Friday, July 29, 2016

Then and now...

I was just thinking of a couple of things. Back when I started doing this, it was because people asked me to. The online coaching stuff, I mean. It wasn't something many people were doing as far as I'm aware, but I do vaguely recall people speculating that it would become big in the near future, as it is has done.

Anyway. I started doing it because a few people wrote to me from around the world, saying "I love your blog, I wish I lived close enough to come and train with you..." and we'd get talking and I'd give them a program and some macro targets. After the first handful got excellent results, word got out, more people wanted programs, and fast forward to now and a whole unique system has evolved.

The eating disorder awareness and relapse avoidance stuff that I do, that's another thing. I started doing that because people asked me, too. "You have helped me so much, you need to let other people now that they can come to you for help so that they don't end up with someone else who is going to mess them up"... that sort of thing. I wasn't sure about the ethics of it, you know?

So that's the other thing. When I started doing this, not many people were doing an IIFYM or Flexible Dieting approach. In fact I don't even think the phrase "Flexible Dieting" had been coined yet. In the groups I was in at least, it was all "clean eating", "paleo" and in particular it was "elimination diet".

This was highly, HIGHLY problematic.

An elimination diet is highly restrictive, with any grain based or processed foods, any legumes, fruit & dairy "eliminated". Now while there may be medical grounds for such a diet in some cases, for a PT to believe EVERY client who comes to train needs to be on such a diet is highly problematic, especially based on the assumption that they ALL have conditions such as "leaky gut" and "adrenal fatigue" which (a) have no basis in science, and (b) if they did exist would constitute medical conditions to be diagnosed and managed by a medical professional and not by a fitness professional.

Clearly, right?

The additional issue with such approaches is that clients literally are taught to fear foods of different types, are taught to ascribe moral value to foods of different types, and are taught that failure to see progress / lose weight is due to any specific individual instance of moral failure where they have partaken in "unclean" eating.

For example... not losing any weight this month might be put down to having cereal, or toast, or a slice of birthday cake two Tuesdays before last. Which is beyond preposterous and beyond problematic, especially if you consider what drastic action a desperate and vulnerable client might take to rectify a situation where they are feeling guilty about having just eaten something they "shouldn't have", and believing that it will render all of their other efforts in training and adhering to the rules of the diet void, and meaning another week or month or however long without making progress towards their weight loss goal.

It was ALWAYS a "weight loss goal", as well.
That's something else that has changed, this time for the better.

Now... how an elimination diet or similarly restrictive diet might result in weight loss is quite simply because people have less options to choose from and in particular less energy dense options, so they tended to result in a much lower total energy intake and a higher percentage of that intake being from protein. Eventually more people were able to understand, any weight loss was due to the reduction of energy intake, rather than because any specific food or subset of foods was causing weight gain / precluding weight loss outside of the context of excessive total calories. This is a vast improvement in terms of being a more evidence based approach and one that less resembles orthorexia nervosa, however the issue you have now is that a poor understanding of this theory of energy balance means that it is interpreted in overly simplistic terms of "if they are losing weight they are in calorie deficit, if they are not losing weight they are in calorie surplus", which is more often than not applied in terms of continuously and recklessly slashing intake targets, adding more and more high intensity exercise sessions to maximise energy expenditure (aka "burn calories"), and perhaps even to introduce fasting when this fails to result in fat loss.

Whereas previously the blame for a failure to see fat loss would have been any isolated instance of failing to "eat clean", currently the blame will be on any isolated instance of failing to restrict to the prescribed calorie limit &/or to adhere to a precise macronutrient split. So... as an aspiring trainer who is networking with people in the industry, you will frequently see social media posts talking about how online coaching is a great way to supplement your income without taking on more clients locally, with free webinars or paid mentorships to teach you how to write the right blog entries and social media posts and email subscription content to get people to sign up and pay the money for your new online lifestyle coaching service.

And that's fine... we all want to make money, and if you can make money from helping other people get happier and healthier and to make progress towards their fitness goals, all the better.

For the consumers out there though and especially ones who may have been unsuccessful and had a bad experience with online coaching, especially of the "you must still be eating too much" variety... you have to consider: they may have a professional web presence and be good at marketing, they may have been taught how to say all the right things, tug on the heartstrings &/or manipulate people into wanting to be accepted and belong to their "tribe"... but are they actually any good? Do they actually have a good understanding of how training works, how sports nutrition & fueling works, and do they actually have any experience at coaching people?

That's what I'd want to know.