By Kyle Shea
The list of popular diet and exercise trends is endless — fat free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan, paleo, Atkins, Keto, IIFYM, intermittent fasting, Crossfit, P90X, etc. As someone who has been involved in the health and fitness industry in various capacities for the better part of ten years, I have heard arguments for all of the above — and many more! During this time, I have made a concerted effort to educate myself by speaking to countless people who implement any of these diet and exercise methods into their lives, or those of their clients, in the hopes of better understanding the reasoning behind their particular beliefs.
What I have found most surprising is the unwavering claim by many who have achieved results through a particular path, that theirs is the only one that can truly lead to “optimal” or “perfect” health and wellbeing. For many vegans, the idea of a meat eater being healthy is inconceivable. To a person that has experienced results while on the Keto diet, people who consume carbs are clearly wasting their time. If you are dairy free, those who drink milk or eat cheese must certainly have poor gut health. Likewise, if you are someone who follows Crossfit, does a person not flipping tires during their workout even lift, bro??
Admittedly, as someone just starting out in the industry, I chose to chalk up these extreme viewpoints to: “Everyone has a right to their own beliefs” or “as long as they are not hurting anybody, who am I to judge?” But, as I started working with more and more of my own clients, I began to realize just how much all of these competing ideologies — particularly amongst those viewed as respected fitness professionals — were creating confusion and frustration for the many people who were relying most on the expertise of these individuals in order to improve their own health. I mean, with so many fitness professionals discrediting one another, who are you to believe? It was at this point that I decided to speak up and challenge those in the industry who held such rigid beliefs. I did so by asking a string of four important questions.
#1 | What does it mean to achieve optimal or perfect health?
After all, if you cannot define what it means to have perfect health, how can you be sure of what is/isn’t required in order to achieve it?
For those who are able to offer a definition to my first question, I move on to the next.
#2 |Based on your definition,do you believe that you yourself have achieved optimal or perfect health?
I mean, if someone claims that the diet/exercise methods they implement are the only way to achieve perfect health then they, as someone who implements those methods, must be a representation of perfect health, right?
#3 | Are you prepared to suggest that the only people who can claim to have achieved this definition of perfect health are those who have chosen to implement the exact same diet/exercise model that you have?
This is where people start to get annoyed. That is because in order to make this claim, you have to believe that every person on the planet who fits your definition of perfect health has done so using the methods that you claim to be essential. This is an extremely bold claim, and one that can be easily debunked.
Example: If you claim that, in order to achieve your definition of perfect health, a person must be a meat eater who practices Crossfit, then by default you are suggesting that none of the 375,000,000 vegetarians in the world are able to meet that definition, nor can the vast majority of the world’s population who do not practice Crossfit.
#4 |Is it conceivable that not everyone’s definition of perfect health is the same as yours?
Not everyone’s definition of perfect health can be easily quantified by using generic numbers or tests. While one person’s goal may be to finish first in the decathlon at the upcoming Olympics, another may simply strive to be able to keep up with the active lives of their small children. Claiming the parent must practice the same diet and exercise regimen as the Olympian in order to achieve their goals is completely unnecessary and will likely lead to the parent growing frustrated and giving up.
As I’ve spent more time in this industry, I’ve found myself caring less about interchangeable details while working to achieve my fitness goals and those of the clients I work with. I have no desire to convert them, or myself, to a strict diet that limits happiness — nor do I care to push someone towards one particular training style which they may not find enjoyable. Instead I try to focus on the commonalities found amongst those who have managed to successfully achieve their version of perfect health, by working towards a goal they are truly passionate about and pursuing it in a way that allows them to maintain a positive attitude and remain motivated throughout their journey.
For the benefit of those who are relying on our expertise, I encourage more of my fellow fitness professionals to consider doing the same.
Kyle Shea is a wheelchair-bound personal trainer living with spina bifida. He is devoted to helping people achieve their fitness goals, regardless of any obstacles or limitations they may be facing. He is originally from Guysborough, Nova Scotia but resides and works in Toronto, Ontario.
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