By James Fell Ask Men
In the fitness and weight-loss industry, serpent lubrication sells like hotcakes. It’s capitalism run amok, and it is not helping. Billions of dollars are at stake to perpetuate the myth of “quick and easy” when it comes to building muscle and/or dropping fat from your frame. If you believe in quick-fix miracle cures for getting in shape, you’re not alone. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission launched a massive survey of consumer fraud in the U.S. and found people were more likely to be taken in by a weight-loss scam than any other type of fraud. It’s not all “bank inspectors” and pyramid schemes; fraudsters scammed millions of Americans wanting to lose weight by selling pills, powders, machines, wraps, creams and even “weight-loss earrings.”
Are people who believe such things stupid? Not necessarily.
In his 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things, Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer asserted “smart people” could be more susceptible to outrageous claims than others, “because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” These non-smart reasons can include peer pressure, sibling and parental influences, life experiences, cultural pressure and even genetic predispositions. Shermer further explained: “More than any other, the reason people believe weird things is because they want to. It feels good. It is comforting. It is consoling.”
I had a chat with Shermer to get specific details.
“Weight loss is so susceptible for fraud because it’s so hard to do and the signs of progress are so slow,” Shermer told me. “The reward is not enough for most people. Anything that appeals to shortening the process is going to sell.”
But you’re too well-informed to fall for the Shake Weights and the wraps and creams and Body Blades and ab rockers and crap like that, but are there diet and fitness bandwagons you’ve jumped on?
There is an actual thing called the Bandwagon Effect, where, if a bunch of other people are doing something, it makes it more likely that you’ll want to do it too. Tabata, intervals, CrossFit, Paleo, low-carb, gluten-free, say no to cardio… I’m not saying there is anything inherently bad with any of these things -- they work for some people -- but many people are ditching programs that work -- diet and exercise programs that they’re happy with -- because others are compelling them to hop on the latest bandwagon and engage in fitness groupthink.
But maybe these programs aren’t the best for you. Paleo may be better than what the typical North American eats, but it’s founded on terribly flawed principles and engages in that egregious behavior of demonizing food groups. CrossFit may be motivating, but it costs a fortune and in some cases encourages bad form, overtraining injuries and leads to hospitalization. Intervals are a tool for getting faster, not blasting fat, and should be done sparingly. It seems like many want to go gluten-free these days, even though only a small percentage are celiac or intolerant. Intermittent fasting has an OCD-like dark side to it. Or just sometimes a self-proclaimed fitness guru twists the research to rail against the evils of running (then gets his ass handed to him by people who actually know how to interpret scientific research).
So how do you not jump on the bandwagon? Here are some tips:
Don’t feel the need to fix what isn’t broken
You don’t always need to optimize, synergize or maximize. If you have a program that is getting you good results, a diet you’re happy with and can stick to, and you generally feel happy, healthy and like the way you look, why mess with that? Ignore the proselytizers trying to convert you to their dietary or exercise cult and just stick with what you know works for you. When they’re telling you how great CrossPaleo is or how intermittent gluten will totally get you ripped, just nod, smile and say, “That’s nice.” Then go back to doing your own thing.
Develop a Zen-like mindset about diet and exercise
Does everything need to be perfect in your life? Did you always quest to get 100% on every exam and paper, give every single task a total effort, always work to your maximum level of achievement at your job and ensure that every personal interaction involved you being your very best?
Hell no. You’d burn out in no time. And that’s why you shouldn’t stress the diet and exercise stuff so much either. Exercise and eating have to be enjoyable for you to stick to a healthy regimen long-term. If you start slipping into OCD-like behavior, then that’s the path to an eventual crash and a burn.
You need to feel more at peace with your regimen. Find something that works with your schedule, your tastes, your family and your personal preferences. Then kick ass at it. You’ll do fine
Become a critical thinker
Slight spoiler alert:
Armi Legge wrote a cool post about how the movie World War Z can help make you better at critical thinking. In the post, he talks about how Israel decided to build a wall to keep the zombies out because of its “10th man” policy, where, when nine other people agree on something, it is the responsibility of the 10th man to question and look for an alternative point of view.
You should always be looking for alternative points of view. Just because something sounds like a good idea doesn’t mean it is. For example, think of the fallacy that if something is natural then it must, therefore, be good. Lead, hemlock, mercury and asbestos are all naturally occurring, and I don’t advice chowing down on them. Likewise, “natural” supplements aren’t always safe either.
And in the case of the meathead mentioned above who ragged on running, just because someone references a bunch of scientific journals doesn’t mean he knows what he's talking about. It doesn’t mean he didn’t misrepresent the research and twist things to fit within his own preconceived notions that running = bad.
Remember, spectacular claims require spectacular proof. If someone is telling you something that sounds amazing, then he needs to have some amazing evidence to back it up.
I’m not saying new and amazing stuff in fitness isn’t still yet to come, but most of the “next big thing” is going to be crap. Jack LaLanne was old school in his approach (eat healthy, work hard), and he looked pretty damn amazing and accomplished incredible feats of fitness. So when faced with hype over the next fitness fad, stop.
Don’t just instantly move toward a choice, but analyze and reflect. Actively work to pick apart the claims of others. Seek the holes in their arguments and ask the all-important question of “Why?” If you’re not satisfied with the answer, dig deeper and design a way to test their assumptions. Don’t become a prisoner of diet and exercise groupthink. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should.
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