3 Thoughts: Iron Culture Podcast, episode 121, Achieving Nutritional Competence

Hundtoft-Bechdel score*: Gender neutral, leaning masculine

  1. 22:21 Omar says something along the lines of “when you know you need to change something but you don’t know what changes to make, science points you the way.”

This, to me, is the point of evidence-based nutrition and fitness advice. No single study will tell us all the information we need to figure out what is best for us, but the accumulation of data over time can give a direction that says, “chances are good that if you go this way, you’re more likely to get what you want.” I think this is also why it is so GD important to have inclusive research that is conducted on a wide variety of humanity–people of different ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, with uteruses, and so on. Otherwise, we’re having to apply information through even more layers of deduction, and we are less likely to have the information we need to make reasonable, evidence-based choices for ourselves. Of course, not every difference makes a difference, but we need research on a wide variety of humanity in order to have confidence which differences matter.

2. 25:00ish to 38:00ish Eric goes into a long explanation of how the culture around improving nutrition has been primarily about “eat this and you’re a grown-up, so figure out how.” He discusses how we don’t only eat for nutritional reasons, however, and that behaviors like eating differently when our feelings are different needs to be addressed to find sustainable changes.

I agree with this–both the characterization of nutrition advice and the need to address our eating behaviors in order to make sustainable changes to our eating over time. However, I wonder how many “gen pop” clients Eric has trained and given nutrition advice to, and how successful has he been at helping them suss out their eating behaviors and make changes to them? In my experience, most of us are terrible at identifying both the problems and the solutions when it comes to our eating behaviors. We’re full of pseudoscientific explanations from past diets, half-truths from misunderstandings and popular opinions of the past, and often simply lack the emotional distance to be properly self-aware of the changes that are most likely going to be effective.

For example, a friend of mine was once convinced she was “addicted” to bread. Her evidence was years of experience “letting herself” eat bread, only to then overindulge in it, and then restrain herself in reaction to that overindulgence, then cycling back again and again. Her experience and diagnosis made sense from her point of view. However, there was another explanation for her behavior–that the act of restriction itself created the cycle of overeating, the feelings of guilt, restriction, and eventual overeating again. The treatment, from this point of view, was actually to let her eat all the bread she wanted and work on detaching herself emotionally from those choices. This solution lets the natural consequence of being overfull and uncomfortable eventually be enough to prevent her from overeating, and to reduce the strength of the cravings because she was able to enjoy bread whenever she wanted it. Getting to this kind of solution, though, takes time and likely a trained coach to encourage someone to be willing to change paradigms. So, yes, the behavior needs to be addressed, as Eric points out, but more than that, the thinking that leads to the behavior needs to change, for those behavior changes to be meaningful and to “stick.”

To be fair to Eric, it’s clear as he goes on into 1:00:00 and beyond, he’s definitely not talking about gen pop folks. There are several references to folks dieting down for contest prep, photo shoots, and the like. Maybe that population is self-selecting and doesn’t require this sort of approach–if their thoughts regularly lead to problematic behaviors, likely they aren’t fitness models or natural bodybuilders in the first place? On the other hand, with the large prevalence of disordered eating behaviors in physique sports, not all of which can be attributed to self-imposed Minnesota Starvation studies, I think it’s likely that addressing the thinking of any would-be physique athlete or fitness model could be an important step to helping them create sustainable nutrition habits.

3. 1:33:00 Omar makes the point that “being in love with the process. . . it’s easier.”

Omar gives a training example here, that loving the process of training helps you progress in your lifts. I think this is a valid analogy to finding sustainable nutrition habits–you have to find a process that you enjoy along the way. It seems like an obvious point, except we’ve all seen people suffer through nutrition strategies, especially fat loss strategies, that clearly they will not maintain long term. Helms illustrates this well in his examples about tracking, especially the minute tracking necessary for a bodybuilding cut, and acknowledges that this is not a strategy that most of us can enjoy and adhere to long term, because it requires such an extreme level of detail.

Did you listen to the podcast? What are your thoughts?

*The Hundtoft-Bechdel score is my admittedly hacky way of giving credit, or a bit of shade, to fitness content producers and their abilities, or lack thereof, to make content that is universally accessible to all athletes, regardless of gender.

Feature Image Credit: Ferks Guare, via Unsplash

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