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Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Nick asked on my review of Engineering the Alpha

"Am I being a bit thick here and thinking you cannot have an 8 hour eating window out of 24? It only means skipping breakfast"

The word "only" annoys me. Mostly because it's often used in the way Nick used it: to create an illusion of ease where ease doesn't really exist.
The world record for the Clean and Jerk in the Men's 105kg+ weight class is 263 kg, according to Wikipedia. That means to beat that record, all you have to do is Clean and Jerk 264kg. Which is only 580 pounds.

Tossing around the word "only" trivializes what is actually an incredibly difficult task. Moving 580 pounds in any lift is challenging. Doing it in the Clean and Jerk is an effort worthy of a career's worth of training.

Of course, skipping breakfast isn't on par with setting records in weightlifting. But it is more complex than it seems, at least for me.

For one thing, I'm a combination stay-at-home dad and self-employed entrepreneur. The nature of my business means that I work a lot of nights, and as a result, breakfast is often the only meal that we are guaranteed as a family (lunch is always out, dinner is questionable, depending on the day).
My days usually run from about 530am-10pm, and I am relatively active for much of that time.

Despite my best efforts, my schedule tends to be a bit erratic, and is always subject to the whims of fortune and my son. I could have the best plan in the world for working out, eating, or whatever, but if wakes up from his nap early, or sleeps in late, my plans are done.

Could I, in theory, just stop eating around 2pm? Sure, but then I'd miss dinner with my family, if it's a night that I'm home. Plus, I'd have to grind through the latter half of my day on an empty stomach. And honestly, trying to eat after breakfast is often challenging, so that might not happen either.

All of which adds up to making skipping breakfast a pretty poor choice for me. I know it works for a lot of people, but with my lifestyle and schedule, it's just not a option.

This isn't just about Intermittent Fasting, however. This is about an attitude promoted in some parts of the fitness and martial arts industries that constantly asks "well, I can do it, so why can't you? What's the big deal?"

The big deal is that people have lives. They live in realities that don't accommodate your latest fad diet, workout plan, or training scheme. You can have the best martial art in the world, but if requires ten years of eight-hour a day practice to be competent at, you're going to have very few competent students. A perfect diet that doesn't fit into someone's lifestyle isn't perfect at all. And so on.

The word "only" trivializes the very real challenges that people face in their daily lives. Saying "it ONLY takes an hour a day" may sound like nothing to the single personal trainer, but the single mother of two who holds down a full-time job, and another on the side might find that an hour a day is more than she can possibly commit to anything.

If you're a coach, trainer, or whatever...don't trivialize your student's challenges. Embrace them.


Neil Bednar said...

Jake, thank you for thta post and for ecognizing the realities of life. What drives me nuts is how omnipresent the mantra from fitness and health blogs is that tells us to "make sure we get at least eight hours of sleep". Hah! What a joke. Clearly I'm the first man in history to get up in the middle of the night several times to help with feeding a baby. Sort of throws a wrench into the quality sleep plan from all the gurus, at least temporarily. As if people are living life purposely staying up for no reason and eschewing REM. Please.

Jake said...


Yeah, the "always get eight hours of sleep or your muscles will atrophy and your brain will implode!" gets me too. How the human race got this far, I have no idea.

I think a lot of this advice gets thrown around by young, single, male trainers, who have lots of free time and flexibility in their schedules. The rest of us are assumed to be able to follow along with them. It's insane.