How to Parse Through a Plethora of Fitness Information Without Getting Confused, Misguided, or Overwhelmed
Lately, I’ve been on a real reading kick. In particular, I’ve made it my mission to learn everything I can about longevity. And one of the recurring topics that appear again and again is intermittent fasting (or IF).
So in turn, I’ve been reading a lot about IF and it’s role in health and fitness.
And my word, there’s a lot of information out there to wade through.
Which sent me back to those days when I used to read other kinds of fitness advice and feel completely overwhelmed by how much information there is out there.
Especially since so much of it seems to conflict with each other.
And that’s what I want to talk about today; how we consume and vet information, particularly as it relates to your health and fitness. Because to be honest, there’s a lot of bad fitness advice out there.
Disclaimer: I am not a fitness or diet professional, and this article is not a substitute for medical advice. The following is based on my own research and opinions of what has worked for me.
I do talk about intermittent fasting throughout the article but merely as an example of how I find and vet information. I am by no means giving any particular advice surrounding IF itself. Always get a green light from your doctor before making any changes diet or exercise regime.
** My blog posts contain affiliate links, which means that I may earn a commission on purchases you make after clicking on those links. (At no extra cost to you!) Full disclosure here. **
Is the information you consume good or bad fitness advice?
No matter the topic, you need to be careful when you consume information, especially today when anyone can claim pretty much anything on the internet.
Because it could be unreliable information.
It could be incomplete information.
Or more sinisterly, it could be biased, or even flat out wrong.
This is true of information on pretty much any topic, but where it is particularly vexing – and even potentially dangerous – is in the health and fitness industry.
There is so much conflicting information out there about fitness!
Every new message seems to contradict the last.
“Stop eating carbs!”
“Eat more carbs!”
“You need more cardio!”
“You’re doing too much cardio!”
You get the idea, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself.
Personally, this used to be a huge source of frustration for me, particularly where diet is concerned. Due to my confusion and overwhelm, it held me back from making progress for a long time.
But over the years I have learned to use critical thinking when consuming any kind of information, and I believe it has served me well in steering me away from dangerous or bad fitness advice and towards a healthier life.
I’ve been applying it again now as I am learning all about IF.
I figure if I have had such frustrations in the past with parsing through the deluge of conflicting fitness info, then it’s possible you might as well.
In which case I thought I would share with you the steps I take to help me separate fact from fiction, bias from objectivity, and what kind of information is worth applying to your own life personally. Although I’m using the example of fitness, you can apply this to other areas of your life as well.
To be clear, I’m not here to tell you that a certain diet or lifestyle is correct or incorrect.
I’m here to help you determine for yourself what’s what the next time you’re faced with a boatload of information that seems to be saying different things.
Step One: Keep an open mind but take a critical approach
When faced with new information, I find that many people tend to fall into one of two camps:
Maybe they grew up being told that something was fact and as a result is unwilling to explore any concepts that contradict that belief.
For example, the demonized food group when I was growing up was fats. It was thought that all fats were “bad” and the culprit behind weight gain.
Some people still hold onto this train of thought despite research and evidence that fats are a necessary part of our diets. (With the exception of trans fats.)
This is the camp of people who see or read something one time and immediately buy into it as gospel.
If Dr. Oz said it on TV once, it must be true!
What you should strive for is a middle-of-the-road approach. Of course you can not believe everything you read or hear, but at the same time, don’t immediately dismiss it just because it’s a different concept.
In my real-time example, when I first heard of intermittent fasting a few years ago, I did hold a biased opinion.
I believed it was just another fad and perhaps something even more sinister. (Like, an acceptable label you could use to cover an eating disorder…)
But after I started reading books about longevity, the topic of intermittent fasting came up again and again. That’s when I started learning and accepting that there is a lot more to it than that.
Step 2: Read more than one book on the topic
In fact, read as many books as you can about it. And I recommend this over searching for random articles on the web, or at least in combination to this.
Because on the internet, anyone can pretty much say anything, which can make finding the facts even harder.
Getting your information from multiple credible sources helps you vet the information and get a fuller picture of the topic. Because if you only get your information from one source, you might only be seeing the topic from one side.
For example, in my pursuit to learn about intermittent fasting, I found the information varied depending on what benefits the book was focusing on.
One book I read focused on how IF assists with weight loss while another zeroed in more on how it prolongs longevity.
