An Open Letter to Conventional Wisdom: Bite Me!

Dear Conventional Wisdom! 

For decades, you’ve been giving us rules to live by for a “healthier life.”  I understand that you think you’re doing us a solid with these tips, but you’re old and somewhat senile.

Okay, really old and very senile.

Now, if you were like the nice old man next door who yells at trees in the park, I wouldn’t mind – he’s harmless.  But for some reason, people don’t realize you’re not playing with a full deck…so they’ve used your advice to get fatter, slower, and unhappier.  I know you mean well, but when the stuff you tell us is either useless or dangerous to our health, I have to draw the line.

It’s time to put you out to pasture, gramps.

Here at Nerd Fitness, we do what we can to challenge everything (it’s in our rules to live by).  We understand that just because somebody told us it was true does not make it so; that often times going against what you say by doing the exact opposite is how to get results.

I know you have a huge majority of the population brainwashed, which is why a lot of my qualms below might even freak out some of the newer Nerd Fitness rebels.  I’m okay with that – like Neo in the Matrix, they need to be woken up.  Let’s take a look at some of your more egregious offenses and set the record straight.

It’s on like, Donkey Kong.

(ps – tank tops now available in the store.  Order here or get more details at the end!)

Eating fat will make you fat

This one must have been pretty easy for you.  eat fat = gain fat…right?

How dare you sir.

You’ve been pitching this one since like, the 50′s, which is why every food these days comes in a low fat variety!  Unfortunately, the low fat versions are almost always way less healthy for you than the regular version.  Why? Because they just replace the fat with sugar, or salt, or some other chemical compound…and THAT’S the stuff that make people fat.

Fat has been wrongly accused, and I’m here to bail him out. 

Fat as a nutritional compound is actually incredibly beneficial to so many different functions in our bodies!  In fact, there’s no shame in a majority of one’s calories (50-60%) coming from healthy fats (avoiding trans fats, of course).  I realize you tell people to minimize fat and load up on “heart healthy whole grains” – but it’s those grains, sugar, and other processed carbs that make people fat!

I bet you don’t like this video, huh?

This article by Gary Taubes in the New York times pretty much puts you in your place here.  Hell, he even wrote a whole book about it, which I wholeheartedly recommend reading for anybody interested in this stuff – it’s much easier to get through than his incredibly researched but difficult to finish Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Can we stop it with the “low fat” crap, and get people focused on eating real food?

Thank you.

Eating cholesterol will give you heart attacks

Another softball right down the middle.

When people die of heart attacks and clogged arteries, their arterial walls are lined with a compound that is composed of cholesterol.  So, it was a simple enough conclusion for you to draw that eating too much cholesterol would cause these issues with cholesterol in the blood stream and lead to clogged arteries.  Factor in the pharmacutical community pushing cholesterol lowering medication on everybody over the age of 50 and its easy to see how this idea became so widespread.

You tell us that the lower our cholesterol is, the healthier we are (allegedly)…

And that food has cholesterol which increases the cholesterol in our bloodstream…

Which means if we eat less cholesterol in our diet, then the healthier we’ll be!

FAIL!

As the Framingham study determined (which legitimately made the researchers sad because they wanted so badly for a correlation), “There is no indication of a relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol level.”  Despite no evidence that linked the two; the doctor overseeing the study refused to believe it – “it is incorrect to interpret this finding to mean that diet has no connection with blood cholesterol.”

Seems like somebody wants to be your Valentine, Conventional Wisdom – he refuses to believe anything other than what you say!

Here’s the real deal:

Cholesterol, like fat, is actually something that our bodies need to survive, which is why our liver cranks out up to 1400 mg of it each day.  Yeah, the stuff we so desperately try to avoid in our food is produced by our body to make sure we survive!  On top of that, our bodies are pretty effing clever, which means that if we eat more cholesterol…our body regulates itself by producing less of it, and vice versa.

On top of that,  when it comes to cholesterol in our blood stream, it turns out that there are different KINDS of cholesterol – HDL, the good kind, and LDL (which actually has different types – large billowy LDL and small dense LDL).  It’s the small, dense LDLs that cause the inflammation and start people down the path to atherosclerosis and heart trouble.

Want to know what contributes most to increasing the number of the small, dense LDL?  Sugar and simple carbs!

I could go on about cholesterol until I’m blue in the face, but it’s time to move on.  So I’ll let Mark Sisson take over, who’s written an incredibly comprehensive article on all things Cholesterol, including why it’s been vilified.

