you are what you eat [and do]

Unpacking the proverb.  

For year, nutritionists and trainers have explained that a person cannot achieve their health and fitness goals by exercise alone. "You can't out-train a poor diet." I stand by this advice, and I've said it myself. A 30-minute run burns approximately 300 calories above and beyond resting metabolic rate. Most people can take in that many calories in 5 seconds. (Well, I can). Hey, lay off my eating etiquette! The point is that exercise to merely burn calories is a tedious means of achieving energy balance.

Dismounting the dieting/treadmill...treadmill.

There's definitely more to the story of how you look, feel, and function. What we eat will always be relevant, but it's not the bottom line. Exercise is important, and overall lifestyle even more so.

[runs away, screaming in terror]
So many of us are ultra particular about what we will and will not eat. Of course there's the gluten thing, which kind of ruins it for people who really do have celiac disease. I've recently heard intelligent people describing how non-organic apples are pure poison and having a little chocolate wrecks the immune system. Does everyone believe they are the exception to the basic tenets of human physiology? By definition, this cannot be the case.

How refreshing would it be to hear someone say "I'm not having cake right now because I already had a huge cheeseburger and some fruit salad. But really, right now I'm just trying not to be a hog?"But instead, we are far more likely to get "Take these non gluten free croutons off my organic non-GMO free range chef salad because, yeah, I can't eat those."

I wish people would quit kidding themselves. Don't tell me that you never go home and pound the m&ms. You could have, well, pretty much anything if you ate it less frequently and in reasonable amounts. I've seen what happens when an individual musters enough willpower to follow the diet and their metabolism crashes and they look and feel deflated. We pound the m&ms. And then, well of course - we need a more strict diet!

I think we are asking too much of our diets.

We place far too little value and effort in a common-sense approach to eating, and far too much emphasis on -our- particular diets. Most of these particular/fundamentalist diets have no legitimate research behind them and their rules are over-rated. But do you know what's under-rated? Not eating the whole bag. Eating your fill and holding off on desert most of the time. Getting enough sleep. Turning your attention to something productive when you're bored in front of the TV. 

The NKYCS (No Kidding Yourself Common Sense) diet is sufficient for those who are reasonably active and carry some muscle on their frame. Eat fruit, vegetables, lean meats/proteins, and minimally-processed foods most of the time. Eat what you need 80 or 90% of the time and a reasonable amount of what you want 10 or 20% of the time. The everday readily available foods can be healthy if we use a little forethought. 

Why is such common sense advice and follow-through insufficient? One of the reasons, I believe, is because we have it too good.


We have so many options. After all, in America the poorest among us are not starving, but obese. Instead of using common sense and following through when it's challenging, we become diet Pharisees. We find or make rules to lean on when we don't want to think for ourselves. Rules to narrow our options. We look to ever compounding minutia that will deliver us to the health and fitness Promised Land, staring right past our freedoms and blessings and a million and one other more important things.


Most of us take rather drastic measures to achieve comfort. Have you stopped to consider the typical grocery store and gym? What I witness at the Giant grocery store and Golds Gym is not typical of the human experience. So many of the foods, gadgets, machinery, and exercise programs are an attempt to achieve health and fitness without getting too uncomfortable. Comfort is king and we have lost perspective.

You sit on this behemoth so you can straighten your elbows.
The thing we're most lacking is not some perfect "Eat this" and "Don't eat that." The missing ingredient is simply making formal and informal physical activity a priority in our busy schedules. And what if we could add a willingness to gradually get acquainted with discomfort? This is not a call to injury, but to pushing through the inertia that got us where we are, to carefully increasing the intensity in all it's forms, to confronting weaknesses instead of doing what comes easy.

Informal activity

Informal activity is the movement behind life. You enjoy hiking or gardening or serving others or chasing your kids or playing softball or whatever you get lost in.  Calories are burnt, for sure, but this is not the primary point. The point is living life, and getting yourself busy with something productive or enjoyable. This could be just about anything that does not involve sitting on the couch or at a desk.

Formal exercise

Some people enjoy limited amounts of formal exercise, but please understand that the point is not enjoyment or merely burning energy. This is where you work on specific impairments in movement quality. Two or three times per week you emphasize building strength, balance, and coordination. Adding muscle is not just for middle school football players. Muscle keeps you functioning well and moving in life. Muscle on the frame increases energy expenditure around the clock and stops the cycle of more exercise and more dieting rules needed to maintain energy balance.

Formal exercise should not look like hours on the elliptical or sitting on various exercise machines. Whether or not you enjoy walking and running, exercise should include more than straight ahead "cardio."

In conclusion

It's a shame that the NKYCS diet would not sell. Asking people to shift their priorities, to get busy and be uncomfortable is also unlikely to be well received. I'm sure the next big diet will be sciency, flashy, and new. There will be a physique, realistic but with just enough digital alteration to promote discontentment. Add an exercise contraption, a sense of urgency, and dash of fear to complete the winning formula.

And remember that I'm no dietician or chemist. I'm just a physical therapy guy who will readily admit that ANY activity, even walking three hours per day or driving to the huge temperature controlled environment to sit on a tricep extension machine, is likely better than nothing at all.

- - - - -

You have heard that it was said long ago, "You cannot out-exercise a poor diet." But I say that you should not diet at all; neither by calorie counting, for this is unnecessary tedium; nor out of fear, for some form of hatred quickly follows; nor by an appeal to the past, for the blessings and curses of the present are inevitable.

Instead, seek common sense, self discipline, and gratitude. Use your time and abilities wisely. And stay strong.


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