"Yay, they're dead!", shouted my six-year-old son as we entered Barnes & Noble on Memorial Day. In the era of people going out of their way to misunderstand others, I could only guess what shoppers and store clerks were thinking. Without the preceding context no one could possibly know what my son meant; and, as you can see every day on social media, people love to misconstrue and apply their own obsession with perpetual offense. However, if you had heard the prior conversation, it would make perfect sense. He was talking about how we are celebrating the veterans and appreciating their incredible sacrifice; and we are NOT celebrating the loss of them; we are NOT celebrating their deaths; we are NOT thinking "yay, they're dead!"
But this is typical. People don't have the proper context. They don't have the background information. They aren't even interested in bringing themselves up to speed. Then they launch headlong into a diatribe about their feelings. I encounter the propensity in most subjects, especially health and fitness.
There was a practice among early disciples and Jesus followers which theologians later termed "disciplina arcani." Essentially, it was the idea that there are complex systems which it would be irresponsible to discuss with newbies or non-believers. Some concepts require a basic level of understanding first. In the study of education, they call this scaffolding. There have to be certain prior understandings in place before subsequent subject matter can be managed. Otherwise, people don't have the chops to engage; and everyone is left arguing with disparate axioms. Mark Twain famously quipped, "don't argue with an idiot; onlookers won't be able to tell the difference," which has often been misattributed as, "don't argue with ignorant people; they'll drag you down to their level and beat you on experience."
We can see this with debates over economics, climate change, vaccines, and historical sciences. People want to refuse learning the most essential pieces of a subject, and then they proceed to have fiery soliloquies about the advanced topics. The outcome is obvious to us all: extremes on both sides. Without a basic understanding, it's unclear where to even begin a debate.
Thus it is in nutrition and fitness. I find it remarkable how many people "know it all" when they haven't worked a single full-time week as a health and fitness professional. I've even run into "trainers" who think they've somehow arrived or reached an advanced level of development when they've never worked a single day of full-time coaching. You may be good or even great at one modality. But before you've put in 10 years of 40+ hours per week in a given pursuit, you just haven't reached mastery. I haven't reached mastery at 14+ years of 60-100 hours per week. It takes patience. And there's always more growth possible.
Now don't get me wrong. You are entitled to speech and opinions. And regardless of how little experience you have, feel free to put together arguments based on facts. Fitness as a subject, however, is simply too multifactorial to let just anyone wade into the discussion.
Let me clarify. Anyone who is an ideologue or has an agenda shouldn't be welcome. I'm a pragmatist. I've done veganism. I've done paleo. I've done low fat. I've done high fat. I've done long distance endurance training. I've done sprints. I've done no cardio. They've all worked. And I'm not just referencing my own program. I'm talking about thousands of clients. I've seen two people with nearly identical variables follow the exact same guidelines while one of them loses bodyfat and the other gains.
You see, being right doesn't matter. Worldview doesn't matter. Personal testimonial doesn't matter. Effectiveness is all that matters. And different programs have same or greater effectiveness in even the same person at different points in their lives. Leave alone different people with different variables for now. For every example you give of a success story due to X, I can give you at least ten stories of people failing due to the exact same X or succeeding due to the exact opposite of X.
Biology isn't like chemistry or physics. Even within physics there is uncertainty. We calculate some things. We can estimate some laws. But within biology we can't even predict how a strain of flu will evolve in the near term. How then can people act so assured of themselves about human physiology over the long term? It's preposterous.
Then we add in the humanity component. Human physiology is even less predictable than with other animals, because of our minds, our emotions, our technology. A wild dog can crave food and possibly do absolutely nothing about it. A penniless human can borrow a family member's credit card and buy food. We humans are totally unrestricted in a sense.
We have to start with the axiom that we don't know everything. We have to begin with an understanding of humility. If you aren't precisely where you want to be, it's time to reevaluate just how "right" you are. You have to be ready to be wrong.
Coaches, you need this more than anyone. If you aren't prepared to be in the wrong and re-evaluate your approach, just please stop calling yourself a coach. You're so ready to blame the clients, because "I know that it works if people just listen to me." That statement misses the mark altogether. Coaching IS figuring out how to get resistant people to act in their own best interest. I understand the problem. Some of you don't have that many hours of experience coaching. Fitness is your side gig, after you work in an unrelated field, or after you were a competitive athlete or bodybuilder. You work almost exclusively with people like you or wired like you. And so you have a sampling bias which prevents you from building important skills which ARE coaching. Instead of figuring out how to communicate with people who have different wiring than yours, you shame them, deride them, and complain about their unwillingness to follow your orders. YOU ARE NOT A COACH. Your clients are the clients who would've been successful without you. The kicker is that they would most likely be even better without you. Your approach has pushed away the difficult people who could help make you great, if you were willing to learn, to be wrong, to reassess yourself.
The layperson is the real client: the people who fear the gym, resist the lifestyle, aren't sure of the way forward. Most of those people won't even look at some of these self-styled gurus, let alone shake their hands, let alone start being coached by them, let alone stay with them.
I'm not saying that body composition goals aren't nice. But don't conflate them with health or fitness. There are extremely healthy and fit people with excess body fat. There are extremely unhealthy and unfit people with low body fat. Humans need strength, activity and sensible eating regardless. Don't let a superficial and visual idea of "perfection" become the enemy of good or great health and fitness.
The highest good in health and fitness is a sustainable lifestyle. Just being active, and building strength and endurance, benefits you mentally, emotionally and physically. Yet, somehow, people will quit doing healthy behaviors just because they aren't achieving body composition goals. A big part of the discouragement comes from trainers. I've heard trainers say, "you must not be trying," when someone isn't hitting body comp changes. And I just shake my head. I think that's an easy belief to have if you've never personally experienced overwhelming odds (or maybe forgot what it was like when you were up against them) or you've built no emotional IQ. But for those of us who've struggled with incredible barriers or for those of us who have some humility and empathy, we KNOW that effort doesn't ALWAYS yield an expected return.
If you don't have a lot of experience, or if you're unwilling to be influenced by data, you don't know this. I've seen people who are high compliance, hitting macros, nailing the program, and the skinfold pinches won't budge. They don't lose an ounce of stored fat. I've seen people who are non-compliant, skipping workouts, lackadaisical in program, and they just keep getting leaner and more muscular. There are many factors at play; but usually it comes back to stress management. People who manage stress well have a greater underlying health foundation. People who don't manage stress well are operating under compromised health. Which person's body is going to be willing to change?
This is no small matter. Positive people with low-perceived life stress and good sleep are in a better position for health and fitness. This alone dictates a lot of outcomes. I have ample examples of people with incredibly low stress lives and rockstar sleep patterns who aren’t really trying that hard but still get in great shape. Conversely, I’ve seen people SLAVE for improvements during high stress periods in life with little sleep and get NOWHERE.
There is a lot of context to keep in mind. There is more complexity than can fit in a sound byte. Most people know too much and yet not enough about health and fitness.