The Health and Fitness Industry Is Dead (And That Includes You, Paleo).
Following the advice of the mainstream health and fitness industry has left us more diseased, broken, and fatter than ever before. They’re not only not helping us, they’re killing us.
The health and fitness industry truly jumped the shark with the introduction of loud-mouthed Jillian Michaels and television shows like The Biggest Loser. Motivating people to change long-term doesn’t come by way of screaming at broken people to be unbroken, no matter how great it may be for ratings.
It’s time for a revolution.
It’s time for a revolution in health and fitness. The days of “eat less and exercise more” must be put behind us, along with the diets, fitness DVD programs, gimmicks, shakes, pills, and weight loss game shows.
The old model treated the symptoms with logical — yet blatantly false — theories: calories, macronutrient ratios, an emphasis on cardiovascular exercise, fat avoidance, meat avoidance, whole grains, the demonization of saturated fat and “heart healthy” vegetable oils, to name a few.
Late night television and gyms across the country were over-run with fitness programs. Exercise was the savior — the be-all, end-all of reaching your weight loss, health, and performance goals; all of which were mostly empty, superficial goals based on vanity and little else.
The important goals you may have had were never addressed. The health and fitness industry took a hardline stance that “sex sells” and made your goals for you. Stop worrying about feeding your body and changing your relationship with food. If you look like the guy or girl on the cover of this magazine, you’ve won.
You can’t win that way because changing your body to a specific looks guarantees absolutely nothing. Besides, the people on the cover of the magazine don’t exist: the guy is dehydrated and the girl is airbrushed. But, the headlines are catchy and you hope that the words on the pages will change you in 12 weeks, failing to realize that even if they did work you wouldn’t be healed.
The linchpin of the old model — willpower — was also the bane of your existence. If you were overweight, your lack of success was not due to following bad advice, it was caused by your sheer lack of will. Your weakness. Your fault.
Today, we know that willpower is a trap; a finite resource that runs counter to the advice in the magazines. The psychological concept of ego depletion automatically renders that type of advice — what’s found in magazines, fitness DVDs, and mainstream “nutrition” programs — null and void in the context of long term change.
If solving the underlying problems without using lies and gimmicks to treat symptoms is the goal, what should the new revolution look like? Before I answer that, I want to give a hat tip to the revolution that made a lot of progress before falling short of the mark.
Paleo: the revolution that wasn’t good enough.
In the early 2000s, a revolution began to unfold as new ideas about nutrition — based on the framework of ancestral health — proliferated the blogosphere and bookshelves. This revolution is still exploding today, branded Paleo with offshoots and camps such as Primal and Weston A. Price.
This revolution serves to mostly correct the record of optimal nutrition and exercise. Thought leaders like Chris Kresser, Mark Sisson, and Robb Wolf have corrected myths, changed our thought processes, and set us on a new path.
A glaring issue, of course, is that Paleo struggles to define itself. Nobody knows what “Paleo” actually is. Weston A. Price is as close to Paleo as you can get, yet co-founder Sally Fallon is busy waging a war against Paleo to “correct the record.”
Correct what part of the record? In the context of what matters to you and me, maybe Robb Wolf forgot to cross a t or dot an i after a night of NorCal margaritas — I’m not sure what else Sally Fallon could correct that’s relevant to anyone who is busy doing work that matters.
The secret is that the dispute between Weston A. Price and Paleo is not a dispute of the important information, it’s a branding war. This pseudo-conflict pits Sally Fallon against Paleo in a move that only hopes to corral crossover customers and boost the bottom line of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
This is what happens when social movements label themselves. Like Fascists hating Marxists when both clearly want totalitarianism, Weston A. Price hates Paleo while both brands just want people to eat real food.
Not into politics? Imagine PepsiCo waging a publicity war about how Coca-Cola is nothing like Pepsi. For every point of relevance in that campaign there’s 9 points of irrelevance. It’s a marketing stunt.
But, branding wars aren’t what caused this revolution to fail. This revolution failed because it got lost in the science — it got lost correcting the record of mainstream medicine and forgot about developing a way to help the people who are alone in the trenches, bruised and muddy from years of trying and failing. It turns out that’s still a world full of people.
The new revolution isn’t about information because information isn’t nearly enough.
The Paleo revolution ended one thing: the world’s need for more information.
