Some Truths about Health, Fitness, Nutrition

Since we're entering a new year, it seemed appropriate to talk a little about health, fitness, and nutrition. 

As people get ready to make their New Year's resolutions, the most common resolutions revolve around "getting healthy". The problem is that there are huge misconceptions around what exactly it means to get healthy. Most people think they need to spend hours at the gym or starving themselves on some liquid cleanse. Those misconceptions are only reinforced by the marketing of all sorts of exercise equipment, shakes & supplements, or their favorite Instagram celebrities. (In their defense, if you think you're carrying the world's best hammer in your pocket, everything looks like a nail. And as an aside, if you want to know what it's really like to be an Instagram fitness celebrity, read this enlightening and honest post.)

So since everyone wants to get healthy, we should make sure we know what that means. Most people instantly equate getting healthy with having six-pack abs; but that's not the case. In the preamble to their constitution, the World Health Organization gave us this definition: 

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (1)

This means good health requires more than just physical fitness. We have to address emotional and social fitness as well. I believe the fact that we as a society focus so much attention on physical well-being contributes to why we have so many emotionally unstable individuals regularly in the news. 

The WHO also added that health is:

A resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. (2)

Health is a tool that allows us to live our lives. If we spend our entire lives focused on being healthy, we're going to miss out on living. I've known too many people who cannot miss a day at the gym or who get ridiculously upset when they screw up their macros at a meal. This is an unhealthy and unbalanced emotional state and it could be symptomatic of other problems. Too much of a good thing isn't necessarily better; it can be just as unhealthy as choosing a bad thing. 


Let's focus on physical, because when most people try to get healthy at this time of year, they're really thinking about improving physical fitness. Here again, society has people thinking that physical fitness is about having washboard abs and muscles popping. But that's not the case. 

Merriam-Webster defines "fit" as: 

Adapted to the environment so as to be capable of surviving

Being fit means that we can do the things that we need to do, without illness or infirmity. 

So, being fit has nothing to do with how you look; it has more to do with your environment and your body's ability to do everything it has to do. 

 Joe Looney, a player on the National Football League. 17 September 2017. Author: Jeffrey Beall. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joe_Looney_(offensive_lineman)_2017.JPG

Joe Looney, a player on the National Football League. 17 September 2017. Author: Jeffrey Beall. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joe_Looney_(offensive_lineman)_2017.JPG

An offensive lineman in the NFL may be 300+ pounds and look like he has a huge gut, but he is fit for the role that he plays. He needs mass to be able to push the line of scrimmage forward and/or block the opponent. His environment dictates that he needs to be big AND strong. 

So in order to improve our fitness, we first need to know what our environment requires of us. 

If our environment involves climbing stairs all day and we don't want to be out of breath, we should work on improving our cardiovascular endurance and leg strength. 

If our environment involves carrying heavy loads for short distances and we don't want to tire out, we should work on improving our upper body strength. 

But a professional marathon runner doesn't spend a lot of time power-lifting because the excess muscle will only add more load that they have to carry as they run! Power-lifting is not necessarily going to help them achieve their goals. 

This is called the theory of specificity. You need to train for the specific environment you'll be in or tasks which you'll be performing. 

General (non-specific) training, or functional training, can be good if you're just looking to improve general fitness. But, if, for instance, your environment doesn't require you to throw a 20 lb ball at a wall every day, you should talk to a professional to find out whether it's worth doing that particular exercise. Will it help you move in the direction of your goals or will it create obstacles for you? And if your trainer doesn't talk to you about your particular needs, find another trainer!


But what about losing weight? A lot of people resolve to lose weight. Well, the dirty little secret is that, by far, the biggest factor in losing weight is nutrition. You may have heard people say "abs are made in the kitchen" or "you can't out-exercise a bad diet". It's well-known and proven that this is the case. You can spend hours at the gym every day but it will make no difference if you're eating a diet that stores fat.

