Every so often, a new trend sweeps the nation when it comes to how we concentrate on our waistlines and overall health, and this year has been no different.  Everything from how we eat, to how we train has sparked its own hashtag, and its own growing community of diehard participants, all eager to share why their way is best. 

Banting has become a dietary revolution in its own right, which shouldn’t be confused with Paleo – an entirely different eating lifestyle that is trending as well.  Then you also have the Low Carb High Fat dietary plan, which isn’t like Banting at all, but close enough.

The one constant that you can bet your best pair of running shoes on is that all of these eating plans sing the praises of bacon, and who wouldn’t anyway?  Bacon is the savoury reason to get out of bed in the mornings, it is the shining beacon of hope that Monday is going to be worth getting up for.  Bacon is the best thing since sliced bread, especially when wedged between two slices of freshly baked bread.

Unless you have been in hiding for the past few years, you have probably noticed a rise in health-related everything, everywhere you look.

But, thanks to a new study conducted by the World Health Organisation, the bacon eaters the world over are in for a nasty surprise. The latest report claims that processed meats such as bacon, sausages, etcetera cause cancer. The report released by WHO indicates that consuming 50g of processed meat per day increases the chances of developing colorectal cancer by 18%.  And remember, 50g of processed meat per day is less than two slices of the savoury equivalent of chocolate. 

While the latest revelation comes as a shock to many, WHO did release a silver lining as well: While there are a few health risks now associated with processed meats, WHO didn’t rule out eating it entirely.

What is processed meat?

So how do you know what meat you can and can’t eat in excess?  What makes bacon processed and how does this increase our chances of getting colon cancer?  In a nutshell, processed meat is modified to extend its shelf life or to alter the way it tastes in some way. The majority of these methods include adding preservatives, curing or smoking the meat, as well as adding large quantities of salt. This doesn’t mean that everything we do to the meat we eat modifies it, not unless we are adding something to modify the way it tastes.

So while mincing your beef doesn’t make it processed meat, adding spices and preservatives to it to make sausage does. So the boerewors that you love to braai on the weekend is possibly laced with chemicals that are increasing your risk of cancer. When you combine the preservatives used in these meats with high temperatures, you create carcinogenic chemicals – the same type of chemicals released when smoking a cigarette.

Is it really that serious?

Okay, so perhaps your Saturday braai meat isn’t as dangerous as chain smoking is, but it is in the same category as plutonium now.  So while this isn’t ideal for those health conscious folk trying to keep their waistlines slim, it doesn’t mean the end of all things tasty.  Said WHO expert, Dr Kurt Straif : "For an individual, the risk of developing bowel cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”

What does this mean?

For anyone on a very specific eating plan like Banting/Paleo or LCHF, it means that while they can still enjoy bacon breakfasts, they shouldn’t overindulge either.  Which also means that binging on biltong is probably out of the question now too. 

The CrossFit Controversy

How do you know if someone is into CrossFit?  Don’t worry, they will tell you.  There is no escaping a list of taboo topics without adding CrossFit to that discussion.  CrossFit has been beating athletes into submission since around 2000.  Although the true origins of where the high intensity sport comes from is still a bit sketchy, we are sure that it is going to make you pass out, throw up or die. 

CrossFit is known for its intensity and “whining is for the weak” mentality, so it isn’t all that surprising that it is now being exposed as a sure fire way to injure yourself.  One thing that you need to remember about CrossFit gyms – or Boxes as they are known in the community – is that no one is treated like a beginner.  No one.  Not even beginners.  You are given your workout of the day and set off down a path of joint destruction.  Sure, you will possibly be shown how to perform these exercises, but that doesn’t mean that you need to execute them like a professional.

Imagine this, you have been given a kettlebell to swing over your head while in the sumo squat pose, your knees are killing you and your shoulder is buggered. You’re then told to perform a “clean and jerk” lift shortly before doing a round of “death by burpees”.  That is your warm up and you’ve only just stepped into the box. You don’t know a soul and can’t remember the name of the coach who had just disappeared to help another athlete prepare for the CrossFit games that are coming up. The question you need to ask yourself now is who is going to carry you out of there in an hour?

Why is it bad for you?

With any exercise plan that you choose to undertake, having incorrect form is going to defeat the point of all that sweating you are doing. If you aren’t being shown the correct way to execute certain skills, and your form is off, you might end up doing more damage than any good in the long run. This is where having a one-on-one session with a coach might be better for beginners, so that they can guide you and your technique down the right path. However, when you are paying an excess of R800 per month for the use of a box to throw up in, you can only imagine what a private session will set you back.

Thanks to the high intensity of the training sessions, a lot of newbies feel too embarrassed to speak up when they feel ill, sore or have no idea what they are doing. It is an intimidating place to be, so when you’ve just started this journey you tend to show up and shut up. Until you blow out your knee and need to have surgery to repair the damage, and yes, that does happen.

If having joints exploding from within wasn’t scary enough, a common kidney condition known as rhabdomyolysis is frequently seen in the CrossFit community.  This is induced by excessive exercise at an unsustainable intensity.  This potentially life-threatening state occurs when muscle starts to break down and myoglobin is released into your bloodstream.  This then clogs up your kidneys and starts poisoning them.  It is so common in the community that it even has its own avuncular nickname: Uncle Rhabdo. 

Are there any pros?

Of course there are! As with any form of exercise, CrossFit has its benefits when practiced safely and correctly. For a start, make sure that you find the right Box for you and go with people who share the same goal as you. Other than doing proper research into the Box you choose, here are a few other pros for CrossFit when practiced in a safe, healthy way:

Being part of a community

If CrossFit has done anything right, it is to create and nurture a solid community. When you join a Box, you join a group of people dedicated to getting everyone around them off their butts and working out.  The camaraderie is inspiring and there is no shortage of motivation.

Being part of a buzz

For all of its shortcomings, CrossFit has a contagious energy that surrounds it.  When you feel like giving up, some neon-clad CrossFitter will cheer you on until you finish whatever it is you need to. You get a sense of being part of something huge, where there is absolutely no judgment and no regard for whether or not you can hear each other over the loud, lively music. It just seems like a lot of fun to be around.

Being part of a competition

Everyone likes a little competition, which CrossFit offers by the bucket load. From bettering your personal best, to beating the time of someone you look up to, being part of the competition is fun. It helps keep you motivated to do an extra set when you see others pushing reps out like they were born with barbells in their hands. In fact, CrossFit harnesses this competitive drive to keep participants involved, intrigued and inspired. 

As 2015 starts to wind down, we can only imagine what health trends we can look forward to in 2016. But, for now, let us enjoy the festive season as it approaches and worry about CrossFit and Banting when New Year’s Resolutions roll around.