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I don't do meal plans. I do Custom Flexible Dieting Guidelines.

Pretty average photo from training
yesterday. I thought my shoulders were
looking good though.
I just don't, and I won't no matter how much someone asks or how much they offer to pay me. I just don't feel comfortable telling other people what to eat. The idea stresses me the hell out, to be honest.

If you really do want a meal plan via me, I will crunch the numbers as I always do via my Flexible Fueling system and then forward those guidelines to a real dietitian to talk to you about your food choices. I haven't had one for a while, but I do still from time to time get told "no I want you to do it"... well, that aint gonna happen.

Now if you were considering looking for a meal plan online, or if you were looking to hire a trainer who'll tell you what you are allowed to eat and what you are not allowed to eat, here's what I think you should keep in mind.

What makes for a good meal plan?

Purely from a nutritional point of view, a meal plan is good if it provides everything that you need and no excess. So enough total energy, enough protein, fiber and a good spread of micronutrients suitable to maintain good health, an appropriate weight range, and good performance and results at training.

That's what you need in a meal plan purely on nutritional grounds.

A lot of the time you might see meal plans on offer from trainers or even less qualified "wellness guru" types, and they're kind of a one size fits all proposition with a bunch of healthy foods listed, and the inference is that since they're all healthy foods it's a good plan and you'll be getting everything you need. This is often far from the case as just throwing together a list of "healthy foods" in no way ensures meeting an adequate energy intake for performance at sport or adequate protein for adaptation to training.

Often this is the case with "clean eating" type plans for sale or available for free online. There is simply no consideration given to energy and protein requirements, and they may fall dangerously short of a suitable amount for an active person. Anyone can throw together a list of healthy foods... and most of the time that's all you're getting. A list of healthy foods and perhaps another list of other foods that are banned for no legitimate reason is a long way from being a decent sports nutrition plan that will ensure results. It is probably the opposite.

Now assuming you do have a plan to meet your individual requirements in terms of total energy, protein, and plenty of vitamins and minerals via healthy & nutritious choices, that's great. However, there is more to a good meal plan than simply being nutritionally appropriate.

A good meal plan is one that not only delivers everything that you require, but even more importantly is one that you can stick to long term. A plan that has designated meal times or meal frequency that does not suit you as an individual, you won't stick to for long. A plan that includes mostly foods that you find unappealing, you won't stick to for long.

If you're anything like me and a lot of other people, if you don't like the foods you probably won't even attempt the plan. Because you know it is unworkable. Assuming you do try, you're likely to put off eating for as long as possible and then end up having something else instead and probably way too much of it. Or you might force yourself to try the scheduled meal and lose your appetite half way though as you're not enjoying it. This would mean either you go underfueled defeating the purpose of having a plan in the first place, or again you end up ravenous at some point later on and over eat something that isn't on the plan.

None of this is conducive to good results or to a good relationship with food.

This is a very simple point that seems to baffle a lot of people who for some reason believe they are in a position to give advice to others.

A plan that is "good" in terms of providing everything that you need is worthless if it is not conducive to enthusiastic adherence. If it is unworkable due to meal schedules or food choices... it might be a good plan for someone else, but it's not a good plan for you. The plan needs to fit the person. It is not a failing on your part if you can't force yourself to work with an unworkable situation.

Now if this plan does indeed provide all of the nutritional resources that you require, the assumption is that we actually know what those requirements are. What amounts of various resources such as total energy, protein, fiber and so on. If the person providing the plan can't tell you what those are, then it's just a stab in the dark and they are full of shit. We don't know your requirements, we don't really how much this plan provides... but it's all good food so obviously it does provide exactly the amount you require and no more or less. 

That's unreasonably optimistic, in my opinion.

Certainly though, a competent professional (such as myself) can determine those requirements with reasonable accuracy. So, rather than a plan that is basically an "eat it, it's good for you" proposition that may or may not deliver everything that you need, we can plan to meet all of those nutritional requirements with a variety of our preferred choices of foods that will be suitable to long term adherence. More to the point, we can also create a new plan whenever we feel like it, based on whatever foods we feel like eating that day.

