Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Nutrition Is Like Religion - Let The Hate Mail Commence

There will be a slew of "don't get fat at Christmas" articles doing the rounds and I suppose if I wanted to stay topical and get some google hits I should come up with one too. But to be honest I don't find it very interesting. If you've worked hard on your training and nutrition this year, eat whatever the hell you want and then get back on track when it's done.

That wouldn't make a very good article though , so maybe I'll try and come up with something half decent for next week. In the mean time though, I've opted to massively offend large sections of both my profession and the population at large.

Here goes...
I believe that "nutritionism" has more in common with religion than it does with science, and I don't believe that this is a good thing. I don't feel that this engenders reasoned and rational debate and if you give me five minutes I'll explain why, then if you still disagree you can come to Shoreditch and burn me at the stake.

"Nutritionism" here refers to the largely unregulated industry that has developed around telling us what to eat in order to lose weight, allegedly rid yourself of diseases including cancer , and achieve everything in between.

I believe there are many well meaning people in this industry who do good work and provide value, I also believe there are some dangerous charlatans. Obviously part of my job involves advising clients on nutrition (though I believe in keeping things as simple as possible and focus more on changing behaviours than arguing about how much selenium something contains or trying to diagnose endocrine dysfunctions with a callipers ). My goal is not to malign any one person but to point out some flawed thinking that seems to be very common in the nutrition world and maybe get a few people thinking.

I'm also not trying to upset religious people or argue them out of their position. I just believe there are some interesting parallels between the religious mindset and that of devotees to particular nutritional practices.
1- Reliance On Faith Over Evidence- Religious claims can not be scientifically proven,which is inconvenient if your goal is to convince the world of your point of view. So, if the evidence won't work for you, one method is to attack the need for evidence itself. Religion does this by using faith as an integral part of religious practice. The act of believing really hard in something in the face of a total lack of evidence is in itself seen as virtuous.

Many nutrition gurus employs the same tricks. Like religious ideas, many of their very specific claims have never been proven scientifically. Instead there is a reliance on testimonials over data, "well all I know is it works for me and my clients" is a common refrain. Highly emotive and personal stories of "triumph" over illness or obesity are highly persuasive, we are wired to respond to them far more than dry statistics. But they are no basis to make an informed decision wether an intervention works or not.

There is also a trend toward portraying science and statistics as incapable of testing certain alternative approaches, and to claim that "anything can be proven". Evidence that contradicts your claims is dismissed as propaganda from evil pharmaceutical companies. Its not that these companies never use dirty tricks, but this phrase is usually used to shut down debate rather than engage in it, and comes from a position of intellectual laziness.

In the fundamentalist Christian worldview, evolution is portrayed as "merely a theory" (the use of the word "merely" in this instance demonstrating a misunderstanding of the word "theory") and creationism as a "competing theory", when it lacks a single shred of evidence to support it.

So this anti-scientific trend is prevalent in both the religious and nutrition worlds, at least when the evidence is not in their favour.

The approach in a nutshell; "science does not support my worldview, so rather than seeking to prove my theory or accepting the evidence and changing my mind, I will seek to undermine science itself"

The need for evidence for the existence of a higher power is possibly another philosophical debate altogether, I realise there is an argument that this question lies beyond the remit of science (I don't actually agree with that argument, but anyway). But if you are going to make scientific claims, wether they be "the universe is 3000 years old" or "protein will destroy your kidneys" you must back them up with scientific evidence, not blind faith.

2- Overly Defensive Response To Criticism. Science is about coming up with an idea and then trying to disprove it.

Then, if you haven't been able to disprove it yourself you throw it out there for your peers to rip apart and see if they can disprove it. If they can't prove you wrong, you may just have something.

Religion and the wackier areas of nutrition and alternative medicine use the exact opposite technique. It is about coming up with an idea, looking for (or making up) evidence to support it, ignoring evidence that contradicts it and reacting defensively to any who challenge your idea.

