We live in an age when everyone has a gym membership, and you can’t walk into a Spar without seeing a whole row of protein shakes, bars or nutritional products that claim to be the “new way to snack.”
Even Mars and Snickers have jumped on the bandwagon, creating high-protein versions of their chocolate bars in an attempt to cash in on the healthy-eating craze, although they’re laden with sugar and realistically only marginally more nutritionally balanced than a regular chocolate bar. They also taste nothing like the bar they claim to be.
In an age where we are obsessed with celebrity culture, the pressure is on both sexes to be fit and healthy, to ‘eat clean’, to constantly be balancing their macronutrients and logging every single bit of food that passes their lips. I should note, I do try to eat clean, to log my food and stay on top of my nutrition, but lately I’ve been asking – is it actually worth it?
The goal of all of this working out and trying the latest in trendy diets is the almost unattainable physique of professional athletes; from Cage Fighters to Professional Footballers, who proudly remove their tops at every opportunity to make us normal humans feel like the mere pudgy slugs that we are. It’s not a massive leap to think that we should want to look like the fittest people on the planet (survival of the fittest, and all that), but why has it exploded to the point that everything we eat is subject to the scrutiny of a diet app and an Instagram post?
Well, quite simply, there’s money to be made and clicks to be had. Almost everyone would say, if they’re asked, that they wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds or gaining some muscle or improving one part of their body or another.
The people who don’t are in the minority, both male and female. We are in an age of plenty, something we’re not all that used to as human beings, and the invention of the front-facing camera on smartphones has not only created an aura of narcissism in general, but also an image-obsessed culture.
We are increasingly defining ourselves by what we do, both at work and at play. You no longer have a job, you are that profession; you don’t just work out as a hobby, you are a fitness enthusiast. You need a line for your Twitter bio, after all.
That means that whatever you need to be a fitness enthusiast, from food to trainers, is an essential part of your being – of actually existing – and people want your money as a result. A massive industry has sprung up, from books to websites to food manufacturers, because we lost our way – in terms of nutrition – by trusting brands to have our best interests at heart.
The same companies that have been cramming extra sugar, salt and fat into what you eat are now releasing “healthier” versions of their products. ‘Slim’ cut bread is a thing now, and I don’t think I could even conceptualise a world or parallel universe where that doesn’t sound stupid.
From low sugar to gluten free, there are any amount of things out there that purport to be healthy, but the most prevalent product that’s being shovelled around is misinformation.
It really comes down to one more or less basic idea. As John Connors of the Irish Strength Institute put it in a recent interview: ‘eat more vegetables, move around more and you’ll be healthier.’ Start there and see what happens, but don’t let it become an obsession that rules your life and makes you feel depressed or guilty about what you eat.
It’s cheaper and healthier to eat food you made yourself, and that’s a good motivation to make your own lunches and dinners, or find that time that you’ve been neglecting to eat a solid breakfast and start your day off right. Essentially it comes down to who do you trust more to make your food – yourself, or Tony the Tiger?
What you eat shouldn’t be a source of unnecessary stress however, and constant crash-dieting or jumping on the latest fad invariably means that you need to cut something out of your diet entirely, from eliminating carbs to the new Kale-only plan (download the free ebook for that here).
If you stop to think about it, you’ll realise that raspberry ketones are not the answer to…well anything except “what is the primary aroma compound of raspberries?”
But what’s more concerning is how all this concentrating on what’s ‘clean’ and ‘cheating’ can lead you down a very unpleasant path. Life is too short to start adding stuff to the list of things you already have to worry about, and food shouldn’t be one of them.
SO COME ON, WHAT’S THE REAL SECRET?
Right, now that we have all that common sense out of the way, the real “secret” to shedding a few pounds is, on a very basic level, to burn more calories than you consume. That’s not the end of the science to it by any means, but finding that balance is key if you want to lose weight, get into better shape, or you’re happy with where you are and want to make sure you stay there.
Part of the problem with banishing things from your cupboards because they are the food that’s making you fat (according to the internet this week) is:
- You’re turning to the internet for advice
- You’re likely to want whatever food that is more than anything else once it’s gone.
- That will stress you out. Realistically, that’s not a recipe for success, and having done a crash diet myself, I know what that feels like. In the course of that transformation program, I learned some things that I took on board, and I’ve gained weight again, but I’m not back where I was. I’m at a pretty happy medium.
Something I did learn, however, was that my body just doesn’t like sugar. It gives me highs and lows, and throws off my internal clock. More than anything, my body really doesn’t process it very well.
Way back in 1999, a study on the differences between rigid dieting (dubbing certain foods evil and burning them in a ritual sacrifice) and flexible dieting (eating things in moderation) showed that having some common sense when it comes to food choices was more beneficial than cutting something out of your diet entirely and setting unrealistic goals.
And yet, we’ve still had the Atkins craze, the Paleo diet and countless other examples of overly restrictive diets that become the greatest thing since sliced bread…except for slim-cut bread, obviously.
To put it another way, the study found that if you stuck to the guideline amount of calories you should be consuming every day, you were going to be ok. Obviously, other common sense things that your parents told you play a part; eat your greens, take your vitamins, and say your prayers because Hulkamania is going to run wild on you. Didn’t everyone’s parents tell them that last part?
Getting hung up on every single thing that you might eat is a great way to waste your time, and these days we don’t have an awful lot of it. I already work six days a week, and would rather not spend the seven minutes I get to eat lunch giving myself a guilt-trip over a sandwich.
If you want to lose a few pounds or gain some muscle, you need to be doing that for a reason that you can square with your conscience. Labelling some food as “bad” and others as “good” – like having a “cheat meal” – will make you see them as bad or good and inevitably lead you to feeling bad about eating the stuff you’ve labelled as such.
All the various workout plans and nutrition plans that you read online or in magazines do serve a purpose, however. Knowing how and what to do to achieve your goal is important, but make sure that you’ve made the decision for your own reasons, and the changes you make are more likely to stick.
Remember, some guys in a boardroom decided a long time ago that women on magazines should dress and look a certain way, and that became ingrained in our culture to a terrifying degree. Now they’ve decided they want to do that to men too, because it doubles their market.
Eat right because it’s good for you and your general health, because you want to be in shape to play with your kids or still play five-a-side a few years down the line. Don’t make getting chiselled abs and jacked-up, shredded arms your starting goal, make changes you know will work and get you some of the way down the road.
And, most importantly, don’t feel guilty if you have the odd cheeseburger. It’s not the end of the world.