“A new diet has just emerged!”
“Get a flat stomach without strenuous exercise!”
“Greasy, highly-saturated fat bacon will now make you lose weight!”
“See how Scarlett Johansson got in her best shape for The Avengers in 30 days!”
False advertising and exaggerated claims plague our news feed and creep into our subconscious every single day. This concept is not new. Bold, exciting albeit fictitious headlines have been used to market pop-culture and health magazines long before the age of social media. You may recall similar statements to the ones above plastered on the covers of magazines in grocery stores (strategically placed at the check-out line) as you waited and pretended not to be interested in what the “20 Ab Secrets Fitness Pros don’t Want You to Know” actually entail.
With the social media boom in recent years, which has been incredible for reconnecting with old friends, close family, and the “yeah, I kind of know them” acquaintances, the rate at which this unfounded fitness information travels has gone rampant. Not only does misinformation spread quickly, but marketing has gotten smarter. Supplement companies and product advertisements know that we want to see the truth before we believe it, and they have gotten very clever at mixing scientific half-truths into their marketing as they repackage old fads into new ones (does the ketogenic diet look similar to the Atkins and Southbeach diet?)
There are so many instances in the while working with clients that we encounter people who saw minimal results when they tried a weight loss supplement, the trendiest new diet, or performed the “300 Workout” for 30 days only to find that they didn’t look like Gerard Butler at the end of their 30 day plan.
It becomes more and more difficult for people to see great results because very often they are following the newest fitness fad: exciting and flashy, but methods that either don’t work or it don’t work long-term.
Though I could probably talk for days on each of the following marketing tactics that lead people astray, I’ve condensed it to a short list of 6 ways to sort fitness fad from fitness fact.
1. A Quick Fix
This is perhaps the easiest one to spot. Be aware of marketing that purports that their method(s) can cause a massive, unbelievable change in a short amount of time. While “massive change” and “short amount of time” are subjective, usually these claims look like “How Rita lost 20 lbs. in 20 days” or “Zedd packed on 15 lbs. of muscle in a month. Find out how!”
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a healthy, sustainable weight loss plan is going to see 1-2 lbs. weight loss per week on a good week. Not as marketable as the magazine covers, maybe, but considering it might take someone 2 years to gain 20 lbs., it’s still a great deal to knock it out in a fraction of the time and it’s definitely more realistic to be able to tackle this weight loss goal aiming for 20 weeks (or less) as opposed to an unbelievable, unrealistic 20 days.
For muscle growth it takes “several months for visible changes to occur, as they happen only after thousands of individual muscle fibers have grown larger” according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Be on the lookout for claims that refute these guidelines and try to remember that fitness is a process, and following a consistent, quality process equals progress.
2. Extreme Measures
You’re in a conversation and someone says something along the lines of “I lost 10 lbs. by completely cutting out ________.” Common examples include the ketogenic diet, fat-free diets, the Atkins diet, the Hogwarts diet, etc. This usually indicates that extreme measures were taken for a short duration of time, which SEEM to be a key to weight loss or whatever their goal is; causation without correlation.
The problem here is we don’t know the full story of these testimonials and what was occurring before they made this change. They may say that they cut nearly all carbohydrates in order to lose weight, however, it’s highly unlikely that they cut all those healthy high-fiber, low-sugar carbs out of their diets to accomplish this: the green beans, the quinoa, the sugar-free oatmeal, the carrots etc. These are far different from other, less healthy carb-dense choices such as cake, doughnuts, white breads and many others which are highly processed and are definitely not as ideal of a choice.
Protein = Calories
Fats = Calories
Carbs = Calories
All of these are essential to a well balanced diet if choosing minimally processed, whole foods. By cutting one out completely, you can definitely see an immediate response in weight loss, but that it’s actually the result of cutting calories, not necessarily that the macronutrient eliminated is “bad.” You also lose the benefits of the missing macronutrient as well (Carbs help with muscle growth/performance and brain function in the form of glycogen. Fats help deliver and utilize important vitamins.) Sugars, a sub category of carbs, are a different story and stretch beyond the scope of this post, but you can rest easy knowing that you can eat carbs and fats and they won’t make you fat especially if you choose the healthier types in moderation.