If you needed an answer to: “What do I eat to lose weight?” or “What do I eat to maximize my health?” then Paleo, WAPF, and their thought leaders have given you those answers.
This is a huge problem corrected. If you try to operate using the wrong information you’re doomed to failure. That was the case for decades and the problem is now solved.
Of course, there are always more studies we can do, more research to sift through, more foods to analyze, and more tests to run. And I’m confident that the people I mentioned earlier will continue to do that work. My point is that whatever happens from this point forward is of little relevance to you, the layperson who has been struggling with weight and can’t seem to make progress.
Nobody can proclaim, “I don’t have enough information to reach my goals.” That statement is only spoken by people who are losing the fight against The Resistance. Those people are suffering from following a “high fact diet.” They think more information, more research, and more theory will give them the key to better health and a better body. That’s bogus. The high fact diet distracts your attention from doing the work that matters.
Unfortunately, plenty of people are following the advice of the Paleo revolution and continuing to fail. They have all of the right information and they’re continuing to fail because society is set up to fail them and they don’t have the tools to defend themselves. These tools are the same tools I allude to in the Success Triangle, namely on the EQ side.
The big picture is that there will always be ANTI foods and they’ll likely always be popular. New research about sugar won’t burn down the Slurpee industry. CrossFit won’t kill Krispy Kreme. The triggers in society are pervasive and there’s nothing information can do about it.
So why do we continue to give people information? Why do we continue to write books? Why do we continue to produce podcasts, as if hearing the truth is all people need?
People know the truth about smoking. The information and horror stories is fed to children in school, smoking is banned in many public places, marketing cigarettes is banned in many areas, and the product is heavily taxed.
Every single one of us still knows people that smoke and who, deep down, want to quit but can’t. And we know even more people who continue to smoke as if it’s not bad for them or who operate in the failed mindset, “We’re all going to die some day.” Spoken like a true addict.
Contrast that with addictive, processed foods and society has completely opposite plans: We feed these foods to children in school to get them addicted early and it’s available in so many places that finding our drug is not the problem, turning the drug down is the problem. Bans won’t help and eating ANTI food is cheaper than eating real food because we subsidize it.
To compound the problem, we’re talking about healing a society that takes a record level of prescription medication to cover up legitimate psychological and emotional issues, has a general apathy or aversion to recovery and therapy, and who masterfully reproduces a cycle of abuse — whether intentional or unintentional — in future generations.
Imagine if we gave cigarettes to school kids, subsidized them, put them in vending machines, and conformed society in a way that made escaping smoking inconvenient. That’s the problem we’re dealing with.
Understanding all of this, the revolution’s strategy was to arm the public with the right information? Paleo and WAPF are busy bringing carrots to gunfights.
The new revolution is about the psychology of success.
Just as we now know that fat loss and body composition are 80% determined by what you eat (and 20% exercise, genetics, physical history and so on), the new model knows that big picture success is 80% intangible and 20% tangible.
That intangible component is emotion, psychology, mindset, and support. It’s the stuff that can’t be mapped out or blueprinted. It can’t be programmed. There is no instruction booklet or DVD.
The reason people can have the right information and still fail — or the right information and never start — is because of that intangible component. If our job as mentors, coaches, program-designers, gym owners, fitness instructors, yoginis, and nutritonists was to program robots to live, eat, sleep, and exercise according to a blueprint we’d all have a 100% success rate.
Robots aren’t human. They don’t have an inner child. In other words, they don’t have meaningful history and the fear, insecurity, self-doubt, self-sabotage, anger, sadness, and shame that are attached to that history.
Humans have all of those emotions and those emotions act as roadblocks to success whether you’re operating with the right information on not.
Food is the easiest drug to access. On top of that, processed foods are designed to be addictive. We know that hard drugs and alcohol are a coping mechanism. We need to understand that food is not just a similar coping mechanism, it’s the most popular and most easily accessible one.
The health and fitness industry is dead because health (nutrition and lifestyle education) and fitness are no longer adequate for addressing the issues of body image, disordered eating, addiction, and all of our metabolic concerns. It’s all about the psychology and mindset of the individual.
People who are trapped in the cycle of addiction and dependency — which is far more pervasive than anyone realizes — can’t simply be informed to change.
The One Percent.
