By Vera Ross, MA, Public Health, Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®),
In a culture obsessed with the newest advances in weight loss products and services we are constantly bombarded with advertisements for quick fix solutions to our health problems. Americans spend upwards of $60 billion (BILLION! With a “B”!) on weight loss and diet products each year. How can we be sure that what we’re paying for in these products actually works? What I will illuminate for you in this article is how the diet and “health” industries manipulate real scientific data to misrepresent their products in order to sell us products that they never intended to work in the first place. Why? Because if their products worked and we achieved permanent weight loss/a slimmer waist/long term results of any kind, those companies would no longer have any customers! Read on as I debunk some of today’s most popular diet industry deceptions- as well as the science-based practices that have proven to be effective in helping people improve their health.
Note: It is important to respect everyone’s beliefs surrounding their personal health, and to understand that every person and every body is unique. One person may find success with a health product, while another may find that the same product did not produce any result for them. Again, every individual is going to have their own reaction to a particular food/exercise program/nutrition supplement. This article is not intended to shame anyone about their own personal health choices nor beliefs.
The Deception: Quick fix weight loss meal delivery plans. I can’t mention them by brand name, but let’s just say one of these popular plans is named after a famous region of Miami, and another one of these famous weight loss meal delivery programs rhymes with “Shmootra-system”: While these systems can in fact claim to be backed by science, the only scientifically proven mechanism by which their customers lose weight is basic calorie control. That is, these programs sell you pre-packed, pre-portioned foods so that you are eating a reduced number of calories overall, and of course if you consume fewer calories you will lose weight. However, the quality of the calories in these prepared meals is very low, and have low nutritional density (nutritional density refers to how many nutrients are contained in a food; the higher the nutritional density, the healthier a food is for you). These types of weight loss plans ship their customers high sodium, hyper-processed packaged foods with low nutritional value. The calories you are consuming are reduced because the portions are smaller, but this type of system doesn’t teach you anything about how to prepare healthy food for yourself, making long-term weight management difficult. Remember the old saying, “give a woman a fish, and you feed her for a day; show her how to catch fish, and you feed her for a lifetime;” well, these types of systems are not showing anyone how to catch fish. While these prepackaged weight loss meal companies may provide a level of short-term weight loss for some, this method is not sustainable for most because you can’t just eat pre-packed meals for the rest of your life- at some point you’re going to have to learn how to catch your own fish.
The Solution: Steady, incremental weight loss through behavior modification. The reason you will likely not succeed with long-term success when ordering from one of those corporate, name brand weight loss meal delivery plans is that these plans do not teach you how to eat for a lifetime. Let’s be realistic: are you going to go on your holiday vacation carrying ice chests full of your pre-packaged meals? No. Of course, these plans can honestly boast a measure of short-term weight loss success for their clients- simply because they are delivering a pre-portioned meal plan which will force you to eat less calories than you normally would, if you stick to their plan. But at the end of the day it comes down to a quick fix versus a long-term solution. Learning how to shop for, prepare, and store your own healthy meals is a behavior modification that will stick with you for the long run. Quick fixes will get you results that disappear just as quickly. For meaningful, lasting change we must learn to adopt new behaviors instead of paying a company to do it for us.
The Deception: Fad diets. We’ve all heard of the “latest and greatest” new diet. Right now, Keto (or the ketogenic diet) is the newest diet that is all over the news, internet and social media. Last year it was Paleo (short for Paleolithic, or the time during human evolution at which this diet claimed human nutrition was at it’s best-yikes), and before that it was the Whole 30. Don’t get me wrong, if you have personal experiences of success with any of these diets I applaud you- I am glad that you have found a system of eating that works for you. However, my problem with these fad diets is that they are always advertised as being THE perfect diet for everyone, and that is a big problem. One diet or eating pattern may work perfectly for one person, but be completely wrong for another individual. These fad diets cherry pick scientific data and skew the results to sell their product. Most of the fad diets have one really good tenet in common: they teach people to avoid consuming hyper-processed foods, sodas, and alcohol. But those are simply the basic rules of proper nutrition! There is no one magic bullet diet that will produce long-term, sustainable weight loss or weight management results.
The Solution: Eating clean, the 80/20 rule, and becoming your body’s own best expert. Most of the fad diets mentioned above can truthfully advertise that their followers find some weight loss success because the underlying concept of all of these diets is to get you away from eating junk food and get you to eat more whole, un-processed foods (like vegetables, whole fruits, fish, chicken, nuts…etc.). However, the restrictive nature of these diets works against our psychology and ultimately we cannot stick to the rigid guidelines of the diets. Instead, rebuild your relationship with foods by staying away from hyper-processed packaged foods like chips, snack bars, sodas, and fast food. Opt for foods like grilled chicken or fish, roasted veggies, and replace all sugary beverages with water. When we teach ourselves how to prepare and eat real food, our tastes gradually change and we start to crave those real foods again. And by eating clean most of the time we can allow ourselves the wiggle room to enjoy our favorite desserts, a glass of wine, or a salty snack once in a while. That’s the 80/20 rule: eat healthful, nutritionally dense foods 80% of the time, so that the other 20% of the time we can be more flexible with what we put into our bodies. These concepts will help you to find the dietary pattern (that is, the foods that you eat on a regular basis) that works best for your body and lifestyle. For more tips on repairing your relationship with food and how to eat for a lifetime of health, I recommend the book Intuitive Eating– you can find it here.
