If more people knew the truths about fitness, more people would be fitter.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Far from it. Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In developed nations, overweight or obese adults outnumber the fit. Things aren’t looking good elsewhere either as two-thirds of obese people are from developing countries.
The problem is not that people don’t want to get fitter. They do. If they didn’t, fitness wouldn’t have exploded into a nearly $100 billion industry worldwide.
A recent survey in the UK reveals that the top 3 of all new years resolutions are fitness-related: (1) exercising more, (2) losing weight, and (3) improving diets.
People are eager to get fitter and willing to invest their time and money into it but the problem is that most of them have no idea about the truths about fitness. They keep spending hundreds of billions of dollars of their hard-earned money on gym memberships and other fitness-related products yet obesity rates keep rising.
The fitness industry avoids telling you the truths about fitness because they don’t actually want people to get fit. One reason they lie is that it’s not expensive at all to get fit. If more people knew the truths about fitness, the fitness industry would make a lot less money. Another reason they lie is that businesses pursue growth. More people getting fitter means fewer customers for the fitness industry. So it’s in their best interests to hide the truths about fitness from their customers.
It took me years of trial and error (and luck) to navigate myself out of the web of lies about fitness to finally get fit. I don’t want you to go through the ordeal I went through, hence this article.
Master the following 10 truths about fitness that nobody wants to believe, put in the work, and you’ll also get fit:
1. Exercise Is NOT Optional
Modern people treat exercise as something optional, something they can live without. It’s regarded as an afterthought, an “extra” activity to only be done if every other duck is in a row.
Since the downsides of a lack of exercise aren’t immediately obvious and serious health hazards of a lack of regular exercise take years (if not decades) to manifest, modern people tend to severely underestimate the importance of working out regularly.
Even among people who decide to start working out, exercise is seen as a temporary chore to be abandoned at the moment fitness goals are achieved.
The truth is that our metabolic, cardiovascular, and cognitive systems don’t function optimally without adequate physical activity.1
It’s proven by comprehensive research that “physical inactivity is considered a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer as well as for chronic psychiatric disorders.”
Due to the technological advancements of the last few centuries, physical activity is no longer built into the flow of daily life for the majority of the population. Most of us no longer need to hunt or till for our food.
The problem is that a few centuries are just a blip in the 200,000 years of human history. Our nature was formed when physical activity was necessary for survival so we biologically need to be physically active in order to function optimally. The modern sedentary lifestyle isn’t compatible with our nature which invites a slew of health hazards humans aren’t able to cope with.
Since we can’t choose the era we’ve born in, we need to play the hand we’ve been dealt. We need to make time for exercise because our bodies need it. When you understand that physical activity isn’t optional, you’ll prioritize it. “I don’t have time to exercise” implies optionality. It’s just another way of saying “I don’t prioritize exercise.” You always have time for your priorities.
Once you make up your mind that working out is a necessity you’ll be less likely to procrastinate when it’s time to exercise because your convictions are decisive over whether you procrastinate or not.
You must set a non-negotiable time for exercise in your schedule and arrange everything else around it.
Your health is your most important asset. Without health, nothing else matters. As the saying goes, “a healthy man has many wishes, a sick man only one.”
Don’t neglect exercise like most modern people do and you’ll be fit and healthy unlike most modern people are.
2. Fitness Isn’t Reserved For The Rich
Here’s a pattern that repeats itself over and over:
Whenever a rich celebrity shares a picture showcasing his/her excellent fitness on social media, the comment section is swarmed by people who claim it’s easy to get and stay fit if you’re rich.
Their reasoning is that rich people have more time in their hands to work out, more money to spend (on exercise gear, personal trainers, supplements, etc.), and better reasons to look good.
This is what happens when the fitness industry brainwashes people into believing that fitness is a complicated pursuit that takes too much time and requires you to spend money.
