Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
16 Feb

Trusting Authorities (or Not) Based on Appearance

personaltrainerRegina Benjamin, the United States’ 18th Surgeon General, is markedly overweight. She’s a highly trained physician who famously set up a medical clinic for Alabama’s poor hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina, and she’s unquestionably knowledgeable and experienced, but she’s also overweight. Does this negatively impact her role as the public face of health? Does her weight detract from the message?

Or take countless nutrition experts that fit the mold of the dietitian featured in this video? She’s educated, has dozens of books on nutrition and healthy cooking under her belt and, at least on paper, looks like an authority of sorts. But her physique (saying nothing of her healthy eating tips) doesn’t exactly instill confidence in her recommendations (as readers noted in the forum).

On the other hand what about someone like Jillian Michaels? Strong shoulders. Check. Trim waistline and ripped abs. Check and check. She must be doing things right? Right?

I’m sure you see what I’m getting at. Does the physical appearance of a fitness or nutrition authority affect the worthiness of the message? Do we discount weight loss advice from an obese expert who can’t take her own advice – or that takes her own advice a bit too well (in the case of Dr. Benjamin)? Do we listen, enraptured, to the opinions of a random gym rat just because he’s got massive guns? What about the lanky older dude with a Crossfit total of 1,000 pounds?

The natural reaction is to balk at the overweight nutrition teacher or the flabby fitness guru, and accept as gospel the recommendations of musclebound meatheads. And why wouldn’t it? If they practice what they preach and practice equals results they should look the part. But are we missing out on some great stuff by ignoring physically unimpressive people? On the same token, are we making false prophets out of people who are just genetically blessed statistical outliers?

Absolutely.

“Oh, I dunno. I pretty much eat whatever I want.” How often have we heard that from chiseled, elite athletes? Lamar Odom eats pounds of candy each day, sports sub-10% body fat, and is fast, tall, and powerful – does that mean you can do it and make the NBA, too? Michael Phelps eats upwards of 10,000 calories a day, most of it from refined carbohydrates and industrial, processed fats (he’s not sprouting his grains or whipping up his own mayo, folks), yet he retains a lean swimmer’s body and several world records. Neither Odom nor Phelps are telling us what to eat or how to exercise, but plenty of people point to them as evidence that nutrition doesn’t matter. Plenty of bodybuilders lift weights seven days a week for several hours each day without showing signs of overtraining. Try lifting heavy for hours each day without accelerating your anabolic hormonal response to superhuman proportions. Should Joe the middle manager with a pot belly be taking lifting advice from Ronnie Coleman? Of course not. These guys are statistical outliers; they’re the exception to the rule. Their success is often in spite of their training or diet (what if Odom and Phelps ate nothing but real food?). And in some cases, their success is amplified by chemical assistance or steroid use. And yet these are the people whose advice is trusted and sold to unsuspecting consumers looking to get in shape.

Big muscles make fitness magazine covers and sell supplements and lend credence, but that’s it. Statistical outliers don’t make the argument – for or against a particular training or eating program. We see them try, though, all the time. I can’t really blame them. I do the same. A bodybuilder’s physique makes for great marketing, and I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that my fitness levels and appearance make the Primal Blueprint more believable and easier to digest. I’ll also say that because I’m trying to reach the most people possible, it’s crucial that I maintain strong personal fitness; the knee-jerk reaction to a trainer’s appearance is a universal truth that we all must acknowledge, especially those of us who are trying to make a difference in people’s lives.

What you, as digesters of dietary and fitness advice, should focus on is what the science says, what works for the most people, and, most importantly, what works for you. If a massively ripped dude is giving out advice, citing actual evidence, and people of all stripes who take that advice are getting stronger, fitter, and faster, then there’s probably something to it. A scrawny old guy with the same support and the same results? You gotta listen to him, too. Fitness and nutrition coaches who can point to hordes of successful trainees and supportive science deserve a listen, even if their personal appearance leaves something to be desired.

I’ve witnessed people discount or dismiss folks like Greg Glassman’s (of CrossFit) or Mark Rippetoe’s (of Starting Strength) training advice simply because they don’t “look the part.” They don’t have a six-pack, they may have a bit of a belly, or they may even be totally out of the game (injuries largely prevent Glassman, a former gymnast, from working out). They may not even practice what they preach (watch Rip squat and deadlift, for you doubters) as much as they once did. They may even be outlifted and outperformed by some random lunkhead at your local globo-gym flexing in the mirror or commenting on YouTube videos – but who should you take advice from? Glassman has presided over an entire fitness movement that produces scores upon scores of strong, fast, powerful, well-balanced athletes. Rip is recognized as perhaps the premier barbell coach in the game. You want to learn how to squat and deadlift, you read his stuff. Yet, your average untrained person would be more than a bit skeptical if either one tried to school them on fitness matters, simply because of their appearance. A coach is a coach. You don’t see people rag on overweight football or swim coaches for not physically measuring up to their players. Basketball coaches are often as diminutive as they come, and they’re still successful. Knowledge is knowledge, whether it’s knowledge of sport, fitness, or nutrition.

