Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Nutrition Rant Part I: Why we will never host a nutrition competition

One thing that seems to be ubiquitous at every gym is the nutrition challenge. Very often, this is implemented as an individual or team competition. Here at Barbell Strategy, we will never host a nutrition competition, and we want to explain our reasons to you.

The number one reason that we will not have nutrition competitions is that food is an emotional topic. Giving people a list of food rules to follow can turn them off to real, lasting change. Putting them in a competitive setting adds fuel to the fire. Competitions provide a perverse incentive to ignore your body's signals in favor of winning or some compulsion to follow the rules. This sounds a lot like disordered eating. Disordered eating is a real and widespread problem, and we don't want to contribute to it. People who are attracted to nutrition competitions are actually more likely to have a history of disordered eating or a tendency toward developing psychological issues with food. We think it is irresponsible to put people in a position where we can harm them psychologically. We are here to help you, not judge you, and we want your experience and your journey to be positive and growth-based, not competitively charged and stressful.

The second reason is that food is personal. A one-size-fits all program will only help the people it fits (which is never all or even most). There is not one correct way of eating!  People vary in terms of their nutritional needs, their food tolerances, their physical and mental health histories, and their adaptations and responses to inputs. And measuring everyone with the same metric just does not make sense. People have different goals, for example, to address specific health issues, to lose a little weight, to lose a lot of weight, to put on muscle, to improve performance in a sport, to improve energy, or to reduce pain. We do not live in a vacuum - jobs, responsibilities, families, friends, travel all impact what we can practically do and how effective it is.

The third reason is that things change. Six years after making major changes to how we eat, Mike and I have learned a lot. Life circumstances change, metabolic needs change, food tolerances change, and preferences change. Our goal is to get you healthy over the long term, and that means no crash diets with super-strict rules - it means you need to discover what behaviors and choices you can maintain over a lifetime. Really - and this is key - experimentation is part of the process.

Our final reason for eschewing the nutrition competition is that real changes come from within. A set of rules is a crutch that keeps you from thinking and learning. As coaches, we can provide information, tools, support, and encouragement, but the motivation has to come from you. To develop healthy attitudes about food and make lasting changes, you need to believe in what you're doing and tune in to your own body and how it reacts to what you give it. It's important to remember that food isn't the whole story. Nutritional changes work in conjunction with stress, sleep, training and recovery, injury rehab, social support, and even your sense of personal fulfillment. Addressing food within the context of your own life will help you to improve your health without sacrificing a healthy, balanced attitude toward food. This is your journey.

So how do we help people with nutrition?  That's in Part II. Stay tuned!
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