My Wrong Advice For the Big Guys

For almost 20 years, I’ve advised my heavy friends to lift weights instead of doing cardio as they lean out. The logic of my case went something like this:

  1. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so increasing muscle on someone that is already consuming a high number of calories, seemed like a great idea.
  2. Big guys, by which I mean thick-wristed endomorphs, have the greatest muscular potential. Watch any strongman competition to see what I mean.
  3. Take advantage of those beginner gains ASAP to see a shift in lean mass. Here I was thinking they could gain the most muscle as they dropped weight.

To me, being a big guy without weight training experience, seemed like a gift. I viewed it as a gift because from the outside looking in, it seemed like they had the shortest path to a radical body transformation.

But, I’m not a big guy. I’m an ectomorph. And I recently learned, my observation and the advice I’ve been repeating for two decades is wrong.

Unknown to me, the bodybuilding trainers discovered through observation and experimentation that it was actually much harder to build muscle on a body with extra weight. When given the task of training a big guy, they would direct them to cardio and fixing their diet until enough progress was made before hitting the iron.

Anyway, this was all old-school theory until recently. A recent study that was discussed on Super Human Radio confirmed that heavy people are resistant to gaining muscle. They need to lose the fat first before adding the muscle later.

Listen to the discussion on the study and what classic bodybuilders have known for years:  2236: Super Human Radio (3:15 – 14:30 and 19:00 – 23:00)

So to my big guy friends, sorry about that. I still think it is 80-90% diet. That view has not changed. And I still like walking close to 10,000 steps a day if you can get them in. As for the remainder, hold off on using weights as your primary exercise for now. Do some cycling, swimming or hiking and after you’ve made some progress, stop by the weight room and gradually start lifting.

Wrong Way

Photo by NeONBRAND

The Worst Advice Always Starts With “You Should…”

This past summer I did a post titled 4 Words I Don’t Like. Somehow I neglected to add the worst offender and that is the phrase “you should”. I have discovered that the absolute worst advice is always starts with “you should”. People who use statements beginning with “you should” tend to be poor listeners and often dish out advice not as a way to help others but as a way to demonstrate they have superior knowledge and to get credit when the advice is executed.

When someone tells us what we should be doing or paying attention to, we can become defensive, because implied in the statement is that it is something we aren’t currently doing. Why aren’t you currently doing what you should be doing? I am FAR LESS receptive to advice when someone phrases it as something I should be doing.

As individuals if we sense we are being pushed into doing something that isn’t of our own freewill, we will sometimes reject even excellent advice. This is called counterwill. I was first exposed to the term counterwill in the excellent book Scattered Minds by Dr. Gabor Mate.

“Human beings have an ingrained opposition to any sense of being forced, an automatic resistance to coercion that my friend Gordon Neufeld has called “counterwill”. It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding…”

Scattered Minds : A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder
Scattered Minds : A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder by Gabor Mate

Give Advice By Asking Questions

So how do you give advice without telling someone what they should be doing? The first thing to be aware of is that nobody knows more about what they should be doing that the individual being told what they should be doing. So it is arrogant to believe you know more than them. You might, but you can’t assume it.

Ask questions in a way that the person receiving the advice goes into problem solving mode. An ideal solution is if the person thinks they discovered the solution to their own problem. I love using the word curious. Learn more about the problem. Many times you discover they’ve already considered what you are thinking or your solution isn’t ideal.

Example – Wrong Approach

SUE: I want to be a chef. I think it would a lot of fun.

TOM: You should read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. The hours and hard work it takes to be a chef is tremendous.

This is bad, because Tom is assuming Sue hasn’t read his book recommendation and is unaware of the effort it takes to be a restaurant chef. Tom is also implying he knows more than Sue about becoming a chef, which could in turn make Sue defensive and less likely to pursue reading that book.

Example – Better Approach

SUE: I want to be a chef. I think it would a lot of fun.

TOM: What type of restaurant interests you most?

SUE: Something fancy. Maybe in New York City or San Francisco.

TOM: Do you have any chef role models?