Fitness is a multi-billion dollar industry. Of course, they want you to believe you need to spend money to get fit. Of course, they offer a variety of products to squeeze out as much money as they can from the population. Looking at the number of people who think that a person’s level of fitness is directly proportional to how much money they have, it certainly looks like the fitness industry achieved its goal.
First of all, it’s dubious at best that rich people have more free time in their hands to exercise. The reality is that rich people usually work harder than everyone else provided that they’re self-made. That they have more time in their hands for exercise is probably not true. Sure, many rich people aren’t self-made but many rich people aren’t fit either.
Not having enough time to exercise is an obvious cop-out because studies consistently find that the average person wastes 3,5 hours a day watching TV while top-level fitness takes less than 3 hours a week of exercise.
Second of all, fitness doesn’t necessitate spending money on exercise gear, personal trainers, or supplements.
Has anyone ever asked you of money for doing push-ups? For walking outside? Hell, walking doesn’t even require exercise attire. It’s not like you need a personal trainer for doing push-ups or walking either.
The reality is that most exercise can be done at home or outside for free, doesn’t require personal trainers, and supplements are overrated. You can do full-body exercises at home that answer all of your fitness needs with zero equipment other than a $5 pull-up bar and walk outside in case you need cardio for burning extra calories.
Buying expensive equipment is not only not necessary, but it also decreases the probability of working out because it’s a pseudo-action that crowds out real action.
Look at Greek statues of fit and muscular men to understand that fitness is timeless. These men didn’t have gyms, modern exercise gear, supplements, steroids, or personal trainers but they still managed to get lean and muscular.
3. The Only Way To Lose Weight Is To Eat Fewer Calories Than You Burn
The lying diet industry convinced hundreds of millions of people that calories don’t matter for weight loss. These “convinced” people now refuse to believe that calories do count and they’re cocksure about it.
Lots of fad diets (low-carb, zero-carb, low-fat, Paleo, Atkins, Dukan, Glycemic-Index, Insulin-Index, etc.) emerged that advocate the insignificance of calories in weight loss yet what all these diets insidiously try to achieve amounts to indirectly reducing the calorie intake which is the only way they can possibly work.
-But Lane, I did a zero carb diet and I swear it works.
If you omit 95% of foods from your diet, it’s likely you’ll create a caloric deficit. All fad diets can accidentally work if they result in a caloric deficit.
A comprehensive 2012 study entitled Popular Diets: A Scientific Review unsurprisingly concluded that “diets that reduce caloric intake result in weight loss” and “caloric balance (calories in vs. calories out), rather than macronutrient composition is the major determinant of weight loss.”
-But Lane, if it was just about calories why weren’t previous generations obese?
This question encompasses the idea of fad diets (such as Paleo) that if we ate like our ancestors did, we would be fit like they were. To answer that question, let’s look at recent data.
According to WHO (World Health Organization):
- Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975,
- Worldwide calorie consumption per capita has increased from 2,435 calories per day in 1975 to 2,940 calories per day in 2015.
The simplest explanation is usually the correct one which exactly is the case here. 500 calories per capita increase in daily calorie consumption adequately explains why obesity tripled since 1975.
No matter how much you want to believe that calories don’t count, we are all subject to the laws of thermodynamics. Calories do count because a calorie is a unit of energy. Just like you can’t escape the law of gravity, you can’t escape the laws of thermodynamics.
The only rational course of action is to come to terms with the laws of nature and eat fewer calories than you burn if you want to lose weight.
4. Strenght Training Is The Best Type of Exercise
More or less, we all work out for similar goals: To be fitter, healthier, and happier.
The truth nobody wants to believe is that strength training is the best type of exercise to achieve all of these goals at the same time. No other type of exercise comes close.
Let me explain.
First of all, while conventional thinking dictates that if you want to lose fat, cardio or aerobic exercise is the way to go, in reality, strength training is the best type of exercise to lose fat and keep the fat off.