Religion has been very successful about portraying itself as somehow above debate. We can have a spirited argument about anything from our favourite food or football team to politics but once religion enters the frame its "this is my faith so you're not allowed to criticise it". The mantra "everyones entitled to their opinion" is chanted and the subject changed. Why? Are these ideas so fragile that they can't be questioned?

This attitude exists in the nutrition world also. It is incredible how often I've witnessed proponents of one particular school of nutritional dogma become angry to the point of throwing insults simply because I don't hold with their beliefs. Ive said this before but if you're getting angry because I disagree with you rather than engaging in a reasoned and rational debate, perhaps you're simply not that confident in your own beliefs.

An even more common technique is to attempt to label the critic as "closed minded" for not agreeing with the alternative view. I always thought being open minded meant looking at the available evidence and making an informed decision. It seems in the alternative nutrition and religious worlds, closed minded simply means "having views that differ from ours"

Anger, slurs and ad hominem attacks are all indicators that the person arguing has run out of facts.

Is any of this important?

I don't care if people want believe in God. I don't even really care if they want to waste their money on supplements that don't work (which isn't all of them) or with nutritionists who talk crap (which isn't all of them). Im happy to see these things as a self selecting tax on people who don't understand statistics.

But I do care about the systematic undermining of science within our little health and fitness bubble and to the general public. Because as it turns out , at the extreme what starts with some wasted money on supplements can end with the death of thousands

I care about holding the personal training and nutrition world to a higher standard of critical thinking.

If you still want to burn me at the stake I can be found at B@1 Spitalfields most Saturdays. Alternatively if you enjoyed this ramble, mines an espresso martini.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Merry ChristMASS

I recently ran an online body transformation program for women, which I'll do an update on in next weeks blog post. Its been a great success with members losing up to 10lbs in the first 13 days.

It was also really fun to run and a great learning experience for me in delivering a program in a different medium. All of the participants said they benefitted massively from being told exactly how to eat and train , leaving no need for guess work, and having access to me on a day to day basis to ask questions.

So, as I've been getting a lot of questions about running one for guys I thought I'd give that a go.

Here's the deal-

The program is called Merry ChristMASS

(like what I did there don't you?)

It's a 24 day challenge starting december 1st that will take you right up to Christmas.

You need to be a member of a gym that has a decent set up, i.e. a squat rack, barbells, dumbbells that arent made of pink plastic. Beyond that, you won't need access to any specialised equipment.

Just a pair of balls, preferably your own.

You will be pushed significantly beyond what you currently find comfortable , and not just in terms of training. There is a general self-development aspect of this program also.

Every day you'll receive your instructions for the day in your inbox . These will tell you set for set, rep for rep, exactly what to do in the gym, right down to how much weight to put on the bar based on your one rep max.

In addition to this you will have a series of self improvement missions to complete that will push your comfort zone gradually on a daily basis, while opening up new avenues of self improvement for you to explore. The end result after 24 days will not only be a leaner, stronger more jacked you, you'll also have developed increased confidence and some cool new skills. A bit like Liam Neeson in Taken, except with less strangling of Albanians.

Sound good?

I'm pretty excited about it. When I launch this as a monthly program in january it will cost somewhere around that magic 97 quid mark, but I'm doing a deal on this as I'm just testing it out. For all I know I could be full of it and been talking out my arse for the last ten years.

So for December only it's £47.

I'm also conscious that I've been selling a couple of things on here over the last month as I've hit a bit of a purple patch in terms of creating new stuff. So if you bought my total rebuild ebook that I released recently I'll knock the cost of that off the cost of this program.

So, if 24 days of guided, step-by-step training and self development rather than a gradual slide into booze and mince pie induced lazy fatness sounds like a good idea, then mail me at zack@aegistraining.co.uk and say "I want a merry ChristMASS"

One last thing, due to my inability to grow a decent moustache, all proceeds from this little experiment will be donated to Movember to support prostate cancer research. So not only will you be getting stronger, leaner and better, you'll be giving cancer a swift kick in the balls too.