If what a health expert is proposing and living has any merit whatsoever, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to at least approach the results they’re touting. But we have to keep in mind the complexities of physical fitness, statistical outliers, and other external factors. As for me, I attribute in large part my health, fitness, and physique to the Primal Blueprint. When I backed way off training I was concerned my body composition would suffer, but with the PB I’ve been able to maintain virtually the same body fat percentage while putting muscle on. That said, it would disingenuous to overlook the years of antithetical lifestyle behaviors I practiced previously. I did just about everything wrong – Chronic Cardio, endless grain and refined carb consumption, almost no weight training – and I looked pretty fit and healthy. I wasn’t, of course, but there are probably underlying genetic factors in my favor preventing obesity – no matter how many grains or sugars I eat. At the same time, you can look to the MDA forums and our many success stories to get a sense that the PB isn’t just for the genetically blessed or the elite; it works pretty well for just about everyone who gives it a fair shot. It better work, seeing as how it’s based on human evolutionary biology!

All the variables that determine one’s appearance and fitness levels – genetics, training history, supplementation, training frequency, training intensity, methodology – make deciding who to trust incredibly confusing. At the end of it all, though, you’ve got to follow the science and the results objectively and rationally, because that human instinctual tendency to dole out or withhold trust based on appearance is always going to be a factor. We’re always going to react to appearance, but we should never base our ultimate appraisal on appearance alone.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great post Mark – I was really discouraged by reading some of your readers’ comments about the overwieght dietician at WebMD. Obviously the advice sucked, and she seems to be reaping the benefits of it, but calling someone a “fat biffa”…really?

    I’ve just recently adopted a primal lifestyle and am seeing some results in body fat composition. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that,somewhere in the back of my mind, I daydream about being more ‘ripped’, but I’m short and stocky, and even at my leanest, no one would have even looked at me and realized just how strong and fit I was. Heck, I’m stronger and fitter than I was then, but not quite as lean.

    I’m happy to strive towards my fitness goals and improve my body composition, but the fact is that for some of your forum commentators, I might never ‘qualify’ for consideration as a true PB follower, just based on my appearance.

    I knew I could expect more from you, but I was hoping I could also expect more from the generally well educated crowd that visits this site.

    Hurtful comments don’t help anyone, and even if we can agree to be dismayed at this woman’s advice, condemning her for her appearance isn’t appropriate.

    Jennifer wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • I saw that a well. However, If she is fat she is fat. If she is a fat dietitian she is still a fat dietitian. If she wants to be a health professional that is fine, but if she does not lose weight most people will not take her seriously. I would not take diet advice from someone who weights 40 pounds more than I do and does not look healthy. Someone stated below, “why would you take financial advice from someone who is up to their neck in dept” – I agree with that and why should it be any different for other professions? It would be the same as a 25 year old claiming longevity. If anyone 25 years old claimed longevity most people would simply laugh at them. It has nothing to do with being mean. Sometimes you just have to call B/S.

      kev wrote on February 16th, 2010
      • Fair enough. I mean, obviously she’s overweight, but we don’t know what her particular situation is – history, former weight, etc. It is unfair to judge someone without having all the facts.

        Given her dietary advice, one can probably assume she’s gone down the wrong CV path, but I still don’t like the disparaging comments.

        You can be respectful in expressing your opinion, and name calling and whatnot is no way to go about winning a debate….

        Jennifer wrote on February 16th, 2010
        • I mean CW path :)

          Jennifer wrote on February 16th, 2010
  2. This is a simple one.

    Would you take financial advice from a financial planner who is up to his eyeballs in debt? Of course not.

    You can’t trust advice from those that don’t walk their own talk.

    John wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Anyone can know the right thing to do, yet do the wrong thing. It doesn’t make their knowledge any less valid.

      The real question is, would you trust advice from any single person as gospel?

      William wrote on February 16th, 2010
      • It certainly doesn’t help when one doesn’t appear to walk one’s own talk.

        wd wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • But how are you to judge if they’re walking their own talk?

      For example, they may be overweight now, but what if they were *really* overweight before? Say they’ve lost a hundred plus pounds, but still don’t “look the part?”

      Or what if their physical limitations actually keep them from waking their talk (i.e. injuries, etc.)?

      Or, what if they really don’t care to walk their talk? Mark’s point about a coach being a coach is great. Knowledge is knowledge. We should judge it based on results.

