What People Eat Is None of Your Business
Everyone has a pet peeve. My mum, for example, has a beautiful Belfast Bridge sink in her kitchen. White, gleaming, and straight out of Downton Abbey. Gorgeous. From the way she gnashes her teeth when I pour coffee into it, I suspect this irritates her immeasurably. My girlfriend hates it if I don't put the extractor fan on when I cook. My dad can't stand people getting jam in the butter dish. We all have at least one.
Let me tell you my pet peeve: people who tell others how to eat. I can't stand it. It is a serious breach of gym etiquette when some poor soul is accosted by a passerby who offers up two cents about what they're eating.
If you're generous with the diet advice, you'll likely find yourself training alone a lot.
Before the culprits in question protest, I get it. I get that it's all about philanthropy, and you're not taking a cheap opportunity to feel superior. But you've probably noticed a trend in what occurs when you impart some wisdom to your friends: a curt nod, then a quick picking up of their equipment as they go and work out on the other side of the gym. Not the wide-eyed outburst of gratitude you expected, anyway. What gives?
I’ll fill you in. Your intervention, despite your best efforts, has been taken as ignorant. Why? Because it is.
Reason #1 - Physiology
There are a multitude of things you are ignorant of, not least of all their body. Hormone levels, metabolic rate, allergies, age, gender, and genetics all play a huge part in what works for a person’s diet. Individual physiology is crucial, and I’ll bet you don’t know the first thing about theirs.
Bear this in mind when you express concern over your buddy’s systemic exposure to insulin because he’s drinking intra-workout carbs. Also if you’re a male CrossFit competitor with a metabolism through the roof reassuring all the females with 30%+ body fat that cheating every week works for you and will work for them. You could also advise them to pee standing up because it works great for you, but I can guarantee this advice won't work out for them either.
"If you have found that adhering to a particular testament in your diet has worked wonders, congratulations. But understand this does not mean your revelation will hold true for your unsuspecting victim."
Before you go and find “research” that reinforces your bias, that doesn’t change anything. There are any number of nutritional ‘facts” that exist in the world we live in, and they are all backed up in some way by peer-reviewed literature. Some commonly seen examples are gluten inflames your gut, dairy gives you acne, and sugar makes you fat. There are studies out there that prove pretty much every coherent theory possible. It does not logically follow that they are all true, especially when you consider researcher bias, limited population samples, and flawed data capture methods.
All these studies show are overall trends. It’s not in their nature to account for individual differences, and individual differences are mischievous. Pervasive outliers flout the most salient of health facts. There are people happily celebrating their 90th birthdays having smoked 40-a-day since their twenties. That relates to a known carcinogen. So don’t even think about offering an individual prognosis on a hormone response that we need to stay alive.
Reason #2 - Goals
To meet different aspirations for fitness, body composition and competition, you have to eat according to your goals. These days, powerlifters, weightlifters, bodybuilders and CrossFitters train together in the same facility. In terms of desired outcomes, it’s a melting pot.
With this in mind, if you must share what you learned on Instagram today with your fellow athlete, first ask yourself: what’s their goal? If you’re telling him to drink more water when he's working out, are you talking to a bodybuilder trying to dry out for a physique competition? If you’re telling her to eat more to support weight training, is she a powerlifter trying to stay in the weight class she qualified for Nationals in?
My bet is you don’t ask people their goals before offering up your wisdom. If you don’t consider these goals to have value, that’s a different article. But you don’t know the full story, and what holds true for you doesn’t necessarily hold true for them.
Reason #3 - Values
Believe it or not (and you may want to sit down for this) there are people out there who train to have fun and just don't give a shit. For all the focused competitors with year-long plans to qualify for the CrossFit Regionals, there are people who turn up just to relax, have fun, and work out. I love to coach these guys. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and that makes them great fun to be around. They turn up hungover, stay up all night playing Xbox, and have a Sausage and Egg McMuffin on their way to work every morning.
Dietary habits, values and needs are unique to each individual.
Leave them be and respect their choices. They are as conscious as the ones made by those in serious training, and it’s still not your place to voice an opinion. The way they live and eat wouldn’t work for you – and the likelihood is the way you live and eat wouldn’t work for them, either.
Help Requires an Invitation
For those of us willing to take on the challenge, dieting is still hard. No one wants to put themselves through it without an endorsed guarantee that they will get the results they're looking for. That’s where qualified nutritional coaches come in. The difference is these coaches are invited to help, most probably because they have proven experience in helping people in a similar situation. If you’re new to fitness and nutrition and have just started trying out The Zone, needless to say, this is not you.
If you have found that adhering to a particular testament in your diet has worked wonders, congratulations. But understand this does not mean your revelation will hold true for your unsuspecting victim. People ask for help, and can only be helped if they want it. Discovering what works for them with their own agency is fundamental to individual empowerment and the success that follows. So let coaches coach. And get on with your own workout.
More Like This:
- Death by Food Pyramid: When Science Is Not What It Seems
- Your Diet Is Unique: How to Find What Works for You
- Why Everybody Is Wrong (And Why That's Okay)
- New on Breaking Muscle UK
Photo 1 courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.
Photo 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.