Mainstream Health and Fitness Trends: More Harm than Good?

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If you follow fitness-focused accounts (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, etc.), you'll notice a lot of common "fitness" themes centered around concepts like "macro counting," the "IIFYM" approach, diet hacks and sugar free pancake syrups. Many people look up to these accounts for guidance on how to get "fit," lose weight, or even prepare for bodybuilding and physique competitions. But unfortunately, much of these accounts purport and push suggestions that are, on a deeper examination, not healthy for most people in the long run. Trends are easy to follow, but I'd like to challenge you to question common trends before accepting them as part of your own lifestyle.

The IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) school of thought would have us believe that so long as something fits into our daily calorie/macro budget, we can eat whatever we want. Sure, you can eat terrible foods and not gain much weight if you stick to your daily (restricted) calorie allotment. And while you may not appear entirely unhealthy on the outside, you are what you eat, and what you eat can either facilitate or hinder the optimal functioning of your body. It's not just about your outward appearance. You see, visceral fat is a real thing, and it can actually be a lot more dangerous than the apparent subcutaneous fat surrounding the body. Visceral fat, the kind surrounding internal organs, is what causes behind the scenes damage. This is typically the "skinny fat" individual or the individual who eats terribly (just probably within limits), but does not appear overweight.

Imagine it. Imagine a network of pipes that is meant to carry water. Sure, you can pour all kinds of toxins and wild nonsense in. And it will continue to do it's job. But eventually it gets clogged, or the piping even gets damaged by erosive substances that weren't meant to come in contact with it for prolonged periods of time. Think about your digestive tract, your arteries, your whole body in this format.

If  you eat fried fast food on a consistent basis, what do you think the acrylamide (trans fat) is doing to your arteries? Yes, fried food is unhealthy, not simply because it's "fattening." But the greater danger lies within the type of toxic, inflammatory, rancid fat it's fried in, and the acrylamide that is released in the high-heat frying process. [Stay tuned for a more comprehensive exploration of acrylamide and safer ways to cook food.] While IIFYM can be a neat tool to control calorie and macro-nutrient consumption, it can put one at risk of developing deeper health complications and micro-nutrient deficiencies. If you're going to do it, then at least focus on nutrient density and the quality of your food more so than squeezing in your favorite treats.

Another undying trend is a preoccupation with high protein, high fiber, low-moderate calorie bars (no names will be named). But are they really a healthy snack or meal replacement? Let's do a brief analysis. Take the label on the right as an example. The macros are quite ideal. But what about the ingredients? Protein blend - okay, sounds fine. But does the milk come from feed-lot, corn-fed cows? Well, unless the bar says otherwise (i.e., unless it is certified organic or NON-GMO), then it almost surely comes from feed-lot cows. Why care? Well, compared to the milk that comes from grass-fed cows (which is actually high in CLA, which promotes fat loss and has a healthier level of beneficial Omega-3's), feed-lot, corn/grain-fed cow milk is actually high in inflammatory Omega-6 fats (which are rampant in the American diet). Remember, inflammation is the root of most, if not all, disease. Next on the list is soluble corn fiber. Corn. Near 90% of corn is genetically modified to resist some of the worst herbicides and pesticides known. An image for you (if you haven't seen the Food, Inc. documentary yet): an insect that lands on these varieties of corn, shortly after implodes from the inside. That is, the toxins produced by the corn cause, for lack of a better explanation, intestinal rupture. What might that be doing to us? Why are modern GI issues, cancers, and diseases so rampant? 

The sad truth is that many people who are looking to start their health and fitness journeys may look to certain "role models" in the fitness industry. While there are many amazing role models to look up to, there are also many who make recommendations and portray ways of eating that are not necessarily healthy. I remember when I started out, I found some amazing people to look up to on Bodybuilding.com (which is a great resource, nonetheless). But many would start out the day with a breakfast that included gulping down all of their daily vitamins and supplements in one sitting with a cup of coffee. That SEEMS fine. But really, it is not. Coffee blocks the absorption of many nutrients, for one. Taking a bunch of supplements/vitamins in one sitting makes them compete for absorption in the body (many will be blocked). If you happen to have dairy or too much fiber in your breakfast, then you may not be absorbing most of the minerals/nutrients you just intended to benefit from. What's more, if your supplements are the cheapest ones on the market, they are likely unregulated for quality, purity, and potency - possibly ineffective altogether.

Other "trendy" trends: artificial sweeteners, gluten/dairy free diets (in absence of allergy), excessive protein and/or fats (Paleo), preoccupation with eating every 2-3 hours...

These are just some examples of how the portrayal of what is healthy may actually need a second thought. I encourage you to do your research before blindly following what seems to be the "best approach" to weight loss, healthy dieting, staying fit, etc.

I welcome your comments on what topic(s) above (or others) you'd like me to explore further with supportive research studies.