      ~KristenM
      (AKA FoodRenegade)

      FoodRenegade wrote on February 16th, 2010
      • I would bet that most of our doctors would tell us to eat low fat. Yet we don’t eat the way they say, but are keeping an eye on what Mark is doing. Why? Because he has succeeded in reaching the goal that most of us have. I don’t see why this is such an odd behavior.

        Fortunately, Mark has provided the data that he uses so we can adjust things based on our unique situation. Many people in his position don’t, which is the main point that I take away from this. We need facts to pick the road, but we also need someone who has been down it already to tell us where the rough spots are. Don’t settle for half a “loaf”.

        Kelly wrote on February 16th, 2010
        • Hmmm…somehow stuck my post in the wrong place. Apologies.

          Kelly wrote on February 16th, 2010
      • Agreed. Mark, I really like this site, but I double like this post, and your willingness to confront the judgmental attitudes that are a part of our culture in general, and particularly around weight and health. Gotta admit, I give you even more credit for admitting that you benefit from it and think about it. Wicked awesome, and something that, to me, will mean that the Primal approach is more accessible to people of all sizes, which in my mind, is a darn good thing.

        (Kristen, your site is also superfantastic)

        oyvey wrote on February 17th, 2010
    • A government official in a lofty post with questionable credentials (or a least suspect appearances)? Hmmmmm….let’s see…where has this happened before? To take the most recent example, #32,441, there’s Tim Geithner. Our current Secretary of the Treasury had, er, “tax paying issues” in the past. The fact that this lady would merit a tryout with the 49ers (I’m thinking run-stuffing DT) isn’t surprising at all.

      While Ms. Benjamin faithfully inhales her grains (as per the government’s guidelines), I think I’ll gorge on a Big Ass Salad for lunch today – just like in Mark’s video, but with dill salmon instead of chicken.

      Groktacular wrote on February 17th, 2010
    • “You can’t trust advice from those that don’t walk their own talk.”

      The irony is that she may very well walk her own talk if she preaches CW nutrition. Every year this nutritionist comes in to teach the USDA food pyramid to our school kids. She told them it was okay to eat sugar-coated cereal because they still had whole grains. She looks like she eats plenty of bread, pasta, and cereal.

      Sonagi wrote on February 17th, 2010
  3. Thank you so much for this, Mark. I’d have to agree… wholeheartedly.

    Erin Davidson wrote on February 16th, 2010
  4. On a similar note, how will you feel if you never look like a Calvin Klein model? The first poster made a great point about daydreams vs. reality, and it’s something to keep in mind when you start to hit rough spots and plateaus. Some people are outliers (for the better and for the worse), the rest of us are not, and need to measure our results accordingly.

    Casey wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • I’ll never look like a Calvin Klein model, and with my build, I’d look darned silly if I tried. I’ll be successful if I just make it into old age not looking like my mom, my aunt and my grandmother (all over 300# for much of their lives).

      Darcy wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Same here! Parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, all overweight for most of their life. The only lean member of my family (my dear aunt Vio) had cancer at 37 years young. And although I really think that the primal diet-lifestyle make a perfect sense and I’m really trying to absorb a lot of info from this site, sometimes the comments are really hurtful. I really appreciate Mark’s attempt to point out that people are not created equal when it comes about weight control. I wish to be slim and I do my best for thatn in the same time I don’t see (over)weight as ugly or bad. What is ugly or bad is judging people because of it. Each human is a universe. Weight is just one dimension of it. Take for instance the Surgeon General, I would say that her work (saving lives and other small stuff like that) is much more to be appreciated that her weight to be critiqued.

      Dania wrote on February 17th, 2010
  5. Here Here!
    Well said today, Mark.

    Ben wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • I totally agree. I’m still a little chunky but I’m learning and loosing with PB. There are a lot of areas of knowledge that can be spoken of in theoretical forms by anyone. The truth of the matter has nothing to do with the state of the speaker, dismissing a persons arguments based on physique is ad hominum.

      BTW, See you at Jupiter House ;)

      Mike wrote on February 16th, 2010
      • Jupiter House was great. We need to hang out more.

        Ben wrote on February 16th, 2010
  6. I tend to be a little suspicious of trainers who don’t show any sign of ever having to fight the battles that I do. A trainer who’s been fit and healthy all his/her life is probably not going to really understand the issues I’m dealing with. Injuries, developing an exercise habit, changing eating habits. “Just do it” is one of those things that is simple in concept, but difficult in execution. A trainer that fitness just comes naturally to is less likely to understand that.

    Darcy wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • “A trainer that fitness just comes naturally to is less likely to understand that.”

      Why would you assume that fitness came any more natural to that person than another just because they look fit? Also, one of the main premises of the “Primal” lifestyle is that fitness *does* come natural to all of us, we just aren’t enacting the appropriate dietary-activity cycle as a culture to make the realization.

      jsadberry wrote on February 16th, 2010
      • I don’t assume anything based on how a trainer looks. I ask them. If their CV says “has been a lifelong athlete” or they tell me they’ve been slim and fit all their life, there’s a good chance they won’t understand my particular issues.

