“Allostasis is the process of achieving stability, or homeostasis, through physiological or behavioral change.”
…and today’s post is going to be about that process, because this is an important concept for all of us to grasp. We’re in a constant state of flux, seeking perfection or at least something as close to it as humanly possible – or on the opposite end of the scale, we might have a vague idea of what we want but we’re not really doing anything to get it. And obviously – the concept of “perfection” can be defined a million ways, but let’s not get into that. We’re acted upon by many opposing forces every day. One you might be familiar with is gravity, which is keeping us from floating into space whenever our legs push into the ground to generate upward and forward motion. When it comes to achieving better health, getting stronger or leaner or bigger or smaller or faster or hornier or whatever floats your boat – there are opposing forces in terms of all the people who appear to know what they’re talking about and want to give you advice:
- Fitness experts/gurus (oh I loathe that term), many of them plagued by a severe case of tunnel vision where only one method (theirs) is the solution. I prefer those who can keep an open mind (I try hard myself), and who have many tools in their toolbox. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, so don’t get nailed. Unless that’s what you want, of course.
- Doctors – who don’t really have anything beyond a rudimentary overview of nutrition and training, yet people will defer to them when faced with the challenge of selecting a creatine (will destroy your kidneys) or protein (will make you fat or cannot be utilized by your body and will just end up in the toilet) supplement. “My doctor said so”. Oh, you mean that 100lbs overweight smoker who never set foot inside of a gym, and last saw his own penis 20 years ago when he barely passed med school? Righty-o then, good luck with that. Oh, there are good doctors out there, and incidentally – one I liked had taken an extra semester in sports medicine and even he told me that they barely scratched the surface, and he had to do research and reading on his own time to feel like he actually knew something about the subject.
- The media – fitness magazines, the daily newspaper, or worse yet – tabloids. The current fads, trends, and advice are usually based on a severe misinterpretation of a conclusion of a study, where even the scientists didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and the journalist with no formal credentials OR knowledge on the topic really goes out of his way to fuck it up even further – just to make headlines.
- Me. I sorta kinda have a grasp of certain stuff and it has taken me about 20+ years of reading, research and experimentation to get to this point. Don’t take my word for it, though. Do a search in the discussion forum or read my articles/blog posts first…keep and open mind, and then decide if you think I’m trustworthy. If you do, keep on reading and hopefully I can teach you something.
Some say you should train harder, some say you should back off and take it easy, some say you should count every calorie, some say you don’t have to at all, some say a calorie isn’t even a calorie, and some say it’s all about listening to your body. Some say to give them all your money and they will make your life better – I refer to them as “politicians”. Lift fast, lift slow, lift weird looking things or just hold onto it and look silly in the process.
What a mess.
Ok, so you’re surrounded by conflicting advice, so what should you do? Well, I say you should seek a middle ground – or allostasis as per that nice definition above. Most people try to make things black or white, or into either/or propositions. That’s not how it works at all, and being too extreme will more often limit than support your progress. I also believe it’s a self-defeating attitude to think that you have to be 100% perfect or it’s not worth doing at all. No one is that perfect, so don’t try to be. Ok, I’m 99% perfect and I’ve been through hell and back so that elusive 1% is just so not worth it. I’m gonna go for for 50% perfect, starting with this blog post, as I think it’s a more comfortable and friendly place to be. I’m obviously kidding about that 99%, I probably wouldn’t be as passionate about what I do today if I was that lucky in the genetic lottery. Sometimes the reward is in the process, not the end goal. Ponder that one for a minute.
Anyway – that’s my point here, first define what end of the scale you’re on and then take the appropriate measures to end up somewhere in between. You’ll find that it’s a better place to be both physically and mentally, and you’ll get faster and better results in the process. Let me explain.
If you’re totally obsessive and drive yourself crazy analyzing every detail that goes into your diet plan or training program, spending every waking moment of your day either thinking about, talking about, or writing about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, what to train, exercises, sets, reps, rep speed, rest period, frequency – yeah, you get the point…
For you I think it is time to get away from your spreadsheets and calculators, stop for a second, take an outside perspective and get more self-awareness. That old cliché of “listening to your body” that I tend to go on and on about is the one you should embrace. You need to learn a more flexible approach, what you’re doing now is turning you into a social pariah where people don’t want to hang with you because you always talk and think about yourself. Look into auto-regulation which is a set of rules teaching you to listen to your body, you work up to a “daily max” not some predetermined weight, you let the volume be guided by your volume tolerance that day. Play around with different exercises, it’s time to have some fun in the gym. Take an extra day off and do something completely different, take dance lessons, play some hoops, ride a mountainbike down a steep hill, pay a prostitute to…oh wait, never mind.
