I'm dedicated to helping everyone find a healthy plan that is sustainable. Sometimes that means sharing information that might appear contradictory. Go strictly Paleo or eat carbs? I think both approaches can work. It's a matter of preference, and one that you ultimately have to decide works for you.
Some things in health and fitness are absolute, but most are up for debate. And other times, what we know changes. Altering my stance is never about selling out; it's a matter of admitting when you're wrong and trying to spread what's right. But some very good lessons have a way of falling through the cracks and remain unanswered. Here are a few truths that you might want to remember.
1. Diets are not "one size fits all."
Over the years, I've learned a relatively simple lesson: Many diet and fitness strategies can work. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to fight for a particular viewpoint. Yes, some diets are good and have merit. Others are genuinely bad. But most diets depend on an unpredictable variable — YOU. I know this should seem like common sense, but too many people are either looking for a quick fix or the one solution that will solve everyone's problems. But that's not going to work.
Here's what will work: Make a list of everything that's difficult about your current diet (hungry all morning, overeating at night, no time to exercise, etc.), and then begin working one step at a time. You'll not only end up finding which diet will play to your strengths, you'll also have a better idea of the real enemy.
Read more: PROs and CONs of the 10 Most Popular Diets
2. Some experts are jerks.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but some health experts don't really care about you. However, there are two important distinctions: 1. Just because someone is trying to make money doesn't mean they aren't an expert or don't want to help. 2. If you try a program and it doesn't work, don't use it as an excuse to condemn the entire fitness industry. Don't let the charlatans of the world ruin what is, in general, a very altruistic field filled with incredible people, brilliant minds and those who work themselves to the bone to help others.
Listen now: How to Calm Down in Under 3 Minutes
3. You CAN survive with less sleep.
Don't take this the wrong way — sleep is still one of the most important elements of good health. Most of the time, you hear you need seven to nine hours of sleep. This is true, but sometimes you're just not going to get that much sleep. And you know what? It doesn't mean your body has to fall apart. If you can improve the quality of your sleep, you can survive in the short term without missing a beat.
For better quality, you should focus on a few key aspects. To start, it'd be great if you could avoid electronic media before you go to bed. Exercise can also help you sleep better by priming your hormones for restfulness and recovery. Avoiding alcohol, eating carbs (they'll make you sleepy) or even a colder room can all make for a better night of sleep. Find what works for you!
4. Reps and sets are misleading.
I highly suggest that everyone read this great article by Jon Goodman. In it, you'll learn (if you didn't know it already) the prototypical recipe for building muscle, adding strength or losing fat. But as Goodman points out, the rules of reps and sets are not written in stone. And oftentimes, the best thing you can do is to break the rules and train in a different rep range than what is typically prescribed. There are personality variables that can impact the results that you experience. And there's also another little known fact...
5. Muscle "tone" is BS.
Sorry, muscle "tone" is one of the most misleading concepts in fitness. Most people are familiar with this idea: Train high reps for "muscle tone." Only problem? High reps oftentimes won't make your muscles look more toned. It'll do the opposite. Most times, when people want to "get toned," that happens best with heavier weights at lower reps.
Does this mean you can't get "toned" without lifting heavy? Of course not. Plenty of women have shown that this can happen with higher reps. But many more have proven that you'll get the lean look you want — FASTER — by using heavier weights. Push the intensity — whether you're a man or woman — and you'll be surprised how quickly your body will change in the way you want.
6. Muscle confusion is confusing.
This is not an attack on P90X. This is just a mega-dose of reality for people who wonder why they oftentimes don't see physical improvements. There's no need to change programs so often. In fact, taking a little more time with the same program will probably do your body good. Changing programs too often is a quick road to failure. This is exercise science and something that's been proven for decades.
I know that you don't want to become bored with your training. But a good program doesn't mean that each and every workout has to be the same. Someone who understands how to design a workout should have enough variability to keep you challenged and entertained. More importantly, you'll be seeing results.
7. Science is great — sometimes.
In the field of health and fitness, science SHOULD lead the way with what we know and understand. But there are two problems: 1. Many studies don't research the topics we want. If a fact isn't backed by a study, it doesn't mean that it isn't true. It could just be that it hasn't been tested yet.
2. Studies need time to be proven both reliable and valid. This is why people become frustrated by the overwhelming literature on different foods, exercise techniques and health trends. But just because you alter your stance on something doesn't mean it's a bad thing. It just means you're becoming smarter and improving. The bottom line is simple: Science is the foundation of what we know, but it's not all we know.
8. Being in shape makes healthy living easier.
This isn't arrogance — it's just the cold, hard truth. The leaner you are the easier it becomes to maintain your body, pack on new muscle and eat the foods that you like. A variety of factors play into this, but improved insulin sensitivity (from lower levels of fat) is a big influence.
Is this meant to discourage you? No! It should provide you with even more motivation to get into the type of shape you want. In reality, it's no different than anything else in life. With your job, you typically have to grind until you reach the top. Once you do, you have more perks and benefits. Your body is the same way. Like your career, a relentless attitude will pay off and be worth the time and effort you spent.
9. Genetics count.
I know lots of people who are strong, healthy, and fit and could never appear on the cover of a magazine. Does that make them unhealthy? NO. Does it mean they can't have abs? Also no. I know that anyone can get abs; it just takes some more time than others.
Some people have it easier, but that's not an excuse. Come to terms with reality, and then enjoy what you have and make the best of it. The longer journey to success will taste even sweeter when you remember where you started.
10. Diet is more important than exercise.
Getting back in shape is not an equal relationship. If you want to lose weight or gain muscle, diet is the more important element of the equation. That's not to say exercise isn't important. But as the saying goes, "You can't out-exercise a bad diet." It's true. And it's the reason why many people who do everything right in the gym still are frustrated with how they look and feel.
Track your foods to improve your awareness of what you eat. Focus on small behavioral changes. And be patient. Diet changes don't have to be difficult. And they don't have to include complete withdrawal of all your favorite foods. But change must occur on some level if your goals are aesthetically based. Sorry, but gym time alone won't cut it.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you read fitness magazines? What do you wish they'd cover more? Did any of these points ring true for you? Are there any others that you would add? Share your thoughts, questions and insights in the comments below!