As Simple As Possible, But Not Any Simpler
“Everything should be made as simple as possible but not any simpler.” – Albert Einstein
At MFF, we utilize this dictum to guide us as we teach folks the most effective techniques to attain a life of optimal health and hotness.
Many fitness professionals love training. They fucking LOOOOVE training. And that’s great! If you don’t have a genuine passion for this field, it’s hard to read clinical textbooks. Or spend a ton of money and give up your weekend to go to a seminar. Or have epic conversations about the relative minutiae of the position of the scapulae in overhead press. (See… you’re bored already, admit it.)
We do our best to steer our beloved Ninjas to focus on the “big rocks” that will lead to the most efficient results. We recognize for most folks, training and nutrition are merely a means to an end. By all means, I’m always happy to geek out about energy systems or debate the relative merits of low vs. high volume training for hypertrophy, but I’m pretty sure you probably don’t give a fuck. We want you to get in, get out, and go back to the bar to show off your hot new ass.
But while many fitness folks sometimes get a little too wrapped up in the details, it can be just as detrimental to make things overly simple.
The reality is that the processes of the human body are often anything but simple. One of the anxieties of modernity is a seemingly never-ending progression to ever-deepening levels of complexity in virtually all realms of the human experience. It seems to me, on some level, most of us ache for a simpler time. So it makes perfect sense that we long for a reductionistic approach to our fitness goals.
To my mind, there’s no realm more susceptible to this oversimplification than nutrition. The science itself is complicated and full of mysteries we still don’t understand. With an obesity epidemic and a host of nutrition-related diseases playing a leading role in human suffering in Western society, I understand the desire for a magic bullet.
One look at the bewildering variety of mainstream books available on nutrition will leave most any lay reader confused. Many of these books (and authors) claim to have found the source of mankind’s nutritional woes. The only problem is they all conflict with each other. Based on what you read, the problem could be meat, dairy, casein protein, gluten, carbs, sugar, too much fruit, “broccoli carbs”… you name it. If there’s a food you can eat, there’s probably someone out there selling a book about why you should avoid it, complete with compelling logic and cherry-picked research to support their pet nutritional villain.
Now I want to be clear; I think the vast majority of these authors and nutritionists mean well. It’s my belief that humans are generally decent, and most of these folks are passionately motivated by a genuine belief that they have figured it out and they need to let the world know. Unfortunately, with all due respect, I don’t believe their analytical skills or mastery of the science are always totally spot on. (Sorry Gary Taubes.)
I too would feel comforted if I could find one specific nutritional component that was the cause of our society’s ills. But at this point in time, I’m uncomfortable with any single scapegoat. Health (and life) is a multi-factorial affair. Furthermore, each human is a unique physiological system, with its own genetic susceptibilities and predispositions. I’m uncomfortable speaking in absolutes or making any blanket statements as to any particular foods that are “evil” or need to be avoided at all costs.
Now that’s not to say that I have no opinion. I think most people are better off including animal protein in their diet. While I understand and deeply respect the social and environmental rationale for forgoing it, I still think from a health and hotness perspective it’s a stickier path. I also think the vast majority of people would do better to limit their carbohydrate consumption, particularly if they’re looking to lose weight in a simple way. Carbs aren’t inherently the devil, but you don’t lose a whole lot by cutting out pasta. Sugar isn’t necessarily going to be the end of the world, I also think most people get too much sugar and would benefit by eliminating or reducing added sugars in their diet. And lastly, I think the more folks avoid processed, faux foods and chemical additions to their food choices, the better off they’ll be from a health perspective.
That said, I’m no zealot. I don’t think occasional indulgences are going to be a problem, and being overly obsessive about “clean eating” (whatever the fuck that means, read THIS for epic Alan Aragon knowledge bombs) is probably going to cause more harm than having a cupcake once in a while.
As always, I’m a strong supporter of humans following their guts and doing their own research. And while I may not believe in “good” or “bad” choices in life, I do believe choices have consequences. And yes, I’m not just talking about food here.
Obligatory photo of fruits and veggies
So if you decide vegan is the way to go, that’s your prerogative, but you should be aware you may have to do some more work to avoid nutritional deficiencies. If you decide carbs are in fact the devil, I bet you can still have a full and happy life (though I do hope you eat cake at least once in a while; life is short, you know?). Let’s just be honest and admit we’re not nailing our health and hotness goals because when we go to McDonald’s we eat our Double Quarter Pounder without the bun.
I think of myself first and foremost as a consumer advocate and an educator. I’m going to do my best to continue to relentlessly scour every bit of info I can find on health and hotness. I can’t say I’ll never change my mind about the above if the evidence mounts and conclusively proves that (FILL IN “EVIL” FOOD OF THE DAY) is in fact the devil. But it’s my perspective that one of the least useful paths to health and hotness success is to oversimplify the complexity of what human beings eat. Food is more than just fuel. It has cultural, social, psychological, and emotional contexts that very probably affect what happens in your body after you eat.
My “simple as possible but not any simpler” advice: eat as wide a variety of foods possible that are minimally processed and your grandparents would have recognized as food as children. Avoid food-like substances and eat actual food. If you’re looking to lose fat, maintain body weight, or gain muscle, eat the correct amount of healthful foods for your goals. Listen to your body, as if you’re sensitive to how it’s reacting, it can lead you to your ideal food choices. Don’t be afraid to have a slice of pizza once in a while. Keep your mind open, but don’t let your brain fall out of your head.
Yep. It’s scary out here. Complexity can be daunting. But at the end of the day, making sense of a messy world by leaning into the discomfort of the unknown is the only useful path on the journey to mastery. Don’t worry. We’ll do it together. I’ll say funny shit to lighten the mood. We can totally hold hands as we walk…