Obviously you can't just abuse the concept and still expect to end up meeting all of your targets, but with a little planning and preparedness you most certainly can produce great and sustainable results with whatever choices of foods best suit you.

This is what Flexible Dieting and IIFYM is all about. In my Flexible Fueling system, I give you the targets and simple guidelines to assist you to build your own plan that you'll be enthusiastic and optimistic about sticking to.

And it's pretty easy.


Six Degrees Of Separation In Pseudoscience

Birds of a feather flock together.
You know, like the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon game.

I'm still kind of trying to pull this idea together in my brain so bare with me. I was thinking for example, a lot of people have sworn off grains and are hell bent on convincing everyone else to do the same, and the usual instruction is to "read Wheat Belly & Grain Brain and you'll see".

Grain Brain being a book written by David Perlmutter who I suppose people have accepted as a credible source of information.

Now I would put it to you that the anti-grain thing is almost mainstream now, and many quite reasonable and intelligent people are avoiding grains "for their health". The majority of those people probably aren't on board with more extreme "health" campaigns for example the anti-vaccination movement. Most people rightly are quite horrified and outraged by the nonsense that comes out of the anti-vax movement, intent on driving us back to the dark ages with a mistrust of the scientific community and the medical and pharmaceutical industries in particular, and allowing terrible diseases to make a come back, costing the lives of children and others who are vulnerable to infection.

Speaking of the anti-vax movement. One of the most financially successful anti-vaccination advocates is a bloke you may have heard of called Joseph Mercola.

Wikipedia has rather a detailed entry about Mercola covering many of the controversies he has been embroiled in, including the warnings he has received  from the US Food And Drug Administration related to his activities.

See also this quote from Business Week magazine:
Mercola gives the lie to the notion that holistic practitioners tend to be so absorbed in treating patients that they aren't effective businesspeople. While Mercola on his site seeks to identify with this image by distinguishing himself from "all the greed-motivated hype out there in health-care land", he is a master promoter, using every trick of traditional and Internet direct marketing to grow his business... He is selling health-care products and services, and is calling upon an unfortunate tradition made famous by the old-time snake oil salesmen of the 1800s
The anti-vax movement is still rather an extreme, fringe group and I think it is fair to say that most reasonable people see them as lacking credibility, to say the least. Therefore it is probably safe to say that many people who might see Perlmutter as a credible source of information and give credence to his views on the health effects of eating grains and cereals, would not see Mercola or any other promoter of anti-vaccine propaganda in a similarly favourable light.

But here's the thing.

If someone you accept as a credible source endorses, or is endorsed by someone you rightly recognise as a dangerous or disingenuous charlatan, how should that affect your perception of the supposedly "credible" source?

Now it would be fallacious logic to suggest that something "can't be true" on the basis that the author has been involved with someone else who we consider a charlatan. However... hopefully when presented with an idea such as "no one should eat grains" we assess the evidence and make a judgment on whether we feel the hypothesis has merit. How credible we consider the source of that information does come into this. How much faith can we have that we are being given the whole story, all of the evidence, and not just that which supports the authors assertions?

Here's what I've noticed. When it comes to pseudoscience, birds of a feather flock together and all of these people tend to be in cahoots with one other, lending the facade of credibility to one an other and so on. They tend to have a few fingers in a few different pies as well, so to speak, so there might be enough overlap in their areas of advocacy that the "clean eating" bloke can be interviewed by the "anti-vax" guy seemingly without specifically supporting the anti-vax cause.
Pointing out Mercola's anti-vax activities is
one of many good ways to find yourself
#blockedbypete on facebook.

I would suggest that getting on board with an anti-vax propagandist and presenting them as a credible authority on health matters is benefiting the anti-vax cause whether you discuss anti-vax matters or not. I would suggest that doing so while trying to hush up the anti-vax connection is even more disingenuous and deceitful.

So while it is interesting to note that peddlers of pseudoscience do seem to be happy to pair up and cross promote with other peddlers of pseudoscience, even when their primary areas of interest are seemingly unrelated and may not be something that one of them particularly wants to be associated with. What is perhaps even more noteworthy is how often a peddler of pseudoscience will cross promote with another who's pet theory is actually in conflict with their own.

