Master of Puzzles

Imagine this. You have a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle in front of you, but you have no idea of what the picture should look like. Can you put it all together? Sure. Is it going to be hard? You bet!

I tend to spend a great deal of time thinking about health and nutrition. Why can some people eat whatever they want and stay at 12% body fat? How can some people train ten hours a week, eat a well-above average diet and still struggle with weight loss? How do people even begin to know where to start?

Let’s face it the weight loss journey—well—it sucks. You have reputable doctors telling you “the XYZ” diet is the optimum diet. On the other hand, you have countless other studies, doctors and nutritionists disproving that optimum diet. Turn to Instagram, or Pinterest, and bam! You have thousands of people selling training and diet programs that they “used” to lose weight, tighten the glutes and fix everything.

Truly, the process is daunting. Couple those difficulties with the cyclical nature of progress and setbacks, the unhealthy addiction we have with various foods and the disappearing virtue of patience (be honest, can we even sit through a commercial break without pulling out our phone these days?) it’s an uphill battle. I get it.

I’m no nutritionist. I’m not a doctor nor do I have all the answers. But I do think there are two glaring problems in the current realm of weight loss.

First, if you are or ever have been overweight, no doubt you have received never-ending advice from in-shape people who either, (a) have never been fat or (b) have lost a substantial amount of weight and know how you can lose it too. Here’s the problem: they know what works for them. They’ve solved their puzzle. Maybe it was four pieces, maybe it was 1000 pieces, but they put it together.

Unfortunately, no two puzzles are the same. To make matters worse, our puzzle changes for our individual life circumstances. Every year we get older, add more pieces your puzzle. Is work or school stressing you out? Your picture is changing. Forgive the pun, but I think you’re starting to get this picture. So, go on—please—tell me, how can you fix me.

The lack of understanding this coincides with the second issue, or rather, issues: misinformation and ill-informed opinions. Let’s start with the ill-informed Opinions.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, this misinformation does not stem from ignorance, incompetence or malice. I truly believe doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, coaches, all of them, they want to see their patients or athletes succeed. All of them are far more knowledgeable than I could ever dream to be.

Instead, the real problem is, if we have the pieces to our puzzle but don’t know what that picture looks like, all of these outside resources are trying to put our puzzle together blind. They need us to solve our puzzle more than we need them. They only have the big pictures detail of what they are trying to put together. Maybe they can “feel” the pieces, the shapes and edges, but they rely solely on what we provide them, either verbally or through various tests and markers. They have an even harder job than we do!

The second part of this problem is the ill-informed opinions readily available to anybody with internet access. Even sidestepping the least informed opinions of internet profiteers, modern research is largely missing the importance of individuality. Don’t believe me? Just do a quick Google search for “best diet for weight loss.” Publications on results from meta-data and studies on populations from As-backistan are supposed to reveal the healthiest diet for you or me? I think not. Now I’m not saying each of us is as unique as a fingerprint, but life presents far too many variables to propose any one-sized fits all macronutrient approach.

Take it a step further and try to hone in on the pros and cons of any particular diet and you would think we were discussing politics or religion. Instead of useful information, you find cult followings, critics, and opinions of absolute certainty behind the “science” delicately balanced against vitriol diatribes railing against that same science. And, of course, we cannot leave the many billions of dollars being spent on supplements and product marketing. The odds are definitely against us.

So where should you start? Anywhere. Knowing what isn’t working is almost as good as knowing what will. As much as I wish I could, I cannot solve your puzzle for you. I will gladly support anybody in his or her journey, but for now, I want to suggest a paradigm shift for each of us.

These days, too many of us a far too quick to judge somebody for being overweight, quick to blame it on laziness or lack of discipline without even being able to see the puzzle they are trying to put together. Maybe we’ve had ours figured out from the day we were born, or maybe it just needs readjusting every few months. I encourage you to try and understand. Take a step back and remember, it’s not a simple process. If it were as simple as skipping ice cream at dinner, there would be little no obesity issue in the world.

For those that have managed to piece together their own difficult puzzle, share your journey, and if requested, share what has worked while remembering your puzzle is different. Always keep those struggling lifted up and keep them pointed in the right direction. It’s important to remember that what worked for you, may not work for someone else and it’s not “their fault” your process isn’t working.

When I was in grad school, one of my professors used to say “don’t get lost in the forest, fly over the trees.” If you’re in a position to help somebody with nutrition and trained to do so, I propose the opposite. The research is above the trees, but the pieces to our puzzles are on the ground. Forget this one size fits all approach, and similarly, lose the “if you do it my way, and it doesn’t work it’s your fault” attitude. Again, I’m not blaming you, but you have inherently limited knowledge of each individual puzzle. It’s an art, not a Made In China, one-size fits all product.

Finally, for those struggling to piece it all together, I encourage you to keep trying and stay persistent. Keep what fits, adjust what doesn’t. Try not to let others discourage you and try to avoid being tied into a specific diet that works for someone with 2 million followers. Listen and question trending media diets—what they are, why they say it works. And most importantly, do not solely rely on others for solving your puzzle. You have the most knowledge about all the pieces.

You will find it. The process may not be fast. There probably won’t be one solution and there probably won’t be one set back. Stay focused and make the little decisions count. Try a piece. See if it fits. Adjust.

It’s up to you to be your own puzzle master.

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