‘Nasty chemicals’, the naturalistic fallacy and the organic scam

Twice this week people have been trying to sell me something and used phrases like ‘natural’, ‘chemical free’, or ‘organic’, churning these well worn phrases out as though they make something inherently and obviously better. Maybe they think that, as a personal trainer, I am into diet woo, and perhaps many are, but the thing with me is that I really fucking love science, and, furthermore, I have a philosophy degree. So I demand that you provide citations for your claims, and I insist that your arguments are logically sound. Double whammy.

Ok, in all honestly I don’t often pull people up on the spot on their claims, because, let’s be fair, it’s likely a lost cause. In my experience, those wedded to dogma are deaf to any sort of challenge. I just hope that one day they can find their ways out of the web of bullshit and propaganda to a position based on peer reviewed, referenced and properly researched consensus. In the meantime, I just come here, to my blog, to let off steam and have a bitch. Maybe try to educate a little. Well, I can try.

So, let’s look at these claims. ‘Chemical free’. Well, nothing is chemical free. Everything is made up of chemicals, your skin, your sofa, your lunch. Definitely all your beauty products and foods. So nothing is chemical free. If you are daunted by scientific names for things then I suggest you get science literate, because you literally, and yes, I mean LITERALLY, cannot avoid chemicals.

’All natural’ – this is known as the naturalistic fallacy and has been around for a hundreds years. It is the idea that that which is natural is better, because it is natural. It has no basis, no foundation. It relies on unquestioning acceptance. It’s also a cornerstone of social Darwinism – y’know, killing the weak and disabled. Not that I’m suggesting that people who don’t like GMOs want to do away with the vulnerable, but just that they’re two sides of the same coin. Many awful conditions and fates exist in nature, like small pox and polio and famine, and many less awful but nevertheless inconvenient ones too, like tooth decay and food inflation. Science has done wonderful things for humanity in combatting both the awful and the inconvenient, and I can’t understand the position of those who oppose its advances.

Organic – if you want to buy organic, do, but don’t be thinking it’s better for your health or for the environment. Over 600 studies have shown that genetically modified crops are safe from humans and the environment. There has been no evidence that organic food is better for health. It requires more land to be cleared for farming than conventional methods, and uses more pesticides, often with a higher level of toxicity, than conventionally farmed crops.  Remember, natural doesn’t mean better – pesticides created in a lab can be much les harsh than natural alternatives. I, for one, choose to support genetically modified products where I can, because of the potential for good they can do in a world where many people are starving or ravaged by drought or famine. There is something to be said for buying locally, carbon footprint and all, but, as for organic, it’s nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

So if you find yourself telling someone that something is organic or better or chemical or GMO free, stop yourself and ask, what science supports my view? Because you might be talking to someone who is scienced up.

We need to talk about resolutions

Yes, it’s that time again, the diet vultures are circling, waiting to pick you off as you repent against the excesses of the last month.

For the diet industry, January sales are a predictor of how the rest of the year will play out for them. They know they need to get you now, it’s their best shot to suck you in with their snake oil, false hope and self flagellation. They know that what they’re selling doesn’t work (95 per cent of dieters gain all the weight back, plus more, within a year).  They don’t care. All the better for them, because then you keep coming back.

The fitness industry isn’t much better. “Beat the fat”, “a whole new you” etc. Tones of punishment and self hate. But the whole thing thrives on you feeling bad about yourself, giving you a whiff of “success” in a way that is never going to be sustainable, and then telling you it’s your fault when you fail. You just didn’t have the willpower, so give us your money again, but this time try REALLY hard.

It never works. Because positive change comes from sustainable habits and, crucially, a place of self love, acceptance and respect.

So why not improve your chances of keeping to your resolutions next year by making them something positive and awesome? Add, instead of taking away.* Instead of losing weight/getting smaller/cutting out carbs why not eat more veg/climb a mountain/become ludicrously strong? Give yourself something to really achieve, and watch as all the other stuff falls into place.

*Unless you’re giving up smoking. And don’t wait until January to do this.

Eat the goddamn pie


I keep seeing women saying things like “How are you sticking to your diet with all the yummy Christmas foods tempting you?” Or berating themselves for eating a mince pie.


Eat the fucking pie. Just eat it, enjoy it and don’t worry about it.

Maybe you’ll gain some weight over the festive period, but when you get back to normal habits, it’ll go back to normal.

It’s important, spiritually nourishing and goddamn lovely to celebrate and convalesce with family, to bond over food and drinks and not to be some neurotic party pooper lecturing everybody about gluten.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: prioritising diets over family bonding is back to front living and just ridiculous.

And if you don’t have habits that you can get back to after the festivities are over, if you’re on a super restrictive regime that doesn’t allow you to partake in your favourite foods, then you probably want to take a look at that. Because it doesn’t sound like what you’re doing is sustainable.


