Context is Everything

posted in: Health, Uncategorized | 2

Here’s a quote for you:

I hate ugly people – Joe Schmoe

Bob Smith read that statement in a recent article and said: “Did you know that Joe Schmoe hates ugly people? I mean, my GOSH! How can someone say something like that. Sure, it’s just his honest feelings, but how can anyone be so blatantly disrespectful and insensitive towards another human being. That guy is completely…”

From that simple quote, Joe receives a bitter response from Bob and many others.

It’s so easy to alter the meaning of something just by changing the context in which it was stated.

What if I told you that Joe’s Schmoe’s quote was taken from a comedy sketch he performed live on stage? Here’s a little more of his act – Joe said…

And then my buddy Phil said, “I hate ugly people.” (*laughter*)

Ah, well that changes things now, doesn’t it? It turns out that in our example, Joe was actually quoting somebody else. Not only that, but being a comedy act, it was probably just a fabricated story anyways. Even still, Joe said it, and therefore he was also quoted as saying it, which led to the tragic downfall of his reputation.

Perhaps this example is a bit too blatantly obvious to accurately imitate real life, but you’d be surprised how close our culture comes to this type of ludicrous misrepresentation (have you ever watched the news?). This type of scenario happens all the time, even in the health and fitness industry. One little piece of information is taken as gospel and a multitude of conclusions are drawn from the literal meaning of a string of words and sentences – even if the original meaning has completely vanished, been ignored, or even been covered up.

Context is to meaning as body language is to communication.

Quotes indicate WHO said WHAT.

Context indicates everything else: WHY they said it, HOW they said it, WHERE they said it, and WHEN they said it.

Each of these variables influences the meaning behind every statement. You see, the context determines the meaning so much that you cannot separate the two. Knowledge without context is meaningless and usually useless.

Let’s apply this to the health industry…

If a well-credentialed guru says “you need to avoid grains and eat a low carbohydrate diet” then anyone could infer that they should eat a low carb diet and avoid breads, pastas, and cereals. This quote could be published in books, newspapers, research journals, blogs, and the like. But what if that guru was talking about people with a strong allergy to gluten? Does that mean that those without a gluten allergy can and should eat a balanced diet that includes carbs from grains? One would think so. Or at least, from this particular statement alone, we don’t have enough information to discount the validity of grains in our personal diet. And what about whole grain, gluten-free foods? There are many unanswered questions.

Do you see how one minor detail can have a major impact on the overall message? Just by changing WHO that statement is directed towards, the entire recommendation changes. I might tell a client that “joint mobility exercise is one of the best things you can do.” That same advice could have catastrophic consequences if someone with severe musculoskeletal imbalances took it verbatim (like a cortortionist or some yogi’s, for instance). You see, joint mobility exercise is most important when you need to recover and coordinate lost range of motion. Some people already have full range of motion at each of their joints, and some even have unhealthy levels of range of motion, where their body has been deliberately damaged for the sake of MORE mobility. Having someone like this perform a daily mobility session could do more harm than good.

Here’s another example, this one is actually real, though I won’t indicate who has said this for the sake of their reputation (if it’s you – you know who you are)…

An internationally-acclaimed expert (several actually) have often been quoted as saying that “recent research indicates that high intensity interval training (HIIT) burns 9 times more fat than conventional steady-state cardio.” This is referring to the ridiculously over-used study that was published in a 1994 issue of the scientific journal Metabolism. It was conducted by Angelo Tremblay and his team from the Physical Activity Sciences Laboratory at Laval University in Quebec, Canada.

If you closely examine the research behind this statement (Tom Venuto wrote a great explanation here), you’ll find that the context dictates that HIIT training is actually 5 times LESS effective than conventional cardio training. If you’re paying attention, then you’ve just now realized that the internationally acclaimed expert is not only inaccurate in his statement, he was actually downright wrong (even after quoting “valid” research). At the very least, he is grossly misinforming his peers to the detriment of their knowledge and possibly even their health. You could even say that he’s lying.

Like I said, this type of situation happens all the time, and it’s important to be deliberately aware of this process. So, the take-home message is to always question any claims that are made about anything that involves your health. The best way to do this is to search out the context in which things are stated.

  • Does that new ab machine on late night TV really blast off the pounds – or are those just paid actors who admit it could maybe, possibly, perhaps burn some fat (if you used it for a thousand years!)?
  • Does that new supplement really increase your metabolic energy needs by over 50%, or did some health oblivious scientist discover that rats run for 3 minutes longer than they usually do when they’re fed the miracle pink powder that’s 94.6547% corn starch?
  • Do you really need to avoid all grains like the plague because they’ll kill you early, or is it just that some grains are healthier than others and some people digest grains better than others?

Context is everything.

To your health and success,

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

2 Responses

  1. While it is true, that an abs machine will help you strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles, that doesn’t yet give you that “washboard” look. In order to show your abs you need to lose that excess belly fat that is hiding them. You cannot lose fat in just one isolated area by training, fat loss always involves your entire body. So, in addition to building your abdominals you need to burn off excess fat through proper nutrition and cardio exercise.

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