On the nutrition side of things: I’ve developed Health & Fitness Concept where you stick to a few food rules, but beyond that just eat whenever you’re hungry (isn’t that a novel concept?) and not when the clock says you should eat, or because it’s 3hrs and 1 minute since your last meal. Some days you will have 3 meals, other days 6-7 meals. The Biorhythm Diet will also work great (better?), just focus on proteins and fats earlier in the day, carbs and proteins post-workout and later in the day, but have predetermined meal times if that fits your daily schedule (most jobs have preset lunch hours) and – slightly undereat on those proteins/fats during the day, eat until you’re comfortably full later in the day (and after workouts) on proteins and carbs. I have an upcoming article as a follow up to the more strict guidelines and science in the first article, where I will show you how to structure your meals and let hunger instead of the kitchen scale guide how much to eat at a sitting.
Bottom line – lighten up and loosen up a little, I know you will freak out at first, because you need to control everything to achieve perfection, right? Just trust me on this, it will be good for you, and the irony is that by getting away from the rigid pre-planned structure you will improve your results! Why? Because your OCD mind gets stuck on irrelevant details and completely misses the grand perspective and foundational stuff. I’m not saying you should stop training or going on a 2 week junk food binge feast, I’m just trying to show you that you can have great results even if you’re not doing everything perfect all the time. An added bonus is that you will be more sociable and outgoing, and people will like you better if you get out of your head and show genuine interest in them and their lives for a change.
Now at the other end of the scale (pun intended) we have the people who never bothered with training or making healthier food choices, it always seemed like such an effort with little to no reward, and eating chips and chocolate in front of the TV is just so much more enticing. Especially after a long day of sitting on your ass in front of a computer screen. Well, perhaps the diabetes diagnosis was a game-changer, when a second heart attack is knocking furiously at the door it was the wake-up call of a lifetime and it’s time to make some major changes. Or maybe it’s not as bad (yet), but you have a few extra pounds/kilos you’d like to get rid of and it’s all just such a complicated mess of confusing advice from the above mentioned experts/doctors/media, that you don’t even know where to start.
Well for you it’s actually a good idea to aim for perfection. Start weighing and measuring your food, drop all the processed junk, log every morsel of food and drink that passes your lips, hit the gym at specific times (NO excuses!) writing a training log of all exercises, sets and reps, and learn how to push yourself harder in the gym. Your comfort zone is way out of bounds and it is essential that you go beyond it if you want to achieve permanent results! I’m still not saying you have to BE perfect, but I’m saying you should STRIVE for perfection for a while. If you only end up at 80% perfect that’s more than good enough and your results will be spectacular. But you do need to make some permanent changes to your lifestyle, and the only way to do that is to learn portion control and structure your day around your workouts, not the other way around – as it’s way too easy to make excuses and skip them. When your body and mind is more balanced, you can reach allostasis at a point where you make better lifestyle choices, you can finally separate the sensation of hunger from all those nutritional deficiencies and inflammation the brain *thought* was hunger, and now – eating when hungry (instead of when bored) and to the point of “comfortably full” will work just fine. It takes a while to reprogram you brain, so don’t expect it to be easy.
The concept of allostasis can be useful in all areas of your existence.
Do you think you need to either be with the disrespectful partner who just treats you badly, picks fights and never shows any affection – or the overly nice with no self-respect who just smothers you in compliments and sacrifices their own needs in hopes that you’ll never leave? It’s possible to find something in between, someone who completes you, who challenges you when they have a different opinion, who accepts you and loves you just the way you are, they might not be fashion-model beautiful but their self-respect, confidence, humor and happiness just makes them into a radiating attractive human being. You feel good just being around them, and the relationship is one of mutual respect and admiration.
Do you think you either have to be in a job you make a lot of money out of, but you kill yourself with effort, hate everything about it and when you come home after another long day, you just want to fold up on the couch and cry into the pillow – or have a job doing something fun, but you can’t make enough money to sustain yourself with food, clothing and shelter? It’s possible to follow your dreams and find your true passion in life, get really good at it or make it into something the world has never seen, baffles the mind, attracts attention from everyone around you… You have to work hard and stick it out through the rough times, and people will eventuall want to buy your products or services. Yes, there will be ups and downs, but isn’t the prospect of riding through life on a proverbial rollercoaster a lot more enjoyable than just feeling…empty and flat? No one *needs* to be a millionaire, you just need to make enough money to cover your basic needs, and have freedom to do most of what you want, most of the time. There are plenty of ways to do that, if you get away from some preconceived notion of how to live your life, governed by your parents, society or get-rich-quick books, and realize you are free to pursue whatever you want in life – I’m sure your creative juices will start flowing and you will see opportunities where no one else did before you. Some of the greatest inventions the world has ever seen came to life that way.
Sometimes extremes are fun, sometimes extremes are just unproductive and potentially hazardous to your mental and physical health. Life isn’t just black or white, it’s an infinite rainbow of choices.
Thus endeth the lesson.