“Primum non nocere.”
In English, this Latin phrase means “ first do no harm.”
This edict is a driving principle of healthcare. Virtually all practitioners know it since first learning it as students. It is an imperative ethical principle taught worldwide that, unfortunately isn’t always followed in our modern-day healthcare environment. But it is the one I have embraced throughout my career, and constitutes my most important piece of advice to athletes everywhere.
Whatever is done to promote fitness—training, competition, diet, equipment, etc.—must not damage your health. Unfortunately, studies continue to show that, in all sports, athletes continue to be “fit but unhealthy.” This holds for men and women in every age group. Children are not spared. The problem has become an epidemic.
In far too many cases, athletes push their bodies in hopes of better competitive performance. However, the benefits typically occur only in the short term, and often at the expense of years of poor health.
There is an apparent paradox seen in athletes who are fit enough to perform what appears to be great feats, but at the same time have low levels of health, rendering them vulnerable to injury, illness, disease and sometimes even death.
The Maffetone Method
Almost daily, I receive an email from someone asking why, after closely reading one of my new books for the second time, there was no workout schedule to follow. Or they’ll ask, “Where is the structured diet plan?”—you know, the kind with calorie charts that typically forms the staple and centerpiece of most weight-loss books.
I can understand their frustration. We live in a quick-fix society. Everyone is looking for that single, magical diet or miracle workout plan that will change their lives overnight. But that’s a fiction, a false promise—and it’s exactly the one that all the health and fitness magazines love to promise their readers.
The only way to make long-lasting changes with one’s health and fitness is to think in terms of the individual. That means you.
After almost 40 years of working with individuals of all ages, levels of athleticism, and persons with the widest possible array of illnesses and spectrums of personal goals, I’ve yet to find the best diet for all to follow, or the training program that works for everyone. That’s because neither exists, despite new books coming out each year that purport to offer the long sought-after answer.
And that is why, in my private practice, I created the Maffetone Method. My method lives in the acknowledgement that we’re all different and unique in every way and with every one of our needs.
The Maffetone Method is simple yet vast because that’s the nature of humans. It’s built on principles, not processes. In essence, it’s a holistic approach to help the individual figure out what makes him or her tick.
By taking this journey you become responsible for your own destiny—and capable of managing it: the reward is that you can be healthier than you’ve ever been, fit enough to reach your athletic goals, and live out your days with an unwavering quality of life.
But what exactly is The Maffetone Method? It is the set of principles that have stood the test of time. It’s going on 30 years.
The simplest things are often the ones most difficult to explain. The Maffetone Method helps you take charge of your own health and fitness—and succeed. We humans have gone astray; we’ve forgotten how to be optimally healthy. And now we have to get back to our instincts and intuition. This is one of the great benefits of this journey.
A better name for this might be The Maffetone Non-Method, or Dr. Phil’s Approach. But over time, my style of working with athletes and non-competitive persons alike came to be known as The Maffetone Method.
Most diet fads or treatments for various ailments address the signs and symptoms, ignoring the root cause of the problem. While this may be the hallmark of our healthcare system and society—drug and health stores alike are full of products that offer people a way to treat some symptoms—it obviously doesn’t do what we hopefully set out to do: to correct the cause of the problem.
The power of individualized assessment
The approach laid out by The Maffetone Method encourages you to find the reasons for poor health and fitness: Why can’t you lose weight? What is the cause of your pain? What do you need to reach your athletic potential? I can’t tell you the answers to these vital questions—they’ll be different for everyone—but I can help you figure them out. Almost everyone is capable of succeeding, but it requires a different way of thinking, starting by giving up the endless search for the magic pill, the perfect diet, or the one-size-fits-all training program.
Knowing that individualized assessment and treatment was a key to developing a successful practice (along with helping patients understand the importance of self-health care), it became obvious that certain patterns existed in the individuals who were not perfectly balanced (essentially everyone, including myself). There were physical, biochemical and mental-emotional imbalances complete with their set of signs and symptoms. These patterns provided vital information, which helped lead to quicker and more accurate evaluations and faster therapeutic outcomes.
This process facilitates asking specific questions about how the body was responding to, say, pain. Such questions should reveal answers about how and when the pain started, what makes it better or worse, how long it lasts, and other information that makes it easier to find the cause of the pain, and eliminate it.
These questions are a vital part of my style, and remain important tools which anyone can use to find and fix physical ailments, metabolic imbalances and other problems.
Self-tests are also critical. For example, testing the body by adding or avoiding certain foods or specific workouts can help you obtain valuable information, from which you can begin piecing together the details of an individualized nutrition or training program.
