Monday, July 12, 2010

That’s not an argument

I’ve had this post in the works for a week or so, and after reading Liz’s blog this morning, I was inspired to drag it out and polish it up. So here you go.

When it comes to nutrition plans and exercise programs, we can be really defensive of our pet programs, our favourites - which usually translates as: whatever you’re currently doing. It's common to have a gut reaction to any sniff of criticism, but what’s that actually about?

We shouldn’t be afraid to have an open and healthy discussion/argument about something we care about. ‘Tis so! ...‘Tis not! kind of arguments are unhelpful – and as the Monty Python boys would tell you: That’s not an argument, it’s just contradiction. But a rational conversation, where we argue the actual merits of one way vs another, backed up by evidence and not just emotion, is a whole other thing.

What often happens when people get defensive is that they see the question or comment as a criticism of them personally. We don’t like to be told that we’re wrong, after all, and if someone came up to you and shouted YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG, YOU MORON, well, you’d have a right to be miffed, because that’s just plain rude. ;) But concerned or curious comments or questions, posted with the intention of making us think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, are a whole other thing.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve vehemently believed in something in the past, or alternatively, scoffed at it loudly, only to find myself a few years down the track doing a U-turn and eating my words. That’s usually because I’ve learned more about it, or about myself, and have been prepared to admit I was wrong. I call it evolution. On the flip side, if you’re not evolving, then what are you doing? Stagnating...? Interesting thought.

Think about this though: Just because something “works” doesn’t make it a good idea. I mean if we’re talking fat loss programs, starvation’s pretty effective... But if you’re seriously recommending THAT, you better get yourself to a shrink, quick smart.

There are certain basic scientific principles that have to be followed in both training and nutrition* – whether for weight loss or for performance or some other goal (I’m a big fan of science, and not so much of what Sara likes to call “ju-ju”). But there are literally hundreds of small variations you can make, within the boundaries of science and good sense. The really great thing about that is that pretty much everyone should be able to tweak things just a bit, to make it suit themselves.

Things like cutting out whole food groups is silly and unnecessary. Eating under 30g of carbs a day is …well, it’s crazy (and I suspect very, very difficult to achieve. I mean, what do you EAT? Protein and ...protein?). Eating only one real meal a day and swapping the others for a shake and a handful of pills, blah. What habit is that retraining again? Eating, perhaps? And I’ve yet to find any solid scientific evidence supporting things like food combining, or not drinking liquids with your meals or many other things I’ve read about people doing.

But adjusting the proportions of protein, carbohydrate and fat in your meals can be tailored to your own preferences, within reason. Going heavier on fruit and veggies and lighter on grains suits a lot of people. Cycling calories or your macronutrient ratios seems to be a favourite, and is quite OK – if you can be bothered. Count calories, or not... As long as it works for you, I see no problem with either. And of course there are many other ways to vary nutrition that aren’t harmful or just plain crazy.

Extreme programs scare me. Most are unsustainable and teach you nothing about how to change your nutrition habits for life. Many are ridiculous and some are downright dangerous. But exercising personal preferences within the guidelines of sane and scientifically sound principles is what it’s all about. One size does not fit all, because we each carry around a load of likes and dislikes, we live different lifestyles and have different goals. We’re also each in a different place in terms of size and metabolism, and those things need to be factored into any plan you adopt.

Just don’t decide to follow a particular path, based on the fact that others are doing it and it’s “working”. Ask yourself a few honest questions about it first. Will I enjoy doing this? Is it based on sound science? Will I learn something from it? Am I prepared to do this - or a modified version - pretty much forever? If the answers are predominantly NOs, then keep looking.

If it’s something you’re intending to do only temporarily to reach a goal – and I’m talking major overhaul here, not just reducing calories slightly or doing a few Paleo days as part of a bigger plan – then rethink it. That right there is what’s known as going on a DIET. So what’s going to happen when you go OFF your diet? Remind me to ask Sara to blog about some of the scarier diet studies she’s been reading in her uni course’ll give you nightmares.

At the very least, take a look at the people who’ve done this diet before you, the ones who are now finished with it. How have they coped? If they sailed on into a lifetime of balanced nutrition and emotional harmony, great. I bet though, that post-diet, most of them battled with bingeing, weight gain, emotional distress and worse. And trust me, you do not want to go there.

So before you let your gut reaction dictate your response to a comment from a concerned bystander, stop and take some time out. Try to put aside the emotion and think clearly about what's been said before responding. It's OK to disagree, but be sure that you know why you're disagreeing.

Come on, let's see some rational argument.

*I’m sticking to nutrition here, to keep things simple – crazy training practices is a whole post on its own anyway.

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