The Deception: Waist trainers/body wraps for weight loss. Think of these pieces of equipment as another magic pill: get 6 pack abs and burn fat just by sitting around in your waist trainer! Ok ok so most of these devices are advertised to be used in conjunction with diet and exercise. But then of course we could just attribute their “success” rate to the diet and exercise! Ding ding ding– that’s right! Waist trainers- the binding corsets advertised to be used during exercise- are at minimum a waste of your money and at the most they could lead to serious injury. Due to their extremely tight fit, waist trainers can be dangerous for your internal organs and digestion. Add to that their constrictive fit gets in the way of you taking a deep breath, so you run the risk of passing out if wearing these during strenuous physical activity- because you can’t breathe! In fact, waist trainers actually decondition your core and abdominal muscles because the waist trainer is holding everything in and doing the work of your muscles for you; you can actually injure your back when your abdominal and core muscles get deconditioned. There are only two scientifically proven ways to burn fat: converting fat into carbon dioxide (CO₂) when you exhale, and to a lesser extent losing fat through sweat/urine/feces. When you exhale more and create more CO₂, that’s called cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise: brisk walking, tennis, bike riding, running, swimming, kettlebell swings, box jumps, jump rope, Zumba, etc, are all great forms of aerobic, fat-burning exercise.
Body wraps- like the ones advertised at many spas- also have zero evidence backing their claims of reducing cellulite and taking inches off of your body. These wraps may make your skin appear firmer and tighter immediately after treatment, but just as with waist trainers there is ZERO scientific evidence to support their claims that you will lose body fat, weight, inches, or even cellulite. The only weight you’re guaranteed to lose if you purchase these products is the weight of your money leaving your wallet.
The Solution: Good old fashioned hard work. Just as there is no magic pill, powder, or one perfect diet that will help you lose or maintain weight, there is no substitute for the sweat equity you put in at the gym. However, just as there is not one perfect diet for all, there is no one “better” form of exercise that will help you get in shape quickly. The key to getting and staying in shape is consistency. Find a physical activity that you enjoy doing- we are more apt to want to repeat an activity that we enjoy, and the same goes for exercise. Find ways in which you enjoy moving your body and do it regularly- 5 or 6 days a week!
The Deception: Weight loss teas AKA “Skinny Teas:” Think of the skinny tea products like the waist trainers- a shortcut to success that has no basis in reality. All of the teas I researched for this article come with the following disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Results may vary from person to person and are not guaranteed.” Pay particular attention to that last line: results may vary from person to person. Again, if you drink these products and you like the way they make you feel, I think that is awesome and you should keep drinking your tea (as long as you’re not any sweeteners!). While these teas are not made with dangerous or harmful ingredients (the ones I researched all contain nothing more than herbs and spices), the idea that they contain some unique blend of herbs that will magically help you burn fat simply by drinking the tea is just untrue. The success that we see people having with these teas when they post photos on social media has more to do with correlation than direct causation; that is, the photos of fit models drinking these products do not necessarily mean that those models got “skinny” with any help from the tea. There are other correlating factors that most likely led to a skinny tea model looking the way she does: she most likely has a rigorous exercise routine and I would guess most of the models used to advertise these teas are practicing some form of restrictive dieting. The point is, we cannot know simply from an ad campaign if the model whose image was used to sell the product is simply using the product as directed or if she is also practicing other healthy (or not so healthy, if we’re talking about over-exercising and under-eating) lifestyle habits. Bottom line: as with the waist trainers and wraps, there is no scientific evidence to support the claims made by these so-called “skinny teas.”
The Solution: Stick to water. These specialty beverages have absolutely zero nutritional benefit. For optimal hydration, good old H₂O is the best thing you can drink.
The biggest piece of information I would like for you, dear reader, to take away from this article is that there are no quick fixes when it comes to our health. There is an overwhelming amount of scientifically tested evidence showing that behavior change is the best method for sustainable success for any health habit we are working on implementing or improving. For more on how I can help coach you towards your health goals, schedule your consultation here. I would love to learn how I can help you on your journey to becoming your healthiest self!
About the author:
As an independent health and fitness coach, Vera has worked with over 200 individuals and several corporations to implement strategies to create sustainable health-positive behavior modifications. Through earning a Master of Public Health degree and becoming a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®), Vera is uniquely prepared to help clients work towards their health goals.
As a small business owner operating a health and fitness coaching practice for over 6 years, Vera has been educating clients on all aspects of creating and maintaining healthy lifestyle behavior modifications. As a qualified and highly educated health coach Vera is an effective agent of change, helping clients to create sustainable, lasting lifestyle modifications.