        What comes “naturally” may not come easily.

        Darcy wrote on February 16th, 2010
  7. This is a very interesting post. I think physical appearance could be misleading. Having 6-pack doesn’t mean the person is fit and healthy. It’s not unheard of that once a while we hear a fitness guru suddenly have serious illness.

    For me, I look for evidence such as “living a long, healthy and productive life” — the person I admire the most is Jack LaLane. He is 95, in excellent shape, practice what he preached, and his life is the best testimonial!

    bill wrote on February 16th, 2010
  8. Without a doubt, someone has to “look the part”. That was one little piece of advice I learned in a graduate program, and might have been the most valuable of them all.

    I equate looking the part to making a first impression – since that’s how people will think.

    After time though, the logical mind (hopefully) kicks in, and if the eyes are sharp enough, they can see right through the BS (if there is any).

    Ryan Denner wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • That’s how clever commercials are made.

      Bran Cereal being eaten by some hot, young, slender, sexy girl with a smile on her face!

      The human mind sure is easy to be tricked.

      Primal Palate wrote on May 22nd, 2011
  9. This article reminds me of Dr. Sears from the Zone. I know the Zone isn’t the greatest program out there, but its a step in the right direction. Dr. Sears has a lot of knoweldge and talks the talk, but does not walk the walk, so to speak. Basically, he’s a nerd, and it shows. He always wears suits to his speeches and talks, and definately looks more like a professor or Dr. than a guy running on the beach like Mark. I still like what he has to say though. It’s a tough call I guess, and depends on where you’re coming from. I’m a nerd too, so I can relate to him. Although I do wish I could get into as good of shape as Mark. I can certainly give it my best primal try.

    beckinwolf wrote on February 16th, 2010
  10. “Does the physical appearance of a fitness or nutrition authority affect the worthiness of the message?”

    I have to admit, the main reason I like Jillian is because her body is smoking hot, but she is also very knowledgeable in her field. However, I never listen to just one persons view or knowledge of a subject. When I research or want to learn about something I read several articles or studies and make a logical decision based on how many articles or studies are the same. Unfortunately, this is not what most people do! We are a culture of judgers (is that a word?) and a culture who wants fast results. So, we look at a person and think to ourselves “look at him he’s in shape, he knows what to do, follow him”. Quick to judge by looks alone!

    Aaron Curl wrote on February 16th, 2010
  11. I believe someone who looks good, as long as they stick to their area of expertise. I would trust Jillian Michaels to teach me how to kick-box, but I’m not going to buy any of the snake oil in my local pharmacy that has her name on it.

    Ed wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Well said, sir!

      Mark wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Jillian has actually spoken out against supplements many times. She professes eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercise on The Biggest Loser. All of those supplements are nothing but a money grab.

      I would respect her more if she hadn’t done it, but everyone has a price. And I bet if you contracted her as a trainer she would steer you clear of all of the stuff with her face on it.

      Jon D. wrote on May 2nd, 2010
  12. And how long do we all think that Lamar Odom will be eating pounds of candy a day? I used to eat chocolate chip cookies crumbled up in a half a carton of ice cream mixe with milk every day and stay skinny. That doesn’t last forever. I paid later… he will too.

    Dave, RN wrote on February 16th, 2010
  13. I’m very analytical by nature, and I disdained fitness for most of my life on the usual grounds — why care for physical appearance when mental and moral character is so much more important?

    It wasn’t until well into adulthood that I realized the qualities are intertwined. When I finally became physically fit, I found my mental fitness increased as well — and so did my emotional fitness, such as patience and kindness.

    So these days, I find myself emulating people who are strong both physically and mentally. It’s not enough for me any more just to accept that someone has the right answers — I want to see that they have the moral fortitude to apply their own advice. A scrawny old guy has my attention. An overweight government doctor — not so much.

    Years ago, before getting fit, I enjoyed the Maury Povich show. There was occasionally a guest host, I believe named “D”, who was an ex-gang member. I don’t remember a single thing he said to the wayward types on the show, but they took his advice readily — because he had very convincing biceps. I wished that I too could have convincing biceps, but thought it just wasn’t in my genetic potential.

    Now that the Primal Blueprint has, in fact, given me convincing biceps, friends and strangers alike seem to be giving me the sort of credit once due to “D”.

    Insight and rhetoric are important, but we are not brains in jars. A strong mind requires a strong body.

    And if you’re new here, and have always dreamed of being “ripped” but didn’t think it was possible, follow the PB and think again!

