Sunday, May 29, 2016

Six pack is the new black

Why is there a picture of the latest Tarzan in blog?

I was looking at the trailers of this movie (which I think I’ll go see by the way) and stumbled upon a series of articles about the draconian program that the actor underwent in order to get in shape for the role.

Four months of chicken breast and crunches… in short, the old school: low-fat/high-protein and no-pain-no-gain. The actor also mentions that one day he started crying and the nutritionist that was following him opted for an emergency cheat day.

I am not surprised, but I am also a bit perplexed.

Not surprised because: put me on a low-fat diet and ask me to exercise more than 45 minutes just for one day and I would start crying myself: ok for the exercise part, but I’d rather fast than eating tasteless food, as you probably noticed in the picture section of my Facebook account “Alex The Foodie”.

Perplexed because: I think it is pretty much clear to everybody that this paradigm never really worked if not in the short term, which is what the actor was looking for anyway: get an 8-pack quickly and stay fit for the time needed to make the filming.

I personally think it is a very wrong approach and, at the risk of making this article a celebration of my own life-style, I believe that some words must be said. Summer is quickly approaching and I expect a lot of males ready to do anything to exhibit a 8-pack at the beach (some would be happy with a 4-pack).

Now. The actor is almost my age, we also share the same name, so… nice abs Alex! I am not going to say that the result was not worth the effort: I am saying that the same result could have been achieved without even trying, just using a different approach.

The diet

As a certified Nutritional Therapy Consultant, I’d like to focus on the part “without trying”, this is my favourite aspect of the diet I follow and advocate, which is (sorry for being repetitive) a properly prepared whole food based nutrient-dense diet which follows the traditions.

Traditions from all the world, without exceptions, made use of animal fats, they included raw and cooked vegetables, didn’t know what the word refined meant but knew how to process the food in order to optimise the nutrient absorption (soaking, sprouting, fermenting). And had what I consider the ultimate nutritional element that every recipe should contain: taste.

This is where the tarzan-diet fails in my opinion: if punishing oneself and allowing an occasional binge-cheat day with pizza and tiramisu is not sustainable for as short as 4 months to an actor who is being paid to do it, why should it work for the average Joe? Then, what happens when you decide not to follow it anymore? Exactly, you become fatter than before, the well known yo-yo effect.

But there is more, and it goes beyond aesthetics. I don’t yet have enough details on the diet, however, if the nutritionist that followed Tarzan wanted to have some credibility beyond the successful weight loss achievements, he must have realised that his client was starving to death, and I am not speaking about calories, but nutrients: minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids. These are found in real food, and humans, especially those exercising hard, have increased requirements of them.

Which is what the chicken diet doesn’t provide: one theory about the extinction of the Neanderthals proposes that they died of malnutrition when mammoths disappeared and they started eating rabbit and other smaller game. Lack of essential nutrients means a weaker immune system and infertility, all the conditions to become endangered: if your ancestors ate fatty meat for millennia and you suddenly switch to low-fat or vegan, you can’t expect to thrive as a species. Think the panda, an animal that is still physiologically and metabolically a carnivorous but eats bamboo shots…

In short, the nutritionist has probably also prescribed supplements, I think this is not sustainable in the long term neither: synthetic vitamins are not the same as the real stuff. They can be useful to temporarily solve an emergency situation, but not as a replacement of a well-balanced diet.

I'll come back again on the details of my diet, so far I always spoke in general and never published many recipes or a complete meal plan.

The workout

As for the exercise part, this is another interesting one: while it is true that I don’t exercise much in terms of time, those 30-45 minutes I do every day are quite tough.

One thing I can say already: I haven’t done a single crunch in the last 4½ years, yet my core has never been that strong.

The autor of this blog, on April 2016
(but pretty much the same any time of the year)

I haven’t done curls or lateral raises neither, and of course I didn't use machines.

As a MovNat Certified Trainer and Animal Flow Certified Trainer, I disregarded any exercise that works muscles in isolation, and concentrated instead on primitive movement patterns like crawling, balancing, walking, running, jumping, climbing and the occasional swimming session.

