All diets and fitness programs are wrong. Some are useful.

All models are wrong, some are useful.If you’ve been entrenched in the health and fitness industry for awhile, either as a professional or as an enthusiast, you probably already know that there is no single diet or exercise program for everyone. Following a paleo diet and doing CrossFit might yield fantastic results for one person, but might not be the best program for another (even though said Paleo-CrossFitter might try to convince you otherwise).

Aside from external factors influencing our overall health and fitness level (such as proximity to a gym or rec center or outdoor parks; availability of fresh fruits and vegetables; finances to afford new running shoes or home gym equipment, etc.), us humans are privy to myriad intrinsic factors that can determine whether or not a diet or exercise program will give us the results we’re after. Intrinsic factors, such as genetics, hormones, physiology and movement patterns, past injuries and what generally floats our boats (I’d rather go for a trail run than attend a hip hop dance class, just sayin’), are unfortunately harder or completely impossible to change. And although I think we know we have to work with what we’ve got to become the best version of ourselves, we’re never quite satisfied with that and constantly play the comparison game, hoping to find that magical solution that will transform our bodies into the taught and toned fitness “celebrities” we see enjoying their #greensmoothies and admiring their #gainz in the mirror on Instagram.

I keep seeing everyone post about The Whole 30 Diet and the author of that book looks like a model, so I want to do it, too. That guy on Instagram who’s super jacked always posts pictures of Poptarts and ice cream and talks about IIFYM — I want to try that diet, too. That one blogger quit sugar and dropped a ton of weight, I’m going to quit sugar, too. Even though I’m marathon training and LOVE carbs, I’m going to cut them about because someone on Twitter raves about their high-fat, low-carb diet and how it’s great for running performance and I want to be a better distance runner, too.

While it’s all well and good to try new ways of exercising and eating if your current routine is not working for you, keep in mind this fantastic piece of wisdom that James Clear, who studies and writes about behavioral psychology, habit formation, and performance improvement, shared on his blog recently:

“All models are wrong, some are useful.”

This quote is attributed to British statistician George Box, who was trying to make the point “that we should focus more on whether something can be applied to everyday life in a useful manner rather than debating endlessly if an answer is correct in all cases,” Clear writes. “As historian Yuval Noah Harari puts it, ‘Scientists generally agree that no theory is 100 percent correct. Thus, the real test of knowledge is not truth, but utility. Science gives us power. The more useful that power, the better the science.'”

I love this. Even though I take a science-based approach to fitness and health and do my best to only share and try approaches for myself that are well-researched and studied and proven effective, sometimes you need to experiment for yourself and pick and choose things from lots of different programs or models to make it work for you. For instance, I tried a vegan diet for while, but found it didn’t jive with my current fitness and health goals so I added fish and yogurt back in my diet. I also know it’s best to eat something small with carbs about 30 minutes to an hour before a workout, but I don’t have time to do that anymore thanks to my current morning routine — right now I get up, work out, and don’t eat a thing until I’m at work at 8 am.

Impartial answers are the best we have. Focus on what is practical and take action. All models are wrong under some circumstances, but the important thing is if they are generally useful.

Clear writes: “Accepting that all models are wrong in certain instances is not a license to ignore the facts. As a society, we should search for better answers, look for evidence, and strive to increase the accuracy of our knowledge. At the same time, there is a common peril on the other end of the spectrum. Too many people waste time debating if something is perfectly correct, when they should be focusing on if it is practically useful.”

YES.

Clear continues: “We live in a world filled with uncertainty, but we still need to get things done. It is our responsibility to develop a way of thinking about the world that generally fits the facts we have, but to not get so gummed up thinking about things that we never actually do anything. As Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert puts it, ‘The world doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for complete answers before it takes action.'”

YES AGAIN.

If a 8-week bikini body program is the kick in the butt you need to get started on your fitness and health journey, go ahead and try it. But always keep in mind your unique situation, body, mind and heart and take pieces of it to make it work for YOU. And if it doesn’t, now you know and you can try something else. The important thing is to try SOMETHING*, and not get caught up in the comparison trap or feel terrible for failing. Failing and learning is part of the process, too.

“Impartial answers are the best we have. Focus on what is practical and take action. All models are wrong under some circumstances, but the important thing is if they are generally useful.” – James Clear

It might take awhile to get there, but you will eventually. Try new things, find in it what’s useful to you, take it on, and keep going until you have all the tools you need in your toolbox to support the best version of your unique, wonderful self.

*Obviously don’t try something if it’s dangerous or risky (like CrossFit if you have a shoulder injury) OR if it costs you a butt-load of money you don’t (like a Gwyneth Paltrow juice cleanse) have OR requires you to sign up to be a “coach” or “consultant” where you have to get other people to sign up under you…

How many fad diets and exercise programs have you tried? Which ones? What worked and what didn’t? Do you pick and choose pieces of programs to make it work for you?

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Thanks Amanda for the link-up!