Yep, it’s all guessing. Educated guessing but guessing, nonetheless.
When you go to the doctor and tell her about your symptoms, she’ll ask you some relevant questions, maybe do some poking and prodding and then probably prescribe something (pharmaceutical or not) to treat your condition. She might say something like… “okay, let’s try this drug at this dose and see how you respond.” What she won’t do is predict an exact outcome in a given time. Why? Because she doesn’t know what will happen. Not exactly, anyway. She can’t. Yes, she might have a pretty good idea of what might eventuate but she also knows that there are far too many variables to be certain about how an individual will respond to a particular treatment. Which is why we often have two people who present with identical symptoms and are given the same treatment, only to achieve totally different results. Sam recovers quickly but Jo doesn’t respond at all. In fact, he gets worse. Jo returns to the doctor who then does some more investigating and takes another educated guess. By the way, this is in no way a criticism of doctors but rather, an insight into the enormity and complexity of altering peoples’ physiology for the better. Right now a good friend of mine (Jane, a radio co-host) is in the middle of a significant health battle. She has a degenerative lung condition and despite the fact that she’s working with brilliant doctors and nurses, it’s fair to say that the last two years of her life have largely been medical trial and error. Educated guessing.
As an exercise scientist, I have prescribed thousands of programs, supervised thousands of workouts, answered a trillion questions (seems like) and just like the doctor, it’s all educated guessing because I can never know with total certainty how an individual will respond to particular physical stimulus. Some people will recover from a workout quickly, some slow. Some will experience post-exercise soreness, some not. Some will adapt quickly and some will take forever. Some will get injured, some not. Some will grow like a weed and some will struggle to build muscle. Some will drop fat and weight rapidly and some will hold on to it like a son (or daughter) going off to war. Some will train with enthusiasm, intensity and total commitment and some will do whatever it takes to avoid any kind of discomfort. As a coach and scientist, I am always paying attention, interpreting results and making adjustments along the way. And while I’m pretty good at guessing these days, I still get surprised on a regular basis.
Well, what a messy minefield nutrition can be. If you want to get disheartened quickly, ask ten experts (I use the term loosely) one question and your head might actually explode from the confusion and frustration. If there’s one thing we can agree on about optimal nutrition it’s that there’s very little agreement. And apart from the (sometimes shonky) science of it all, there’s also the emotional food zealots who feel compelled to criticise anyone who doesn’t think or eat like them. And aren’t they fun to be around?
Just what we need… more judgement.
What, with the high-protein, low-carb brigade, the paleo people, the Atkins army, the intermittent fasting crew, the vegans, the Zone people (40/30/30), the raw foodies, the blood type gang, the low G.I. advocates, the hormone diet people, Jenny Craig (and the like), the macrobiotic dieters and let’s not forget the ever-expanding mountain of fat-blasting, body-transforming pills, potions and powders that we now have at our disposal, it’s no wonder we’re confused. As a rule, dieticians (the most qualified in this field) and nutritionists (who can vary greatly in skill, education and knowledge levels – some are great, some not) are a good place to start if you’re looking for education and direction but even then, I would go on personal recommendation.
Learning and Un-learning
Even after thirty-two years of prescribing exercise and dispensing advice (and twenty-three years of owning a gym), I’m still learning. And un-learning. Even after working with thousands of bodies (and the people who inhabit them), I’m still making mistakes and miscalculations. I’m still humbled by how little I know and how amazing the human body is. Yes, I can know with certainty that lifting weights can increase strength, power, speed, muscular endurance and overall function but do I know with absolute certainty how Subject A will respond to Program B in environment C for X amount of time? No. I’m just an educated guesser.
So, What’s the Message Here?
Well, if you think I’m criticising professionals who work in the medical, nutritional or exercise fields, then (1) I’ve communicated poorly or (2) you’ve misinterpreted what I’m saying.
What I am saying is two key things…
1. Have faith in health care professionals but not blind faith. Ask intelligent questions. After all, it’s your body. Your life. If your health care professional won’t allow you to respectfully question or challenge their advice, then find yourself someone with a smaller ego. Even with the advice that I provide on this site, I encourage you question it, trial it (perhaps) and see if it proves to be effective for you.
2. Pay attention to your body. Become your own guru. Listen to the experts but more importantly, listen to your body. It’s smart! You might not have the piece of paper on the wall but no-one knows your body better than you. You might not always interpret the signs as well as you could but tune in to your inner intelligence (it’s there) and if you allow it to, it will teach you.
Love to hear your thoughts on this article.