This Christmas, give yourself the greatest gift of all. The gift of jackedness.

To join the program mail Zack@aegistraining.co.uk

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Neill Strauss Can Teach Us About Fat Loss - an incredibly tenuous blog post by Zack Cahill

Gentle readers, some of you may well be sane, normal human beings with fully functional and committed relationships. As such, you may be unaware of the literary oeuvre of Neill Strauss, author of The Game, and of his fellow pick up artists (or PUAs) . Thats ok, let me give you a brief introduction to this strange world, before explaining what it can teach us about health and fat loss.

The PUA community is an entire subculture of people (largely men, to be honest) who believe they have figured out the rules of seduction. They claim that by following certain principles of "social dynamics", even the most unattractive, loser-ish guy can attract the girl of his dreams. To PUAs, social interaction with the opposite sex is a game. And if you understand the rules, including everything from language patterns, body language and how you dress, you can win every time.

Why am I talking about this on a fitness blog? First of all because this stuff does actually transcend just chatting people up. I've long felt that The Game is one of the greatest marketing books every written, as the principles of marketing and the principles of pick up are basically the same.

Relating all this to health and fitness is more of a stretch, but lets give it a go with my top fat loss lessons from the world of pick up artistry. (Honestly I just happen to be reading another book by Neill Strauss this week and needed to write a blog post, lets see if I can drag something good out of it though eh?)

1- Let go of the outcome

This may seem counterintuitive given the array of "goal setting" articles that get written by us fat loss types, but bear with me. Lots of guys will feel intimidated about starting a conversation with a woman at a bar due to fear of failure. This is because they are holding onto the outcome, getting the woman's number or whatever it may be, and then catastrophising and imagining their own failure to achieve this.

If, however, you consider the conversation itself to be the goal, now your focus is just on enjoying an interesting conversation, a far less intimidating task. Crucially though, the act of speaking to this person is a behaviour that will bring you toward your original goal anyway. You're not going to get anywhere if never go and talk to them in the first place are you? Or as some probably-very-famous basketball dude apparently said "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take"

So lets say you want to lose 10kgs. Thats your goal. That too can be pretty intimidating. So intimidating that many people quit before they've even started, subconsciously tell themselves its impossible, or see it as so far-off and huge a task that there is no urgency to change their behaviour now.

But what if we let go of the outcome, and have a short term, behaviour based goal instead. Your goal is now to eat a healthy breakfast every day this week. Thats it. This is one behaviour you can immediately change, meaning you have no need to fear failure, just do it for the week and you've succeeded. But again, its a behaviour that brings you toward your original, big scary goal by default.

2- There is no failure, only feedback. So building on our fear of failure theme, what happens if our imaginary (and I must stress imaginary , as in NOT ME) wannabe lothario works up the courage to go and talk to this poor woman who's minding her own business in a bar, having a quiet espresso martini, possibly pondering who deserves to get kicked off x-factor.

So he initiates a conversation... and lets say the worst case scenario happens. She is not interested in having a conversation, perhaps she is dismissive or just ignores him. Its a complete crash and burn.

Is this failure? Worse, is this rejection? PUAs would tell you to re-frame this as feedback. Rather than simply getting discouraged, you would take this as valuable information about your behaviour. Perhaps you were too forward, or you mumbled. You can then use this feedback to refine your approach. You also mustn't try and spare your ego by dismissing the girl as "just being a bitch", because ultimately the success or failure of the interaction is down to your behaviour.

