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Welcome to the health and fitness industry.
The Health Industry Is Snake Oil
After 17 years in the industry this is essentially what I see, day in and day out. Something no better than what was seen in the US in the 19th century. Every old-time snake oil or miracle-elixir-medicine show was run by a man posing as a doctor who drew the crowd in with a monologue. Entertainers, such as acrobats, musclemen, magicians, dancers, ventriloquists, exotic performers, and trick shots, kept the audience engaged until the salesman sold his medicine.
Does this look and sound similar to the way the supplements, cleanses, and detoxes are marketed and endorsed today?
There has been a recent trend in popular culture of promoting pseudo-science and healthcare as entertainment. This is just a modern reincarnation of the medicine show and its essence, and we are still falling for it. History has a habit of repeating itself.
What Happened with Dr. Oz?
I used to watch the health consultant, Dr. Oz, who was featured regularly on the Oprah Winfrey show when I was early on in my PT career. I even bought his book “You on a Diet” and thought it was quite good. He is known for promoting a more holistic approach to healthcare and recommends more natural, herbal type remedies and espouses his belief in working on the harmony between mind, body, and spirit as a path to better health.
Dr. Oz then got his own television program, and after that things got a little out of hand, even to the point that where he has been criticized strongly and even had been sued for peddling pseudoscience. At the bottom of the show’s own website now, it clearly states: “This website is for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.” Of course, his show and website aren’t substitutes for healthcare, nor should they be, but it could be interpreted as a little strange considering the show promotes itself as a healthcare and medical advice program. Where did it all go wrong?
The Search for the Quick Fix
We now have the likes of David “Avocado” Wolfe, Dr. Joesph Mercola, Food Babe, our own Pete Evans, and others that all have followings in the millions on social media. It is no wonder people are confused with all the information out there. What’s worse is that we are now often being lied to and misled by what were considered trustworthy sources of information, like doctors, back in the day. But it is our fault—the “sheeple” have given them the platform and the audience.
Why this is happening is simple. We are constantly looking for the easy, quick fix and the magic potion or pill. Just like the medicine shows of old, we are still being suckered into buying things that we don’t need or that simply don’t work. We want the convenience and the instant gratification of a result without putting in the work. This is all whilst reeking of self-entitlement because we “deserve” it.
The real question you need to be asking yourself these days now is: What isn’t bullshit?
Detoxes and Cleanses
The premise behind most of these detoxes and cleanses is that there is a build-up of toxins in your body, generally from diet, alcohol, and poor lifestyle choices. For a cost, you can drastically improve your health by cleansing your body of all these toxins by drinking organic juice, taking supplements or, you know, having an enema.
These “toxins” that you’re allegedly flushing out of your system are rarely defined by the companies pushing the cleanse, and detoxes are certainly not designed to help with the symptoms of actual poisoning or toxicity. The only thing they appear to do is cleanse your wallet.
Despite all the promotion, marketing does not make something true or real. But it is cleverly designed to make you feel better about what you are doing or not doing. The underlying message in all marketing is this: You aren’t enough or good enough. You aren’t big enough, ripped enough, sexy enough, healthy enough, manly enough, and so on. You just aren’t enough.
There is no doubt, anecdotally, that lots of people say they feel better after detoxing. During cleanses and detoxes, the websites claim that you’ll experience a myriad of symptoms and possible side effects of detoxing and cleansing, including but not limited to: headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and bad breath. The claim is that you will feel all this because you’re detoxing.
The reality is the bad breath is possibly because you’re undergoing ketosis from the lack of carbohydrates and calories in your diet, a similar symptom occurs in people on a ketogenic diet. Headache can be from a myriad of reasons, and it is more than likely caffeine withdrawal for most people. Other symptoms, such as nausea and fatigue, are simply down to one thing: caloric deprivation.
Most of these diets restrict you to around 1,200 calories per day or lower, which is irresponsibly low for people who are exercising. Most of them also tell you to continue to workout. Yep, they say the feeling like you are going to pass out is just the “toxins leaving the body.” The reality is that you just need to go and eat a friggin meal. Of course, when the cleanse is over and you come out the other side, you are going to feel much better.
Oh and the weight loss? If you drastically reduce your caloric intake, you are going to lose some weight, it’s a no brainer. Very low calories diets (VLCD) aren’t a new thing. But losing weight doesn’t equal losing fat. What you will observe is that weight lost quickly comes straight back on again, no different than any other lose weight fast yo-yo diet plan.