Please note: I’m not advocating disregarding your doctor’s orders, but rather having a serious conversation with him about your cholesterol – if he/she continues to recommend cholesterol lowering medication (and remember, there’s more to it than just the number…), get blood work done before and after 30 days of an improved diet and then discuss things with him.

Remember, question everything!

You need cardio to lose weight

It’s no secret around here that I’m not a big fan of boring cardio.

As my friend Vic will tell you: “treadmills are for hamsters.”

But I understand why this one is so prevalent.

Life is a simple math equation, right?  “Burn more calories than you consume and ye shall lose weight.”

That means that if somebody wants to lose weight, all they have to do is simply spend more time on a treadmill every day and they’ll lose weight.  So, they spend 1-2 hours per day, every day, on a treadmill or elliptical or rowing machine or in a Zumba or step aerobics class and torture themselves to lose weight.

In this blogger’s humble opinion, there are only two reasons to do hours of long cardio:

  • You legitimately enjoy the activity.  If it makes you happy, do it!
  • You want to improve your endurance/cardiovascular health.

Notice that weight loss is not one of those reasons. 

Thanks to your crap, CW, I have to convince people every day that unless they like the activity, cardio can only take them so far.  If pure weight loss is the goal, the far better option is to focus on cleaning up their diet.  Or even better yet – combine strength training with a fun mobile activity AND clean eating!

This study revealed that 185 extra hours of cardio in a year created minimal weight loss in a group compared to compared to those who didn’t exercise at all.    Doing hours of cardio makes your body crave the very foods that make you fat and keep you fat: carbs!  It’s why this Time Magazine article accurately pointed out that exercise alone is not enough change for weight loss (even though they were lambasted by the media for it…it’s true).  They should have replaced “exercise” with “chronic cardio” though.

I don’t do traditional cardio. Ever.

Why? 

Because I don’t enjoy it.   SO I DON’T DO IT

I strength train with heavy weights and strenuous body weight exercises, which gives my heart a helluva workout. Despite never doing cardio, I could still take off and run five miles at a moments notice with no ill effects.   My cardio comes from my strength training, sprints, frisbee tossing, and the occasional pick up basketball game when I’m visiting my brother.

Here’s the best article I’ve ever read creating a pretty great case against chronic cardio.

So, can you please start telling people that more cardio will not make them skinnier, and that they should instead clean up their diet and pick activities that make them happy.

Thanks, okay I’m done with you. 

Just kidding. Definitely not.

You need to eat every three hours to lose weight

Okay, CW.

I have to admit, back in the early days of Nerd Fitness…even I fell for this one.

And it’s a pretty convincing argument – in order for our metabolism to operate at maximum efficiency, it needs to be constantly working…hence, the whole “eating every three hours for weight loss” thing.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way – our metabolism isn’t that bright!  Want to know the real reason eating every three hours helps people lose weight?  It’s because it keeps them from OVEReating during their actual meals.  For example, not eating breakfast isn’t the end of the world…unless you work yourself up into such a frenzy by lunch time that you eat 3000 calories.

Now, this shouldn’t discourage the folks that only have time for two meals a day provided they can control their cravings and consume HEALTHY food.  After all, the quality of the food plays a big role in all of this along with quantity.

On top of that, our bodies CAN adjust to not eating for intermittent periods of time, which CAN lead to fat lossCome on, you think cavemen had meals evenly spaced every three hours? 

Now, CW…I will agree with you that eating every three hours can be really beneficial…for skinny nerds looking to bulk up.  Because they need to overload their bodies with calories to promote mass and muscle gain, it’s easier and to overeat by a few hundred calories every few hours than overeat by 1000 calories in two meals.

So you can stop this one right now.

Seriously, stop it.

Machines are safer than free weights

I’m going to slap you in the mouth for this one, you smelly pirate hooker.

Machines are the devil, and robots will one day take over the world…if zombies don’t do it first.

Honestly, I cannot think of a more useless/potentially dangerous invention in exercise history than weight machines.  They put the body in weird angles, they do all of the stabilization work for one’s muscles (which leads to imbalances and injuries), and they promote isolation movements rather than compound movements, which don’t teach your body.

I know you want to convince people that machines are better because picking up a free weight is scary and machines are easier to get started….or something like that.  Which is all crap.