Ever notice that more people are hitting the gym than ever before? There are people going to big box gyms; they're going to boutique studios; they go to athletic/sports-based gyms; they go to yoga studios; they even use workouts at home on YouTube and other platforms. Yet for all the hours of daily exercise people are doing, we are told that the obesity rate continues to rise undeterred. Physical activity is, therefore, more than likely not the root cause; nutrition is the culprit. 

Exercise can help accelerate fat loss, but the key is what you ingest, so in many cases, it's better to get the nutrition under control before stepping foot in a gym. When trying to solve a problem, the best strategy is approaching it one factor at a time so you understand how each factor contributes to the problem. The thing no one will tell you is that it's even possible to reach all your weight loss goals without ever lifting a dumbbell or jumping on a treadmill.

So if your goals revolve around weight loss and you want to make the biggest impact on your resolutions this year, consider skipping the gym. Use the time you would be at the gym developing some better habits regarding meals. Talk to a nutritionist/dietitian. Invest the time into meal planning. And once the numbers are consistently heading in the right direction, layer in some exercise to help accelerate the process. 

Agree? Agree to disagree? Questioning the status quo is necessary to advancing a better understanding of things. Find your unsteady state and join the conversation.  


(1) - Constitution of WHO: principles, World Health Organization, 1946, http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/

(2) - Health Promotion Glossary, World Health Organization, 1998, http://www.who.int/healthpromotion/about/HPR%20Glossary%201998.pdf

 

In Response to Tom Junod's Article

This is a direct response to an article by Tom Junod called "In Defense of Participation Trophies" on espn.com.

Before anything else, I'd like to just start by saying that the arguments against participation trophies are not a partisan political debate. There are liberal and conservative individuals on both sides of the argument, as perfectly demonstrated by the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church stories recounted in Junod's article. By focusing only on anti-trophy conservatives in the article, we are being kept from having the meaningful conversation that is needed. I'll proceed without partisan arguments because this isn't a right vs. left issue. 


While the author was trying to defend them, the article was devoid of any real evidence that participation trophies are good. It was a "feel-good" opinion piece, but one that tried to convince readers that there was no harm. The problem is that just because it makes you feel good in the moment doesn't mean that something is necessarily good for you in the long run and that there isn't a lot of valid evidence against it. While I don't have any personal experience, I've heard that cocaine makes people feel good when they use it; but there's enough evidence of the long-term addictive effects that we, as a society, have decided that it should be illegal. This is what prompted me to write this response: a lack of facts with good intentions is still missing the facts and shouldn't be construed as a legitimate argument for or against anything. 

There are a few assumptions in the piece. The author says that parents must "have no objections" to the concept of participation trophies "or the arrangement would not exist." That's an incorrect assumption. Obviously, enough people have publicly objected to the matter because we're hearing those objections now, loud and clear. Allowing kids to take part in the culture doesn't mean acceptance of the culture; it means there are no other currently available options. 

Honestly, it doesn't surprise me that some parents, when asked as they were by Danny Downing in the article, would want their kids to get participation trophies. I don't have kids, but I can appreciate that I would want them to succeed at everything. Love does that you. But love's blinding effects can be just as harmful as good, if left to their own devices with no regard for the consequences. We would all do just about anything for our families and loved ones, but it's our understanding of society's mores and the consequences of our actions that keeps us in check. But if the action seemed like a good thing and had no perceptible consequences, we would have no reason to not proceed. So the question is: are participation trophies (and the culture surrounding them) a good thing or is it possible that they're doing harm?


Why do we think participation trophies are good to begin with? We want our kids to feel good about themselves, but why do we think these little pieces of plastic accomplish that? It speaks to one of the most basic, primal human desires: the desire to please others. We are driven by this innate desire to please because it makes us feel like a part of the group and in primitive times, when we were living under the constant threat that a lion (or some other big nasty) could snatch a weak individual, there was safety in numbers. Even though we're no longer exposed to the same threats from Mother Nature, those basic desires are hard-wired into our DNA and the need to please is very much a part of who we are.

