In my humble opinion, more is only better in terms of how many donuts come in a box and the amount of time I can spend outside. Unfortunately, we, as a society, are stuck in a cyclical trap of “More is always better.” More things equal more happiness. More money equals more things equals more happiness. More time spent at work equals more money equals more things equals more happiness. On and on and on until “more” simply becomes the thing we’re addicted to and it doesn’t matter what it is we just want more of it.
Ice cream? More.
Watching TV? More.
Sitting on the couch? More.
Restaurant servings? More.
It’s dangerous and actually quite scary that our addiction to “more” carries over into everything—whether it’s healthy or unhealthy. We have been programmed and taught to always want more no matter what that is. It’s a societal addiction that throws our lifestyle out of balance but it’s an addiction that can and should be broken.
How? It’s called Minimum Effective Dose. MED is defined as the smallest dose that will produce the desired effect or outcome. Meaning simply, “more” is not better.
In terms of training and nutrition this means that 2-hour gym sessions, extra cardio and more dieting may not be essential to reach your fitness goals. I know it sounds crazy and believe me, I thought the same thing. I basically beat myself up in the gym and was so under-fueled that I was too tired the rest of the day to do much more than lay on the couch. I justified it though because I had abs…looking back I feel so silly for thinking that way. But you live and you learn I guess.
As I’ve continued to live and learn I’ve continued to find ways that help me find balance through utilizing MED in as many ways as possible because don’t believe all the fitness BS you hear out there, more is not always better, the grind does sleep, and you can take days off.
In regards to the four pillars of health, here are some tips on how to incorporate MED into all areas of your life.
Finding the minimum effective dose for exercise is paramount because life happens outside of the gym and spending 99.9% of your time inside the gym is not necessary in order to enjoy life. It’s all about training smarter not harder. It’s about de-cluttering your workouts so that 2 hour escapades around the gym trying to fit every kickback and shoulder raise in the book condenses to just the meat-and-potatoes, bang-for-your-buck exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench press. At a certain point more exercise is not only redundant but it can cause injury, decrease your ability to recover and causes you to burn out faster. All of which are not good in the long-term.
Think about MED in this way: if you have a headache and want to take ibuprofen to relieve the pain you wouldn’t immediately guzzle the whole bottle of pills, that would be unreasonable. Instead you take the recommended dose or the dose you know will alleviate the pain because any more than that is unnecessary.
If training for 30-45 minutes is the recommended dose to see the results you want why spend any longer in the gym? It’s unnecessary and for the general-pop any more than about an hour is pushing it. Like I said earlier, life happens outside the gym and the things you do inside the gym should only help to make life outside much more enjoyable.
“But Tessa you work out for like 2 hours almost 6 days a week.”
Yes, I understand I am a contradiction telling everyone else to do one thing while I do the complete opposite. My goals are different. I am training for competition and to be the best I can at a sport. My goals require dedication, sacrifice and sometimes pushing through a little bit of discomfort. I do manage my training, though, when I know my body is not handling it well. I will practice implementing MED into my training by cutting out accessories I might do later in the week or by cutting back on training duration when I feel a little beat up. I play around with numbers and I make adjustments.
Take a good look at your goals and adjust your training from there. If you aren’t training for a big competition or athletic event give yourself grace to skip a workout, only train for half the time you had planned for, or even change up your entire exercise regimen for the week.
Yes, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. I remember when I was in high school; summer time was meant for staying up until the butt crack of dawn and then sleeping until way after lunchtime. Was I getting enough sleep? Heck yeah, I was probably averaging anywhere from 10-12 hours a night but I had headaches, ate poorly and felt lethargic almost all of the time.
Too much sleep decreases your NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis) throughout the day meaning you are most likely living a rather sedentary lifestyle. Sleeping too long can even result in heart disease, diabetes and depression—all symptoms that essentially come back to being sedentary.
Find the minimum effective dose of sleep you need to live an active and energetic life. Aiming for around 7-8 hours is a good start.
Our bodies don’t distinguish between different forms of stress. Work stress, marital stress, kid stress, training stress, stress from too little food—it’s all stress and our bodies respond to it all in the same way. Whereas too much stress isn’t good, too little stress isn’t a good thing either. Just the right amount of stress gives us a little urgency to get things done and to be productive.
Think about it, if you never had a deadline for a work project or a timeline to complete an assignment would you ever actually do it? We’re human…probably not, don’t kid yourself. Deadlines give us just the right amount of stress to get the job done. It’s when we let those deadlines pile up that results in stress we cannot manage properly.
Finding your MED for stress helps to be productive. Too much and we don’t recover from workouts well, are mentally unstable and has a negative affect on our mood. Too little and we don’t have any urgency to get things done and might feel like there is no purpose to our lives.
Minimum effective dose as it applies to food means finding the minimum effective dose (food) that will allow you to reach your goals. So let’s say you want to shed a few pounds you would want to find the minimum amount of food you can eat that still allows you to have adequate energy levels, recover from workouts and find enjoyment in the food you eat. If you are trying to gain weight or put on muscle you want to find the minimum amount of food that allows you to put on just the right amount of weight because, despite popular belief, “bulking” isn’t trying to fit as much into your mouth at every meal as possible.
Minimum effective dose to me is intuitive eating. We were once very in tune with our intuitions when it came to eating. As babies we cried for food when we were hungry and simply stopped when we were full. There was none of this superficial information about what to eat, how to eat and when to eat it to confuse us we simply listened to our bodies. Pretty profound, I know.
It’s all about finding that balance between kale-everything and a large fry with every meal. It’s about fully enjoying a piece of ice cream cake because that’s what you’re craving and your usual after-dinner snack of yogurt and berries just won’t fill that void. MED is leaving food on your plate because your stomach says, “that’s enough.” MED is not going to bed starving or restricting carbs and most importantly it’s not a diet—it’s a feeling…an intuition.
So, in terms of minimum effective dose, more is not always better. Now, more donut paraphernalia, more donut options to choose from in a baker’s dozen and more donuts to share…I’m down for more of that. More time spent on hiking trails, more laying in the sun by the pool, and more participation in activities that aren’t confined by four walls…I’m down for more of that. But more diets, more training, more rules and more regulations…I’m not down for that.