Cardio (or aerobic exercise for that matter) doesn’t burn as many calories as you think and the moment you stop training is the moment you stop burning calories.
A better idea is to build muscle mass that burns calories round the clock. Studies show that “skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure”. Strength training is the best type of exercise to build muscle and hence improve skeletal muscle metabolism.
Not only strength training makes it easier to lose fat, but it also makes you look better after losing fat. After all, everyone wants to be fit but no one wants to look like a bag of bones. When people say they want the “toned” look, what they mean is that they want to build muscle. You can’t be “toned” without building muscle.
Moreover, strength training is the best exercise for health because it helps prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease, protects against diabetes (by improving insulin sensitivity), and slows down aging (by protecting against age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, sarcopenia, and osteoporosis.)
As for happiness and well-being, strength training trumps other types of exercise too. It’s proven to improve confidence (both in men and women) and it’s also proven to increase testosterone both for younger and older men which translates to greater well-being as low testosterone is associated with depression and low sex drive.
Also, when you’re lean and muscular as a man or “toned” as a woman, you’ll obviously feel better about yourself and you’ll look more attractive compared to a bag of bones look of those who lack muscular size.
5. You Can’t Out-Exercise A Bad Diet
While exercise (especially strength training) helps you lose fat by burning calories, you still need to control your calorie intake if you want to be lean.
Because it’s incredibly easy to overeat. Most people (including me) can easily eat a thousand calories (or a few thousand for that matter) in one sitting but it’s incredibly hard to burn a thousand calories by exercise unless, maybe, you’re a professional athlete.
I say maybe because there’s evidence that even the highest-level professional athletes can’t out-exercise a bad diet. I remember reading Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s biography where he said he gained fat for eating pasta two times a day, despite playing for the top Serie A club Inter Milan at the time.
It also doesn’t help that humans are hardwired to overeat whenever excess calories are available. Humanity went through countless famines throughout history so our instinct is to eat as much as we can whenever there’s a food surplus and store the excess calories as fat so that we don’t starve in case of a famine.
Our bodies are survival machines honed by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. That calories have never been as abundant as they are today and we are evolved to overeat whenever excess calories are available explains the epidemic of obesity.
An overabundance of calories is uncharted territory for humanity so there’s nothing wrong with you if you overeat and gain weight. No matter how hard you exercise, you must restrict your calories or you’ll get fat.
6. You Can’t Lose Fat Without Feeling Hungry
Modern humans found themselves in a conundrum. For the first time in human history, the majority of humans are overweight so they want to lose fat but they also want to do it without feeling hungry.
Hunger is extremely uncomfortable so people think if our ancestors managed to stay fit, there must be a way to get fit without feeling hungry.
While this reasoning is flawed, the diet industry seized this opportunity and went on to make bank by selling products that promise comfortable fat loss (i.e. losing fat without feeling hungry). The problem is that it isn’t possible to lose fat without feeling hungry which is why diets or diet products that promise easy fat loss without hunger don’t work.
As we’ve already talked about, calories have never been this abundant during entire human history. What we face as modern human beings is uncharted territory. When new circumstances arise, new approaches are required.
It’s true that our ancestors didn’t need to watch what they ate because only a select few of them enjoyed the luxury of an overabundance of food. But today, no matter our socioeconomic status, almost all of us can overeat which is exactly what most of us do, hence the obesity epidemic.
Our ancestors stayed fit with relative ease because they didn’t get fat in the first place. Unlike our ancestors, most of us want to lose fat, which inevitably invites hunger. It’s possible to maintain your fitness without feeling hungry but it’s not possible to lose fat (which requires you to eat fewer calories than you burn) and not feel hungry.
Hunger is a survival mechanism to remind you to eat. If our metabolisms didn’t produce signals of hunger in case of a caloric deficit, we’d forget to eat and humans would long be extinct. Feeling hungry when you are losing fat (i.e. in a state of caloric deficit) is proof that our metabolisms are working as they should. It’s completely normal and expected to feel hungry when you’re losing fat.