    Timothy wrote on February 16th, 2010
  14. Although the appearance and expertise of a plan’s promoter can make some claims appear more credible than others, isn’t the real “acid test” of any system how it works for us as individuals in the context of our personal lives? I could get the most well reasoned and researched information from the healthiest looking “expert” in the world, but all of that would be meaningless to me unless the system actually produced the promised results for me, regardless of the results the promoter achieved through it. Mark’s experience and (to a lesser extent) appearance influenced my decision to explore PB, but the reason I continue to accept it is that PB has started to produce the promised results for me. So, I don’t “judge a book by its cover,” but I also don’t simply judge the book simply by its contents. I judge the book by how its contents work for me.

    Geoff wrote on February 16th, 2010
  15. Nice essay, Mark.

    I remember Phil Jackson commenting on how he thought Lamar’s excessive candy-intake regime led to inconsistent play and lethargy on the court.

    Imagine how good Lamar would be if he went Primal. Wish he could have ventured down that path about ten years ago; his NBA legacy would have been interesting to see–few big men posses the talent he does.

    Cheers,

    Brent

    epistemocrat wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Well put. Just because you can carry a 50-pound rock up a hill doesn’t mean it’s making you go faster.

      Timothy wrote on February 16th, 2010
  16. The terms health and fitness seem to be used interchangably. Michael Phelps might be fit enough to break olympic records, but his blood work might suck (I bet it does from the crap he eats). You might look like a Ferrari, but running on crappy parts. A holistic approach of internal health combined with external fitness should be the mantra. That’s one reason why you see so many ex-champions moving towards eastern medicine, meditation, detox etc. as they get older.

    Kishore wrote on February 16th, 2010
  17. Appearance plays a role. When I bought “Fitness for LIFE,” I did so because Bill Phillips looks the part. I looked the part after three months, but it was a program I could not sustain. When I looked at “Primal Blueprint,” Mark’s physique made me think, “This guy might know that about which he speaks.” And PB is a more sustainable program.

    And I have to admit that when I first saw Rippetoe in a video, I thought, “OK, what’s he know?” I later learned that he knows a whole lot.

    But it’s difficult, if one does not look the part to say, “Come, follow me,” and expect a wide following. A good appearance conveys the message “I have done it. You can do it, too.”

    Kent Hawley wrote on February 16th, 2010
  18. It should be noted, as Timothy said above, that a healthy mind resides in a healthy body. And a healthy body is more than a thin waist and defined muscles. That is the great thing about PB, it works from the inside out, giving us good physical health on the inside that manifests itself outwardly.

    Kent Hawley wrote on February 16th, 2010
  19. Well said Mark. I agree that we mistakenly listen or choose not listen based on appearance, but you have to admit that more often than not it’s a pretty safe bet that if the shoe doesn’t fit it’s baloney! It’s true that most coaches might not have been the best professional athletes, but the ones that worked the hardest to deepen their understanding and are able to get great results with tested science make the best coaches. Mark Rippetoe said it himself: “Mediocre athletes that tried like hell to get good are the best coaches”.

    Ryan wrote on February 16th, 2010
  20. Mark,

    I think that with a personal training relationship, it is extremely beneficial for the trainee to have a trainer who can actually demonstrate the exercises they want you to perform. I think we are all familiar with the cliche of the overweight karate instructor.

    I believe it is natural to harbor a certain degree of skepticism towards a person who does not “practice what they preach”. But in matters of a highly physical and kinesthetic sort, like weight lifting or sports, having some demonstrable expertise greatly increases confidence and a sense of authority.

    I guess at the least, its nice to know that they use to be able to do it at some point in their lives.

    Dave C. wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Don’t knock the overweight karate instructors. I know a number of martial artists who are far, far more dangerous than they look. One chubby midwestern mom of my acquaintance has been teaching karate for decades, and could toss most anyone here around her dojo. The founder of American Jiu Jitsu is a pretty sizeable guy, but he’s absolutely amazing to watch in the dojo.

      I know this wasn’t really the point of your post, but I just felt like I needed to stand up for the chubby martial artists. :)

      Yelena wrote on February 17th, 2010
  21. Damn Right I want my fitness gurus trim. Mark, if you weren’t so damn pretty (err, I mean fit), I don’t think I’d read your blog.

    I want my bakers and chefs chunky and my nutritionists and trainers thin.

    Alex wrote on February 16th, 2010
  22. One of my favorite quotes:

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” Gautama Siddharta Buddha

    We do need to rely on “experts” to an extent. And this is why I love the internet, specifically the forums where we can all share in our experiences and not only learn from experts but also from each other.

    But it is only when you truly experience something yourself that you learn the truth.

    MandyGirl77 wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Good Quote. Science is constantly evolving and we should keep an open mind. Dogma is for morons.

