“Happy Holidays, now buy my fitness/nutrition book”

If you follow any fitness or nutrition blogs, you’ve probably seen this kind of message posted. You may have even been unlucky enough to get an email or twelve from some fitness person hawking whatever their latest fitness or nutrition book is. If this sounds familiar, let me clear the air on what these are and aren’t and save you some time and possibly money.

First and foremost, let me say that if you are one of these fitness folk who are doing the aforementioned hawking, I don’t hold anything against you for doing it around the holidays. That’s just good marketing. After all, everyone gains some weight over the holidays, most folk are planning some kind of ‘get in better shape’ resolution for the new year, and some people even scored some cash over Christmas. No, the timing doesn’t bother me, it’s the content that does.

For starters, almost every book out there on these subjects is full of anecdote, conjecture, and regurgitated information and misinformation. There is nothing new under the sun, and nothing in any of these books that you can’t read for free on the web somewhere.

Second, most of these things cost $20 for 30-100 pages of information and misinformation, which is a rip-off in the best of circumstances. I mean, even Taubes/Atkins/Ferriss (the trifecta of misinformation) all wrote books of 500+ pages. Even with their faulty logic, poor science (disregarding conflicting data anyone?), and blatant BS, all of these guys at least put the work in to write a real book, not some pamphlet they named a ‘book’.

Finally, the posts and emails to your followers actively pimping this stuff is just distasteful. Don’t even get me started on all of the cross posts to the incestuous network of fitness sites. A simple announcement (without all of the marketing hoopla) with a link to said marketing hoopla would be enough. Have some class.

I’ll end my rant here, but before moving on, let me be clear: Not all fitness and nutrition books are bad, but most of them are. Notable standouts are books by Lyle MacDonald (The Ketogenic Diet, in particular, is an excellent counterpoint to Taubes/Atkins drivel) and Mark Rippetoe. That being said, even good books are limited by the fact that they are a book, and not a magic wand.

With that out of the way, let me dig into what not to expect out of any diet or fitness book:

  1. You shouldn’t expect anything that makes it easy. A good rule of thumb regarding fitness and diet is, if it’s easy, it doesn’t work. And as I mentioned before, you already know that.
  2. You shouldn’t expect something groundbreaking. In broad strokes, you already know what you need to do. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less. If you want to get strong, you need to lift stuff. If you want to be able to run a mile, you need to run. None of this has changed in the last year.
  3. You shouldn’t expect something personalized. It’s a book. It’s written for the masses. Your specific goal may or may not be covered, but even if it is, it is not written with your specific challenges and body in mind.
  4. It’s not going to do it for you, and buying it doesn’t make it any more likely that you are going to reach your goals.

Now that we’ve gotten the marketing veil off, let’s talk about how to actually reach your goals this year.

  1. Pick a single goal. That’s the thing you want to focus on. Maybe it’s to lose weight, maybe it’s to get strong, maybe it’s to be healthy (which isn’t necessarily the same as the previous two), but pick one and stick with it until you reach it. Once you reach one goal, then you can work on the second.
  2. Know right upfront that it is going to be hard.
  3. Set out a simple plan to reach your goal. Do not make this complex. It is hard, but not complex.
  4. Make a commitment to consistently follow your plan. You aren’t going to reach any goal that you don’t consistently work on. 

Most people fall off somewhere between number three and four above. Ostensibly, number three (planning) is what this ‘book’ is supposed to help you with, and sometimes it actually would, depending on the book, its ratio of information to misinformation, and its alignment with your goals. However, most people really fail at four, so three ends up not mattering. Also, truthfully, three barely matters anyhow. Let me elaborate.

Imagine you have a goal to drop 30 pounds. Now, imagine you are in a situation where if you don’t lose that 30 pounds in six months, you are going to be executed. What would you do?

If you said something like ‘eat very little and move a whole bunch’, you win the prize. So that is your plan. Now, I can hear some of you screaming that gaining muscle (or losing fat, as opposed to weight) is not that simple, and you are, of course, correct. But to be fair, neither of those are that much more complex.

To gain muscle, pick a proven strength training program, and follow it while sleeping a lot and stuffing your face at every opportunity. Don’t want to get fat while building muscle? Then don’t stuff your face so much when you start looking fat. Don’t want to lose muscle, but want to lose fat? Don’t change the way you eat at all and strength train.

See, simple.

The truth is, if you are looking to make a new resolution, you are not training well to start with, and literally anything will work for several months as long as you follow it consistently, keep progressing every session (adding weight, reps, or sets), eat, and sleep well. If you’ve tried that and it didn’t work, you did it wrong. Sorry, but you aren’t a special snowflake, and your biochemistry isn’t unique.

Anyhow, the point of all of this is to show you that the specific program you begin with doesn’t matter all that much. If you pick something sub-optimal, so what? Sub-optimal is bound to be better than nothing, so pick something already and get to it. You can optimize in a year, when you actually have some idea about what works.

And this brings us to point four, following the plan consistently. This is also simple: Make it part of your life. Plan your days around your plan. Have social events? Plan them around your goal. Vacation? Plan it around your goal.

This is not forever. Eventually, you’ll be able to take a break from chasing your goal and jump back in after the break without missing a beat. But this only happens once you’ve internalized it and made being ‘fit’ part of who you are. In the beginning, your mind is going to try and find every possible excuse to keep you from doing this bad thing, this hard thing that it doesn’t want to do. So cut that shit off at the pass and plan everything else around your training.

So that’s it. All you need for success are these rules, a decent mental filter (remember: there are no shortcuts), and time. No $20 book of the month required.

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