Need an Opinion? How about your Own?

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By Dr. Allison Belger

Your friend tells you her core workout is the best she’s had yet. It’s at this new place in town and there’s a great theory behind the moves. Your brother tells you he’s got a new workout regimen that takes only twelve minutes, three times a week, at a gym where they do body–part targeting that is supposed to boost your metabolism and burn fat while you’re sitting at your desk. Your current trainer is telling you to stay the course with his P90X sessions.  Your nephew does CrossFit and loves it.  His father, your brother, says CrossFit is dangerous, especially for people over 40.

Your aunt has sworn by her vegan lifestyle for years.  Your sister eats red meat at every meal.  Your husband drinks a gallon of milk a day.  Your niece is a vegetarian.  Your mother consumes only low-fat foods.  Your nephew, the CrossFit athlete, swears by the Paleo diet.  He doesn’t follow the Zone, even though he hears that many successful CrossFit athletes do.

Your sister gets Botox.  Your mother thinks it paralyzed her lip. Your friend, an aesthetician, recommends a pricey serum for anti-aging.  You like the soap you’ve used for years.  Your co-worker loves her physician.  Your sister thinks her Ob-Gyn is all she needs. You have 10 friends raving about 10 different doctors.  And your husband doesn’t go to a doctor at all.

We live in a world of options.  We can shop where we want and select from a large pool of service providers.  We can join clubs, become gym members, and consume a myriad of products that are supposed to have positive effects on our health and wellbeing.  We can choose from among thousands of different lifestyle options when it comes to diet, exercise, and beauty products.

This is great news, right?  So what’s the problem? Why are we inundated with people trying to convince us to make one choice over another?  I get it about the whole capitalistic-entrepreneurial thing: people want us to buy their products and pay for their services.  Then there’s the fact that well-intentioned folks who like what they’re doing feel compelled to get others to do the same; our following their lead seems to validate them. This too is understandable.

But we are also bombarded with the opposite: What’s the deal with the anti-this and the don’t-go-near-that frenzy that permeates social media and makes us either roll our eyes and grit our teeth in frustration, or tremble in fear of the dangers we read about? Some people just can’t keep their negative opinions to themselves.

You don’t like vegetarianism and don’t think it’s the best way for YOU to eat? Great.  Any reason you need to try to instill a fear of vegetables in the rest of us?  Perhaps you’ve tried following a Paleo diet and it’s just not your thing.  Fine.  There are plenty of other options for you if you’re looking for some structure.  But why must you broadcast your dislike of the Paleo diet to any and all?

As for  fitness and exercise, so pervasive in our culture, we all want to think that what we are doing is the best thing for us.  Some of us even think it is the ONLY thing for us, or for anyone else for that matter.  I do CrossFit as my primary source of strength and conditioning. I own CrossFit gyms and coach people in this methodology.  But I don’t try to promote CrossFit to people I don’t know—unless they specifically ask why I do it.  I also don’t fill my social media outlets with questioning and critiquing Pilates, or long-distance running, spinning or kickboxing. I’m sure that there are times when people participating in these activities have been injured or turned off.  Not my business.

While articles have appeared recently about the long-term benefits of CrossFit, the program continues to come under critical scrutiny, as well.  Yes, you can get hurt doing CrossFit, especially without proper coaching and supervision. You can also get injured riding your bike, playing tennis, hiking, or picking up a suitcase.

Here’s the important thing:  there are good CrossFit gyms and there are less good CrossFit gyms.  Just like there are good doctors and less good doctors and good lawyers and less good lawyers.  Come to think of it, some hairdressers will leave you feeling beautiful, while others will leave you in tears. Your job–as a consumer and the person who knows you best– is to do your homework, check references, meet with service providers, and decide for yourself who and what is right for you.

In this digital age of information-at-our-fingertips and instant access to opinions on every topic, we have lost a valuable and critical tool—the capacity to make our own decisions based on our experiences and our gut, combined with available research.

Choosing activities or service providers should involve some measure of personal experience and tangible, real-world feedback.  Dismissing a potentially life-changing and beneficial program simply because somebody had a bad experience with a bad provider means throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Need a therapist?  The best way to find one is to meet with two or three people to see who is a good fit for you.  Run into one you think is nuts?  That doesn’t mean that all therapists are bad.  The same goes for diet plans and exercise programs.  Intrigued by CrossFit but afraid to try it?  Check out a few gyms and see how you feel.  Talk to the owners.   Work with a coach or two. Let your experience be your guide.  Not all CrossFit gyms are the same.  Be an intelligent consumer.

Having a variety of suppliers of the same service is a gift.  Make good use of that gift and find a way back to your own decision-making process.  Take in the opinions, referrals, and experiences of those close to you and of the experts in the field.  Be wary of the naysayers who may have their own agenda in attacking programs that can benefit others. Then, use the most important tool you have—how YOU feel.  If what you’re doing is helping you, stick with it and carry on.  If it’s not, it may be time to move on.  Being attuned to yourself, to who you are, and what you need is a fundamental life skill that should be utilized and nurtured.  Hang in there.  Use your best judgment and be your own guide. It’s not always easy, but then standing up to peer pressure in high school never was, either.

Related reading from the archives: Peer Pressure and Homework: It’s not Just for Kids

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