• The Moment That Changes Everything

    By Jay Diamond

    JD Portrait 2

    It was a chilly December  afternoon. London, 2008. I was late for the tube – so I bundled up, walked swiftly around the corner, through the turnstile, when I heard the train arriving. That meant I had about one minute – let the dash begin. I leaped up several flights of stairs to make it onto the train by a whisker… and then my life changed.

    I realized that I couldn’t catch my breath.  I’d been in London 2 months, sampling loads of British culture (i.e. pubs – in which they have beer and any vegetable you want, as long as its potatoes, chipped, and fried).  I was in the worst shape of my life. But this was bad… I was hyperventilating and starting to panic.

    Most people have a moment when they turn a significant corner in life, and for me it was on that subway train in London.  I recovered from my perceived near-death experience and vowed not to let it happen again. I joined a gym at age 43 for the first time in my life and began wading through the labyrinth of extraordinary health claims, myriads of supplements, and wads of get-ripped-quick routines. In the last 5 years, I’ve gone from the worst shape of my life to the best – vastly exceeding what I thought was possible and resetting my “upper limit” too many times to count. I’ve gone from the stereotypical computer geek to being ripped – and I’m just getting started.

    And that brings me to this blog – an exploration of bodybuilding under the magnifying glass of scientific skepticism. By “bodybuilding” I’m not necessarily talking about competition level. I’m talking about building your body methodically with science and a lot of hard work – pushing yourself to the limit with every workout. Some examples of “average” people who fall into this definition of bodybuilding – many of which you’d never know by looking at them:

    –        I had lunch with a woman at TAM who was told by her doctor that she’d soon be in a wheelchair. She decided to alter her trajectory. Although still heavy-set, she’d lost a significant amount of weight in the last 2 years with routine and progressively increasing physical activity, diet, and tenacity. The doctor was correct – had she maintained her previous trajectory, she’d be in trouble. Instead, she decided to methodically improve her health a fitness level.
    And she was just getting started.
    This woman is a BODYBUILDER.

    –        Several friends in their 50s and 60s are CrossFit junkies. When they describe their workouts, even lifelong athletes find their achievements remarkable. The lifelong non-athletes simply can’t believe what they can achieve with basic equipment and hard work.
    And they are just getting started.
    These people are BODYBUILDERS.

    My purely anecdotal account of most people at the gym:

    1. <5%: Genetically gifted. These people go into the gym and pretend to work out. A combination of lucky genes and youth allows them to put on a show for themselves or others, but they aren’t really pushing themselves. Often seen carrying 5lb. weights and occasionally grimacing under the strain.
    2. ~10%: Methodical bodybuilders. Usually carrying a log book, they can be at any age, body-type, or level of activity and push themselves to their limits throughout the workout. They keep track of activity levels, various aspects of dietary intake, and often consult with experts on improvements.
    3. >85%: Civilians. Think they are in groups 1 or 2 – mostly group 1 (as demonstrated by the 5lb. weights and occasional grimace). It’s great to keep moving throughout your life, but gains and change come from mixing it up and pushing limits. This group does none of that – or at least they wouldn’t know it if they were. Often seen on phones while on a treadmill, occasionally doing what group 2 would call a “light day”, this is at best maintaining status quo and at worst self-deluding themselves into believing that they are fit and improving. I was in this group for years (believing that I was in group 2). While often seeing personal trainers, you can spot them being “worked out” by their trainers… as a kind of crutch to taking responsibility for their health.

    This introductory blog entry contains several anecdotes – but future blogs will rely heavily on references, research, and evidence (with the occasional anecdote). My personal anecdotes usually mean that there MAY be something there – but please don’t take them as evidence.  Please take evidence as evidence. Expect regular articles on supplements, workouts, psychology, and my favorite – debunking bodybuilding scams…

    Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one. Before you attempt any physical exercise routine, check with a doctor. Not a naturopath, not a homeopath, not a chiropractor, not your feng shui consultant, not a Reiki master, not your neighbor, but your GP with a real medical degree from a real accredited institution of medicine.  Dietary supplements will affect people differently – my comments will generally be related to MOST people in MOST situations unless otherwise stated, and you should consult a doctor before trying anything discussed in the blog.

