You have made the decision to improve your health or fitness, (good for you!) but where do you start? If you are like most people, you will consult your good friend Google. You might search “plan to lose weight,” and you will have 213,000,000 options to click on. That is a lot to choose from so now you search “exercise plan to lose weight and gain strength,”…only 74,300,000 options. This is still overwhelming. So, where do you go from here? How do you know what really works? It is easy to fall into paralysis from analysis. In other words, you have so many options and spend so much time and effort making a plan of action that you do not have the energy to act on that plan.
When reading about different diet and exercise plans, if it sounds too good to be true (or if just sounds outlandish) it probably is. Having said that, many of these diets and programs are backed by “science” so I understand how it can be confusing. The unfortunate reality is, if you have no ethics and only want to sell snake oil, science is really easy to manipulate. As an example, you may have heard that diet pop makes you fat because a study was done that shows that people who drink diet pop have higher body fat than those who drink regular pop. Eureka! Stop drinking diet pop and you will lose weight... The problem with this study is it only looked at what people drank and how much they weigh. Sure the study showed that people who are overweight tend to choose diet soda, but it can't show that the diet soda caused them to be overweight. It is more likely that being overweight caused people to switch to diet pop. It is important to be cautious and skeptical of the conclusions that are being drawn from a study, especially if the person drawing the conclusions is trying to sell you something.
It can be very challenging to understand scientific studies. Many people will use a study to prove something as fact. Most of the time research provides evidence that some conclusions can be drawn from, but doesn’t really prove anything. That isn’t to say they don’t provide valuable information. The information contained in a study can be applied, but it is rarely as straight forward as this study says X so I should do Y.
So what should you do?
Keep it simple. The reality is you do not need a fancy diet or exercise plan. Your plan needs to be safe, appropriate for your situation, in line with your goals, and something that you can stick to. Pick a plan, stick to it, and ignore the rest. After you have stuck to something for 6 to 8 weeks, reevaluate to determine if your plan is moving you closer to your goal and make adjustments as necessary. Avoid the temptation to jump from one strategy to another without giving anything a chance to work. Think about baking a cake. You wouldn’t find a recipe online, mix the batter, then change recipes because the cake doesn’t look like a finished cake. You would finish baking the cake, then when it was done if you didn’t like the outcome you would try something different next time.
In the coming weeks I will be discussing the importance of both strength training and cardio. I will also give you some simple ways to take action.