Which, if you think, is what a real life Tarzan would have done all his entire life... there are no treadmills, rowing machines, kettlebells or barbells in the jungle and the last thing I think when I see a liana is doing double-unders. Instead, there are obstacles: and in order to go forward you need to swim across a river, crawl under branches, balance on fallen trees, walk on uneven terrains while avoiding hazards, run from predators (or to preys), jumping obviously and climbing for sure. The Tarzan yell is optional.

I am not a proponent of exercising in Nature for everybody, I myself like controlled environments: the natural setting can be interesting, a real challenge that can be thrown in occasionally. But the focus must be on the human body and this is always with us, whether we exercise in a gym, in a city park or even at home. The best we can do, which I grant you is pretty much enough, is to reproduce these very movements and keep challenging ourselves by altering the volume, the intensity and the complexity of the exercises. And have fun in the process, if the workout is not fun, you’ll always find an excuse not to do it and will end up bingeing on pizza and tiramisu.


A nutrient-dense diet and a tough but playful program of exercises that honour our generic heritage is all we need to get/stay in shape and do it while maintaining or becoming healthy.

While Tarzan is clearly a fictional character, fortunately there are still few isolated groups of people eating and moving like our primitive ancestors did: they don’t binge on chicken cutlets, powdered whey and BCAAs, they are clearly not vegan and they would look at you amused if they saw you performing crunches or wasting hours on the elliptical trainer. They are here to witness that, either with a perizoma or in suit and tie, we are humans. The more our lifestyles vary from what our genetic code expects, the worst we will do.

Stay tuned, like the Facebook page of my Movement Factor Geneva and… don't forget to crawl.


  1. Great article that showcases yet another unsustainable nutritional protocol that just helps perpetuate the myth that eating steamed chicken and broccoli for breakfast, lunch and dinner are what is required for fat loss.
    What I find interesting but annoying is that people don't talk about the fact that the most important thing for fat loss is to be in a calorie deficit with respect to their energy expenditure. If on top of that you want to build muscle then you need to make sure you eat enough protein in your meals (no need for supplements) AND exercise to provide your body with the stimulus to hang on to its muscle so it is not lost and partition the nutrients appropriately. Personally I like the intermittent fasting protocol because it enables me to control my calories more easily than if I also include breakfast (and it is more convenient than the 'traditional' recommendation of eating 5-6 small meals a day, which i find totally impractical.)

    Any successful fat loss or strength/muscle-building regimens need one thing to be effective - program compliance. So I don't care how clean you need to eat or what great exercise program you have (whatever it may be, and btw - intense traditional cardio increase your hunger signals, do HIIT if you want), if the client/person doesn't follow it because it is more complex than a parkour circuit, it will be unsustainable and therefore ineffective at changing one's lifestyle for the long-term.

    There was a great article that called out Tracy Anderson's 'fitness advice' and more of that needs to happen.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment.

      The calories-in-calories-out was the leading paradigm until some years ago. For decades people tried to outrun a bad diet, or under-eat lack of exercise, yet failed at losing weight. For this reason, many nutritionists came up with the idea that counting calories is futile. There is some truth in both.

      It is absolutely true that you need a calorie deficit in order to start burning body fat: this is thermodynamics and holds true as long as one is subject to the laws of physics of this universe. It is also true that a calorie is not a calorie and some sources are more quickly stored as body fat than others, often lowering the basal metabolism or impairing the use of stored fats as energy (sugars and alcohol).

      I am not a proponent of ketosis, humans are equipped with an hybrid engine so in order to get the best performances you should use both sources of energy: this also spares the third source of calories (proteins) which is available for tissue repair and growth. But "some more fat" is definitely what most people require, both in the optic of losing weight and staying healthy.

      Intermittent Fasting, while it is great (or better GREAT!) it may not be for everybody. It puts quite a lot of stress on the adrenals so people with problems with sugar metabolism or people in stressful situations should avoid it. As an holistic nutritionist I often recommend the five small meals per day to people with adrenal exhaustion or blood sugar dis-regulation issues. I also recommended the IF protocol, too (skip breakfast, eat lunch and dinner). It all depends on the person, we are not all the same.

      And as for the program compliance, you are so right! I once read a meme saying "...and now the bad news: you need to eat healthy more than once to get results..."