There are many different facets of health and fitness that also must work together to create optimum human potential—like you felt when you were younger and full of vigor. The Maffetone Method is a way for an individual to more objectively look at his or her whole life, and address any and all factors that are not working towards achieving and maintaining optimal health and fitness. These factors include diet or nutritional status, exercise routine, and how physical, chemical and mental stresses are best regulated.
The Maffetone Method helps the individual address a variety of health and fitness goals in a holistic manner. These goals include, but are not limited to the following:
Developing Fat-Burning Capabilities
One specific goal of the Maffetone Method is to increase the burning of body fat to provide high levels of physical and mental energy. Most of the body’s energy for daily living comes from the conversion of both sugar (glucose) and fat to energy (in the form of ATP). Since the body has much more fat than sugar stored as fuel at any given time (even in very thin individuals), increasing the fat-burning capabilities of the body will stabilize your energy levels—you’re no longer depending as much on the short-term source of energy, sugar.
Relying on larger amounts of fat-burning results in high physical and mental vigor, improved health, and better all-around performance. Those less able to burn sufficient fat must rely more on sugar (which results in less fat-burning each day). This problem is associated with markers of reduced health, which include low energy, increased body fat and weight, less endurance for daily living, and lower physical fitness.
Balancing Physical Activity
The most important way to instruct the body’s natural fat-burning capabilities is to train the aerobic system. Without specifically training this system, one could actually become aerobically deficient. This is a common syndrome associated with fatigue, increased weight and body fat (especially in those who regularly work out), reduced immune function, physical disability and hormonal imbalance.
By stimulating the full spectrum of slow-twitch muscle fibers, it’s possible to trigger improvements in the heart and lungs, increase circulation, and enhance brain function. This also helps the joints, bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles prevent injuries and avoid chronic pain conditions in areas like the low back, knee, shoulder, wrist and neck.
I developed the 180 Formula to empower athletes as well as the average person to figure out their maximum aerobic heart rate—the heart rate at which they most effectively improve their fat-burning, or aerobic system. By using the 180 Formula and learning how to apply it to exercise and daily life with the MAF Test, now everyone with access to a heart-rate monitor can figure out how they need to train to achieve increased aerobic function.
The consumption of sugar and other carbohydrates is one of the most common causes of chemical stress, chronic inflammation, and reductions in aerobic function and fat-burning. These foods have become a staple in the diets of millions of people—but addiction prevents their elimination. More than any other food, they directly interfere with one’s ability to be healthy and fit. In fact, just one meal or snack of sugar or refined carbohydrate can not only turn off fat-burning and significantly disturb hormones, but also switch on genes that cause disease.
The Two Week Test is a tool designed to help people that eat too many carbohydrates first wean themselves off those foods, and then figure out how many carbohydrates they are able to eat on a day-to-day basis. By maintaining carbohydrates at the level that’s most appropriate for that particular person, the Two-Week Test can help boost the aerobic gains made by implementing the 180-Formula and the MAF test (mentioned above).
Controlling Chronic Inflammation
Another important aspect of the Maffetone Method is addressing a key chemical condition that leads to serious illness—chronic inflammation. Most diseases, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, weak bones and muscles, and Alzheimer’s, begin in this seemingly benign way, without signs or symptoms. The good thing is that the chemical imbalances that trigger this problem are easy to control with diet and lifestyle.
Specifically, it’s easy to avoid this condition by balancing one’s dietary fat intake and consuming certain foods—based on a person’s individual needs. In doing so, many of the physical and mental problems seen in aging (including those mentioned above) can be avoided.
Secrets to Stress Management
A unique feature of my method is learning how to avoid the ravages of physical, chemical and mental stress. Finding the ideal diet, maintaining optimal nutrition, sticking to regular aerobic workouts, and implementing other lifestyle factors that would normally lead to optimal health and fitness won’t work if stress interferes. Since the human body and brain possess a unique stress-management system—the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands—learning how to enlist its cooperation is vital.
How can the Maffetone Method offer a personalized, truly individual approach for all people? The answer is simple and is what I’ve done throughout my career — begin with an assessment. Through self-evaluation with the help of questionnaires and self-testing, and learning about the inner workings of the body, individuals are guided through the simple process of determining their particular needs in all key areas of health and fitness, from diet and nutrition to exercise and the regulation of stress. The end result is improved human performance: better brain function, increased endurance, avoidance of illness and disease, unlimited energy, and for athletes, continuous competitive improvements without injury. It begins with you deciding a change is needed: it’s up to you to take that first step in your journey.