      Kishore wrote on February 16th, 2010
  23. I remember reading a book on boxer Rocky Marciano when I was younger. Some of Rocky’s friends would question him on asking “fat” guys advice on eating properly and losing weight. He said “just because they don’t have the body, doesn’t mean they lack the knowledge”. (or something like that) He thought they had to work harder and learn all they could to try to lose weight and consequently thought they knew more.

    Michael Patton wrote on February 16th, 2010
  24. I think this applies twofold to many of the women out there who look up to “skinny fat” instructors and trainers, many of whom got to where they are physically by slashing calories, overdoing cardio and downing stimulants. We see them smiling in their tiny workout clothes, but we don’t see how this type of lifestyle has truly affected them (i.e. how many of them are depressed? have insomnia? digestive problems? etc.).

    Yes, it may be somewhat of a stereotype, but this kind of “role model” exists fairly predominantly in the women’s side of the diet/fitness world.

    Elizabeth wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Elizabeth, I agree with you. Every visit to my gym (a commercial one) is often witness to either a skinny fat or an obese female trainer training a bunch of unsuspecting muffin tops who think they are going to loose it all in 12 weeks. As soon as the session (cardio trauma) ends, the clients come and chat with the trainer for additional tips on workouts and diet.. The only weight training they do is a moronic tricep kickback with a 2.5lb pink barbie dumbell. Six months later, it’s the same scene with a diffrent crowd and possibly a different trainer.

      Kishore wrote on February 16th, 2010
      • Yes, totally agree, but it’s not just the ‘skinny fat’ women. I was totally ripped, lean, and loaded with muscle. I was also totally fried, my adrenals mere shriveled up raisins and my metabolism sliding downhill fast.

        Having lived in the bodybuilding world, I can attest to the fact that hard and ripped doesn’t mean health either. I’m trying to find that body again, only this time with the knowledge that fat is good for me and there’s more to a smokin’ hot body than what’s happening on the outside.

        Tara wrote on February 17th, 2010
  25. I agree. Perfect example is Fedor. He has more cardio and usable strength than any fighter yet he has a round mid sections. 30-0 doesnt lie though
    Fedor- The Greatest Fighter to Have Ever Lived
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVVrNOQtlzY

    Ryan wrote on February 16th, 2010
  26. Ciao Mark,
    Thanks for your interesting post. I do agree that appearance has a big part in what a person is “preaching.” I am a registed dietitian living in France. Do you believe that some French people don’t “believe” what I advise for their health, just based on the fact that I am American? (Even though I am underweight and am a good “model” of a dietitian). It is because French people in general have a negative image of how Americans eat. I believe that
    you must play that role that you are in…I would never considering smoking, even though I know French women who smoke a couple times a week for pleasure (plus satiety and weight control).
    In graduate school I knew a dietitian who was very overweight…I couldn’t imagine her giving advice for weight loss. (Just because I was thinking of how people would react to that). However, her area of expertise was in the hospital setting providing tube feeding prescriptions for patients. And she was good at it.
    I am really anti “labeling” or discriminatory…but, yes..your appearance counts A LOT!
    Mary Brighton, MS, RD

    Mary Brighton, MS, RD wrote on February 16th, 2010
  27. I disagree. A physically fit person might not be a good source of knowledge, but neither is an overweight health professional.

    Take Glassman, yes you could use his injuries to knock down any ad hominem arguments, but he’s been on record repeatedly saying that he wan’t to maximize his health and longevity. This is completely inconsitent with his appearance. Even if he were in a wheelchair he could be in better shape (either through diet or modified exercise).

    I don’t beleive an olypic coach must be an olympian but if someone sells me a diet saying it’s so easy, anyone can follow it and it’s so effective it works for everyone–but they are overweight my two questions are ‘if it’s so easy why don’t you do it’ and ‘if you did, why didn’t it work?’

    Kyle wrote on February 16th, 2010
  28. A person has to practice what they preach. I find it difficult to believe someone who doesn’t. One of the many reason I bought into the Primal program is what Mark said, and how he looked. I was a grain, tofu, and carb nibbler. That, and 25lbs pounds, are behind me. I look forward to getting leaner. Maybe one day I’ll tell you the whole story.

    rik wrote on February 16th, 2010
  29. Yes, your appearance does count and especially for first impressions. That being said these trainers, coaches, dietitians could have conditions or unknown circumstances preventing them practicing what they preach.

    jostle wrote on February 16th, 2010
  30. The first thing that comes to mind after reading this post is doctors. In my own experience, most of the doctors I know binge drink, eat tons of junk food, and don’t get enough sleep. Sure, they all look trim and healthy, but even they know the toll their lifestyle is taking on their health.

    These people are giving our country health advice. They “know” what to do, but their words are worthless in my eyes because they obviously aren’t convinced enough by their own advice to heed it.

