I’ve been listening to some ManOwaR the past few days as I’m getting ready to go train. It’s great stuff to get you fired up and ready to go.
All of a sudden I remembered that I was actually wearing a ManOwaR shirt when I first joined a gym, about 20 years ago. Yep I’m that old.
Now a bit of background people so far haven’t heard about. At this time I was 19 years old, and I’m pretty sure I weighed 50kg. That’s BMI 17 for those of you who are keeping score. I’d lost a lot of weight due to recently spending about a week and a half in hospital for some kind of asthma & bronchitis related lung failure.
So I would have been skinny at the best of times, which still wasn’t as uncommon in the early – mid 90s as it is today, but having just gotten out of hospital I was actually underweight and I’d been told in no uncertain terms that I needed to start exercising to get healthier and stronger or else I’d be seeing a lot more of the inside of a hospital ward. In case anyone out there needed another “skinny does not necessarily = healthy” story, you just got one.
So I signed up at a local gym and I remember I was wearing my ManOwaR shirt as pictured above, and when asked my goals I pointed to the faceless warrior on the shirt and said “I want to look like this”. I already had the hair believe it or not. So the trainer laughs, makes the obligatory steroid joke and then goes on to ask me about my nutrition.
Boom. Here’s the problem. I can’t even remember the conversation as I would have just switched off right away. I didn’t eat healthy. I didn’t eat any meat. I didn’t really eat any vegetables either. I’d heard it all before and knew there was no way I was going to change my eating habits and start eating a traditional bodybuilding diet or whatever else. Not because I didn’t want to… well… I didn’t want to eat meat, but not because I didn’t want to eat healthier or was stubborn or whatever else. It just wasn’t a possibility to me. Why? Who knows.
SO I can’t even remember that conversation but I do remember the one with the hospital’s dietitian however many days or weeks earlier. Something like this:
So you don’t eat any meat?
Couldn’t you try some?
What about chicken, would you eat chicken?
How about fish? You don’t eat fish?
Well what about lamb? Would you try lamb? Lamb is nice!
At which point the guy just throws up his hands in frustration, tells me “LOOK YOU’RE JUST GOING TO HAVE TO EAT MEAT” and storms off.
Now some of you out there no doubt can relate to this. Maybe it’s not because you’re vegetarian, but you don’t eat the text book “healthy” diet and aren’t good at trying new things. And when you get a trainer or a dietitian who is SHIT AT THEIR JOB… I’m actually get mad right now thinking about it. Like it was going to be a revelation to me that how I’d been eating wasn’t healthy, or like I’d never been told “just eat it, it’s good for you” before and was going to suddenly go “oh ok, if you say so” and start eating like a normal person as if by magic or spiritual awakening.
What someone actually good at their job might have done is talk to me about vegetarian protein sources, and how to put together the best balanced diet out of the limited choices available to me. Or perhaps even sent the psychologist to speak to me instead. Instead though, when you’re dealing with someone who is SHIT AT THEIR JOB they just think “well I eat like this, why can’t you? You’re just going to have to”.
20 years later I’d like to say things have changed and we have a better understanding of such issues… but we don’t. I still see trainers making comments like ” I feel like shaking them and saying why don’t you just grow up!” …. that’s a cut n paste direct quote from a conversation the other day. Worse, so many trainers out there promote such restrictive diets backed by fear mongering that even if you don’t have issues with food to start with, you’re sure to develop them before long.
Anyway… I can’t remember exactly when I quit training again, but by age 25 a similar thing happened again. Back in hospital and this time it was to get half my thyroid removed due to a tumor. Except this time I was fat. So out of hospital and I join a different gym, but still with that “don’t even talk to me about nutrition, just give me the exercise program and I’ll get stuck into it” mindset. Now… this is really what most people are doing in the gym, right? It’s just damage control. I knew I couldn’t eat healthy enough to ever really be in shape, but I figured I could do enough to not get any fatter or any more unhealthy.
Now at this point things went better than expected. Perhaps due to sheer perseverance and consistency, I actually made some progress. At some point I believe around age 28 I actually started introducing a few new foods, for example lentils and rice. By my 30s I’d added tofu and other soy products, and by mid 30s even some vegetables like capsicum and spinach. At this point I started to think about becoming a PT on the grounds that so many people would ask my advice and ask why I wasn’t one already. Ironically if you click around the internet a bit, you’ll read a lot of stuff about soy, legumes and even rice being deal breakers because they don’t fit into some fad diet protocol or other. Not to mention all the bread and cereal I still eat. And the fruit. Bullshit.
SO… mid 30s I finally go out and get qualified as a PT. I can’t even remember if I learned how to do calorie targets as part of my qualification or elsewhere, but I decided to prove myself by getting back down to BMI 25, or 68kg which I could remember weighing in at in my early 20s.
Well… I did that, but decided it was too skinny and I’ve been gaining ever since, a little at a time. Currently sitting at about 80kg or about BMI 28 if you prefer.
Now the moral to all of this… that’s a 20 year story and of the past 5 years or so I’ve known and increasingly understood how calorie intake and macronutrient ratios influence body weight and composition. Also I know to make sure I’m getting enough fiber, and enough vitamins and minerals from cereals, fruits…. and I’m still not very good with my vegetables but I’m getting better. Imagine if someone who wasn’t SHIT AT THEIR JOB had have let me know this was possible 20 years ago, instead of just telling me “eat like everyone else” and making me feel like I could never be healthy, strong or in athletic shape because there was something wrong with me?
Maybe that’s something a lot of you can relate to.
I had no choice but to believe in Flexible Dieting. Fortunately, it does work. If anything it is a MORE strategic approach than traditional dieting, as you are actually determining targets that correspond to your nutritional requirements, and you’re coming up with a plan to hit them with the appropriate amounts of foods you enjoy. How is that not a more sound strategy than just eating random amounts of “allowed” foods, and assuming that by eating those foods you automatically end up at appropriate intake?
Any coach or self appointed health expert who tries to tell you that flexible dieting can’t work and you need to just take their cookie cutter meal plan the same as they give to every one else as if we weren’t all individuals with our own preferences and unique idiosyncrasies is full of it.
Don’t allow their laziness and incompetence to hold you back.