The latest season of the sometimes-all-too-accurate spoof series Portlandia kicked off with a humorous (and, once again, all-too-accurate) portrayal of a ghostly couple who—because they were so mixed up about health related issues—died of confusion.
The depiction of this contradictory couple (“Sitting kills. It takes years off your life to sit. I read it in the New York Times. Standing’s bad for you too. We heard it on NPR.”) hits home and tickles the funny bone because a lot of the time that’s what it’s actually like when you research health related topics. This source says that a high-protein diet is as bad as smoking, while this other article claims high-protein diets will make you live practically forever. You read one day that running is the best thing in the world for you and that you should do it no matter what, then the next that running on cement will cripple you for life and that you should never under any circumstances run on cement. While researching the negative effects of drinking soda for another article, I even came across a number of pieces hailing the many health benefits of it, which is ludicrous.
The whole thing seems pretty silly and it is easy to joke about, but Portlandia makes mocking light of a serious problem. There are a lot of people out there who get entirely wrong information about healthy life choices, and some who are so fed up with the badminton game of “now it’s healthy, now it’s not” that they don’t want to delve into the whole thing in the first place.
So when it comes to building an effective diet and exercise routine, how do you wade through all of the information, misinformation, lobby-funded health “studies”, and general contradiction?
The answer is simple. Forget about what the “experts” are saying, and figure out what works for you.
Go Your Own Way
Everyone dies of something someday, and when I go if they say it was due to eating too much protein or stretching the wrong muscles before a workout, I don’t care. If I reduce the protein in my diet, or start stretching different muscles, then they’ll be saying that I should have had more protein and less stretching. (Side note: Moderation in all things is generally a good course of action.)
At this stage in my life, I have a pretty extensive workout routine along with a pretty specific diet. Yes, some of it was influenced by scientific evidence, but for the most part, it was all my own trial and error.
I know what food is good for my body not because this or that outlet reports that “studies show…”, but because I have discovered which foods make my body work well, and which make it work poorly. And I’ve discovered which workouts help me reach my fitness goals, and which I can put aside.
Yes, our bodies are all very similar machines, but what oftentimes gets lost in the barrage of case studies and research is that all of us have individual bodies that are very different. I love eggs, and they’re an important part of my diet (and very good for you, contrary to outdated information). Other people don’t like them or are allergic to them all together. Eat something else. I love running, but for some people it’s too hard on their joints, so an elliptical machine or swimming is a better option.
The bottom line is that your health is just that—yours. And when you’re doing something that is genuinely good for you, it usually isn’t too difficult to recognize it. It makes you feel, well, healthy and happy.
So how do you figure out what works for you?
- Do your research.
But don’t believe everything you read. One reason people end up confused like the Portlandia couple is because they don’t know how to discern good sources of information from bad. They think that just because something appears in a reputable publication, it must be true.
I’ve done a lot of work in advertising, and trust me—a lot of those “case study” pieces are just advertorials that have been paid for by an interested party. Say you read an article about how eating large quantities of carbohydrates in the morning will benefit you throughout the day, and it has all sorts of figures and science behind it. Then you see in tiny print a notice that the article was sponsored by a popular breakfast biscuit company. I wonder why a biscuit company would sponsor an article promoting the mass consumption of carbs? (Real example.)
Be willing to try eating a wide variety of foods and test out different workouts. Experiment and find out which foods make you exercise better when you eat them before hand, and which give you a better sense of recovery when you’re finished.
For some people, eating too many protein-based foods gives them a sense of being bogged down, while others find it gives them more energy. And some foods and exercises that are renowned for their health benefits simply might not suit your fitness goals. Experiment a bit and find out what works for you.
- Be willing to reject your outdated ideas.
For years I thought I hated running, and maybe I really did. But I tried it for the first time in nearly a decade three years ago, and I loved it. Same thing with avocados.
People change, and just because you tried something healthy but didn’t like it before, that doesn’t mean you won’t like it now. Or maybe you tell yourself that you can’t make healthy lifestyle changes because you simply don’t have the willpower? That might have been you last year, but who are you this year? And who do you want to be in the next one?
- Ask people with similar goals.
There are people out there who have health and fitness goals that are closely aligned with yours—friends, family, acquaintances, or whomever. Even if you can’t talk to someone face to face, there are an endless number of forums, websites, and apps dedicated to people sharing information about health and providing motivation and support.
- Listen to your body.
This is something that American are generally not very good at. We eat a bunch of junk, go through tremendous digestive problems, and never make the connection between the two. Or we experience anxiety or depression, and rather than address this very physical response to some sort of lifestyle problem, we temporarily cover it up with a pill when we should be making the appropriate life changes to solve the problem permanently.
Pay attention to how your body reacts to different foods and workouts. It will let you know when you’re giving it something it likes, usually by telling you nothing at all. A properly fueled and exercised body is rather like a well-meditated mind: serene and quiet. You generally only hear from your body and mind when they’re trying to warn you of something.
Bottom line—when you find out what’s right for your body, you’ll know it. All it takes is a little bit of research, experimentation, and listening to what your body likes and what it rejects.
And to tie this post off properly, here is a video with a few parting words…