A missing aspect in most people’s approach to health and fitness is the idea of a target, an end, or at least a goal that you could call completion.
For many, the idea of ‘completion’ of their weight loss and muscle building goals is almost blasphemy. Most people approach fitness under the concept of CONTINUALLY losing fat and gaining muscle, because they don’t want to think about the idea of an end.
Without diving deep into a discussion on genetics and phenotypes, let’s just agree that their is such a thing as an Ideal body for you.
Lets also agree that we can all move close to our ideal body, and this ideal is defined by the limits of our own individual bodies.
For some reason it’s not ‘right’ or ‘correct’ to talk about an ideal shape or an ideal body, even though we have a large body of evidence that this very thing exists. Instead, we’re supposed to all be happy at any shape or size, of body fat, or muscle mass…and somehow the message of ‘be happy’ has been mutated into “don’t strive to improve, and think poorly of those who suggest that improvement is possible” leading to the inability to fathom the idea there even being a true ideal.
But an ideal does exist. Anthropometric data (body measurements) on professional athletes and body transformation winners, combined with military data all all point to a very specific shape that signifies and ideal, healthy body. We may not all be able to hit the goal, but we can all get very close to it by using exercise and diet as treatment – In this way, exercise and diet are corrective.
Accepting that there is an ideal or a goal body that represents a true ‘finish line’ leads to the philosophy that the farther you are from this ideal, the more severe the treatment needs to be, but the closer you get the less severe the treatment becomes. Very similar to treating being ‘out of shape’ as a form of sickness – you treat the sickness, but once it’s gone you switch to attempting to prevent it from coming back.
The point is to move from harder to easier, to the point where you are simply fine tuning the result… putting in the amount of effort needed to maintain, maybe tinkering with the process a bit, but not purposelessly putting in more and more effort in the hopes of achieving a goal that is not measurable or describable.
Once you realize there is a point where you are no longer ‘sick or broken’ that you are OK, Fine, even… done, then you can you train less and eat more of what you want. This entire approach can be ruined by the concept of ‘Sick mentality’ which I learned about from some friends who have gone through cancer treatment.
With cancer patients one of the most important things is to stay positive through your chemotherapy. Realize that there is an end, and you will be better again. The opposite of this is what some doctors call ‘sick mentality’ a feeling that it’s NEVER going to end and you are always going to be sick are always going to need treatment.
In this way many of us have been duped into a health and fitness version of sick mentality – thinking that we’ll never be fixed, that we’re always sick or broken and will always need intensive therapy involving various restrictive diets, exercise programs and supplement regimens.
To me this is the absolute worst way to think about health and fitness.
On the muscle building spectrum, the farther away you from what your body is capable of, the more effort will needed to build muscle – more workouts, more volume (collectively creating more stress), more protein, various supplements etc. But as you move closer to your ideal the less many of these things will be needed. You will move towards a healthy body where you need less workouts, less volume, less protein, and less supplements, because you are essentially done building surplus muscle.
The same thing holds true in people who are obese. The more overweight you are the more effort it takes to lose that weight. In the obese, anabolic resistance can occur, where you need more protein to illicit an anabolic response then an otherwise lean person would need. But the closer you are, the more ‘in-tune’ your body is, since as we’ve stated before an ideal body seems to also be an ideal functioning body, it is more or less a shape of health. At a certain level of leanness and muscularity things tend to work as they should. Insulin sensitivity, Leptin sensitivity, Leucine sensitivity are all roughly where they should be.
Consider the lean person you know who is lucky because they can ‘eat whatever they want and not gain weight’. They are not ‘lean BECAUSE they can eat whatever they want’, they are ‘lean THEREFORE they can eat whatever they want’. The same goes for the people who gloat about the junk and decadent desserts they can eat. They can eat this way BECAUSE they are lean and well muscled. By and large you’d consider them ‘there’. They are lean, muscular and in ‘shape’.
To put in simply – your needs change as you move closer to your target. This doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want and never ever workout, it just means that you move from corrective measures to preventative and health maintenance measures. As an analogy – once you’re finished Chemo and have been declared Cancer free, you do your best to go back to a normal enjoyable life, but you don’t start drinking and smoking everyday. This being said, you also don’t keep doing Chemo to try and get ‘more cancer free’ since the risk benefit falls heavily to the risk side. The same thing is true for diet and exercise…
I don’t think anyone will argue that exercise isn’t healthy. Its beneficial effect on the health of the body and the mind has been documented in numerous scientific studies over the years. However, exercise in excess can be deleterious to certain organs and systems of the body. In fact, the very way in which exercise promotes health is by acting as a stress situation for which the body must find a new dynamic equilibrium. This dynamic process requires, among other things, adaptive responses of the hormonal systems, the autonomic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. It’s not just muscle gain and fat loss that occurs as a result of a workout or the act of eating less.
In this case exercise is like a medicine – there is an obvious value to using it as a corrective measure, but if you are going to use it as a preventative then the dosages must be adjusted. The exact same can be said for calorie restriction – there is a known benefit to calorie reduction, but the degree of reduction must change as you move from being corrective to preventative. You simply cannot spend your entire life dieting.
The goal isn’t zero percent body fat. And, you will reach a point where you simply cannot add more muscle.
At the beginning the going is difficult – losing fat and building muscle can be an extremely uncomfortable process, ESPECIALLY when you first start out. You are typically eating much less food that you would otherwise like to, and you are pushing your body to a degree you are simply not accustomed to. It hurts. And your body seems to fight you every inch of the way. Some approaches may be needed at this stage that won’t be needed in others. This includes supplementation, different macronutrient intakes and different exercise protocols. But as you move closer to an ideal body for you, the less corrective your approach should be. It should move closer and closer to maintaining and fine tuning.
In other words, you will reach a point where you are no longer ‘sick’, and this is a good thing.