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Monday, 2 April 2018

Health and fitness misconceptions

By Pete Ryan 

Listen to any advert or guru and health and fitness is easy and fast. 4 weeks to a 6-pack, eat what you like and get thin, just 5 minutes a day…these are just a few of the myths that surround the health and fitness industry.  In truth health and fitness are a long, slow, on going process that you can begin at any age, but need to be continued throughout your life to be effective.
I will look at just a few of the common myths and walk you through why they are wrong and what the reality truly is.
Let’s look at one that specifically affects the vegan or plant based arena. It is the ex-vegan. The story usually goes like this:

I went vegan, I became very ill. I usually had a lot of soul searching, then I ate meat.   In most cases that first bite was amazing and suddenly they felt well and full of vigour.

So, that is the scenario. Think about that story for a moment. I am a clinical nutritionist, but you do not need to have any formal training to see the flaw in this argument. You are arguing you developed a serious deficiency due to a diet, then you cured a major deficiency with one bite of meat, immediately. This is not a deficiency, look up the treatment of scurvy or any other deficiency based disease and see that not only does recovery take a long time, but you also suffer lasting issues.  What they are describing is a psychological issue, not a nutritional condition. For some reason they have convinced themselves that they need meat and so exhibit symptoms. I am not saying you cannot suffer deficiencies on a vegan diet, that is possible eating any diet, but if you get immediate relief then the issue was not a nutritional issue, it was a psychological one.  I have worked with people who suffer from many eating disorders; binge eating, inappropriate food choices, and many other food -centred issues.  I always insist these people also work with the relevant mental health care worker as the issue is very deeply joined to early life trauma and other issues as it is to simply poor food choices. Let me reemphasise, you can suffer real dietary issues on any diet, including a vegan diet, but immediate relief of symptoms after a bite is a red flag that there are deeper issues involved.
What I would finally say about this is that anyone who has a concern, whatever their diet, should go and seek some form of help. Firstly consult a nutritional expert with some experience and if necessary seek counselling from a trained professional as these can really help you understand the condition.

Let’s move on from there to the “Reach your goal in X weeks”. We are talking diet challenges, mass gaining contests etc etc. These are all not ways to achieve long term success.  I haven’t got the exact percentages to hand, but it is over 90% failure rates for diet success over time, muscle building cannot even be done that quickly without heavy usage of “supplements” (steroids, HGH, insulin, SARMS or whatever the new flavour of the month is). Your actual goal is to build a new lifestyle, one where you are naturally leaner &/or one that adds to your muscle mass over time. You can diet hard and lose weight (and lose a lot of muscle along with the fat), but this will not stay off unless you adopt a new way of eating and living. You will not build muscle without spending years in the gym. Look at the extreme, Mr Olympia is usually a guy in his mid-30s, they have trained hard for decades and taken heavy doses of drugs. So, they are the genetic elite (in terms of muscle building potential) and they still took decades WITH drugs! Many people see this as a bad thing, but really it is actually a good thing, it means that we can continue to build our bodies, slowly for decades, so in 20 years time you can look better than you do now! Imagine I promised you a pill that would slowly improve you every month for the next 20 years…how much would you pay for that?  Well, I am offering you the “iron pill”, lift for the next 20 years, in a safe, progressive manner and you will look better in 20 years than you do right now!

Let’s briefly touch on the 5 minutes a day gadgets. Do not waste your time.  You can get fit and toned up using weights, using bodyweight exercises, using kettlebells or even odd objects.  The only rules are that the exercises are progressive over time.  So, they get heavier, you use a harder or novel variations, plus you need avoid anything that causes injury or injury type pain (you want the lactic acid burn feeling and the feeling you are working hard, but not injury type pain, these are very different).  Follow that and you will succeed in improving over decades, not just months and years.
If you need help getting started pop over to and download “An introduction to vegan fitness and health” (it is by donation, so give anything you like to help us build the site) and feel free to use the resources below.

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