Step 3: Take a closer look at the studies
If the books and articles you’re reading are making scientific claims without referencing relevant studies, that’s your first red flag that the information is bogus.
But even if a study is referenced, go a step further and look at the study itself. There are a couple of things to look for.
First of all: who funded the study?
It matters because the paycheque behind the study may either sway the results of the research or influence what parts of that study are actually published.
Yes, this happens. This article has some excellent examples.
Secondly, there’s a possibility the author of whatever you’re reading might be cherry-picking facts from an impartial study to try and support their point while leaving out other facts that could be important.
Step 4: Find the common ground
When you start consuming information from a variety of sources, you will start to find common themes, or things that “everyone can agree on”.
For example, as I have been reading about fasting, there seem to be a lot of different viewpoints on how long you should fast.
In Jillian Michaels’ book The 6 Keys, she finds that 12 hours is plenty of time for IF. But in the book, Life in the Fasting Lane, a collaborative effort by Dr. Jason Fung, Eva Mayer, and Megan Ramos, it suggests that there are benefits to longer fasts, and the proposed plans range from skipping breakfast to going without food for several days.
But between those books and other sources out there, I’ve found there is a general consensus that 12-16 hour fasts can be good for gut rest, cell repair, and reducing insulin resistance.
So I started with that for my own IF journey.
Step 5: Look at the different angles
In many cases, conflicting information isn’t actually conflicting at all, but rather two sides of the same coin.
For example, Life in the Fasting Lane is a great book, but it repeatedly states over and over that weight loss is not “calories in, calories out” or “CICO”. The book strongly encourages you to ditch calorie counting altogether.
While I agree that CICO is too simplistic and that drastic calorie restriction can be more damaging than helpful – I personally know that calorie counting does work because that’s exactly how I lost 20 lbs three years ago – and kept it off.
But while the book discourages calorie counting, I take it with a grain of salt. (Or a gram of carbs?)
Because it focuses on different aspects of weight loss which are also important, like the quality and timing of your food, rather than how much.
Step 6: Experiment with small changes
If you take a critical look at the information and conclude that it’s something you want to try out for yourself, don’t just dive in headfirst.
Anytime you make any kind of habit or lifestyle change, it’s always a good idea to start small.
- Making small changes over a longer period of time makes it easier to stick to for the long term
- You’re less likely to experience adverse effects when you take things slowly
If you’re brand new to exercise, you’re not going to start running 8 miles a day or do 50 lb bicep curls, at least not without really hurting yourself.
And when you have an adverse reaction to something, then you think it’s not working or not for you and give up.
Another example is how I’ve started IF for the first time. I was already naturally fasting for 10-11 hours every day without realizing it. So I went ahead and started an IF schedule of 12/12 – 12 hours fasting with a 12-hour eating window.
Then over the next week or two I bumped it up to 13 hours and 14 hours.
This week is my first week at a 16/8 IF cycle, and I’m still feeling great. But I’m pretty sure I would have had a rough time if I’d jumped straight into a 16 hour fast.
Step 7: Evaluate the outcome aka – Listen to your body
This is the most crucial step of all. If you’ve implemented a new diet or workout regime and after a week or two you’re feeling like crud, something is probably wrong.
Maybe you have a food intolerance, were going too quickly, or maybe this particular lifestyle choice just isn’t for you.
On the other hand, maybe you’re feeling great and seeing progress you’ve never seen before. In which case, congratulations!
But continue to give things time and remember that more isn’t always better. Always, always listen to your body because it won’t steer you wrong.
In my IF example, I think I will continue a 16/8 IF for a few weeks because I’m already at a point where I’m starting to see the benefits. For example, I’m finding I’m more focused, and I finally broke through a month-long fitness plateau. Right now I don’t see any reason to extend my fasts beyond that.
I’m not done learning about intermittent fasting or about health and fitness in general.
And I never will be. I’m committed to being an eternal student and I think that’s a healthy, fulfilling way to be!
I hope these steps will help you in your own journey and keep you from following bad fitness advice. Remember to take things logically, slowly, and methodically.
Above all else, pay close attention to the results of your changes. Your body is always talking to you. Listen closely and it will help take you where you want to go!
How do you approach the plethora of fitness information out there? Do you have a hard time with separating bad fitness advice from good?
What are your biggest frustrations and victories when it comes to finding what works or doesn’t work for you? Let’s get a convo going in the comments!