“Genius is eternal patience.” – Michelangelo
Many people new to training, or new to healthy dieting — or even new to the whole ancestral wellness idea — are, by necessity, driven to emulate the actions of those who have forged a path ahead of them. This is the early part of any new learning curve, and will produce some decent results in the very beginning of the process. However, “emulating” rarely produces continuing, long-term change and continued progress. Why? Because each individual is just that — an individual, with a unique set of genetics and epigenetics that must be managed relative to our interaction in the modern world.
So emulating those who have been successful on a particular path is a great place to start, if for no other reason than to kindle inspiration and forward momentum. To succeed beyond the “inspiration” honeymoon though, requires other skill-sets. Most importantly, you’ll need the ability to observe and assess, to intuit, to rationalize and reason. And maybe even more importantly, you’ll have to be able to determine when you have enough information to act. Essentially, you’ll have to trust your gut and intuition on some things and forge ahead with less-than-adequate knowledge. But here’s the thing: actions that are “directionally accurate” are a hell of a lot more productive than sitting on your ass and waiting for someone (or some perfect piece of science) to point the perfect way ahead. Because “perfect” may never arrive in this lifetime. Get over it, and do the best you can with the available mix of observational and sound scientific information you have. And be amendable to changing your mind in light of new information! For God’s sake, don’t let your opinions ossify!
And because as much as I love and geek-out on science (and I do!), it’s only one tool in the overall kit. You have to understand the inherent limitations of any tool in order to use that tool appropriately and efficiently. Same with experience, accumulated (group) wisdom, gut instinct, n=1 experimentation and observation.
Also, one has to be comfortable asking the question: did the successful person I’m emulating achieve those desired results due to “luck of the genetic/epigenetic draw”, or due to the observance of some sound, scientific principle that can be applied across the board? Or, was it due to some combination thereof? And will it apply to me and my circumstance? And I say “comfortable” because rarely will you be offered a definitive answer.
Look, my workout regimen cannot be your workout regimen. My workouts differ greatly from what I prescribe to my Efficient Exercise clients, and each of my clients’ programming is individual unto them. I ingest a crap-ton of raw, unpasteurized dairy, drink coffee by the gallon (somewhat kidding), and behind-the-neck press and dip with heavy-ass poundages. Does that mean you should? No, it only means that I’ve done my due diligence with these movements and substances, assessing my unique, n=1 relationship with them. Same with my overall workout protocols. Learn from science. Learn from others and from observation. But at the end of the day you have to do your own n=1/Five Ts due diligence with that information. Be a citizen scientist!
Somewhat within the same realm is something I’ve written on before — that of being completely hamstrung into inaction from lack of credible (read, Randomized Controlled Trials, or RCT) scientific supporting evidence. Or worse yet, ambiguous evidence. Or worst of all — being held captive by the yammerings of educated idiots. Ok, so “idiot” is a pretty strong word; “unwise” is probably a better choice, but you get the idea.
Robb Wolf has written a great piece, here, opining on the same topic. Quoting from that piece (one of Robb’s best, in my opinion):
…what I AM, is skeptical of the skeptics, the folks who live and die by what is (or is not) in PubMed. Mainstream medicine got itself into a bit of a pickle a few years ago when holding “complimentary and alternative medicine” to some pretty high standards of research validation. I forget the exact number, but 70-80% of what is practiced in your standard hospital or medical office has NO randomized controlled trial (RCT) establishing efficacy. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve run across who will dismiss things like Ancestral Health or gluten free eating due to a paucity of RCT’s , the “gold standard” in medicine… (although even these frequently have huge methodological problems like not keeping people in a metabolic ward for the duration of the study…). These same people think nothing of using methodology which lacks RCT backing (most of standard medical care), yet shoot down new therapy using the same criteria. What they are relying on is, GASP! Observation! That dirty, dirty word to the EBM crowd, yet the very thing which forms a remarkable chunk of the foundation of their practice. I’d call this a double standard but usually that term implies some degree of awareness on the part of the perpetrator. In this situation, there is NO awareness, just an assumption that what makes up current medical practice has been “rigorously studied” when in fact most of medicine has simply been observed to “work” and that was the end of that…
…the Paleo Diet/Ancestral Health concepts were born of observation, an observation that pre-industrial societies show a remarkable absence of the degenerative diseases which plague the developed world. From this observation, various theories have sprung forth (immunologically reactive plant proteins causing Leptin resistance, changes in activity levels altering gene activity, maladaptive sleep patterns, gut dysbiosis and insulin sensitivity, etc.). We are now in the beginning stages of investigating some of these big picture hypotheses, and using the findings to refine our understanding of human health. It is humorous when I hear people dismiss “observational findings”, as these are the seed-crystal of ALL of science. We observe phenomena 1st, endeavor to construct predictive models 2nd…
..modern physics was born a little over a century ago when phenomena were observed that had no model of prediction or explanation. Shallow thinkers with names like Bohr, Einstein, De Broglei, Planck, and Schrodinger hashed out what would become the modern field (no pun intended) of quantum mechanics. It is worthwhile to do a little reading about this time, and the interpersonal conflicts that arose in the physics research community. It was a blood-bath. Personal attack’s, attempts at subterfuge. Substitute “quantum mechanics” for “paleo diet” or “evolutionary medicine” and we can largely transfer these stories of a century ago to our modern equivalent of the emerging science of Darwinian Medicine…
This is largely in response to the Salon.com article, “Paleofantasy”: Stone Age delusions; Paleofantasy being a book largely dismissive of the Paleo movement, by Marlene Zuk . Fair enough; we all need to be held accountable, and a large part of that is responding responsibly to criticism. It keeps us on our toes, and for that I am thankful.
Ms Zuk, though, is apparently incapable of making any real-world decision without benefit of a definitive scientific study to back it up. This is classic, academic, “failure to launch”. She’s obviously highly educated and intelligent — but is she in any way wise? Since she is so dismissive of the Paleo lifestyle, it would be interesting for her to lay-out her own diet and workout regimen. Backing up her choices, of course, with solid, RCT-backed, scientific study.
And yes, simple observation alone can get you in trouble. Admiring the finalists in a swim meet, for instance, then thinking that to get a swimmers body you’ll need to training like a swimmer dismisses the genetic element and self-selection at work in the sport itself. Observe, test, then assess. Is it really so complicated that we cannot first delve in on our own without specific and “solid” (Evidence Based!) science to cut the path first?
We do have to be careful, as well, not to become mired in minutia. I can find a bazillion scientific studies/agruments advising against the overhead press, not to mention the (gasp!) behind the neck version — and heavily loaded at that! And yet, properly performed, and with the right combination of intensity, rep scheme, etc, I’ve found it to be one of the best overall exercises to perform. Observe, test, re-assess.
Toward that end, here’s an excellent clip from Mike T Nelson discussing, essentially, the paradox of choice.
Because here’s the thing — eventually, you have to eat. And if you want to grow, you’ve eventually got to get your ass under a bar and lift some heavy-ass weight. That you might not be doing the exact perfect thing is ok — it’s still a hell of a lot better than being stymied by indecision, and doing nothing at all.
Albert Einstein nailed it in this regard when he said, “logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”
In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –