Let’s face it, no one likes to believe or admit that they’re an extremist, but the fact is that extremism in health and fitness is pervasive, particularly when it comes to diet. And the real problem is just how easily it spreads to the unwary.
Too many people have bought into the belief that unless they’re depriving themselves of any food that contains fats or carbs and making their life a complete and utter misery, then they’re simply slacking.
This notion that unless you’re extreme, you’re not serious about fitness, is totally misguided. In fact, quite often the opposite is true.
There’s an old saying about working smarter, not harder. It’s an expression that’s based on a lot of common sense, and yes, it even applies to fitness. I do believe in working harder, mind you, but only if you’re working smart first. If you’re just trying to work harder but ignoring working smarter, then you’re just spinning your wheels.
Of course there are those individuals out there that are actually happy to keep doing that. That’s because their big payoff isn’t the results, but rather “bragging rights” about how hardcore they are for enduring so much hardship and sacrifice.
If your goal is to be a martyr, then best of luck to you.
But if you’re more interested in getting results as effectively and efficiently as possible, then you need to be aware that there are a lot of extreme practices and beliefs out there that are making things hard for fitness enthusiasts but not necessarily getting them any closer to their goals.
Below are 25 examples of dietary extremist beliefs and/or practices that simply aren’t doing anyone any favors:
- You restrict yourself to an unhealthily low calorie intake.
- You confine your diet religiously to a shortlist of approved, so-called “clean” foods.
- You bring your own food in Tupperware containers when you go out for a meal with friends.
- You eat a meal every 2 to 3 hours.
- You only eat organic or gluten-free food.
- If you don’t have a protein shake within 30 minutes of your workout, you’ll lose your gains.
- You avoid any salt whatsoever because it causes you to hold water and look softer.
- You eat as few carbs as you possibly can if you want to lose weight.
- The more supplements you take, the quicker and easier you’ll see results.
- You avoid all cooked and animal-based foods because they cause cancer and other illnesses.
- If something tastes good, you have to avoid it.
- The only carbs you eat are vegetables.
- You strictly follow a paleo/primal diet because that’s what humans are genetically programmed to eat.
- You diet 6 days a week and have an uncontrolled binge (cheat day) once a week.
- You can’t trust the quality of any food that you don’t grow yourself.
- You snack on celery sticks.
- You never eat carbs after 6:00pm.
- 50% or more of your calorie intake comes from protein.
- The only fluids you drink are juices and water.
- You avoid an entire food group (without being instructed to do so by a medical professional).
- You refuse to allow yourself to enjoy a tasty treat, ever.
- You sip on BCAAs or a protein shake during your workouts.
- You only consume low GI carbs.
- You avoid all saturated fats.
- You don’t eat fruit because it contains fructose.
This list is by no means exhaustive of course, there are very many more extremist practices out there, but this will give you a pretty good idea.
The general rule of thumb to follow when it comes to your diet, if you want to avoid being a dietary extremist, is that the optimal course of action in any situation almost always lies in the middle ground. That means whenever you hear absolutes being mentioned, such as always, never, as much as possible, as little as possible, best, worst, and so on, you need to take in the advice with a very healthy dose of skepticism.
One of the most common traps that people fall for is the “all or nothing philosophy”. Here are a few simple examples of this:
- Overeating carbs will lead to weight gain, therefore you should avoid all carbs.
- Your body needs protein to feed muscle growth, therefore you should eat as much protein as possible.
- Dietary fiber is good for digestive health, therefore you should eat as much as possible.
- Drinking 2.5 liters of water a day is good, therefore drinking 5 liters a day is twice as good.
I’m sure you get the picture.
Just because something is good, it doesn’t mean that more is better. And just because too much of something is bad, it doesn’t mean you should avoid it completely. There’s a “sweet spot”, or optimal point, for everything, and while that varies from individual to individual, it rarely lies at an extreme for anyone.
If you’re someone who enjoys partaking in one or more dietary extremist practices for your own personal reasons, that’s fine. It may be for ethical reasons, cultural reasons, or whatever. The important thing however is that you understand exactly how they may impact on your health and fitness, so that you’re able to make an educated assessment of the pros and cons.
Far more common however are people who have been misled into believing in one or more extremist practices, and using them in the belief that it it’s beneficial to do so. Take a close look at your own diet and try to identify whether you fall into this category.
At best these practices are unnecessary, and at worst they’re detrimental to your health and your results. Remember, more suffering doesn’t always equate to more results.
“More is not better . . . better is better.”
If you’ve unknowingly been indoctrinated into dietary extremist practices yourself, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Let me know what it was that you are or were doing, and how you overcame it!
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