3. Marketing Tactics
Even under protection of organizations such as the Federal Trade Commissions, it’s still very common that many programs and products use dishonest marketing tactics to sell their brand. It is not uncommon for many supplement companies to advertise their product as being used by an athlete or competitor who “used their product to get in the best shape of their life.”
What they don’t explicitly tell you is that the athlete had already been training for a number of years, usually at a professional level, and in many cases has used illegal performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids (this is true for both men and women) at some point in their lives.
My opinion on the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs aside, I think we all can agree that any program or product that tells its customers “if it worked for me, it can work for you” is unsubstantiated and loses great credibility when delivered by someone who has utilized illegal drugs to alter their physiology. Not to say these people don’t work hard for their results, they’re just not telling the whole story as it pertains to the product.
4. Credentials of Presenter
Who is delivering the information to you? What do the true professionals say? While there are very knowledgeable people at all education levels in fitness, credibility and credentials do matter a lot. Fitness professionals have varying levels of degrees and certifications, however, even without a PhD in their field, they can typically cite a credible source of where they’re getting their information from.
More than likely though, we hear anecdotal references from Bob at the office or Mary who heard from a friend who read from an infographic that if we cut carbs, our bodies will turn to fat for energy. This should raise an alarm, and we should look further as to what the research and people who study research have to say. There may be more to it than what’s on the surface.
Even if you know or work with a personal trainer, I advise doing research or even politely asking where their information might be coming from so that you can learn more. While I have worked with many phenomenal trainers over the years, I have met my fair share of trainers who provide some of the same misinformation we’re trying to debunk and challenge in this post.
5. Do Real-life Observations Match the Testimonials?
This is a quick section but I’ll highlight a few examples:
• Marketing tells us the key to weight loss is cardio, yet we see most people who are in great physical condition do more weight training and only moderate amounts of cardio.
• We’re told carbs make us fat, but we see athletes who use carbs every day to fuel their bodies to get stronger, faster, and stay conditioned.
• Media portrays that you have to exercise like a maniac to get in great shape, but we see most people who stay healthy year round employ methods of consistency over intensity. They push themselves to see results, but they don’t push over the limit.
6. The “Medicine” for your “Sickness”
This part may upset supplement enthusiasts, but I am going to level with you: Most supplements have little evidence to support that they do what they say they do. Supplements are able to sell their consumable products under guidelines that are not regulated by the FDA the same way that our foods in the supermarket are regulated. This means that in many cases, we don’t even know what we are getting or what the concentration is in these products as they are usually listed under a proprietary blend: a mask to hide how much of each ingredient is in their product. In some cases, especially with “fat burners” they can cause life-threatening harm until it becomes a widespread case worth pulling from the shelf (anyone remember Ephedra?)
Some substances do have evidence to support that they can improve performance (creatine and caffeine are some of the very few) however, even these more beneficial ones are useless if used as a substitute for other healthy practices. A healthy protein supplement may be recommended if you’re not getting enough protein in your natural diet.
What’s most troubling about supplements though is that the products are often marketed as medicine even if subliminally. Even the bottles for most supplements mimic medication in their design and layout. This is to tap into your subconscious that these “fat burners” will make you better for what supplement companies want you to think of as a “weight-gain illness.” Disguising themselves as medicine bottles also builds trust in their product. If it looks like medicine, it must be backed by science and therefore must be safe.
Like I mentioned earlier : dishonest marketing is getting more sophisticated and harder to spot.
In an age where the truth is harder to find and distrust is at an all-time high, it is important for us to be aware of the information presented to us and to be able to sort the fad from the facts. Not everyone spreads misinformation with the intent of tricking others. In fact, I believe most people are actually operating out of benevolence when passing on the latest success trends to others.
The problem is that many times, especially in health and fitness, is that these methods simply sound good at face value and miss so many other important factors that are important for long-term success. Causation without correlation.
As always a moderate, consistent, and well rounded approach always works best and is something we at Eon Fitness employ in all of our exercise programs whether working with clients in-person or through our online personal training programs. If you found this information to be useful, please feel free to share it with your friends, and leave us a comment below.