purchase products simply because they promise to take care of your problems. That’s the exact marketing this entire article is about. They feed off of your insecurities, doubts, frustrations, and emotional distress. There’s power behind these emotions and feelings and if tapped into properly, it’s an easy sale for them. How are they going to help you specifically and are these recommendations backed by sound evidence?

Circular Reasoning – The point you’re trying to prove is assumed true in your premise. Essentially you’re supporting a premise with a premise. You attempt to support a statement by simply repeating the statement in different or stronger terms.

Example: I’d never hire a personal trainer as they’re all meathead dummies who like to boss people around. The fact that Steve is a meathead dummy is proof of this.

If you gave standardized tests to personal trainers testing their proficiency in exercise technique, physiology, etc. and most of them failed (which isn’t hard to believe, unfortunately), then you’d be onto something. But simply suggesting all trainers are meathead dummies since you know a guy who’s a trainer and a meathead dummy is hardly proof. One of the most infamous cases of circular reasoning today is found when the big name carbophobes write entire books and articles about how carbs make you fat. Sadly, they had already established their conclusion before they set off to research, which directly biases said research.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more logical fallacies and when you’re aware of them to the degree you notice them during normal discourse, they become very powerful weapons in debate and deriving logical conclusions. Obviously this sort of knowledge can drastically improve your ability to critically assess information which should prove very valuable based on the problems plaguing this industry and marketplace.

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Before giving you specifics to look for when joining a gym or hiring a professional, I wanted to get your mind in the right place. At least that’s the intent with this part of the article. If you have any questions, please shoot me an email.

Jamie Hale is a standup member of the fitness community.  I say this because he puts out objective, evidence-based information.  Seems like something that should be typical of a fitness professional, but sadly it’s not.  Should I Eat the Yolk? resembles a conversation between a novice and a quality professional where the novice is free to ask anything he wants.  It uses a question-answer format where Jamie answers most of the common questions asked by people trying to navigate their way through the conflicting information that plagues this industry.

He examines each claim very briefly.  It makes for a very fast and easy read.  Truthfully, it needn’t be anything different.  It’s not written to extensively review any one topic.  Rather, Jamie attempts to put various myths to rest by looking at what the science actually says.

The first section of the book deals with health and nutrition claims.  There you’ll find Jamie’s take on questions such as:

  • Do high insulin levels cause obesity?
  • Does it matter where calories come from?
  • Can people with hypothyroidism lose weight?
  • Does eating specific types of foods together cause weight gain?
  • Are high-protein diets bad for the kidneys?
  • To maximize weight loss, should I eat small amounts every two to three hours?
  • Is organic food better for your health than conventional food?
  • Is weight loss slowed by not eating enough?

In the second section of the book Jamie looks at exercise claims.  There you’ll find his take on questions such as:

  • Is it possible to lose stubborn body fat?
  • Will gaining muscle speed up my metabolism?
  • Will performing sit-ups shrink my waistline?
  • Will exercise get rid of cellulite?
  • Is weight training safe for children?
  • Will high-repetition weight training make me lean?
  • Is projecting the knees over the toes while exercising dangerous to the knees?
  • Are exercise machines safer than free weights?

In the third and final section of the book Jamie talks about the basics that apply to all effective diets and answers some common questions he has received as a personal trainer.

This read was fun, refreshing and to-the-point.  I recommend it to anyone who’s caught up in the paralysis by analysis that tends to set in when examining diet and exercise information.  You want brief, well-reasoned answers that come from a seasoned and well-read professional – invest the time in reading this book.  You’ll be able to read it in a couple of hours and you’ll come out on the other end with a much clearer perspective of the truth.

Intuitive Eating book review

Posted: October 17, 2010 in Book Reviews

This is a diet book that’s not a diet book.  It’s not going to tell you what to eat.  It’s not going to tell you when to eat.  And it’s not going to tell you how much to eat.  Rather, it’s going to try and connect your mind to your body.

Some people claim in order to move away from dieting, you need to start listening to your body.  You can’t expect some rigid set of eating rules dictate what, when and how much you eat.  The problem is, listening to your body only works if you speak its language.  Your body speaks biology.  You’re most likely speaking some amalgamation of biology mixed with loads of cultural and environmental influences.

Many folks claim to be making “lifestyle changes” rather than dieting.  Dieting has become a four-letter word since it’s preached that diets are merely a temporary way of eating that leads to temporary results.  This sounds great on paper.  However, the reality is most folks still struggle because of the diet mentality.

It’s too engrained in our culture to simply banish by claiming, “I’m not dieting… I’m changing for life.”  Saying you’re doing something is one thing but actually doing it is another.

Intuitive Eating is all about identifying the diet mentality and learning how to give it up.  It’s about replacing these “infections” with things that match the needs of your body.

The 10 principles they explain in the book are:

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with food
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Feel your fullness
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor
  7. Cope with your emotions without using food
  8. Respect your body
  9. Exercise – feel the difference
  10. 10. Honor your health – gentle nutrition

Don’t read that last bit and think, “Well this isn’t for me since I’m not DIETING.”  You’d be surprised how many of you are still unconsciously following dieting rules.

Conceptually this book and the principles described in it make a ton of sense.  In fact, I found myself relating to a lot of it in the context of things I say to my clients.  However, I don’t believe they explain the “how to” well enough.  They spend a lot of time simply telling you about clients they’ve had that learned to eat intuitively and live happily ever after.

I’m also skeptical since realizing that you’re listening to your emotions or environmental influences rather than your biological signals takes a lot of conscious effort.  Typically when things require folks to think about what they’re thinking about, they don’t do so well.  Thoughts pertaining to why you’re eating are typically too automatic to really analyze on the fly.

They do touch on rational emotive therapy, which I respect.  But they barely scratch the surface with it and for something like they’re suggesting to work, I think there needs to be a much larger emphasis on things like rational emotive therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.

I’ve not read the book for a while now but I do remember specific instances where it seemed they were cherry picking research to paint pictures that support their claims.  Most notably is the idea that metabolism gets crushed anytime you diet regardless of the specifics, which is why they claim dieting can’t work.  They use the Minnesota Experiment to highlight this idea.

What’s silly is most people use this study to show how hard it really is to crush your metabolism.

It seems they’re under the impression that any calorie deficit does horrific things and you’ll lose loads of muscle regardless of diet composition.  But let’s face it – these authors are targeting people who have trouble controlling their weight.  It’s not a diet book per se – but it’s a book that attempts to teach people how to eat based on their natural biological cues rather than rigid guidelines set forth by some gimmicky diet.

If people are to lose weight following this plan, they’re going to be eating in a calorie deficit.

I’m a bit skeptical about most folks taking a program like this and running with it.  It’s all very conceptual and many of the steps require consistent conscious intervention of your subconscious mind.  In a society that’s so focused on dieting and body image… I have a feeling most folks are going to forget everything the read in this book in a day.

We’re too damn brainwashed.

That said, I don’t mean to be entirely negative about the book.  In fact, I highly recommend it.  It’s a refreshing change in that it gets people thinking in the right direction.  It’s a start, if nothing else.  There are hidden gems of wisdom in this book I feel MANY folks NEED to hear.

If you’ve been working at making changes to your body for any appreciable length of time without much success… especially if you have problems with consistency, rigidity, and guilt about food… than it’s tough to go wrong giving this book a read