I've seen it in action. As a part-time job, I teach group fitness and small-group training sessions. My job is to make adults do something that very few people in their right minds want to do: exercise! Exercising can be hard. We know the benefits, but that doesn't take away from the fact that sweating and breathing heavy in front of strangers is hard work!

So part of my role as the instructor is to motivate my participants to keep working hard. You'd be amazed how motivated a person can get from something as simple as acknowledging their hard work with a simple "good job" or "you've got it". They appreciate being recognized for their actions and they work harder for continued recognition.

So knowing this, it would be relatively harmless to tell everyone in every class that they're doing a "good job", right? Well, actually, it isn't so harmless. If someone isn't really working hard and they get told that they're doing great, one of two things happens: either they stay at the level that they are or they realize that the instructor must not be paying attention and they put in less work. So thanks to human nature, even though I may have the best of intentions, it leads to the exact opposite result.


In his book, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us", Daniel Pink (who worked as the chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore... To reiterate, this is not a partisan issue.) cites studies that show the long-held belief that rewards and prizes motivate people to do better work is flat-out wrong. When given a reward for doing a task, over time, people will need greater and greater rewards to do the same thing. In the long-run, the reward actually demotivates them. 

Rewards also demotivate in another very important way. We're intelligent creatures and we can tell when someone is trying to motivate us to do something that we wouldn't otherwise care about. "If they have to give us a reward to do this, this is probably something crappy that I don't want to do." So the reward has actually demeaned the task and taken away any inherent motivation that may have been there naturally. 


So getting back to the article: "parents wanted them to have the experience of receiving a trophy". Over time that "experience" of success without doing the requisite work has the potential to demotivate the kids and potentially make them dislike the very activity that we want them to do. 

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem like a big deal to hand out a participation trophy and it may seem like there are "no untoward effects". The problem is the long-term deleterious effects of this "reward" culture. Those far outweigh the possible short-term "feel good" benefits.

So how do we get kids to enjoy the activities and get the most out of them?

The most important way is to allow them to develop an intrinsic motivation for the activity. An intrinsic motivation is one that comes from inside you, as opposed to an extrinsic motivation, which comes from outside. Reading a textbook because I know I have a test coming up is extrinsic motivation; reading science-fiction because I love the genre is intrinsic motivation. One good way to have kids develop intrinsic motivation is to not force them to try to be good at everything they do...


I feel bad for the author because he explained that he was made to feel like s--- playing sports while growing up. I am not advocating that we return to that mentality. I grew up in the same environment and in spite of the fact that I didn't have participation trophies, I loved my time playing sports. I wasn't the most athletic guy growing up, so I didn't win a ton of trophies for my sports prowess. From as early as I can remember, my parents emphasized that I should try everything. They put me in little league baseball, youth basketball, bowling, swimming, martial arts... You name it and I probably tried it as a kid!

I wasn't expected to succeed at everything, but I had to give my best effort. I remember getting some 3rd place ribbons in swimming before everyone else had their growth spurts, but that's about it. I remember my Mom telling me that I won't know what I'm good at unless I try a bunch of stuff. As I've heard before: "You learn from failing and getting back up; but you learn nothing from being perfect." So, sports for me was about getting out there, having a good time, and trying my best. Sure, I envied all those big championship trophies, but that drove me to want to work harder and also to find my specialty. I loved getting out there and having a blast with my teammates. More importantly, I learned to really enjoy playing sports for the fun of it. There was no pressure; there was only the potential for upside!

I won my first sports championship as an adult, playing for a recreational co-ed softball team! (And I cherish that trophy!) To this day, I still jump at opportunities to go out and play sports. The funny thing is my love of sports and physical endeavor got me started on the path of fitness. It's through fitness that I found one of my talents and it's also through fitness that I found my wife. 