If you don’t feel hungry when losing fat, it means there’s something wrong with your metabolism and you should see a doctor. Don’t expect to not feel hungry when you’re dieting. Hunger is the only reason why losing weight is tough. If there was a legit way to lose fat without feeling hungry, most people would already be fit.
I get that hunger is uncomfortable. Well, it was uncomfortable too for fit people who were once fat but they got fit thanks to their discipline. If you are out of shape but unwilling to be uncomfortable, you won’t get fit.
It’s not your fault that calories are abundant and you have to actively limit the food you eat but it’s your responsibility to do so. The only solution is to stop whining about it and start playing the hand you’ve been dealt.
It takes time, effort, consistency, and discipline to go from fat to fit. You’ll feel hungry at times. No amount of mental gymnastics will change that. Hunger is very uncomfortable but you have the power to resist it. You are not that fragile. You are not that weak.
Look at all the people feeding the beast of the $100 billion a year fitness industry. They’re all looking for shortcuts. Now, look at how many people are actually fit. Their eternal search for shortcuts doesn’t seem to be working, does it? Stop seeking shortcuts and do the work.
By all means, utilize the tactics to fight hunger but realize that hunger is inevitable. Be disciplined. Don’t be afraid to use your willpower. It builds character.
7. You Can’t Spot Reduce Fat
When I was training hard and restricting calories in my pursuit of six-pack abs, my belly was the last spot in my body to lose its fat. Rigorously training my ab muscles didn’t change that reality for a bit. I wish there was a way to burn the belly fat first so I could get six-pack abs much faster and easier but there’s nothing that I could do about where my body decides to lose fat.
Many people frantically search for a way to spot reduce fat but they’re essentially in pursuit of an elusive pipe dream. You eat fewer calories than you burn and your body decides where to burn its fat tissue. Usually, the body part that you want to lose fat is also the last place in your body to lose fat.
The best way to lose face fat, thigh fat, belly fat, or else is to eat fewer calories than you burn. Lose enough fat and you’ll eventually lose fat in any spot in your body where you want to lose fat.
8. Working Out DECREASES The Chances Of Injury. Not Increase It.
Many people around me have been believing I am rendering myself vulnerable to injuries by training hard. They still do. They’re especially frightened of deadlifts thinking that it’s just a matter of time until I permanently injure my spine.
The truth is that I had already injured my spine when I was in my early 20s due to a lack of core strength. I had severe lower back pain for years which made me fear any risky movements because the pain would be insufferable in times when I accidentally strained my spine.
Today, lower back pain is only a distant memory to me. I developed formidable core strength by resistance training and my lower back injury is gone.
While I am certainly not immune to injury and had multiple minor injuries due to training hard, all of them healed in a short enough time. If I had never trained for strength, my lower back pain was bound to get worse by now and would severely be limiting my mobility.
On the other hand, people who never train get injured all the time because of simple accidents. Many people have consistent lower back pain or hernia or other injuries that limit their movement caused by trivial acts such as sitting in a wrong position, carrying a suitcase, tying shoelaces, making a bed, changing a tire, picking something from the cupboard, etc. Overweight people injure their backs and knees all the time with minimal movement.
All of these injuries are preventable by building stronger muscles and/or getting leaner.
The primary causes of injuries are weak muscles, bones, and tendons or too much strain over body parts caused by excessive body fat.
Exercise strengthens the muscles, bones, and tendons in addition to helping you get leaner so that you’ll be less likely to get injured.
9. Measuring Fitness Metrics Is A Necessity
All serious businesses have to measure every business-related metric or they’ll quickly go out of business.
Your doctor measures your body temperature, blood count, etc. Your tailor takes measurements of your body. Your workplace measures your performance. Your teachers measure your knowledge by exams. Your government measures your income to tax you…
Measuring helps you make better decisions. If you don’t measure, you shoot in the dark.