For example the "paleo diet" advocate will cross promote with the "low carb high fat" proponent, who will cross promote with the "alkaline foods change your Ph balance" health guru, who will also be in cahoots with the "these foods unclog your hormones" guy, and so on with the "sugar is toxic and addictive" people and the "anti-GMO" people as well.

Believe it or not, they even offered me a slice of the pie to promote an online weight loss summit with featuring the who's who of made up pseudoscience a few months back. I told them they could jam it.

Now while all of those approaches to diet may appear quite similar as in the choices of foods that are advocated and the choices of foods that are to be avoided at all costs, the pseudoscientific explanations of why we must all adopt that particular diet are at odds with one another. But interestingly, while they would insist upon the validity of their explanation in debate with an actual dietitian or a flexible dieting advocate, they seem to their differences aside when working together and focus on the common goal.

What is that common goal? Well... if you ask them you might get a different answer, but the common goal is in undermining established scientific method and fostering a mistrust in qualified professionals and regulatory bodies. The idea that qualified, experienced professionals in health, medicine and dietetics aren't "up to date with the latest research", or that "science sometimes gets it wrong, so we can just choose what we want to be right and insist that anyone who disagrees is on the take, getting paid to be a damn dirty liar". Aka "the shill gambit". 

The problem with all this is that... well... it actually kills people.

Infants contracting diseases that 10 years ago we considered eradicated, people with conditions that could have been treated only turning to conventional medicine when it is too late, after having been convinced to go the "just eat clean and think positive thoughts, you don't need that nasty chemo" route, just as a couple of examples.

What else is interesting is that many of the anti-scientific consensus type people don't actually realise that they are anti science. They see the mainstream as people who just blindly accept what the establishment tell them without question. This is far from what I am advocating here. People should be skeptical and choose carefully whom they should take advice from. Why should I believe this person is likely to be in a better position to know the details of this complex subject than that person? Does what he or she is telling me seem plausible, does it match up with what I can see happening with my own eyes, and even then... has this theory been tested and do the results of those tests stand up to scrutiny?

We're all to some extent afflicted with a confirmation bias, which makes it easier to see the flaws in an argument that we already disagree with, and harder to see the flaws in an argument supporting a position that we believe to be correct. However if we are really reasonable, enlightened adults with an interest in learning the truth, we should be encouraged to over come our biases and not be so emotionally invested in our opinions and beliefs that we would not consider changing them in the face of new and credible evidence.

What pseudoscientists and snake oil pushers of any subset all tend to have in common is... well, the opposite of what I suggested above. Rather than encouraging people to be aware of their own biases and to think critically and objectively, the overwhelming message and example set is to simply choose an opinion that best suits you, insist that it is correct, and dismiss any evidence or research that suggests otherwise as being inherently flawed or falsified out of hand. Similarly, insist upon the validity of any research that can be cherry picked to support your position, regardless of glaringly obvious flaws in the methodology or inconsistency between the data collected and the conclusion being presented.

I have digressed a little as usual.

Ideally, people are free to do what works best for them. When it comes to diet that could be any of a dozen approaches with countless permutations of possible food choices. If you have stumbled on to one that works for you, that you enjoy and that you feel is producing the changes in health and condition that you were aiming for... that should be enough. It should not be necessary to insist that this is the "only" way to achieve or to deserve similar results in improved health and condition, or to argue that certain foods are the issue rather than overall appropriate or not appropriate eating habits... especially when you're insisting this to people who've had a similar, or perhaps even greater level of success with some other approach that happens to suit them better.

When it comes to diet, consider the root source of the information when someone is trying to convince you "it can only be done this way" or "it can't be done that way", especially if they are going against the consensus of the vast majority of qualified and experienced professionals in the field. While it's not impossible that they could be right where everyone else is wrong, you should require some solid, convincing evidence before you accept it as fact. It might be quicker and easier though to find out what other "alternative" theories they are on board with first.

If it is anti-vax, anti-fluoride, anti-conventional medicine and so on... if you wouldn't take their word for it on those matters why should you when it comes to diet and nutrition?