Finding that internal motivation for kids is also about the attitude that we as adults have. If we show a genuine interest in sports and in our kids’ activities, they see it and get it. I’m not saying that we should fawn all over them and act like they’re the second coming of Michael Jordan. Rather, pay attention and let them know that we saw them doing a good job out there (when they really did do a good job out there!) instead of spending the game on our phones. Kids pay attention to everything and it’s those little incidental comments that make a world of difference in their lives, more than some cheap plastic trophy. I knew when my dad told me I did great, it meant that I was, because he also let me know when I wasn’t trying my hardest. 

Kids are looking for love and encouragement, not disingenuous praise. Let the job well done be its own reward. 

And that speaks to my final point: nothing can replace a parent's love. One of the reasons we are even having this conversation is partly because parents oftentimes feel guilty for not spending enough time with their kids. We live in a hectic crazy world with all sorts of demands for our time. Know that as a parent, every decision we make will either lead to a self-confident, well-adapted child or to one who isn't. There are no shortcuts. (It’s one of the reasons why so far, I have chosen to not have kids.) And handing out a little trophy may make us feel less guilty, but it doesn't necessarily help our kids.

A trophy will never be anything more than a momentary pleasure. But a parent's influence will last forever. Recognize that influence and appreciate the responsibility that comes with it. If we as a society do that, we will all be tremendously better off. 

Agree? Disagree? Either way, join the conversation and use #unsteadystate! It's only through open discussions that we can move forward as a society... If you enjoy the conversation, please share away!

Cam's Really Horrible, No Good Day

 Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, CA! Denver vs. Carolina [courtesy of nfl.com]

Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, CA! Denver vs. Carolina [courtesy of nfl.com]

So I'm just getting back home from a little R&R this weekend. We took a little vacation and got to watch a little football, just as a big percentage of the American population did. We were supporting our Carolina Panthers and were a bit disappointed to see them lose. To make matters worse, Cam Newton had a pretty bad press conference and everyone lit into him for walking out on reporters after sulking his way through the post-game interview.

He has since explained that he doesn't like to lose, that he wasn't ready to talk to the media at the time, and that he's got emotions like the rest of us. You can also hear very clearly in the video that a jubilant member of the Denver Broncos is being interviewed within earshot.

That doesn't necessarily make it ok for him to react the way he did and I'm not writing to defend him...

Rather, I'm calling attention to the fact that we have only ourselves to blame. Yes, while he's responsible for his actions, I think we, as a society, need to take a good, long look in the mirror and shoulder part of the responsibility.

Why? Because our society is creating an environment where our young people don't know how to respond to adversity. Because in this world of "participation trophies" for everyone, people don't really know what it means to lose. Because kids are coddled and have no idea how to respond when things don't work out the way they expect.

Don't believe me?

  • CNN reported on a study that showed kids who are overvalued by their parents have a tendency towards narcissism later in life.
  • HBO Real Sports recently did a piece entitled Trophy Nation in which they talk about the ramifications of handing everyone a trophy for just showing up. In it, Dr. C. Robert Cloninger says, "The technical term is 'partial-reinforcement extinction effect.' If you constantly reward a kid, you spoil them and don’t build a capacity for them to be resilient to frustration."
  • There is anecdotal evidence that students who grew up without adversity lack the fortitude to get through technical and engineering programs because they're too difficult and here in the U.S., we're left with fewer technical adults who can troubleshoot or diagnose problems. Heck, most people can't even tinker anymore.

This very topic even reached the NFL last year. James Harrison, an Outside Linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, took to Instagram last year when his sons received participation trophies:

I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues

A photo posted by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on Aug 15, 2015 at 10:09am PDT

It's in this environment that a star athlete like Cam Newton has grown up. It's in this culture that he thrived and made a name for himself by succeeding at every level. And it's quite possible that he has never experienced a failure equivalent to the one he felt this past Sunday.

I don't condone his behavior, but I certainly understand that unless we do something to change the culture, we're only going to see more people act the same way. It's time we start to teach our kids that it's ok to fail. Criticize him all you want, but we need to start looking at the part we, as a society, play.

Agree? Disagree? Change doesn't happen until we start to talk. Reach out to me, @ultrasmoov on Twitter, and use #unsteadystate. Join the conversation!