The stark reality is that these things do nothing for getting toxins out of your system. You have a liver, kidneys, and other organs that do just fine for that on their own. How do you know this? You use a toilet don’t you?
The notion that you can somehow undo all the poor food, alcohol, drug, and lifestyle choices by doing a cleanse, detox, or, even worse, some sort of enema is just ludicrous. Your body has absorbed all this crap and has actually used it to build your body at a cellular level. Yes, you are what you eat. You can’t undo it. But handing over your hard earned dollars in the form of a stupid tax might make you feel better about yourself.
Supplements, Multi-Level Marketing, and other BS
I want to make one thing clear. Selling any sort of weight loss shake or pyramid scheme “nutritional” supplement, (ahem, cough) sorry, I meant to say MLM health supplement, does not make you a nutritionist, nutrition coach, health and wellness coach, or anything else. It just makes you sound like a douchebag.
Personally, I know a number of people making a very good income on these schemes. However, no matter how many amazing stories you hear or read online about people making thousands, their spouses retiring, and sending their kids to private school, I promise you, statistically, most people do not make money from these companies. For example, Dr. Jon Taylor, a pyramid scheme scholar, estimates that 99.92 percent of Herbalife’s participants lose money. Yep. All MLM companies bait people with the potential of life changing wealth and the switch, as they call it, with the reality of an improbable financial opportunity that is never realized. It is a 30 billion dollar a year industry, with an estimated 20 million people worldwide estimated to be involved in MLM.
Even worse, every review I’ve read from notable academics, doctors, and professors about these products says that the products being sold are ineffective. The classic weight loss shake supplement diet is not a revelation. Very low calorie diets have been around forever. People often feel euphoric when they consume VLCD meal replacements due to the rapid weight loss, which is usually never sustained. Losing weight makes you feel like you have more energy, because you have less weight to carry around, but that sensation has very little to do with the actual quality of the product being consumed. All you need to do is follow the dollar signs.
When it comes to the average gym goers misguided attempts to pack on muscle, protein powders and their partners are right up there, too. The reality is that protein powders are good for one thing: convenience. In my time as a Fitness Director in gyms such as World Gym and the like, I lost count of the number of young men, in particular, who would approach me about how to put on size and muscle, whilst coming to the counter with literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars of supplements in their hands. Of course, trying to assist them with their goals of getting swole, apart from following an effective training program and recovery, I always asked them about their nutritional habits and the amount of food they were eating. Every single time I was met with an answer of little to no nutritional planning, eating a lot of processed crap and junk food, or simply not eating enough food at all. The actual concept of supplementation is for supplements to be in addition to, not instead of, a nutritious diet. This type of mentality is what I have encountered for my whole career as a trainer. People look to take supplements as a fix for a crap diet, and that isn’t it.
Go For Whole Foods First
According to most research, the US recommended dietary intake for most people is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, and for those working out it could be even up to double that, according to some studies. This figure of 1.4-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is still far less than most protein powder manufacturer’s marketing claims that people need to be eating 2-3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
For people looking to get as huge as bodybuilders, it makes sense, but so does taking steroids. For those of us who just want to actually be healthy, perform well, and look good, the reality is they are probably unnecessary. And for the “clean eating advocates” on social media chugging away on their pre-workout and supplement chemical shit storms whilst promoting health and fitness I am sorry, but you guys are part of the problem. How about promoting a whole food first philosophy like trying to help your clients plan and write a menu, shop intelligently, and learn how to cook healthily? Or to establish a healthy relationship with food?
Teaching your clients lifelong skills and habits that may change their lives sounds like real personal training to me.
Once you spend some time looking at the protein content in real food, it is quite easy to see a chicken breast and a glass of milk (or equivalents) will meet half your needs even if you are a serious recreational lifter. Protein supplements do not offer and never will offer, just like any other supplement, the complete package of health and protective nutrients that natural, whole, real food does.
Use Your Common Sense
We need to go back to a time where we trusted ourselves a little more, used more common sense in our decision making, relinquished the challenges of hard work, patience and consistency, and developed a keen eye for BS. This article doesn’t have the scope to cover in detail just one of these scams, but I think you get my drift that you are better off spending your time, effort, and money on an intelligent training plan, a natural whole food first philosophy, and an adequate recovery plan more than anything else. If you do decide to head down the “give me convenience or give me death” path then make sure you ask yourself these four things: Is it safe? Is it legal? Is it healthy? Is it effective? 9 times out of 10 your answer will be a resounding no.