The Diet Detective discusses holistic fitness with Paul Chek, who founded the C.H.E.K Institute, where he trains and certifies future CHEK practitioners.

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Unless you’re a professional or Olympic athlete, you may not have heard of Paul Chek, but this fitness evangelist is truly a man on a mission — to spread the concepts of holistic fitness and being functionally fit. A world-renowned expert in the areas of “corrective and high-performance exercise kinesiology,” Chek has been teaching his unique, holistic approach to fitness for more than 25 years. In 1995, he founded the C.H.E.K Institute, where he trains and certifies future CHEK practitioners. He’s known for saying it like it is and not holding anything back, but also for practicing what he preaches.

Diet Detective: I’m always curious about how people get started on their quest for living a healthier life.

Paul: In my early childhood, my mother practiced Christian Science. This religion doesn’t believe in the use of “modern medicine.” Its practitioners believe in natural therapeutic methods, such as diet and herbs. From about age 5 until leaving home, I lived on farms where we raised our own produce and livestock. When I was 12, my mother became a practicing yogi under the guidance of Paramahansa Yogananda’s monks. This philosophy is also natural, but less bound by dogma. As a child, I was able to see the challenges and limitations of Christian Science and was very pleased with the difference that practicing Raja Yoga made in my mother. When I was 15, she sent me to summer camp with the yogi monks.

Diet Detective: How can we live a healthy life?

Paul: Nothing works better than natural principles. While medicine offers a quick form of pain relief, it rarely addresses the etiology [cause] of what ails us. I’ve watched as people repeatedly run into serious problems using the pills that are the brainchildren of the pharmaceutical industry (which include synthetic vitamins, by the way!). My career has taught me to stay close to the earth.

Diet Detective: What exactly is a holistic health professional?

Paul: In California, where I’m licensed as a Holistic Health Practitioner, you must have a minimum of 1,000 hours of training in holistic health from a state-approved school. The license allows me to offer health coaching that uses any natural means.

Diet Detective: What does holistic high performance mean?

Paul: It is seeking high performance through the improvement and perfection of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self. For example, following a good diet and a good training program, yet displaying the emotional stability of a child, can be very detrimental; often you see such athletes having run-ins with coaches and referees. To be holistic means to be willing to explore the weak links in your philosophy of life so that you optimize your chances of achieving your goals.

Diet Detective: How should a person go about picking a health practitioner?

Paul: Never judge a man/woman by the creed he/she professes, but by the life he/she leads.

Diet Detective: What is your food philosophy?

Paul: When we eat organically grown, whole foods (that means minimally processed!), we are eating foods grown in healthy soil, where the microorganism population is working optimally. This is a critical concept, because most people have NO idea that we can only be as healthy as our food, and our foods (be they plants or animals) can only be as healthy as the soil from which they emerged!

Diet Detective: How do you incorporate the “spiritual” component to your workout?

Paul: In my philosophy, to be spiritual simply means that you take responsibility for what you create moment to moment. To incorporate spirituality into your workout, I suggest you develop awareness. Become aware of what exercise offers you; are the motive and the outcome bringing you health? The Quakers have a saying that is apt here. They say, Pray, and move your feet! The artist Walter Russell states that the universe moves any request to you at the exact pace you move toward it!

Diet Detective: What is core training, and why is it so important?

Paul: Any functional exercise that requires you to maintain your own center of gravity over your own base of support is a core exercise. This is, quite simply, because the core bridges the arms and legs. If your core is weak or uncoordinated, you will be unable to transfer a load from arms to legs or vice versa. Back injury is very likely where the core is deficient, as are shoulder and knee injuries.

Functional exercises are exercises that optimally improve your ability to carry out your chosen objective (e.g., to play with your children, weed the garden, play a sport or perform on the job, etc…) Unless you operate a crane, traditional machine training is relatively useless.

Diet Detective: What is the best strength-training exercise?

Paul: There is, in my opinion, no better exercise than the dead lift. Confucius said, to stand up straight, bend — to bend, stand up straight. If you understand his message here, he was essentially prescribing the dead lift!

Diet Detective: Which historical figure can you relate to most?

Paul: Eugen Sandow [who lived from 1867 to 1925 and is considered the father of modern bodybuilding].

Diet Detective: What do you do to reduce stress, relax and center your mind?

Paul: I love to draw and use watercolors. I have done hundreds of mandalas.

Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?

Paul: Working in the Florida Keys fixing crab traps in the blazing sun for just above minimum wage. But hey, that’s what you do when you are 22 and you’ve got a 4-year-old son and money’s tight!

Diet Detective: Your motto?

Paul: Do No Harm!

Diet Detective: As a child you wanted to be?

Paul: Loved.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder of DietDetective.com, and host of the new WE television series I Want To Save Your Life. Copyright 2008-2009 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter and iTunes podcast at www.DietDetective.com