It’s May 23. Most people who decided to improve their health in January have, sadly, given up by now.
The problem is that many sought shortcuts to health: the get-lean-quick shakes, the crash diets, and the zero-money-down gym sign-up programs that prey on people like us.
Health is really a game of momentum: a little exercise, every day, is better than one all-out 30-day blast. Protein at every meal, every day, will beat a 90-day crash diet.
Workout challenges are fun, and fad diets can work in the short term. The problem is that many actually hurt us long-term.
For example, cutting calories drastically can destroy lean muscle tissue, which drives your metabolism. This is why diets usually cause long-term weight loss.
Jumping straight into intense exercise can make you feel good for a day, but if you crush yourself in the first week, you won’t last long- muscle soreness and potential injury will move you backward instead.
When can a shortcut help us, and when can it hurt us? Here’s a four-question test that I use to evaluate a new nutrition or exercise strategy:
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time?
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health?
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time?
- Do I have to jump right in, or will I see results by trying a small dose first?
Let’s take a few examples of past fitness trends (and the stuff you’re probably being pitched in your Facebook feed today) and hold them up to our four filters of shortcut validity:
Weight Loss Shakes
- Is it repeatable? Can you stay on this diet of shakes forever? No. Are you really going to do this for the next 40 years?
- Is it non-harmful? Actually, they’re harmful. Every protein or weight-loss shake uses sweeteners, usually a corn derivative or a chemical. On one hand, you’re brought closer to insulin resistance (diabetes). On the other, you’re ingesting a laboratory experiment.
Most shakes also use a combination of appetite suppressants, caffeine and a mild laxative to keep you full and alert. But your body quickly downgrades its energy expenditure to match, and when you go “off” the shakes, you quickly gain weight–and it’s all fat. Longterm, weight loss shakes make you fatter and sicker.
This is why the shake ads focus on short-term, quick gains: most of the shakes actually cause a rebound effect after a few months.
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time? Well, you’ll probably start to hate taking protein shakes instead of eating real food. And every shake you drink is less effective than the one before (see above). You’re getting smaller by starving out your metabolism.
- Can I try a small dose first? No. The real “diet” is cutting your calories way back and ONLY consuming the shakes for food.
The Keto Diet / Paleo Diet / XYZ Diet
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time? People have been using ketosis and intermittent fasting and high-fat diets since before recorded time. And if you’re trying to beat a sugar addiction, a short ketogenic period might actually help.
But the real question is, “Can I sustain this for the rest of my life?” and the answer to ALL “diets” is “no.”
If you stop eating grains, your body will lose the ability to process grains.
If you stop eating carbs, you’ll become less resistant to insulin in the short-term…but your body will learn, and become better at gluconeogenesis (breaking down your muscle tissue to trigger insulin response).
And if you eat in a different way than everyone around you, they’ll pull you into their habits.
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health? Long-term, kicking sugar is a very positive thing. But rapid weight loss, binge dieting, or any unsustainable practice will always have a rebound effect. You have a relationship with food. One-night stands with diets will always come back to haunt you.
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time? You might get better at eating paleo. But you might also become neurotic about food. There’s a reason people with eating disorders jump from diet to diet: they love the feeling of control, and diets give them a clear “good and bad” line. Unfortunately, that’s not sustainable in life, and everyone knows the term “yo-yo dieting” by now.
- Can I try a small dose first? Absolutely. Give up sugar for 30 days, and note how you feel.
Joining A Gym
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time? Yes. You can join a gym and keep going for 40 years. We think you should do coached fitness, but even a $9.95 access-only gym will benefit you long-term (if you show up.)
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health? Yes. There probably are no negative effects. Very few people get injured in the gym. When they occur, injuries are usually overuse problems (you bench press every Monday and do leg extensions every Friday) and don’t occur for a few years.
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time? Yes. Training with weights has a compounding effect. You get stronger, your muscles improve your metabolism, and you get better…UNLESS you’re sticking to the same old 3-sets-of-8-reps program you did last month. You need constant variety.
But in general, running becomes more fun the longer you run; weight lifting becomes more fun the longer you lift; and CrossFit gets even more exciting over time.
- Can I ease into it? Yes. If you like, try it on your own first. Or do our OnRamp program: even if you don’t join Catalyst afterward, OnRamp will improve every workout for the rest of your life.
Joining a Coaching Gym or Personal Trainer or Nutritionist
- Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time? Yes. I’ve been doing CrossFit for 15 years, and I still love it. Are there injuries? Yes–but fewer than a “normal” gym, fewer than hockey or soccer or even golf. Working with a coach means short-term problems don’t stop you from making progress, because the coach can help you work around them until you’re 100% again.
- Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on my health? Yes. When a gym works 1:1 with its members to measure progress and set goals, the effects compound, and you don’t waste your time doing stuff that doesn’t work.
- Is it additive? Will it improve over time? Yes. When an objective source measures your results, they can point to what’s working and help you focus more.
- Can I ease into it? Yes. OnRamp is a two-week coaching program to teach you how to move well; learn the most important exercises for improvement, and get you ready to work out forever.
I love novelty. I get bored easily. I love trying new things and measuring their effect on my mindset, mood and body.
But I’m also skeptical, for good reason: the fitness industry is chock full of get-fit-quick schemes. Use a short-term boost to get you started, but think about where you can invest yourself long-term.