My diet is better than yours.
ABC actually came out with a TV show called that, but I missed the opportunity to rip it apart because I was too busy writing about the fat shaming train wrecks that are The Biggest Loser and Fit to Fat to Fit.
But in point of fact, my diet IS better than yours, because I said so, and I’m a better fitness guy than you are, so stop your strawman appeal to no true Scotsman authoritay and listen up, motherfucker.
The fitness industry – a catchall term I use to include both exercise and dietary instruction – is about as good at calmly and rationally debating within itself as a junior high school where everyone commenced puberty on the same day. The amount of infighting is enough to make many say, “Why the hell did I get into this business?”
I know why I got into it: because I love exercise and I wanted to help others to learn to love it too. Yes, there was also a component of wanting to blow apart the Oprah-endorsed kind of bullshit, but I didn’t imagine there would be so much petty fuckery amongst real professionals.
Here are four things the fitness industry can stop arguing over. Because I said so.
1. Calories in – Calories out
I think most of us can agree that the moment someone invokes Gary Taubes, they’ve lost the argument.
There is no such thing as an insulin fairy. Going full keto does not open a rift in the space-time-insulin continuum and magically transport belly fat to a parallel universe. Every controlled metabolic ward study reveals that caloric balance is all that matters, regardless of macronutrient composition. It’s a fair statement that bodybuilders, who are known for appearing on stage ripped to shreds, lose their body fat for competition by cutting fucking calories!
Yes, there is some gradation involved in precisely how caloric balance is measured and achieved. There is the issue of the thermic effect of food, or that highly processed foods end up making more of their calories bioavailable, whereas less processed foods create more poop. A well-done steak has a lot more usable calories than a rare one, and there are weird things you can do with rice to dramatically lower the number of available calories it contains.
Calorie counts on food packages are full of shit and restaurant menus are about as accurate as a TEC-9 semi-automatic. And so the ability to actually get an accurate count on how many calories we ingest each day – as well as how many calories we burn – is all a giant guessing game unless you take up residence in a metabolic ward.
But just because the counts, thermic effect and bioavailability of the calories are all over the map for various foods does NOT invalidate the fact that it still all comes down to caloric balance. It’s hard for us mere humans to precisely know what our daily caloric balance is, but caloric balance still rules nonetheless.
Again: No. Fucking. Insulin Fairy!
2. Cardio vs. Weights
For a lot of people, it sucks. It sucked for me, which is why I quit. But I tried again, and again, I quit. Third time, finally, it stuck.
Most people never learn to feel the love for running, and rather than admit it might have some redeeming qualities, there are trainers who write bullshit article after bullshit article after bullshit article after bullshit article after bullshit article about how it allegedly emasculates you / makes you scrawny / makes you fat / makes you dead.
Let’s get down to basics and see these articles for what they really are: Hatred of running because some people hate running. Period.
They’ll spew unscientific hokum to support their hatred, but the reality is that runners aren’t saying you have to love running! Runners aren’t saying you have to do it, either. We understand it’s a hard sport to love. But it drives clicks to websites when you write an article that is jammed to the tits with confirmation bias so people can justify their not wanting to do it because “science sez so.”
There is also the fact that a lot of trainers don’t know shit about how to coach people to become better runners, and so they have a financial incentive to discourage it. “Oh, lifting is all you’ll ever need, so be sure to book me for three sessions per week from now until five years past eternity for all your personal training needs.”
Aerobic training (commonly misnamed as the vernacular “cardio”) is different than weightlifting. Not better. Not Worse. Different. It comes with different costs and benefits, both physiologically and psychologically, than lifting weights does. (Read this comprehensive list of pros and cons for both.) And there is absolutely no reason, other than time commitments, that people can’t do both.
If you’re intending to write another article about why cardio sucks, just admit that it’s born out of hatred (and perhaps a desire for clicks) and not science.
3. Body Shaming
The science on this one is pretty clear: Being a dick doesn’t help people change.
Fat shaming / fit shaming / thin shaming / hyooge shaming; it all = dick.
Sure, there is the odd person who gets inspired by being told they’re a giant puddle of high cholesterol protoplasm so what’s you’re excuse, fatty? Gut punching someone with scorn can motivate the few, but for most it backfires and leads to poorer mental health outcomes that are the opposite of helpful.
Being a trainer in some ways involves being a psychologist / mental health therapist. We’re not often qualified to offer such therapy, but people unload on their trainers and coaches about their issues relating to their bodies (and other issues as well) so it just kind of comes with the territory. At the very least, it’s imperative that we’re caring and compassionate in how we respond.
If you can’t do your job as a trainer or coach without shaming people for their bodies, you’re in the wrong business.
4. The Best Diet
Dieting is easy. It’s like riding a bike. And the bike is on fire. And so is the ground. And everything is on fire. Because you’re in hell. – Seen on Facebook
There are some diets that are scientology-level stupid or have you heaping gobs of butter into your coffee, and we should continue to call those out on a case-by-case basis, but to hold up one as superior to all others is dumb. Vegan diets can be healthy, and so can diets than include animal products.
Taking the first point in this article into consideration – the stuff about caloric balance – it doesn’t matter what the dietary composition is that creates the deficit in strict weight loss terms. What really matters to creating a sustainable caloric deficit (followed by caloric balance once a sustainable weight is achieved) is adherence.
In terms of calories, quality affects quantity, and there are myriad ways to create a quality diet that restricts caloric intake. Therefore, as long as basic nutritional needs are met for health and performance, much of it comes down to individual preferences.
Because there is no one kind of person, there will never be one best diet.
Ah, who am I kidding? Just because we can stop arguing over this stuff doesn’t mean we ever will.
James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.