Over the past two years, in part because of my profession and in part because of my own rational self-interest, I’ve learned quite a lot about food and fitness. When I woke up one morning a couple of years ago and realized I was no longer the svelte 215 pounds I’d managed as a high school football player, I threw myself into learning everything I needed to know to get back down to my “fighting weight.”
In the process, I’ve learned to be wary of the myths and messaging out there in the fitness and nutrition community. In this area, everyone, and I mean almost everyone, is an expert. From some random Joe you follow on Twitter to your Aunt Thelma, people will tell you quite bluntly their brilliant ideas and stories they’ve heard or read about weight loss and eating healthy.
Many times these well-intentioned individuals are wrong, but they just don’t know any better. In the case of an article I read this week on the subject, sometimes they should know better, and still put out some wildly inaccurate information.
Case in point: the gym where my fiancé and I work out publishes a regular email newsletter to communicate club activities and other helpful information centered on our interests. From an upcoming Yoga clinic to this week’s Squash tournament (yes, I am playing competitive Squash and planning to attend the beginners’ Yoga workshop), the email includes a good deal of useful reading.
This week, however, an article about my favorite protein caught my attention. The Meat of the Matter: Looking at Beef, is an article written by LifeTime Fitness’ director of nutrition and weight management, purporting to deal with questions club members might have about meat consumptions and health concerns popularized by the mainstream media.
Written nearly two years ago, the article nonetheless surfaced in this week’s newsletter, and really rubbed me the wrong way.
In the article, the author starts off innocently enough, acknowledging that there is a lot of competing information out there about meat consumption, and that many of the most vocal advocates of one food ideology or another have a vested interest that may not always be in the best interest of the consumer. He writes:
"It is important to consider where the advice you are receiving comes from and what the facts are in relation to that advice. There are parties interested in seeing the continued rise in the sales of beef and there are those who would like to see all animal foods removed from our diets. The story from either perspective can be extreme. The truth is likely found somewhere in the middle."
From there, however, the writer goes off the rails a bit, delving in to the evils of modern livestock production and food processing practices. While pointing out that “research” popularized in the ‘50s and ‘60s suggesting that red meat would put you in an early grave has largely been discredited in recent decades, the author nonetheless adds the caveat that the “best” meat to consume is that produced under the vary narrow confines of “grass-fed, free-range.” He continues:
"The second area of concern about meat consumption comes from the way much of the meat eaten today is processed. With the preservatives, fillers, even high fructose corn syrup and trans-fat in many processed meats, it's possible these ingredients could lead people down a path toward less health and more disease.
"A third area of concern about meat consumption comes from the way animals today are grown to provide the meat we eat. Much of the meat we eat today comes from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which are like factory farms. They make for a more profitable, low-cost operation, but disease is more common, the animals are not fed their natural diet and the treatment of animals can be questionable. This is a topic we'll discuss in more depth in the future. I would also encourage you to see the film Food, Inc. which is playing nation-wide in select theaters. It is a very powerful film that goes into detail on what farming is like today."
Where to begin…
You already have your own opinions, based on your own research and knowledge, about how off-base most of the comments really are. What concerns me, of course, is that a professional health and nutrition “expert” hired by one of the larger health club chains in the country, has this way of thinking underlying his teaching to the club’s members.
If the professionals who are supposed to help us learn how to eat right and exercise have these types of biases at the root of their teaching, how can we expect the average consumer to know any better?
As I’ve often said, we have to focus on the middle 80% of the consuming public who purchase food based on price, convenience and taste preference. Most Americans don’t spend the money I spend to belong to a nice athletic club and work with a personal trainer.
Even so, efforts within our industry to build relationships with food and fitness professionals are clearly time and money well spent.