Likewise, if you do begin to have a healthy breakfast every morning and the weight doesn't come off as fast as you'd like, have you failed? No, you've achieved your goal of having a healthy breakfast every morning. But clearly some aspect of the plan needs tweaking. Maybe you need to reconsider what a healthy breakfast is (i.e. not cereal, even if the lady in the red dress in the ad eats it) Rather than being discouraged by your failure, be encouraged by your success at sticking to a plan, just seek to make it a better plan.

We also should avoid simply dismissing a particular approach to training or nutrition when it doesn't produce the results we want straight away, rather than taking it as feedback.

Ever heard someone say "tried that, doesn't work"...?

Well if we're talking about a nutrition or fitness plan that was based on sound principles (of which there are only a few really) then chances are it has actually worked many times for many people. Perhaps its better to ask if you truly adhered to the program. Its always more empowering to take responsibility for the result, and change behaviours accordingly, than to blame external forces.

Saying "tried it, didn't work" is like saying "she was just a bitch". It gets you nowhere.

Okay, I'm struggling now, can I think of a third tenuous link between the international subculture of pickup and the world of fitness and weight loss?

Go on then...

3-Inner game is all important. This refers to mindset, and how you see and talk to yourself. There are far smarter people than me who can speak on this subject but the point is that what goes on in your head is manifested in your behaviours and ultimately your body.

Even if you've read the books and you know the techniques, if you don't believe you're good enough to be having a conversation in a bar with our notional, espresso-martini-swilling
X-Factor fan then it is going to bleed through and you will ultimately sabotage yourself.

In The Rules OF The Game, Strauss says "the world is what you think it is". If you think that people are out to humiliate you for example, then you'll find plenty of examples of this that confirm your expectation. Like wise if you think that you don't deserve to be in shape then you won't be.

"Fixing" these mindset issues is not my area of expertise, all I can do is provide support, a road map and an inspiring environment for clients. Again, they must take responsibility for the body and the world they live in.

That last one was a bit rubbish wasn't it? but honestly, this is about the most tenuous link I've made on this blog, and I've made a few. But hopefully its given you slightly more than just an insight into my odd obsessions.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The LIMP Method- Intro to my ebook for personal trainers

I'm aware quite a few trainers read this blog so this post is for them or any readers who already have a decent bit of strength training knowledge and experience-

I have written an ebook for personal trainers. Its ugly. There are no pictures. I don't cover mobility, or supplementation or nutrition. I don't invent new muscles or science things up to make them sexier. I don't make claims like you'll get great results in a week with just a few minutes of training a day. All of the programs are , on some level, horrible.

What you get is 9 months worth of the programs I have devdeloped over many years of turning fat, stressed out lawyers into athletic badasses.

What you will also get, I hope, is some entertainment. Here's the intro for free. If you want the book its 19.99.

Mail me at zack@aegistraining.co.uk because I am too computer illiterate to be bothered making a sales page.

Total Rebuild Introduction
I was going to kick this manual off with a bit of a rant against functional training and the rampant bullshitification of the personal training industry. But you know what? at this stage I no longer feel the need to defend myself or really make much of a case.

If you haven't woken up to the fact that proper, intelligent, hard and heavy weight training is the best possible way to transform your clients bodies then I'm not going to try and argue sense into you.

So I thought I'd flip the idea on it's head and give you my guide to making any exercise instantly more "functional"

All you need to remember is the acronym "LIMP"

This will allow you to instantly modify such time-tested exercises as the deadlift or power snatch so that you can avoid pesky things like results, strength or muscle.

The LIMP method

L is for Lighten- remember, in functional training we need to avoid overload at all costs. Overload leads to adaptation, this leads to your clients improving and if you're serious about being a functional trainer you need to forget about silly ideas like that!

I is for instability - along the same lines as the "lighten" principle, introducing an element of instability further reduces the clients ability to produce force and overload muscle groups. Great news! Remember, it's not about getting stronger, bigger, leaner or better, it's about getting functiony! Grab those Bosus boys!

MP is for multi planar- so you've lightened the weight so its roughly equivalent to two wet socks, and you've made the client so unstable they can barely perform the movement properly. Now, in the words of Nigel Tufnel "where you gonna go?"
I'll tell you where! Now it's time to go multi planar!
making a movement so complex that the client is literally doing a different exercise with each repetition is a great way to avoid nasty old mister hypertrophy. Also, mastery of particular movements takes thousands of correct repetitions. Adding multi planar, overly complex movements to an already unstable client will ensure the only thing they'll master is how to handle disappointment when they look in the mirror.

So, now that you're all graduates of the Zack Cahill school of functional training you can stop reading if you like. Unless of course, you're interested in results . In which case read on...
(hmmm, I guess that turned into a rant after all)

Beginner Programs-
The Aegis Training 3 Month Strength Training Progression

Intermediate Programs-
The Arnold Programs - Bennett 2.0, Blaine 2.0

Advanced Programs-
Thor 2.0 (12 week program)

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Latest From Our Skinny Bitches

Last week we launched the trial month of our "skinny bitch" program, an online diet and training program aimed at busy women who want to lose weight but can't spend hours in the gym.

The response actually surprised me. we had set the limit at 20 participants , and we hit that limit within 48 hours. I have participants from the uk, Ireland, Australia and America now trialling the program.

The idea was to try it on a smaller scale at a lower cost so as to work out any kinks or problems along the way. When it comes to new aspects of our business I'm a big fan of just starting something and failing upward , rather than planning everything to the nth degree and consequently never starting (a common problem with weight loss programs as much as business ideas but that's another blog post)

So anyway, here's what I've learned from one week of helping 20 women around the world be the skinny bitch at the office party this Christmas.

Make it Achievable- this is not news to me but this experience so far has confirmed it all over again- it doesn't matter what the best program is, it's the best program that can fit into your clients lifestyle that is most important.
I could have written the fanciest, most high tech metabolic resistance training program ever, and used advanced nutrition strategies and I'm sure it would have impressed all of my trainer friends. But for the type of client I'm looking to help it would have been a disaster. This program is aimed at people for whom exercise and nutrition is not the most important thing in life, they may not even like exercise. Free time is also a major concern. So rather than thinking about what is the newest hottest training method, I made a list of the typical barriers busy women have to getting in shape and then focussed on providing the simplest solution to those problems.
Can't get to the gym? Ok we'll use 20 minute bodyweight circuits that you can do at home.
Client drinks or a birthday party coming up? I've got a protocol for that.
As a trainer I don't just parrot information. It's my job to fit the principles of health and fat loss into my clients lifestyle , not the other way round.

Of course you can't go too far with this line of thinking. If you want to change your body , changes to your lifestyle are inevitable.

Realise And Accept That Change Is Hard- Another thing I've noticed is that when making dietary changes people often want to stay with the familiar and just make minimal adjustments. For example, I've asked the group to cut out gluten. I then got a barrage of questions about what type of cereal is ok, or what can be substituted for cereal to fit in the plan. There is no real answer to that, because cutting out gluten involves cutting out cereal . Usually in favour of a protein based breakfast like eggs, and that can be quite a hurdle to jump for many people.

The truth is we would all love it if we could start a weight loss program and be told we're doing everything right already, and then lose weight. The guys on my program are all awesome, receptive and working hard. But I know I've had clients in years past who came to me convinced that they already knew everything there is to know about nutrition and what I was telling them couldn't be right. Of course if this were true they wouldn't be sitting in front of me in the first place. Change is always hard, no way around it.

Get Some Support- I created a private Facebook group for members of the Skinny Bitch Experiment and it has proved to be a far more useful resource than I imagined. Its clear that having a group of people pulling toward the same goal is exponentially more powerful than going it alone, and modern technology makes that a hell of a lot easier!
I'm toying with the idea of a male version of this, built around my Thor program which is still one of the most popular blog posts I've written so stay tuned for further news on that.