Monday, May 16, 2016

More of the sorts of things people get mad at me for telling you.

If I'd known I was going to write something
today, I probably would have shaved.

First of all, here are some things that we know:

  • Athletes require a certain amount of energy (aka "total calories") on an individual basis subject to various factors, and a certain amount of protein, usually determined in "grams per kg of lean body mass" but there are varying opinions on exactly how many grams is required / optimal.
  • Too far above that amount means a stall in fat loss despite level of activity. More excessive still means fat gain. Also known as "calorific surplus".
  • People will lose weight when total energy intake is less than would be required to sustain current weight including fat mass at current activity level, aka "while in calorific deficit". However, the body will adapt to being too far into deficit for too long, especially while highly active, precluding further weight loss despite still being in deficit.
  • As sustaining that level of energy deficit is unlikely, weight regain is likely to occur and may be disproportionate to the increase in energy intake. aka "weight gain at an energy intake that should not be excessive under normal circumstances".

Some of that we've known for ages, and some of it is stuff that I've observed and based my approach on, but has only recently been confirmed. Keeping all of that in mind, when active people stall or reach a plateau in terms of improving condition and body composition, what are they invariably told?

  • Cut calories (or just cut carbs).
  • Burn more calories (for example add more cardio).
  • Eat clean. 
  • Eliminate grains / sugars / whatever. Some variation on that theme.

We already discussed why "cut calories" or "burn more calories" is counter productive advice. "Eat clean" infers that something other than energy balance is the concern and that despite being active and in deficit, something "unclean" from a puritanical, moralistic standpoint is to blame for not seeing more pleasing results.

Too much sugar? Don't be ridiculous.
So scrutinising eating habits to omit anything with a question mark over "cleanliness" only exacerbates the problem by creating a greater and more destructive level of energy deficit, while also associating the ability to abstain from certain foods with being a good or a bad person who does or does not deserve success & happiness.

Since such a level of deficit is unlikely to be sustainable, the client WILL end up eating those "unclean" foods and likely in more massive quantities than she would other wise. This is another thing that we know; when foods are "banned" we tend to crave them all the more. Here we are starting to get into "restrict / binge" (and possibly purge) territory. The client is likely to be told her lack of progress is due to that one lapse in adherence when she ate "unclean", and that she needs to have more discipline and will power in the future. This goes back to what we described in the paragraph above, and perpetuates this destructive cycle.

Let's go back and look at my first paragraph in the "things that we know" section we began with:
Athletes require a certain amount of energy (aka "total calories") on an individual basis subject to various factors, and a certain amount of protein within that total amount.
If you are in the habit of consuming a daily intake that is within a suitable range of that appropriate amount, you'll see great results from any effective and productive approach to training, and if you're not... you won't. Focusing on the appropriate total energy provision coming from a suitable balance of protein to fats to carbohydrates, you have an approach referred to as IIFYM. Concepts like "clean", "unclean" or "cheat meals" have no relevance, your individual food choices either fit into a total daily amount that is appropriate aka "fits your macros", or they do not.

Unfortunately, the acronym IIFYM has become associated with a version of this approach that is kind of taking the piss a bit with a proclivity for nutrient sparse convenience foods and a lack of nutritious fruits and vegetables. Hopefully this style of IIFYM is a minority of cases, although it has been brought to my attention in the past that some so called "macro coaches" do charge people good money for diet plans fitting this description, which is entirely unacceptable.

To distance themselves from this and to acknowledge that there is more to a healthy diet than just "hitting your macros", many of the more responsible proponents moved to the term Flexible Dieting which is an easier way of saying "hit your macros, get enough fruit and veg, make up the balance with more nutritious choices where possible but also include some for enjoyment and indulgence as you see fit".

For me, the word "dieting" being in there has that connotation of still being focused on calorie deficits, so I named my approach "Flexible Fueling" as we are far more interested in working towards optimal fueling targets for best performance and athletic physical condition, rather than slashing further and further into calorific deficit in a destructive and misguided effort to starve and burn weight off.

Bottom line?
  • Results, in terms of an athletic body condition from training come from:
    • Turning up regularly and giving it your best with a productive and strategic approach.
    • Consistently providing at least an adequate and preferably closer to optimal total energy provision, and sufficient protein.
  • I don't want anyone out there who is active but frustrated or unhappy due to not seeing results thinking that:
    • They need to eat less, when they're already not eating enough.
    • Any individual choice whether just once or more regularly is to blame for a lack of results, when they are not eating enough.
    • There is some correlation between not eating "the right foods", not seeing results, and not being "a good person".
  • Arbitrary and unfounded instructions like "cut carbs", "burn more calories" or "eat clean": 
    • Only take people further away from a level of fueling that will facilitate the results they desire.
    • Only take people further into a destructive level of calorific deficit.
    • Foster and reinforce disordered behaviours and ideas related to eating.
Yep. This is the sort of thing that people get mad at you for trying to help people with and protect people from. I guess they don't like having their god given right to judge people and tell them what to do infringed upon.