On fitness and diet fads

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 16, 2013, 11:08 PM | comments: 0

A friend on Facebook asked today, maybe seriously, maybe jokingly, if CrossFit was the new Scientology of fitness. If you know people who belong to a CrossFit gym, you could probably see where that question comes from. Needless to say a mutual friend went to rant on her gym's page. Online drama!

CrossFit obviously works for some people, but I do see issues with it among the half-dozen or so people I know who do it. Most notably, they all tend to get hurt. That's a symptom, I believe of a bigger problem that many fitness and diet fads have in common.

These programs are far too generalist for a diverse population. I understand that surrounding yourself with people who support and push you makes it easier. But the fitness needs of one person don't always apply to others. Variations on body type, age and previous injuries all impact the appropriateness of what you engage in. In my years of coaching young athletes, you would never apply the same off-court workout routine to every kid, and they're a lot more flexible than adults. You always worked with trainers to understand how to tailor exercise to the individual, or risk injury.

The same thing applies to diet. It's easy to pick on the CrossFit folks on this one because they seem to go hand-in-hand with the "paleo" crowd. It's frankly not any different than any other diet fad I've seen in my lifetime, in that groups of people can be so convinced it's the right path for everyone, because their echo chamber makes it so.

Replace CrossFit and paleo with any diet and exercise that involves group think. As human beings are social creatures by nature, and want to belong, we find it much easier to succeed by engagement in these things. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, and I would go as far as to say that it may even help you to eat and exercise "right" and live a more fit life. What I take issue with is the collective insisting that they have the only answer, and it's right for everyone. That annoys me primarily because it's not the science, it's the social nature that drives the success in fitness and diet, and it comes with that potential for harm.

One extra wrinkle is that sometimes these diet and exercise constructs (mostly the diet) also have a brand associated with them. At that point, the group think is also "sponsored by." Again, this isn't inherently bad, but pushing product further interferes with the motivation behind spreading the love. It heightens the sense that what you're involved with is "the right thing."

At the end of the day, the only true solution to diet and exercise lifestyle is for a person to really understand what their own needs are, and to talk to professionals who aren't selling something, to put it together. The advice I was given by dietitians was to eat less, but in a balanced way. Trainers told me to mostly do the things I enjoy and listen to my body and not do things that hurt. That advice served me particularly well when I knocked off about 30 pounds back in the day. I played a whole lot of volleyball, except when it hurt, and I still ate the same carbilicious food, only in moderation.

My intention here isn't to say that whatever you do is wrong, it's to say that it may not be right for me. Furthermore, if you turn a blind eye to what your body is telling you (that hurts), or what science says, you might be putting yourself at risk.

I will say that CrossFit people take themselves too seriously. :)


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