The success rate for people trying to make lasting change with regard to health and fitness is 1%.
With the Paleo revolution, that number may well increase noticeably as people begin operating with much better information. But it will never pass any meaningful mark. Even 50% would be flipping a coin with each client — and that’s a stretch.
If the industry ever wants to extend success to more than 50% of the people they work with — into the 80s and 90s — the focus absolutely has to be on the EQ side of the triangle.
70% of Americans take prescription drugs, with the second most common drug being an antidepressant. The third most popular is opioids.
Stop wondering why the information alone isn’t helping people: it stands no chance when confronting the enemies of addiction, dependency, low self-worth, unhealthy body image, low confidence, depression, anxiety, and learned helplessness. It can’t correct the consequences of physical, mental, and emotional abuse, which in varying degrees is far more pervasive than anyone wants to admit.
When my clients fill out their profile form, 90% mark the following statements as true:
My parents forced me to clean my plate or punished me for not eating certain foods.
As a child, I was rewarded with treats such as ice cream or candy.
You may not have a diagnosed eating disorder, but you likely suffer from some degree of disordered eating. How can you not? Those two statements are learned, patterned triggers for disordered eating programmed into nearly all of us from birth. And those are just two very small examples.
What about abuse? You may not think that you suffered any mental or emotional abuse unless it was blatantly obvious. It’s unimaginable until it’s put into context for you. Have you personally been told any of these before by an authority figure?
“You’re upset about that? Seriously?”
“How could you make that mistake?”
“Deal with it.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t be a baby.”
“What are you, stupid?”
Those are the statements of pervasive bullying. They’re also common phrases used on children by what society would consider to be “typical, healthy parents.” They’re also mild forms of mental and emotional abuse.
These statements (and others like them), spoken by authority figures on a regular basis, cause deep and lasting psychological damage. And these are light compared to what most people experience. If this was the extent of the hurt you suffered, you have a massive head start.
Does this mean that every human walking the Earth is damaged goods to the point of being unable to independently process information and make lasting change? Absolutely not. But, it’s not the norm and it’s not a viable plan if you’re interested in helping a higher percentage of people.
How hurt you are is graded on a scale. The more hurt you are, the more you need a coach. The less hurt you are, the less you may need one. In my experience, far more people are hurt than not and far more people need help than not.
The human mind begs all of us to escape the hurt by using drugs, the most popular of which is food. Until we start addressing health and fitness with human emotion accounted for, we’ll continue to fail 99% of people who are interested in true healing.
The Weight Loss Trap & Conclusion
The fantasy of an ideal body is that happiness, unconditional acceptance by others, and emotional healing are delivered through weight loss. But, you cannot heal people with weight loss.
“You don’t lose weight to get healthy, you get healthy to lose weight” — another line from the The Rebooted Body Manifesto — holds true for both physical and emotional health.
The funny thing about psychological roadblocks is that they never go away — no matter how many Band-Aids you slap on — until they teach you what you need to know. The health and fitness industry made billions of dollars trying to make better Band-Aids. The new revolution is concerned with ripping those Band-Aids off and achieving true healing on all sides of the triangle.
For the “clients” out there, do you want the key to success from someone who has been in your shoes? The key to success is finding someone you trust who has the wisdom — not just the knowledge — to help you travel the long and difficult journey to true healing and then packing your fucking bags. No more reading, no more researching, no more distractions. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. And do the work with someone who knows how to treat whole people, who fully understands the success triangle, and who is committed to your transformation.
For the “leaders” out there, I invite you to join the new revolution. I have no doubt that you’ve done amazing work up to this point, which is why I’m talking specifically to you, right now. You’re here, you’re committed, you’re smart, and you’re motivated. Focus those amazing qualities on the genuine healing of whole people.
In other words, do less informing and more transforming.
The old goal was to transition from working with clients to writing books and spreading information. That was how “success” was defined. But, speaking with people is always better than speaking to people. The new goal is to go back to working with clients — and working at a deeper and more meaningful level than ever before.
If you’re new to the concepts healing mindset and psychology, explore and learn those concepts. You don’t have to throw your hands up and pretend this is not for you. We need you and your clients need you.
Whether you’re a client or trainer, please share your thoughts on this new revolution. And most importantly, let’s take these ideas and do something with them.