    Kristin J wrote on February 16th, 2010
  31. Great post, but man was it ever a pleasure to learn, at 19 years old, with a degree of biting clarity that cannot be matched, that truth is objective; completely independent of the person who’s saying it. It’s allowed me, I guess, to side-step all kinds of unnecessary confusions and tangents simply because I know how what to look for when I’m evaluating an argument. I’m just surprised that such messages have to be learned by some people while they’re already deep “in the field”, as it were, instead of in a broad, academic sense.

    Grant wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Yes. An objective reality exists. All is NOT relative.

      Kent Hawley wrote on February 16th, 2010
  32. I’m pasting an article by srength coach Poliquin on trainers. He’s in his 50s and maintains 6% bodyfat year round at a 200+lb frame.

    Ten ways to spot a useless personal trainer by: Charles Poliquin

    Travelling the World over, I get to see a lot of gyms and of course, lots of personal trainers, the quality is horrendous. The best personal trainers are found in the province of Quebec, the Dominican Republic, and Ireland. The worse are to be found in France, Australia, and New York City. Here are ten easy ways to spot a useless personal trainer:

    1. He never records anything. Unless he has a way to show your average load used, your relative strength index on each exercise, progress curves etc…, your trainer is a big dweeb. He cannot produce any data on how you have made progress outside of weight on scale.

    2. He is more into entertaining you than training you. Jumping laterally from a Bosu ball to a bench while pressing overhead a dumbbell with the opposite won’t get you lean or fat.

    3. Program design is a function of the equipment closest to the person he is interested looking at. It should instead be a function of your goals.

    4. He talks to you about random stuff while you are doing your set. He should be monitoring your rep count and tempo pace.

    5. He tells you about his personal problems. Hey, you pay him to get you in shape, not to be his personal counselor. Outside of greetings and goodbyes, talk should be centered around your exercise performance and the whys of what you are doing.

    6. He uses his cell phone to take calls, make call, or text while you are working out.

    7. His video does not match the audio. In other words, he either is a skinny fat bastard with the calf development of parrot, or could consider a career in Sumo wrestling. He talks the walk, but cant walk the talk. Would you go see a dentist who sports a dentition that looks like a piano?

    8. He does not associate with a functional medicine practitioner to make sure your health is not limiting your progress in the gym.

    9. He has never taken a class to expand his horizons and his knowledge on the basics of training: such as anatomy, program design, stretching, etc..

    10. He cannot sell his business. Why? It is worth nothing.

    The sad truth is that 99.99% of personal trainers could not sell their business tomorrow. Why? They have no records, no results to show for. They work for their business, not on their business.

    Kishore wrote on February 16th, 2010
  33. It’s easy to assume that the person who looks the part knows what they’re talking about.

    I still remember the day that I overheard my (ex)personal trainer telling another client about getting a box of See’s candy, chewing up one candy at a time, and then spitting the results out into the sink.

    They might look the part, and they might have advice and it may even work, but- take it with a grain of salt.

    Crazy Diamond wrote on February 16th, 2010
  34. As people move from being competitive athletes to coaches, I don’t expect them to be in the same shape as the people they are coaching. As far as I can tell, football coaching is stressful. Likewise, the Surgeon General is just as likely to be overworked and stressed as the rest of us. I don’t expect her to be perfect and without health problems of her own.

    I don’t expect all ex-Marines or ex-SEALS to still be in fighting form. Now if you are a current DI, then I expect you to be MORE fit than anyone else because you are the the role model for what being a Marine is all about, and you are the one who will get them to that level. But that doesn’t mean some old Marines who aren’t up on their PT can’t tell you how to do it.

    TrailGrrl

    TrailGrrl wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • I can agree with you if it only relates to physical performance. You cannot expect legendary weight lifter Tommy Kono to still snatch a world record lift. You can still NOT be a fat bastard.

      Kishore wrote on February 16th, 2010
  35. This is the first time I’ve seen habitual drunkenness characterized as “injuries.

    seb wrote on February 16th, 2010
  36. Lamar Odom and Michael Phelps are awful examples. They do a ton of work every day that allows them to eat the crap foods they do.

    I rode my bicycle about 2,000 miles over 4 weeks this past summer. I eat following the Primal Blueprint guidelines year round, but during that bike trip I had to throw it out all out the window and feast on candy corn, cinnamon rolls, donuts, and giant subway sandwiches.

    Why? Eating primally simply didn’t provide enough energy and I felt like I was going to die, literally, on the days I tried it; as soon as I switched to junk food, my body was getting enough energy, and despite getting in about 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, I lost fat.

    I normally agree with everything on this site, but disagree strongly with this post. I would never hire a web designer with a terrible site showcasing their work; I would never hire someone to handle my money who’s completely broke; so WHY would I hire someone who’s overweight and unhealthy-looking to get me healthy and ripped?

