broccoli and a broccoli smoothie

Fad Diets, Fitness and Failure; What Works For You?

If you watch TV for any amount of time on a weekend morning, it’s only a matter of minutes before you’re bombarded with a variety of nutritional tips, cooking gadgets and the latest DVD series that promises to get you slim and ripped in just minutes a day.

Now, I’m not knocking the effectiveness or validity of these programs. However, I’d like to share with you some simple and effective tips to help you navigate the “one-size-fits-all” approach commonly attributed to diet and exercise.

In my late teens and early 20s, I struggled with the ability to gain muscle mass. I was very active, training in martial arts, lifting weights, etc., and I ate a lot. I downed any fitness supplement I could afford that promised to pack on lean muscle fast.

But to my surprise, it didn’t work.

With all the calories and supplements I was ingesting, I concluded that all I needed to do was amp up my carbs (to fuel my intense, twice-a-day workouts), and continue my strict high-protein, low-fat diet.

But…that didn’t work either.

It’s taken years for me to break the calorie counting mindset—plus hundreds of hours studying physiology and fitness training—for me to understand there’s more to it than just calories, macronutrients and overtraining. Simply put, nutrient density, hormone function, gut function and an understanding of my own unique metabolic response was what seemed to be missing.

Fast forward to today—there’s no shortage of diet and exercise programs for you to try. Luckily, you don’t need to spend countless hours studying human physiology, exercise and nutrition to achieve your goals. Instead, the next time you’re thinking about trying the latest diet or exercise program, ask yourself these five questions as helpful qualifiers:

1. What is my goal?

Your goal could be any number of things-weight loss, weight gain, maintenance, improved flexibility, increased strength, better mobility, overall health/wellbeing, etc. Identify the underlying reasons for your motivation and set the vision of what success means for you

2. What is the diet really about?

Calories are important as a general measurement. But they aren’t the end-all be-all. Ask yourself, does this program talk about eating “real” food? Or does it give you permission to eat highly refined, processed, sugar rich, nutrient-stripped fake foods? A good nutritional program won’t leave you feeling deprived, but will include a plethora of real, whole foods.

3. Am I physically ready?

Simply being active 15-30 minutes a day can make a huge impact for the normally sedentary individual. Examine the program carefully and realistically. Assess your experience level and readiness with that of the exercises and intensities called for in the program. Often, people ignore the proper mobility, stability and functional movement needed before jumping into a training program. Getting injured isn’t worth it. Talk to a skilled professional who can define a proper starting point for joint mobility, muscle imbalance, and stability, and how they all work together for a proper pattern of movement.

4. Do I have a current health condition that needs to be considered?

Depending on your situation, symptoms, diagnosis, etc., it’s possible to eat “healthy” without properly digesting and absorbing the nutrients needed to feel and be well. While a medication or over-the-counter drug could be helpful for alleviating certain symptoms, it could also impact functions elsewhere in your body. The systems within the body are interconnected. Therefore, an effect (symptom) is likely to have causes that could be impeding more than one function. When in doubt, speak with your physician. A qualified Functional Medicine Practitioner can also be helpful in conjunction with your primary care physician.

5. What change to my lifestyle does this require?

This is perhaps the most important question to ask yourself. It’s imperative to understand what the program requires and check your commitment level. Changing your daily habits to incorporate exercise and food preparation takes discipline and consistency. This is where you match your “want” for health, with actions needed for health.

Remember, there is no fast track to health. Ask yourself these five questions before starting a new diet or exercise program to increase your likelihood of success. Over time, the small changes you make will turn into daily habits, which will lead to a healthier you.

Matt Bernard is a Certified: Personal Trainer, Performance Enhancement Specialist through NASM, Cardiorespiratory Sports Performance Trainer through NASM, and Sports Performance Coach Level 1 through USA Weightlifting. He is also Certified by Functional Movement Systems in Functional Movement Screening Level 1.

The information in this blog is for educational purposes only and should not replace the advice of your doctor.  When in doubt, consult your physician or health care professional.