Discover more from 2% with Michael Easter
Why Boring is Better for Nutrition
Adam Bornstein is a nutrition advisor to stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James. His new book, You Can’t Screw This Up, unpacks why diets fail and teaches you lessons for a lifetime of smart nutrition.
You’ll learn: Why extreme approaches to diet and exercise backfire, how learning affects health, how to unlearn counterproductive health approaches, and how the “No 0% Weeks” rule leads to sustainable health.
July’s Burn the Ships included a very simple exercise that few people had practiced. And it absolutely exposed some fitness gaps. The exercise is a fundamental human movement that’s excellent for preventing back pain and building a strong core, which helps with everything. By doing it over the next handful of weeks, we’re all going to get better. That’s what we’re after.
2% posts are always free on Monday, but only Members can access the full version of Wednesday and Friday posts. Become a Member below to access those posts. Here’s what’s coming this week:
Wednesday we’ll explore a strange rule that can help you make smarter food decisions in our totally confusing nutrition landscape.
Friday is July’s Gear, Not Stuff column, featuring a supplement many people should probably take and some essentials I bring with me on a road trip to stay healthy.
The thing you need to know about Adam Bornstein is that he’s the guy behind the guy in health and fitness. He’s been a nutrition advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, LeBron James, Lindsey Vonn, and others.
Before that, he was a fitness editor at Men’s Health magazine, a job that requires reading studies and interviewing the world’s foremost experts on health, nutrition, and exercise (fun fact, I took Adam’s job at Men’s Health after he left).
In 2018, Adam had his dream job helping high-profile clients with their health and nutrition. He’d travel from Denver to LA a few days a week.
Thanks to all that airport food and crappy hotel gyms, he gained five pounds. Which, given his situation, isn’t bad. But he decided he wanted to lose those pounds—and this was when the trouble started.
He went extreme.
“I start fasting and doing double training days,” Adam explained.
To be clear, fasting and two-a-days do work for weight loss. But it thrust Adam into a cycle.
He’d fast, train hard, survive the rest of the week on protein bars, and fly home for the weekend hungrier than ever. Then his kids would want pizza on Friday and fast food and ice cream on Saturdays. He’d eat everything in sight. One step forward, two steps back.
Adam said, “Things got even worse. I got burned out and injured. In working harder, I actually had worse results.”
In two months, he doubled his weight gain to ten pounds.
“I fell for the vicious cycle of thinking I needed to compensate for things that are not the big mistake that we perceive them to be,” Adam explained.
This experience eventually grew into Adam’s new book, You Can’t Screw This Up: Why Eating Takeout, Enjoying Dessert, and Taking the Stress Out of Dieting Leads to Weight Loss That Lasts.
The book reveals how you, me, and even the nutrition advisor to ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER often overreact to perceived failure (e.g., gaining a few pounds or missing a week at the gym).
Adam began searching for solutions to get out of the diet cycle. He broke down four lessons from his book (buy it here) and years of studying the topic.
1. Nix “All or Nothing”
Overcompensating after gaining a couple of pounds or missing a week of workouts can worsen things.
Adam’s ten-pound mistake is an example of what Adam calls the “Dieting Circle of Hell.”
It works like this:
You gain weight.
You adopt healthy habits—extreme ones (cutting too many calories, avoiding major food groups, entering yourself into a triathlon with two weeks to prep).
You get results—even though you’re starving, overworked, and living in a way that sucks (e.g., doing mental gymnastics to find a Keto meal at a restaurant you love.)
When life happens—work dinners, birthday parties, your kids want Wendy’s after soccer practice—your willpower gives out, and you say, “screw it.”
You don’t just steal one chicken nugget from your kid. You order the 20-piece, large fries, and frosty. And then, because you’ve cheated that hard, you say screw it to your entire push to be healthier.
Obviously, change requires a level of discomfort from hunger and physical effort. But the extreme approach overdoes it.
This cycle might seem contrived, but it’s so common that researchers call it “the disinhibition effect.”
It’s a key reason why most diets last only five weeks. When you lose weight quickly, your body dials up its hunger signaling. New, foreign habits add a layer of stress and complexity that make fully tapping out easier.
“By following this approach repeatedly, you're unlikely to ever become healthy over the long term,” Adam said. One study in Obesity Reviews found that 40 percent of dieters gained more weight after dieting.
2. Unlearn the Extremes
Quick results from extreme plans teach us an approach that only works in the short term. Unlearn that and take the long view.
Extreme approaches get results if you follow them. Yes, you’ll eventually burn out and regress.
But you learned something along the way. “You see short-term success, and experience long-term failure. But because of that short-term success you think being healthy requires extremes and sacrifices that are in no way sustainable,” Adam told us. “So you never truly believe that you can unlock a higher level of health with something easier. Because you think that a higher level of health is associated with a short-term approach.”
Consider: “Even the champion bodybuilders are not doing this zero-carb stuff all the time,” Adam said. Arnold Schwarzenegger ate fried dough and cherry pie three days before a competition he won. He regularly ate that meal in moderation and was still the world’s greatest bodybuilder. As Arnold writes in the book’s foreword: “the desire for healthy balance lives within us all.”
3. Get Bored
Balance is boring. And also great for staying at the weight you want to be.
Eating well only works if you can sustain it.
Quick results from fad diets can be a thrill (even though initial losses tend to be water weight) until it’s just another diet you tried that one time.
“Science is based on the principle of validity and reliability,” Adam said. “So literally, the nutrition information and approaches that we can trust are fundamentally going to be most boring.”
When planning to eat better, ask yourself if you can sustain your approach for a year, at least. This question tends to nix fad diets from the equation.
4. Aim For No 0% Weeks
Consistently do better than awful, and you’ll be healthier.
Life will send your plan into the gutter even with the year-long approach. So you need bumpers.
A 100% week is when you eat protein and vegetables and vitamins and stretch after a workout.
Now imagine an opposite week where every meal turns into takeout or your kid’s leftover mac and cheese. That’s a 0% week.
Adam’s guideline for better health is to simply avoid a 0% week. Consistently avoiding a 0% week keeps the ball moving forward.
“A person who is consistently healthy doesn’t say, ‘I screwed up this meal or I missed this workout, I should just take the rest of the week off,’” Adam explained.
“We're talking about paving consistency, even if it's a minimum. No 0% weeks is the true path to success. And it gives you so much freedom and alacrity to have some great days and some shitty days. But the way to win a week is just no 0% weeks. And that's it.”
Over time, you’ll learn that having more 50% or 75% weeks than 0% weeks helps you reach your goals in a manageable way.
I particularly liked Chapter 10, where Adam gives you a few smart food options from 50 of the country’s most popular restaurants (it takes the guesswork out of it).
Adam, by the way, also writes The Pump Club with Arnold Schwarzenegger (subscribe to it here).
Thanks for reading. Have fun, don’t die.
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