Six Blind Men, One Elephant And An Educated Guess


By Coach Gregg

What you’re in for:

  • ~850 words
  • 3-5 minutes reading time

If you read the title and are now expecting some sort of weird David Attenborough meets James Bond hybrid post then I am sorry to disappoint you.

Today’s article is actually about training and nutritional interventions and if you give me a few minutes I will do my best to explain.

You see last week an online client of mine asked me if we were lowering his macronutrient intake in the coming week if his scale weight came down. It immediately made me think of the story of the six blind men and the elephant.

Context. My client had not tracked weight for the last 9 days.

The Six Blind Men

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.

elephant

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Eh?! I feel something like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“What are you on? It is like a thick tree branch,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

While the story’s original teachings are about people telling the truth and misunderstanding each other, it made me think about training and nutritional variables. More specifically – how we monitor training and nutritional variables to guide decisions on appropriate interventions.

Training and Nutritional Variables

At Shredded by Science we track… well, everything. Macronutrient intake, food quality, sleep, mood, energy level, reps, sets , RPE, session and weekly volume, circumferences, sleep and more.

The more information I have available to me as a coach the better informed I am to make the required dietary interventions. After all, due to the highly fluctuating nature of the human body any training or nutritional intervention is nothing more than an educated guess.

Now to highlight my point further (and keep me from completely going off track) let’s take a deeper look into the most commonly tracked variable, scale weight.

Weight Change =/= Fat Change

This should probably be an article in itself but with your time in mind let me just say that on a daily basis scale weight is far from stable. Excluding changes in fat mass, scale weight can be affected by:

  • Carbohydrate Intake
  • The Previous Day’s Activity
  • Hydration
  • Toilet Habits(how many times did you go to the bathroom yesterday)
  • Menstrual Cycle
  • Timings – this could be time of day you weigh yourself, or even the timings of your meals prior to you weighing yourself
  • Salt/electrolyte intake

Taking all of these variable’s synergistic effects into account it’s clear that transient weight fluctuations may be > +/- 5Lbs in a single day!

Did you gain / lose weight? Yes.

Did you gain or lose fat? Potentially… but highly doubtful over the course of 24 hours unless you ate an exorbitant number of calories.

So looking back at the original post would I cut calories based on an isolated measurement of weight? In this instance answer had to be no (other clients in other situations the answer may have been different, but I digress).

Like the blind men I only had a fraction of the available information presented to me which can lead to a misguided conclusion – in this case, an unwarranted intervention.

Putting The Educated Into The Guess

So if an intervention is an educated guess how can we ensure that we are putting the educated into the guess?

Firstly, by looking at all the data points. What are the trends?

In the instance of scale weight have you been consistently losing, gaining or maintaining over a period of weeks and months?

Secondly, we want to look at the body of evidence as a whole. What other training and nutritional variables have you tracked and can help us to make an informed decision?

This is especially true for online clients with whom you simply don’t get the frequent face to face contact.

Seeing The Bigger Picture (Or Elephant)

So next time you are agonising over which changes, if any, to make to your own training and diet plan stop focusing on any one single variable.

To give yourself the best chance of making an informed decision take a step back and try to look at all of the information made available to you. If you’re struggling, don’t worry – help is at hand. It may just help you see the elephant in the room.