One of the buzzwords that have been associated with Fitness and Nutrition for as long as I can remember has been the idea of sustainability. This is often the crux of any argument against a certain style of training or nutrition. I am by no means an expert in either of these fields but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on why sustainability is a bad choice of words in some cases.
Sustainability is defined simply as the capacity to endure. In other words, how likely is it that you can continue indefinitely with whatever it is that you are doing. Let’s take a look at nutrition first. I hear the sustainable word used most frequently when talking about particular diets. The topic usually comes up when someone talks about wanting to lose some weight or get leaner. They discuss a nutrition program that has the potential to reach their goals. In most cases, the path to get to that particular goal is much more demanding than the individual had previously thought. This is a completely separate topic related to goal setting and understanding what you really want, we will open up pandora’s box on that a little later on, were not ready for that truth serum yet. So back to the nutrition plan that is going to get an individual on track to their goals. One of the first arguments that usually come up is whether or not this plan is sustainable. This is the first bump in the road. What do we really mean by this? I think “sustainable” in this form means something different. I think it means, how likely is it that this person is going to be able to stick with whatever program has been created for them. The actual use of the word “sustainable” would really mean, are the resources available to continue with this plan indefinitely. The answer to this would, in almost all cases will be, absolutely. However, the confusion comes with this piece and people look at sustainable being related to how disciplined they are. They say it would be unsustainable because it would be too difficult to (insert whatever sacrifice here) for an extended period of time. For example, would it be sustainable to follow a paleo diet. Yes, the prevalence of compliant foods with this program would make this a sustainable program. However, do certain individuals not have the discipline to follow this program, absolutely, but again, it is a motivation problem, not a sustainability problem.
One thing that I don’t think is made crystal clear to people is the flip side to any of these arguments. Is NOT following a nutrition program sustainable, based on the definition of the word? My answer would be no unless you would like to argue that hypertension, bad cholesterol, belly fat, etc would lead you to believe that you’re giving your body the ability to endure over a long period of time. If you don’t find a nutrition plan to follow, you will gain weight, you will have high blood pressure, you will have a large concentration of visceral fat in your midsection, all things that lead to an increased risk of cardiac problems. So the next time you hear someone tell you that they can’t follow a certain nutrition program because it is not “sustainable”, remind them that NOT following the program is actually more unsustainable than the alternative.
The same argument can be made in regards to fitness programs. Sustainability isn’t the issue. Motivation, discipline, sacrifice are the issues. The ability to train will always be available to you. How you prioritize your health and fitness in relation to other aspects of your life is a choice that you will have to make. Your inability to manage your time to allow you to focus on your fitness is not a sustainability issue but a management issue.