Almost three years ago in the post The Minimal Effort Approach, I outlined what I felt was different about my approach to fitness and nutrition.
Minimal Effort means discovering what is the least effort, least time commitment and least cost one can invest to achieve their health goals.
If something requires excess cost or effort that is unjustified then I discard it. Complexity and compliance are inversely correlated. At the time I wrote the post I was in the mindset of someone reaching towards their health goals. By finding the least amount of effort required to make progress, one could always dial up the effort if progress stalled. Compare that to the traditional nonsense peddled by personal trainers, which involves restricting diet too much and working out too much. Those strategies work for some and are highly effective in the short term, but they have three disadvantages.
- High long term failure rate – I’d love every person considering going all out on a new fitness and nutrition plan to consider that these plans might be best designed to see short term results. And when the gains stop and even reverse that might be the failure of the plan and not a lack of willpower from the individual. The fact some people succeed following a protocol in the long term is not proof of the plan. They may have succeeded on a number of plans, including those less extreme.
- Effective variables? – If someone changes their diet and their exercise completely and starts seeing results, they might mistakenly believe the two are producing a synergistic effect. They might be or they might not. You don’t know. By not doing everything at once, I discovered I could get lean by just eliminating wheat and exercising just 15 minutes a week.
- Patience – I am a believer that when your body is well rested and nourished that it will discover its ideal healthy weight. I strongly disagree with extreme forms of exercises and counting calories. To me those show a lack of patience. Give your body a diverse nutrient dense diet, plenty of rest and some movement and trust the process. It may take a while to lean out, but when you do you’ll be healthier and the fat loss has a greater chance of being permanent.
I have discovered another benefit to The Minimal Effort Approach. If and when new health goals emerge, you are in a place where you can easily dial up the effort. When I took a two decade break from caffeine in October, my body had an unanticipated response. I gained 7 pounds of fat. I learned that the high levels of coffee I had been consuming had been suppressing my appetite. I’ve slowly added back in some coffee, but I am still consuming less than half the amount of caffeine I had prior to my detox. Although I stopped gaining weight, I haven’t lost any of the 7 pounds.
Photo by Robyn Lee.
No need to panic. I’m in a wonderful position to lose weight. Because I’ve been exercising at minimal levels, I could always increase activity to meet my current appetite level. Or I could scale back on my daily intake of ice cream. Maybe increase the number of fasting hours? No need to jerk the steering wheel when a slight tap will do. My point is I have lots of options. Compare that to the individual who exercises for hours each week and counts calories. When their health goals stall or reverse, they have no where to go. They are already being compliant to a program that requires a high level of effort. They’ve painted themselves into a corner.
By creating a fitness and nutrition plan that gets results with minimal effort, you have designed a system with a built in insurance policy when failures arise. Unlike the calorie counting cardio junkies, you can always slightly dial up the effort if you need to. Just be patient.
Jan 9, 2013 — 1:48 pm
This is a GREAT post. I’m digesting it. It is perfectly in line with Frank Zane’s parsimony principle. Very easy for me to do more. Hard to sit back, do less, and trust the process.
What happens when you *can’t* do more (cardio, restrictive dieting, etc)?
Jan 9, 2013 — 3:31 pm
There are many factors involved. If you are enjoying what you are doing or if it is rewarding somehow, additional complication, effort, and dedication are generally welcomed. Of course, there are personalities (like mine, perhaps you too) that get a kick out of simplifying things, even if they are enjoyable. If you look at religions, for example, they have set of very complex and very simply instructions to cater to different personalities. In any case, I reckon minimal effort is only a must when engaging in activities that we find a chore or worse.
Jan 9, 2013 — 4:24 pm
@Al – Your post nails it.
@Txomin- True. I guess what bothers me is when others believe the answer is to always do more. That is a strategy for failure when you can’ maintain that level of effort.
Jan 11, 2013 — 8:10 am
There has to be variability in It High and Lows if you specialize what happens when the field is gone there is plenty in the graveyard from over specialization