OK, fair warning, I'm pissed.
Not inebriated, but pissed off. I've been an exercise and nutrition coach for over 20 years. I've studied with some of the top people on the planet, spent tens of thousands of pounds on professional development and forgone all number of diversions or entertainments to be as up-to-date and informed as possible. But..... all of this was apparently unnecessary. I say this, as every day on Facebook, in the press, on TV and on the radio, I seem to constantly hear that there’s a new secret to fat-loss or muscle building.
Our industry has become so marketed and hyped, people are becoming more and more confused. Not only that, but opinion is becoming more and more divided. Not because there’s dissension about the core principles of effective exercise and nutrition, but rather because people now have a method to sell.
There are dirty little secrets that no-one seems to want you to know
You've been lied to. Not just once, but again and again by most of the sources you trust. So with that in mind, here are some home truths about exercise, nutrition and the state of the fitness nation.
1. Methods are many, principles are few. Your food should never have ingredients and you should try and move more than you sit on your arse when awake. Those are the principles EVERY successful fat-loss program are built on. The various methods put spin and marketing on how you should go about it, but that’s what it comes down to.
2. Fitness marketing is 90% fiction. I've never considered myself gullible or naïve, but when one of the top strength coaches in the world endorsed a particular body transformation, I ignored every instinct that suggested it was false. Two years later I happened to meet someone closely involved in that particular transformation, who revealed the use of all sorts of underhand and misleading methods to achieve it. I've seen first-hand, before and after pictures taken on the same day and I've also seen programmes promising amazing results using the after pictures for the before image, when the programme spectacularly didn't work.
3. The best results involve the greatest commitment and the most work. The before and after pictures that are genuine, are of the people that worked the hardest and committed the most.There are no short-cuts There are some strategies that may be more efficient or effective than others, but these aren't short-cuts. You either put the work in or you don’t. If you do, then you should expect to achieve what’s being promised. If not, then forget it.
4. Results are subjective. One of my clients lost 2 stone in 5 months and was ecstatic, another lost 10lbs in a week (7-8lbs fat, 2-3lbs water) and was dissatisfied because he didn't have a six-pack. If you’re happy with the results relative to the effort and cost, that’s great. If not, why not? Was it your expectations or were you misled?
5. Testimonials are not worth what you think they are. Now this may seem strange considering that we have testimonials on our website, but the truth is, professionally speaking, I don’t like them. Why? Because our client can tell you if they’re happy, they can tell you if they like us or if we’re nice people, but they can’t tell you if we’re actually any good or not. Now many people will argue this point, I don’t care, the truth is unless you've studied exercise and nutrition for some time, you won’t know how safe or appropriate what your trainer did really was.
6. No programme is ‘better’ than another. Every time I see the ‘best’, ‘newest’, ‘fastest’, etc. written on an exercise or nutrition system, I now cringe. Why? Because it’s all lies. Some strategies may be quicker, but at what cost? What defines better? We focus on making sure our clients are leaner, more resistant to injury and healthier in the long run, even when they’re no longer training with us. Everything else is specific to the client based on what they’re paying us for and because of that, is only ‘best’, ‘fastest’, etc. for them.
7. Most programmes don’t work for the majority of people. Statistically speaking, most of the commercial fat-loss/weight-loss programmes result in sustained weight/fat loss less than 10% of the time. That sucks. In fact I can’t think of any other industry where that success or delivery rate would be acceptable. The harsh reality is that you get what you pay for. Skill and experience come at a price, as does quality and any time you cut costs on those, there are trade-offs or concessions that you make. If you’re serious about your goals, then don’t settle for a one size fits all approach.
So, what to do?
First off, mentally remove all the BS in the proposal you’re evaluating. In his book Influence, Roberto Cialdini illustrates all the subtle tools that are used to convince us to do something. Peer pressure, social proof, congruency, consistency, etc. all sway us whether we like it or not. Are you buying because it’s a great deal, because other people seem to have succeeded or because the person selling is an ‘expert’ (by the way Tim Ferris has a system for creating recognised 'expert' status in 4 weeks or less)? If so, reconsider just how genuine your desire to buy is?
Next, decide what the effort-reward ratio is. Find out what’s required to get the result you want, what the drawbacks of that approach are and what the total cost is (physical, time, monetary, social) and then decide if it’s worth it. We sometimes advise people not to work with us, because we don’t believe they really understand what they want or they’re not prepared to do what’s required to get it. That’s not because we’re mean or judgemental by the way. It’s because we don’t to waste our clients time or money, or create any disappointment in the future.
Be honest about what it is you want. I had a client years ago who wanted to get leaner. No matter how lean she got though, she was never happy. Why? Because what she actually wanted was a boyfriend and she thought that getting leaner (‘slimmer’, in her words) would achieve that.
Lastly, chill out. Unless you have a life threatening illness or impending social or sporting occasion that you absolutely, positively have to be in killer shape for, you can probably afford to take your time and do it right. If that means you need to save up the cash, then do that. If it means you need to have a marginally reduced social calendar on Mondays and Thursdays, that’s fine. Regardless of the requirement, remember, you’re a human being and not a chicken and broccoli guzzling machine.
Now that I've got that off my chest, I'm off to train a client that had to learn all of the above the hard way. She tried every diet, plan, course and piece of kit going. All of which resulted in her gaining weight year after year and feeling worse and worse about herself. Since we've been working together, she’s doing less than ever, but getting better results than she ever hoped. She’s also significantly less stressed about it all.