I don’t know if working in the health and fitness field makes all the information zooming around about health and fitness less confusing, or more confusing than ever! There’s always a new “plan” of some sort, new “super foods”, new theories, new trends, etc. And then there are new findings about “old news”; eggs used to be off limits, now they’re good; butter was bad, now it’s good; low fat used to be the way to go, now full fat is the answer; soy used to be an ultra healthy choice, now it’s a “no no!”… Anyone else feel like they’re getting whip lash dealing with all the back and forth?!
When I look back over my own “diet history” I get a little dizzy. I started with the Scarsdale Diet in the 7th grade, then joined the low fat bandwagon (jumped on that one with both feet!), went vegetarian for several years (living in Alaska changed that for me!), I tried Atkins…for like a day, Nutrisystem… you get the idea.
I think somewhere along the lines my frustration with all this information, plus my growing relationship with research while working on my masters degree, made me start to look and things much deeper than how it was presented and I started deciding how it may or may not be a fit for me.
Here are 5 questions I’ve learned to ask when I encounter a new health and fitness program:
1. What does research say?
Regardless of whether it’s a new trend in food, exercise, stress management, supplements, etc…I check on what research has found about it and any individual elements involved in the program. What if it is so new there really isn’t any good evidence on either side? Then I hold back or use whatever it might be with caution. For me Stevia is a good current example of this. I’m not convinced that it’s perfectly safe quite yet. When something is new on the market, even if it is a food that is found naturally, I wonder about how it is modified and what that means. Or, if it really shouldn’t be used the way we humans have decided it should be used!
Need help figuring out what research is good and reliable when you do find it? Chris Kresser is one of my favorite functional and integrative medicine practitioners. Click here for an article he recently wrote on just this subject. This guy is a science nerd and I LOVE it! It is so easy to go with something based on face value, but it is CRITICAL to look behind the scenes when making a decision about something that could dramatically affect your health!
2. Does it involve real food?
If a program comes with it’s own prepackaged foods, I would most definitely think twice about it (or don’t think about it at all and move on!). First of all, you will more likely than not have to sell off all of your belongings in order to afford to pay for all the food. Even more importantly, these foods typically are chalked full of artificial junk: preservatives, fillers, fake sweeteners, etc. Not only are you then putting potentially harmful ingredients into your body, but these “ingredients” are taking the place of other nutrients that are necessary for your body to function the way it is designed to. Ever heard the term garbage in, garbage out? If you fill your body with garbage, it will look and feel like garbage. Pretty simple.
3. Is it working for other people?
Ok, this one comes with a caveat. When I set out to try something new or buy something, whether it’s new running shoes, a class I want to take, a campground, new gadget, you name it…I read reviews. I like hearing inside perspectives of what I’m looking into. HOWEVER, just because someone has a certain opinion, doesn’t mean I will go in the same direction they chose. The reasons for their decision as compared to what I value is important and should be considered during the deciding process. If I don’t jive with their way of looking at something, their opinion will hold less weight. Regardless, I like to hear what others have personally experienced!
4. Is it sustainable?
This is huge. Why buy into a program that will get you to your goal and leave you stranded and back at square one shortly after it’s over? A good weight loss plan will teach you new habits, without adding a ginormous amount of stress to your life. It will be something you will want to continue in your life indefinitely. The hard truth is that often times this way of doing things takes longer. However, if you want it to last and forego the endless merry-go-round with new diets, this really is the way to go!
5. What is my style?
This fits well with question #4. I am a busy working mom and know that something that takes a ton of prep and cooking from scratch is something that, although I would like to do, will not be realistic for me at this stage in my life. I am also a creature of habit. If I have a menu to follow that changes every single day, it will overwhelm me. I need streamlined, easy, as convenient as possible while still being very healthy. Others really prefer to have a lot of creative freedom with their nutrition. What works for me, may not work for you and vice versa. You have to find something that helps you make changes without feeling like you are torturing yourself!
In the end, habits will have to change, effort is required and not all of it will be breeze. A good program, however, will be something that makes you feel great and that is why you will stick with it! The hard stuff will feel so worth it!