    Clay wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Clay, Lamar Odom and Michael Phelps are great examples of what Mark was illustrating: some elite athletes are statistical outliers, and their personal habits in no way translate to good advice for the masses.

      It didn’t occur to you that your body might have to adjust to burning fat instead of burning sugar? And even if you want to continue to burn sugar as your primary fuel, you don’t think you can do better than candy corn, cinnamon rolls, donuts, etc? How about fresh fruit, raw honey, even coconut oil? Maybe you were overdoing the cardio. It sounds like it was a higher-than-usual level of exercise. And what other damage might you have done to your body eating the junk food? Just maintaining or losing weight doesn’t mean all is well inside.

      Jeanmarie wrote on February 17th, 2010
  37. I was just telling my husband yesterday that I would NEVER train or take nutritional advise from someone who doesn’t look lean and fit. BUT this post has prompted me to think otherwise – You can’t judge a person’s skills by the way they look because you don’t know what the person used to look like (maybe they’ve dropped weight), what struggles they are dealing with at home or any health issues they may have. There are many things in one’s life, like looking after a sick parent, going through a divorce or just being overworked, that would contribute to one’s lack of ability to look fit – following the PB nutritional guidelines alone doesn’t automatically make you look fit – you need sleep, stress management, fitness and happiness in your life. We also have to consider that they may be suffering from a medical issue, like an under-active thyroid that may make it impossible to lose weight. This post has prompted me to never associate one’s ability at providing health advice with their appearance. You need to take the time to find out about their background, education, experience and approach with fitness/nutrition to truly understand whether they are ‘fit’ to do the job.

    Great (and timely) post Mark!!

    Summer wrote on February 16th, 2010
  38. I am a bit torn on this one. While I am not a slim jim by any standard, I do consider myself to be quite healthy (especially since going Primal). My body fat ranges around the 18% mark and I am thick but I am also as strong as an ox and can run 10K in less than an hour.

    Does it matter if you are “unconventinal” in your weight? I think if you are “unfit” that is the issue. Being a skinny, scrawny person with little or no muscular physique is just as “wrong” as carrying too much of the chub.

    A fit person is one who practices fitness, good nutrition and wellness. If you don’t do all of these, you are NOT fit to tell anyone what to do. If you do practice these aspects of life, you shouldn’t be obese or “skinny fat”.

    Mike Cheliak wrote on February 16th, 2010
  39. I think part of the issue is assuming that some who is physically strong is automatically healthy. Athletes are burning more calories, but they are also using up more nutrients.

    The way I see it many elite athletes only take care of their increased caloric needs.

    Could this be part of the story behind athletes dropping dead of aneurysms or heart failure. It happens more often than one would think.

    I competed at a high level for years playing soccer. I ate better than most, but I know I didn’t eat as well as I do now. And I wonder how much better I could have been had I fueled my body appropriately.

    I abused the fact that I had a fast metabolism and athletic build. In fact I had trouble putting on weight of any kind until going primal.

    When I was in college and started putting worse I actually lost weight (Muscle) and only gained slight padding.

    I don’t mean this statements in any kind of bragging way to those who have more difficulty with weight. The point is that my body led me to assume that I was healthier than I probably was.

    Seth wrote on February 16th, 2010
  40. As a PT, I think it is important to ‘walk the talk’… which is slightly different from ‘looking the part’ (though presumably if one ‘walks the talk’ with something that holds ture, then they should come close to also ‘looking the part’).

    When judging ones appearance, it is easy to get caught up in whether someone has big guns, a narrow waist, etc. But there are other physical aspects that I think are more telling. I generally look at a persons posture, how they hold themselves, etc. I watch their movements. They might proclaim to be into their strength work, but if I see their knee fold in each time they take a step, I can see that they have weak hips & that doesn’t add up with what they are telling me. I look at skin condition, at their eyes, etc. There are all sorts of cues that allow you to see health beyond just big arms & ripped abs.

    To be honest, if I hadn’t have seen the photo’s of Mark & his wife Carrie & proclaimed ‘whoa!’, I don’t think I would have climbed onboard the PB as quickly as I did. Of course, everything Mark says has to stack up from a scientific perspective… I’ve invested too much in my own academic credentials & have stuck my neck out career-wise by turning my back on CW (I’m a university trained nutritionist & exercise physiologist), to take a risk on the ‘ramblings of a Malibu Ken-doll’. Clearly Mark & the whole Primal/Paleo community do stack up. But it was his appearance AS WELL AS what he was saying that sold it to me.

    Jamie wrote on February 16th, 2010
    • Jamie, I think your point about health being outside of arm measurements and chest width is true. For example, most bodybuilders have horrible skin from all the excessive, low quality supplements and tupperware eating (no break for your system from constant feeding). Yet, people might think about them as healthy.

      Kishore wrote on February 16th, 2010

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