Black Friday!

So here in the United States, November means two things: Thanksgiving and Black Friday! Black Friday

Black Friday is the official start to the Christmas buying season.

Stores used to open at midnight Thursday night and stay open through the weekend. Most recently, they've started opening as early as 8pm on Thursday night (which unfortunately means Black Friday is spilling over into Thanksgiving).

These stores put together incredible deals to attract new shoppers. Where else can you get a brand new 60" plasma television for $10?!? And most of these deals have very limited quantities because companies would go out of business otherwise!

Over the years, Black Friday is also a night for incredible drama. In their attempt to get one of the 5 available Xbox units on sale for only $5, people trample all over each other, use pepper spray on each other, and threaten each other. And even worse is how they treat the employees who are giving up their Thanksgiving holiday with their families to open the store: they yell at them and blame them for not having enough Wild Wacky Action Bikes in stock, and out of fear of missing out on the early sales, I even read that someone had once defecated in a washing machine floor model! Seriously.

The madness makes you realize that a lot of people have forgotten the spirit of the season that they're supposed to be celebrating. The holiday season is about love, kindness, peace, and happiness. Giving gifts is a part of the season, but not necessarily at the expense of treating everyone else like garbage.

For some reason, on Black Friday, people focus on their own needs and wants, and completely ignore everyone else.

In much the same way, I've seen a lot of people focused on their own needs when it comes to Reebok and its new Les Mills® clothing line. I've seen some disrespectful and impolite comments on Facebook and in blogs.

I get it. Everyone wants the latest gear. But that's not an excuse to forget that there are actual people behind the logos, Facebook pages, and websites.

Reebok has stated that they underestimated the demand of the worldwide Les Mills® instructor population. They're making efforts to make more product available, but working in the manufacturing industry, I know that you can't magically produce more inventory on a whim; it takes time and planning, especially if you don't want to rob Peter to pay Paul and jeopardize future products.

I guess what I'm most concerned about is that as part of the LES MILLS® family, we talk about being One Tribe. We're supposed to be one family, supporting each other, and respecting each other. Well, we just had a huge new group of people join our tribe and yes, they're bringing along some fantastic, shiny new gear. They're also going to help us spread the word about battling global obesity and help us change the world. There's so many great reasons to welcome them into the Tribe with open arms, rather than make them regret the decision to join us.

We're not entitled to have that BODYPUMP® tank top or those BODYJAM® jeans any more than the Black Friday shopper is entitled to that plasma television. If they run out of stock, we shouldn't badmouth the employees and threaten to never shop there again. I guarantee you that they're just as upset at themselves for not having more stock available.

Just remember that we're all part of this movement together...

Relax. Breathe. Put things in perspective: Be happy that we actually have the freedom to do this thing that we love, because if you read current events, you know a lot of people in this world don't have that luxury... As a culture, we've begun to drift into this unhealthy place where we don't give a damn about anyone else; where everybody is out for themselves. It's always been true that you have to look out for yourself, but for some reason, now we have to step, trip, and spit on the rest of the people as we pass them by. There's a general lack of consideration and courtesy for others.

Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

In this increasingly electronic age, where you can type anything and put it out in the world in a heartbeat, we forget that there are others affected by what we type.

I wonder if recalling the golden rule before we hit SEND would cause us to re-think what we just typed.

I wonder if it would cause us to act a bit more civilly the next time we're in line at Best Buy on Black Friday, to remember that the person next to us is no different than us. Or that the employees behind the registers are missing out on their holidays so we can buy our gifts.

We have to remember that it's not always about our needs and wants. It's about having a meaningful experience during our time here and making every moment count for something. It's not about tank tops and televisions. Do you want to be looked at as an example of what not to be or as a role model to be looked up to? Do you want to leave a bad impression on someone or do you want to make a difference? Because that's really what matters in the long run...

Join the conversation. Reach out to me, @ultrasmoov on Twitter, and use #unsteadystate. Join the conversation!