Side note: we had a productive discussion recently on how research is supposed to be conducted and how qualifications such as degrees are attained which might be helpful or interesting.

Calories In Calories Out Is Bullshit?

Shame about cutting off the top of my head,
but at least my arms look nice.
Another one of these articles with the above title came up in my newsfeed just now, and I typed a response but then I thought "oh, what's the use I don't have the energy for this anymore" because GOD people are just so frustrating, aren't they?

Anyway as it turned out, this particular article did a good job of explaining why the way people usually treat calorie counting doesn't work out, although I disagreed with the conclusion.

I've seen other articles with the same title from trainers with no success in staying in shape themselves, writing about how calories aren't the issue and the answer is to eat paleo style and avoid these here other, bad foods like cereal for example that "causes you to get fat" because of some fanciful reason that absolutely does not include how it effects your total energy intake for the day. And of course this particular trainer is out of shape because those bad foods are really hard to avoid and it is all the supermarket's fault for putting them on special because it's some great big conspiracy or something.

And meanwhile you know plenty of people who still start the day with a bowl of cereal but are successful in staying in shape and seeing nice results from their training program. I assure you, you do know at least one person doing that.


Whether you are eating paleo style, whether you are doing intuitive eating, clean eating, whatever else. If you were previously overweight or obese, changed your eating habits and are now no longer (or just less) over weight or obese, you are consuming less energy (aka calories) over all.

Whether you know how many calories you ate before and how many you eat now, or not. You were consuming enough to support your previous weight, and now you're consuming a less excessive amount more suitable to support your current weight.

So, it is not essential to count calories. You can achieve a less excessive intake with a different selection of foods, smaller portion sizes, any number of ways really. The danger in my observation in trying to insist upon certain foods being "to blame" and certain foods being "good" is that some people might find it very difficult to strictly adhere to that list of "good" foods. Hell, as I mentioned, even many of the people who insist that this is how it is still struggle to adhere to it.

The danger then is that if people do not see progress, they blame it on isolated instances of "eating the wrong foods" rather than on not having established eating habits that are conducive to appropriate energy intake generally speaking, on average, most of the time.

To go from obese to not obese that is really about all it takes other than a suitable level of activity. Eating habits that are conducive to appropriate energy intake, generally speaking, on average, most of the time.

Now the issue this article quite correctly raised is that when people focus on calories, they just think "less, and less, and less". They start off with that stupid "3500 calories per week deficit" thing, and when that stops working they try to cut back further and create a bigger deficit, or they try to add an extra hour of exercise to burn more off. Or both things. And then more of both things.

It is a destructive approach that doesn't work and can't end well.

The "one line" answers that people like to use just don't apply to everyone. "Be more active" for example. For all we know someone might be quite active indeed even though to our eyes they do not have the appearance we associate with an active lifestyle, in which case we might want to work on not that whole thing about making assumptions based only on appearance. "Be more active" is not only a little insulting to those people, but it's not the right advice anyway.

What it actually comes down to is a suitable amount of activity and the appropriate amount of energy intake. Not "move more, eat less"... but "consume an appropriate amount to fuel your active lifestyle".

Making "effective training" a part of that active lifestyle will obviously make for more consistent results and more efficient progress. However, while we certainly won't see a change in weight, body condition or health while still in excessive total intake, there are minimum requirements that we must meet in order to facilitate a beneficial adaptation to training.

If generally speaking your total energy and macronutrient intake falls within a range that is adequate but not excessive, you will see progress towards your goal weight and condition. If you can get this right by intuition or by adhering to a selection of foods that are conducive to such an energy balance, good. If not though, you can always crunch the numbers and then plan to meet them with whatever choice of foods best suits you.

This is the reality of the situation, whether it fits into people's personal philosophy or not.

Context Is Always King

Another one that should have been posted here and then linked to from facebook, rather than the other way around.

Context is always king.Self appointed "wellness experts" and apparently practically everyone else on facebook seem to...
Posted by Dave Hargreaves Personal Training on Tuesday, 31 March 2015

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