SUE: I like a few of the ones on TV. Bobby Flay and the ones that compete on Iron Chef.

TOM: How about Anthony Bourdain?

SUE: That’s right. He was a chef before he did those travel shows.

TOM: He wrote a book about his experiences as a New York City chef.

SUE: He did? What was the title?

TOM: Kitchen Confidential. Really good book. I developed a greater respect for the level of work it takes to be a top chef.

SUE: Excellent. I am going to check that book out.

This is much better. Sue arrived at the decision to read Kitchen Confidential on her own. The questions also helped Tom learn more about Sue to determine if his advice was even valid. Had Sue said she wanted to open a sandwich shop or a bakery in a small town then the book recommendation wouldn’t have been relevant.

Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)
Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.) by Anthony Bourdain. 

“You Should Open a Coffee Shop.”

I would say that I’ve heard the above advice on average once a month for 15 years. It baffles me that people actually think that I haven’t thought about it ever and that nobody has ever suggested the same thing. For the record, I have zero desire to ever open a coffee shop.

I do find it bizarre that whenever someone develops an interest in some hobby, the immediate advice of everyone around them is to start a business monetizing that hobby. Having a hobby and running a business are two separate things.

Cafe Weekend

I love coffee, but the thought of leases, payroll, licenses, training employees and dealing with vendors holds no appeal to me. I’ll stick to running INeedCoffee, which has averaged thousands of visitors every day now for over 15 years. 

Last Words

People want to solve their own problems. They want to own their successes. They want to choose their own path. Ask questions. Learn from them. Telling them what they should do is not a way to help someone.

Where the Paleo Message is Failing

For the past two years I have done numerous posts on nutritional topics. I’ve documented and shared the huge improvements in my health that I’ve had once I adopted a lower-carbohydrate and more paleo diet. During the real estate and stock market bubble I witnessed how conventional financial wisdom was wrong. Real estate doesn’t always go up and it is not always a great time to invest in the stock market. As bad as Americans are being lied to on the financial markets, the nutritional lies are far worse.

Several of my friends and readers to this site have been inspired by my nutritional journey and have made positive changes to their diet. I have 3 friends that have lost in excess of 60 pounds and many more that are 20-30 pounds lighter. I’m not the only one that has figured out that the paleo diet works. There is now a widespread low-carb/paleo blogger community.


100% grass fed – Beef short ribs

The message that conventional nutritional wisdom is wrong and that a pre-agricultural diet is superior for optimal health is growing. However, I have noticed a clear pattern on who is listening to the message and who is ignoring it.

People Who Are Most Receptive to the Paleo Message

  • Men
  • People with engineering, financial or scientific backgrounds.
  • People with health problems that conventional medicine has failed to solve.
  • Adults between 20 and 40.

People Who Are Least Receptive to the Paleo Message

  • Women
  • People without degrees or with more humanity based degrees.
  • People who view their own health shortcomings as their fault.
  • Adults over 40.
  • Vegetarians (of course)
  • Cardio junkies – runners, bikers and other sugar addicts.

Now there are exceptions to the lists above. They are generalizations, but the pattern is clear. The paleo message for whatever reasons is failing with the people who need to hear it the most. Older adults and women make up a high percentage of the obesity problem. Women also tend to make the food purchases for their children. And we all are aware of the childhood obesity problem.

It is probably just a matter of time before paleo eating becomes more widespread, but part of me thinks the failing message is the fault of the paleo blogging community. What started as a simple message of returning to a diet from our evolutionary past has become an industry. Books, seminars, DVDs and even conventions. What is next? Paleo certification. 🙄 Blog posts that used to be simple and straight forward now read like medical journals. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those posts, but I already know the message and I am a nutrition geek. I do know that people without a science or engineering background are not going to be receptive to chest beating cavemen linking to PubMed abstracts.

What to do? For me it is all about communicating self empowerment and making gradual positive permanent changes. People need to learn to trust themselves and feel in control. Replacing one expert with another does not build this skill. The paleo message at its core is really quite simple. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t see the paleo message getting to the people who need to hear it the most.