“I don’t want to get bulky”

Ladies, like many of you, my time in the gym used to consist of 45 high intensity minutes on the cross trainer, followed by a few crunches and some time spent wondering why I didn’t have a six pack.

The idea that weight loss/maintenance/a slim physique is brought about by hours of cardio is one that has been hawked by the mainstream media for yonks, and has become entrenched to the extent that, for very many women, the likes of running and spin class are the only exercise they do.

I’m not anti-cardio – it’s great for your health, and if you enjoy it then of course you should do it. But if you’re doing it in the hope that you’re somehow going to look like an Olympic distance runner, then I’ve got news for you…

Professional distance runners lift weights.

As personal trainers, one of the things we hear most often from women is that they don’t want to get “bulky”. That as soon as they do x exercise, y body part bulks up.

Now, first of all, that’s a physiological impossibility. Muscle growth is imperceptibly slow. The idea that you could do some squats one day and have thighs like Chris Froome the next is just fanciful. People who actually want to get muscular, and do everything to optimise muscle growth, dream of gaining a few pounds in a year. One year, of training week in, week out, for a few pounds. It’s not going to happen to you in a couple of weeks.

Now if you think I’m taking a mocking tone, let me tell you that I once thought I was getting bigger arms from using the cross trainer. Yeah.

After years of working out in this compulsive, habitual way, addicted to the calories on the screen (they’re not accurate, by the way), I decided to find out what I should actually be doing to get the kind of ripped physique I craved (I was thinking Cameron Diaz’s body at the time). Everything kept bringing me back to barbells.

And so, six years ago, I started picking things up and putting them down again, as it were. And, after a little time, I started to see some abs appearing. And my thighs, which had touched, stopped touching. My bum, which used to melt into my hamstrings became round a pert. What’s more, I learned to love lifting weights, getting a buzz out of my own sense of strength and power. Now the weights room is my favourite place to be.

Because, unless you’re some sort of genetic snowflake, lifting weights won’t make you bulky (those female bodybuilders that look like men in wigs – they took steroids to look that way). It will give you feminine curvature, and help to recomposition your body for a firmer, sleeker look.

If you’re training for a an endurance event or want to increase your endurance then it’s obvious you should be doing plenty of cardio. But that’s the only good reason I can think of for slaving away on a treadmill, cross trainer or bike. And you should still have a stretching and strengthening programme to complement this training, which will help improve your performance and prevent injury.

But if you’re slogging it out at cardio hoping to lose weight, improve your health and tone up, then I’m afraid you’re making poor use of your time. You can achieve a good aerobic workout with the same benefits for your health and fitness in a much shorter time using HIIT, which won’t contribute to lean tissue break down in the way that steady state exercise does. You can also manipulate weights sessions so that they provide a good cardio workout simultaneously, with the use of circuits or supersets.

So please, stop worrying about bulking up and get in the weights room. Oh, and don’t feel intimidated by those guys in there, often they’re training in flip flops and just standing around texting their mates anyway.

“Just eat less and move more”

…Also known as the idiot’s solution to obesity.

Do I believe that a negative energy balance isn’t essential to lose weight? No, it obviously is. But to reduce something with a myriad of complex social, environmental, genetic and psychological factors to one simple suggestion is idiotic.

But that wasn’t to be the point of this post.

We are led to believe by the media and those looking to make a quick buck by capitalising on society’s preoccupation with weight that we can, and should, eat as little as 1200 or 1500 calories a day, or even less. And furthermore, that we can, and should, exercise as well.

1200 calories is roughly the figure an adult male IN A COMA requires to keep his basic functions ticking over. Like, y’know, breathing, heart beating, hair growing. This is highly unlikely to be enough for a moving, non-vegetative person.

So it’s unsurprising that most of us are only able to ‘stick’ to these diets for a short time before we get utterly miserable and start eyeing up our children as a potential food source. It’s not lack of willpower, it’s called being ravenous.

But there are further consequences of attempting to create such a big caloric deficit. For women, we need an energy balance of around 40 calories per kg of lean body mass. That’s AFTER exercise. What you need left over for your body to perform its functions, especially those dependent on oestrogen.

If you try to eat this few calories, and exercise as well, you’re likely to be notching up somewhere well south of this. Levels of hormones IGF-1 and T3 decline and menstrual cycles and bone density start to suffer. You want to be thin, but do you want to be injured and ill? Infertile?

There’s a reason that 2000 calories is recommended intake for adult women. It wasn’t just plucked out of the air. And yet we’ve become so warped in our attitudes to food consumption that it seems like a dirty word. I know I would once have considered a day in which I ate this many calories a failure or a binge. Eating the recommended intake may not help you to lose 14lbs in 7 days or anything else ridiculous, but you will be able to ‘stick’ to it, and you won’t wreck your health and your mind.

So don’t just eat less and move more. Eat enough, and move enough.