This is an article that both does and doesn’t say much. It’s something that I’ll likely link back to a lot in the future so I might as well just put it down once. Want I want to talk about is the common habit of excluding the middle, more formally called “the false dilemma”, the “either/or fallacy” or a whole host of other things. It’s one of those things that I see people using all the time in Internet arguments.
Excluding the Middle
The idea here is that people have a tendency to play this cute little game where a given situation can either be exactly one thing (their preference) or exactly one other thing where that other thing is some ludicrous stupid-ass extreme example that they use to attempt to prove their preference simply by how extreme (and dumb) it is. But compared to something stupid, anything is better by comparison.
As an example, I am apparently quoted as having said that “…compared to the Standard American Diet, a diet of bug spray and skittles would be healthier.” Basically I am putting together two extremes such that the second one is only better than the first by comparison. Except that I was joking to make a point…mostly. When most people do this, they are not joking.
Now, whether or not this is just some aspect of human nature where we want things to be one thing or another, or because people are bad at making logical arguments or what I have no idea. Nor do I really care. It’s called a logical fallacy for a reason and I’m going to give you four explicit examples to try to get my point across.
Life is not binary and most things comes in varying degrees of extreme and shades of gray. As my favorite author once put it “The universe can count beyond two.” He was using this statement in a different context (to point out that most things fall into a yes/no/maybe type of situation and there are rarely simply yes/no answers) but it applies here too. Hopefully this little piece will help you count beyond two.
The Hight Intensity Training (HIT) Example
For those who live under a rock, HIT refers to High Intensity Training (not to the confusingly similarly named HIIT or High-Intensity Interval Training). Developed by Arthur Jones (as much to market Nautilus equipment or anything else) but truly popularized by Mike Mentzer (who called it Heavy Duty training), HIT has more or less become synonymous with doing 1 set to failure of a given exercise.
Interestingly, Jone’s original HIT was not nearly this extreme and actually included a fairly moderate volume of training, maybe 9 sets/week per muscle group. All of them were to total failure, mind you. But it only got super silly later on.
In arguments with HIT’ers, if you suggest doing more than one set, you typically see a great example of what I’m talking about. Specifically, you will often see the statement to the effect of “If you’re going to do more than 1 set, why not do 10, or 20, or 80?” HIT’ers see the world in two simple binary situations: either you stop at one set or you do as many sets as possible.
Hilariouly: in the modern era, what HIT’ers used as a dumb example has apparently been taken as a recommendation since people think more volume is better so why not do all of it.
But this is a case of excluding the middle. What they seem incapable of grasping is that there is nothing saying that you can’t do perhaps 4-8 hard sets per muscle group in a workout. To them the only options are 1 set and “All the sets”. Since 1 set is clearly superior to “All the sets” it is obviously the correct choice.
The Clean Eating Example
The idea of eating “clean” is one that runs rampant in the physique sports. Simply stated, “eating clean” means eating only unprocessed foods in the diet. Well, except when it’s inconvenient at which point exceedingly processed foods can be rationalized as being “clean”.
It’s always amusing watching rabid clean freaks rationalize foods that don’t fit their definition (Crystal Light comes to mind) while eliminating foods (such as dairy) which clearly do fit their definition. And when you get into arguments with clean freaks and suggest that it’s not required to eat clean 100% of the time, you will often get a response to the effect of “I guess I could go binge on junk food and McDonald’s and pizza at every meal, sure.”
Which isn’t even remotely close to what is being said.
In the clean freak’s mind, there are two binary options: you either eat clean 100% or you’re eating nothing but junk food at every meal every day. The idea that you might “eat clean” (whatever those words mean to you) 80-90% of the time and include selective “unclean foods” (whatever that means to you) the other 10-20% of the time is simply an inconceivable one to many. But clean eaters exemplify the worst things about rigid dieting.
They are excluding the middle: it’s clean 100% of the time (except when it’s not) or junk food 100% of the time, you can’t do anything in the middle. Even though you clearly can. And most do, and more probably should.
As a bit of a side note, it’s interesting that many of the most extreme “clean” eaters including a “Cheat day”. On said day they often go out of their way to eat the most junk food humanly possible, often to the point of making themselves sick. In practice, the amount of “unclean” food they eat in this single day is far beyond what the average flexible dieter is eating in a week.
As well, many fall into the trap whereby if even a gram of an ‘unclean’ food passes their lips, they have ruined their diet and must go binge on everything they can get their hands on. They need to read my book A Guide to Flexible Dieting.
The Paleo Diet Example
Arguing with rabid paleo folks is about the same as arguing with the clean eating crowd. First and foremost, they are 100% paleo until they really want to work something in to their diet which they somehow justify. A favorite example was an appallingly bad book called The Paleo Diet for Athletes. It argued that athletes should eat paleo but then managed to justify things like energy gels and carbohydrate drinks with the logic that it “was like when paleo man found some honey.” I laughed so very hard at that because it was so very very stupid.
Anyhow, arguing with paleo dieters pointless. If you suggest that a diet can safely include some refined grains, you will usually be met with a statement to the effect that “I’d never eat a diet that is 80% carbs.” or something roughly to that effect. Mind you that’s not what is even remotely being said. That’s just what they heard.
The paleo eater seems to see the world as one of two things: you are either a strict paleo eater consuming nothing but meats, veggies, fruits and other paleo-approved ™ foods or you’re living on nothing but refined grains. There is no possible middle ground.
It’s one or the other, if you’re not 100% paleo, you’re 100% at the other extreme. Apparently that whole concept of an athletic diet where you eat lots of protein, fruits, vegetables AND some amount of grains is simply inconceivable to them. Despite the fact that athletes and bodybuilders have done that for decades.
They are excluding the middle: your diet is either 100% paleo (except for the exceptions they justify) or you’re eating 80% refined grains. There is no possible middle ground that they can conceptualize.
The HIIT vs. Steady State Example
Despite the similar acronyms, I am now talking about High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) rather than the HIT weight training crew. And for some years there has been an idiotic either-or kind of argument raging about the issue of steady state vs. HIIT. Basically, and this is mostly a marketing thing/a backlash to the over-emphasize on low-intensity cardio of previous years, folks have flip flopped and coaches are advocating all HIIT all the time.
Coaches will argue to the effect of “I would never have an athlete do low intensity work because marathon runners have a poor power output” or something roughly to the effect. You’ll see similar stupidity aimed at folks aiming to lose fat where the statement is something akin to “Hours of low intensity work burn off muscle.” As if the only way to do aerobic work is by doing hours and hours of it every day.
These are the folks who will put up that idiotic picture comparing sprinters to marathoners to show that one is muscular and the other is skinny. And then try to conclude that aerobic training makes you skinny. It’s wrong for a number of reasons not the least of which is that marathoner run 20+ hours/week which has nothing to do with doing 45-60 minutes of aerobic work three times per week.
In the minds of such people, there is no way to do 45-60 minutes of low intensity work a few times per week even if dieters and contest bodybuilders have done exactly that for decades. Nor can a mixture of low-intensity work (i.e. 2-4 sessions/week) plus some HIIT (i.e. 1-2 sessions per week) possibly be done. You know, like basically every endurance athlete in the world trains.
They are excluding the middle: It’s either nothing but interval sessions at every workout OR you’re training for the Tour De France and doing 30 hours per week of aerobic work, you can’t do anything in the middle.
What’s My Point?
Duh….Stop excluding the middle.