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The Addiction to “Absolutes” and Why It’s Ruining Your Fitness


Content. Have you heard this word lately? I share a wall with our marketing guy and I feel like I hear him say it to his team about 30 times a day. Not the definition that means “happy” or “at peace.” The other definition. The one marketing people use now. For Nate, it means making silly videos and finding excuses to buy new electronics (a drone is his latest acquisition). Every company I can think of is busy creating content, and they’re creating all kinds! There’s the funny content, educational content, emotional/tear-jerker content, vlog content, the list goes on! What does this mean for consumers of said content? It means new stuff every single day! For the creators of the content, it means a massive obligation to keep the wheels turning and keep pumping out new material.

More Content = More Confusion

Thanks to this “content” world we live in, everywhere you look there’s a new diet or exercise program promising better health, more fat loss, more muscle growth, and more energy. You find the program by innocently clicking the link on an eye catching facebook video that demonizes carbohydrates, or eating too often, or weight training with the “wrong” rep range. The flashy video sucks you in, convinces you that there’s one singular action you need to take to achieve your wildest fitness dreams, and gently walks you down a path to a landing page where you enter your credit card number. If I sound jaded it’s because this same pattern happens to me on a weekly basis with other products haha!

I want to be clear, the presence of the abundant amount of information that’s out there about health and fitness is not what frustrates me, I want people to have all the access in the world to information that matters to them. What frustrates me is the amount of confusion amongst the general population that results when they’re constantly bombarded by contradicting claims and advice. This overwhelming amount of information ends up putting people into “analysis paralysis” and they don’t know where to start. 

Here’s a quick list of some of the polarizing info I see on the internet and get questions about weekly:

  • Eat carbs, gain fat.
  • If you don’t eat carbs, exercise is impossible.
  • Intermittent fasting is the best diet regardless of goal.
  • Intermittent fasting is terrible for everyone.
  • Not using heart rate based training? You’ll lose significantly less fat.
  • Tracking your heart rate is pointless.  
  • Eat too much protein, kidneys problems.
  • Don’t eat enough protein, you will waste away.
  • Coconut oil is the fountain of youth.
  • Coconut oil causes heart disease.
  • Lift heavy = joint problems.
  • If you don’t lift heavy, you don’t really lift.

The Truth is Somewhere in Between

The lesson in this article is that when analyzing a course of action for your fitness goals, the RIGHT answer almost always falls somewhere in between the extremes you saw in the examples above. Will ingesting too many carbohydrates make you gain fat? Sure! but instead of making the leap from eating too many to an attempt to eat ZERO, just eat less of them! Maybe make sure the ones you are eating come from nutritious sources. Your body will thank you for it. Is coconut oil going to help you lose 20lbs of fat overnight? No! But it’s definitely not going to give you heart disease and does happen to be a quality source of fat thanks to its composition of “MCTs” or medium chain triglycerides that metabolize slowly and provide sustained energy. Should you lift weights 6-7 days per week? Maybe not if you’re a beginner, but 2-3 is still a good start!  

Unfortunately, instead of being attracted to facts and scientific consensus, people tend to be attracted to absolutes, incomplete analysis of isolated studies, and shortcut claims. It’s human nature to seek out the shortest distance between point A and point B, but what I always point out to my clients is that if you get half way to point B and you have to return to point A 3 times and start the journey over, maybe that path wasn’t as promising as it seemed. Let’s examine some best practices for ensuring the path you choose is the right one for you!

Making Your Plan

  1. Be radically honest with WHAT you can maintain long term. If you have doubts about your long-term commitment to a program it is likely best to find something you can stick to. Any results you may get from the time you are committed to a temporary program will be reversed as soon as old habits start back up.
  2. Refrain from excluding foods or macronutrients unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to that food. If you LOVE cheese and do not have any issues with cheese, EAT CHEESE! Just not ALL the cheese 😉
  3. Ask a professional what is best for your goal. I recommend finding someone that doesn’t subscribe to one right way for everyone. A professional that doesn’t take your goals, time, the current way of eating/exercising, and lifestyle into account will likely not be a long-term solution.

Convinced of an absolute that you struggle to adhere to? Feel free to shoot me an email or comment to see how your belief stacks up with the scientific consensus and how critical it is to your primary goals. Try not to think of anything in health and fitness as an all or nothing absolute, but rather a continuum that you will fall on depending on your goals, current status, and lifestyle.

Jared Freeman is a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and managing partner of Applied Fitness Solutions Rochester Hills. Jared enjoys ice cream and gummy bears just as much as he loves to exercise and inspire others 😉

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