It’s not always black or white; embrace the grey.

Time for some Tuesday, trainer tough love. Every once in a while, I have a few topics that come up – either common misconceptions, ideas and exercises people get wrong, whatever they may be. We’re going to tackle these on Tuesdays with bonus articles. They might be what you want to hear. They might be something you don’t want to (but need to) hear. Regardless, let’s get into the fifth installment of Trainer Tough Love.

On Sunday, I talked about utilizing the wide array of evidence available, both scientific and anecdotal. Let’s break down the anecdotal evidence and, more specifically, the absolute nature of much of it.

Pick a hashtag on Instagram: #keto, #powerlifting, #paleo, #Crossfit, #iifym. Scrolling through the posts, you’ll see inspiration, information, potentially motivation. However, underlying it all, you’ll likely read a common theme: “This is the only way.”

As humans, we tend to gravitate toward those things that enhance our lives and we want to share this experience with others. Fewer places is this truer than in the world of health and fitness. If we achieved great results following a specific diet or training program, it’s likely we want our friends and family to follow that same program.

But here’s where the issue lies. Not every program is for everyone. Not every diet fits with everyone’s lifestyle or training goals. I might tell you that I lost a bunch of weight only running (I didn’t), but if you hate running that’s not going to be the best fat loss program for you. I might tell you that I’ve found incredible mental clarity from switching to a ketogenic diet and drastically lowering my carbohydrate intake (I also did not), but if you enjoy craft beer (I definitely do!) this might not be the best diet strategy for you.

We can see that although these can be benefits of running or a ketogenic diet, they may not be for every person. As I’ve said time and time again, we have to choose a way to fit health and fitness into our lifestyle. We have to be mindful not speak in absolutes or tie ourselves so tightly to a single idea or method of training that it becomes “the only way”.

Deeper than lifestyle factors, our physiology may even play a factor. Let’s look at carbohydrates. In my opinion, it’s one of the more controversial macronutrients. Should you eat low carb or high carb? Maybe moderate carbohydrate is best? What’s the deal with the glycemic index?

According to MyPlate, about half of our grains should be whole, unprocessed sources. But when we delve deeper, do these affect the body differently than more processed, or refined, sources? Few people have examined this further than Robb Wolf in his book Wired to Eat and his 7-Day Carb Test. To simplify the test for the sake of this article, you consume a set amount (50g) of a specific carb and measure your blood glucose response 2-hours post-consumption. Read more about the test here. The results are surprising.

From testimonials in comments, tweets, and Instagram posts, people have found that after consuming 50g of sweet potatoes, a “healthy” carb option, their bodies reacted as if they had just eaten a sugary, processed snack and the blood sugar levels measured were significantly elevated as compared to other carbohydrate sources. Read more about one woman’s experience here.

Between lifestyle and biological factors, we should be cautious when speaking in absolutes. Nothing absolutely does or does not work for everyone. (Except for food allergies, if you’re allergic to peanuts, I would avoid those.) Use judgement calls, trial and error, and personal experience to decide whether or not to change your diet or adapt your style of training. As we talked about Sunday, health and fitness is an n=1 experiment and there’s no one else exactly like you.

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