I want people to think of it like this: getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time and driving in 6-lane traffic at 80 mph is dumb.  So, take the time to learn how things work, study, practice, repeat, and THEN hit the big lanes with confidence.

Where am I going with this story? Using weight machines is like having somebody else ALWAYS in the car also holding onto the wheel and guiding the car with you, developing a sense of undeserved overconfidence and reliance upon somebody else.  If you’re taught like this and only train like this, your first trip out into the big world on your own will result in an accident.

So, I tell people to suck it up learn proper form with free weights.  These newbies should start with a super light weight and work on their form.  They can also ask a competent trainer to check their form on their squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.  A good trainer should be able to teach proper form in just a session or two.

I actually had a guy email me a few months back and say “I know you don’t like machine,s but I’m afraid of free weights.  Can you design a workout for me using machines instead?” I told him that I couldn’t do so with a clear conscience, and that he would need to look elsewhere if he couldn’t try weights.  Never heard from him again.

You might have brainwashed that guy, CW, but not the rest of this community!

(quick note: the only machine i can condone are the cable machines, as those still allow a full range of motion, but even those shouldn’t be focused on at the expense of good ole fashioned free weights or body weight training)

Lifting heavy weights will make you bulky

I feel bad for all of the women of the world you’ve convinced of this one.

Do you realize the damage you’ve done? IT IS FREAKING IMPOSSIBLE FOR A WOMAN TO GET BULKY WHILE LIFTING WEIGHTS unless they are overeating, have superior bulk-up genetics, taking supplements, and actively training and working hard and TRYING to get bulky.

Shame on you, sir.

I’m grouping this one with one of your other pearls of useless wisdom: “lift light weights for lots of reps to get that toned look that all women want.”

NO. STOP. FAIL. Picking up pink dumbbells and doing 50 bicep curls will do absolutely NOTHING for a woman’s arms, and neither will 50 leg press reps with 25 pounds.

Higher reps with low weights build muscular endurance, but do nothing for creating the look they want.

If women want to look “toned,” they need to realize that it’s heavy weights for low reps on things like squats, deadlifts, and presses combined with a clean diet that will get them the results they’re after.

It works.  Ask Staci.

You might have fooled most women CV, and even many of the people who should know better – but not the women of Nerd Fitness!  I received an email last week from a female who said “the trainers in my gym told me that girls don’t need to do deadlifts!“  Luckily, she’s smarter than them, so she’s going to learn without their help.

Oh, and this doesn’t just go for ladies – guys who strength train and eat right burn the fat but keep the muscle they have…which is how to build a body to be proud of. 

And that’s not all

Those are the six biggest crimes against the fitness community you’ve committed, but there are more.

For example. more expensive and heavier padded shoes do NOT make people less likely to get injured while running.   A better running technique and proper training will keep the injuries away.

Oh, and more sit ups will not reveal a six pack.  Stop telling people that! My friend Saint and his abs will back me up on that one.

Yeah. “heart-healthy whole grains” don’t make them healthy either.  They’re still grains and tons of carbs.

Well, that’s all I have for you today – I realize you’re old and you probably fell asleep at least twice during this rant Mr. CW, but try to get your act together and help me out here.  I’m sure it’ll take you another 30 years to catch up, but do it.

Oh, and you can tell your wife “Old Wives’ Tale” to go to hell too!

With love,

Steve

[PS - NF Reader, if you happen to have some more conventional wisdom fallacies you'd like exposed, please share them in the comments!]

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  • Carlton Dickens

    Well, first love the article, it was spot on and filled with good info. I will admit that I was a little disappointed to see that no one had posted a comment in two years and felt a little late to the party. Better late than never.

  • Katrina Rose

    Ya know, when i was living on my own at 19, i watched my family start the JennyC diet and… Holy crapola!! they all lost a ton of weight… they also all looked sickly… Not healthy. So after several months of all of them partaking in the diet… they decided that it was too expensive and that now they knew what they could eat and when they could eat it, they could continue to lose weight or continue to maintain their weight.. so a few moths later, most of the weight was put back on… and we were all fatties together again. So after a few months of trying to lose weight on her own, my mom decided that the only way she could lose weight was to go back on the JC diet… I claimed lies!! I send tons of health information to my parents on a regular basis because I feel i am helping them find all natural ways of getting healthy… Now I have become an avid NerdFitness reader and basically told her to erase all garbage from her memory and get on this site and just poke around. She loves it, I love it, and now we are all Paleo beginners.