Let’s talk about health and fitness shortcuts.
I’m talking about the kind of things you see in your Facebook feed and on magazine covers at the grocery store check-out. Get-lean-quick shakes, the “lose 30 pounds in 30 days” diets, and the zero-money-down gym sign-up programs that prey on people who want to make a change in their health journey.
There ARE shortcuts to fitness. But there are also a lot of lies out there.
Let’s make a framework to evaluate the claims of these methods. When can a shortcut help us and when does it hurt us? Here’s a four-question test taken from Seth Godin’s blog.
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time?
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health?
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time?
- Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret?
Let’s take a few examples of health trends and hold them up to our four filters of shortcut validity.
The Keto Diet / Paleo Diet / XYZ Diet
1. Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time? There are very limited circumstances in which a short ketogenic period may be beneficial. But the real question is, “Can I keep this up for the rest of my life?” For every restrictive diet, the answer to that question is “no.” If you stop eating carbs, your short-term insulin sensitivity will increase, but your body will eventually adjust and break down muscle tissue instead of the carbs you used to eat. And if you eat in a different way than everyone around you, they’ll inevitably pull you into their habits.
2. Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health? Rapid weight loss or binge dieting may get you results quickly, but that’s where the benefits stop. In fact, they have a long-term detrimental effect on your health. One-night stands with flashy new diets will always come back to haunt you.
3. Is it additive? Will it improve over time? You may gain some skills at counting macros or reading ingredient labels. On the other hand, you might become diet- or food-obsessed. There can be a very subtle transition from wanting to eat healthy and slipping into disordered eating habits.
4. Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret? If you’re dieting with a group of people who are also committed, you’ll definitely have more success. We all tend to eat like the people we hang out with. However, the diet may still not be sustainable long-term: see above.
Joining a Coaching Gym or Personal Trainer or Nutritionist
1. Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time? Yes. Many of our members have been committed long-term and count on the community to keep them coming. Are there injuries? Of course, not all injuries are preventable, but you’re far less likely to get hurt under careful coaching than when working out alone.
2. Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health? In a gym that prioritizes quality coaching, athletes won’t waste time doing stuff that doesn’t work. Coaches also keep their eye out for athletes who are tempted to do too much, too soon, helping prevent burnout. The result is that each member can set goals and progress at their own speed and along their own path, long term.
3. Is it additive? Will it improve over time? Yes. In a CrossFit gym, there are always new skills to learn. Fitness builds on itself, and when it can be objectively measured, members know exactly where to improve.
4. Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret? Coach-led classes are inherently small, and limited. But since we love to help individuals improve, maybe that’s okay.
Next time you’re thinking about starting a new diet or fitness program, think about this framework and make sure you’re moving in the right direction.
Inspiration provided by Chris Cooper at Catalystgym.com.