    And don’t take my word for it… please do your own research, be skeptical, and tell me what you’ve learned.


    JD Portrait 1

    Jay Diamond is the founder of Reason4Reason – a skeptical activist group based in the San Francisco bay area. He holds dual masters degrees in engineering and business and has managed both startup companies and hundred-million-dollar programs for Fortune 50 companies. Growing up in Canada, he performed magic, studied science, and became aware of the skeptical movement. Jay has lectured around the world on science & technology, business, and skepticism. 

    Category: FeaturedFitnessJay DiamondSkepticism


  • Article by: Jay Diamond

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    • Great job Jay. Love the change your life in an instant story. I’ve heard this from other people (sadly not as many as I would like to) Stirling read me a story about a man who got stuck in a turnstile getting on the subway and that was it for him.

      I have a dear friend that has been battling weight issues for years. She just can’t seem to get a handle on it, she exercises some and has battles with foods. But she never loses or gains. Very sad, we thought she was finally going to take control when the doctor used the word “obese” about her weight. She was so upset, and that should have been her moment but sadly it passed.

      When I dropped about 30 pounds from 2009-2012 it took me really to take a look at what my issues were. I discovered that it isn’t exercise, but food. I really have issues with it, I’m a social eater, I would think that in order to hang out with friends I needed to eat, and then in order to linger over the discussions I needed to continue to eat. I also discovered that I felt that I “deserved” some kind of food because I had a stressful day or a hard day at work. When my mom would be taken to the hospital by an ambulance, we knew we had an hour at least until we could see her. So we would stop at CvS and I would buy whatever candy I wanted, all kinds. Felt that “life is short” then I would eat a bunch and then feel sick.

      Once I discovered all this about about myself, I was able to deal with these problems and adjust. Knowledge is power. Look forward to reading more of your posts.

      • Jay Diamond

        Its so personal – never quite the same for any 2 people. That’s one of the reasons that pseudoscience is SO prevalent in health… it uses anecdotes to persuade you of all kinds of magical thinking. As you say, knowledge is power, and being cognizant of those personal strengths AND weaknesses let’s you adjust and be vigilant in achieving your very-personalized goals…

        Thanks for the feedback!

    • I once had a similar moment. I look forward to keeping up with your articles.

      • Jay Diamond

        Thanks Ed – and great thanks for your help with the channel!

    • griffox

      I’ve been looking for a skeptical review of the Paleo diet. While I have adopted some Paleo habits, such as eliminating legumes, grains, refined sugar, and most dairy, I’m skeptical about suggestions to eliminate many nutritious carbs, especially fruit. I’m caught between wanting to lose these last 15 pounds and wanting to eat a variety of nutrient rich foods, even if they are high carb. Is low carb really healthy?

      • Kat

        I can point you to a couple of criticisms:

        1) TED talk on how the philosophy behind Paleo is flawed from the start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMOjVYgYaG8

        2) It’s hard to “de-bunk” the Paleo diet with one study since it has many different dietary rules and restrictions that need to be looked at. So I’ll point you to this interview with nutrition researcher Alan Aragon on some flaws in the diet itself. He’s always on the ball with citing references too: http://paleomovement.com/alan-aragon-paleo-critic/

        3) Finally, when it comes to FAT loss, the only thing that matters in the end is calories. Low-carbohydrate diets will cause you to lose more WEIGHT initially since carbohydrates require you to hang onto water. But to lose FAT, studies show that the form of macronutrient your calories come in don’t matter too much: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19720791


        • griffox

          Thank you, Kat! That’s what I’ve been looking for. Very informative and encouraging.

        • Jay Diamond

          I love it when skeptics answer skeptics… nice one Kat!

    • Cristian Rodriguez

      “..I realized that I couldn’t catch my breath. . .was in the worst shape of my life. But this was bad… I was hyperventilating and starting to panic” … All too familiar feeling, I had a pretty much identical “fuck me, my body is unable to follow brain orders” moment. It was so powerful that I decided to do something about it, with help of all sorts of science professionals I lost over 25kg thing that has improved the quality of my life significantly.

      • Jay Diamond

        And THAT’S what I’m talking about… :)

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