Fitness is an essential part of your life. Measuring your fitness metrics greatly improves the precision of your fitness-related decisions. Measuring your waist, the food you eat, how much you train, etc. is essential for getting fit.
Just like a business can accidentally be successful without measuring its business-related metrics, you can accidentally get fit if you instinctively know what you’re doing (due to lifelong habits) but otherwise, you stand no chance. If you are not fit and you aim to get fit, your best bet is to measure the primary fitness metrics.
Here are some benefits of measuring your fitness-related metrics:
- If you count your calories, you can adjust your diet to eat fewer calories than you burn so that you can lose fat. Also, measuring enables you to tweak your diet if you hit a plateau.
- If you track your training, you can make sure you’re making progress. Also, measuring enables you to tweak your training in case you hit a plateau.
- If you track your waist circumference and weight, you know whether your diet is working or not. If not, you can tweak your diet instead of mindlessly repeating the same mistakes.
- If you measure and record everything until you reach your fitness goals, you’ll have a strategy in the bag that you can repeat endlessly whenever life gets in the way and you fall out of shape. If I fall out of shape due to various reasons, I easily regain my fitness with a proven plan because I had recorded every fitness-related metric when getting my six-pack abs.
- Measuring your progress is rewarding. Fitness is a long-term goal that provides delayed gratification. A lack of gratification can be demotivating at times, especially when you seem not to be progressing at all. Measuring your progress enables you to notice small improvements which provide small bouts of gratification, also affirming that you’re on the right track. For example, hopping on the scale and finding out that you lost 2 pounds during the last week creates pleasure and helps keep you going even though you might have 20 more pounds to lose.
When I tell my overweight acquaintances to count their calories, they look at me as if I’ve just insulted their mother. Considering that the average person wastes 3,5 hours a day watching TV, the lengths they go to avoid measuring a health-related metric that takes five minutes a day at most is flabbergasting but such is human nature.
No wonder why these people are never able to get fit. They allow their circumstances to seal their fate, rather than manipulating those circumstances to take their destinies into their own hands.
10. Fitness Is Simple
One reason why people never try to get fitter or give up on their fitness goals long before they become fit is that they think fitness is a complicated process.
They fixate over minutiae such as what time to eat or not to eat, which supplements to use, what is the best time of the day to train, which foods are making me fat, which foods can help me lose weight, which foods have a low glycemic index, etc. They even obsess over whether to eat brown or white rice. None of these things matter.
Fixating on minutiae does more harm than good because it consumes willpower. As we’ve already talked about, you need discipline to get fit so you have no business wasting your willpower over small stuff that doesn’t matter.
It also doesn’t help that there are thousands of different food and exercise options to choose from, which adds fuel to further confusion. If only they knew no complicated strategies are required to get fit, more people would be fitter.
Fitness is simple. While simple doesn’t equal easy, humans are strong enough to power through hardships.
If you want to get fit, here’s all you have to do: Build muscle, restrict calories and you’ll get fit. Simple as that. Granted, it’s not easy but then again, if it was easy everyone would already be fit.
Focus on the essentials. The best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn while ensuring you eat enough protein. The best way to build muscle is to do compound exercises while you progressively overload.
Be sure to read:
- Ripped with Bodyweight: 12-Week Program for Muscle Growth and Fat Loss, the ultimate bodyweight training and diet program to get fit fast.
- 10 Truths About Building Muscle That Nobody Wants To Believe
- How To Get Motivated To Work Out
- Training and Diet Principles to Get an Athletic Body
- 10 No-BS Tips To Curb Hunger When Dieting For Fat Loss
- van der Zee, M.D., van der Mee, D., Bartels, M. et al. Tracking of voluntary exercise behaviour over the lifespan. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 16, 17 (2019)