It‘s a commonly-known and unfortunate fact that misunderstandings, myths, misinformation and flat-out blatant lies run rife in the health and fitness industry.
Sad, but true.
So why is that?
Well, it’s largely made possible by a combination of three distinct forces.
Firstly, the desire for certain individuals to create attention and make lots of money, ethically or otherwise.
Secondly, the desire for many people to find quick and easy solutions to their health and fitness woes, and the willingness to pay good money for them. After all, keeping fit and healthy is hard work, right?
And thirdly, the fact that health and fitness isn’t always black and white. In fact, it’s largely a grey science, dealing with sometimes quite dissimilar individuals. So as a result, the truth can sometimes be “massaged” somewhat to suit individuals’ own personal agendas.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that there are actually more than 5 big lies in the world of health and fitness. In fact, there are probably hundreds. Maybe even thousands.
But what I’d like to discuss in this article are the 5 biggest families of health and fitness lies. Because these families will cover the bulk of them.
Lies and myths will come and go. But they’ll always fit into the same old tried and tested categories that have been frustrating people and fleecing them of their money for years.
Hopefully, by understanding the foundations they’re built on, as new health and fitness lies sprout up in the future (and you can bet they will), you’ll be better equipped to recognize them more easily.
So here then are my 5 biggest categories of health and fitness lies:
1. The imaginary enemy
I have a close friend who’s in the business of writing direct advertising copy. He’s an expert at putting together those magical words in letters, newspaper ads and magazine ads that entice readers to buy products they haven’t even seen or touched.
And as he or any other advertising guru will tell you, one of the most powerful selling strategies there is, is to create a problem or an enemy in the mind of your prospective customer, and then offer them a solution.
It’s marketing 101.
A very popular health and fitness lie is to create an imaginary enemy in the eyes of the public – a “boogie man”, if you will, and then step forward as an invaluable expert at dealing with this dangerous foe.
And of course over time a number of other self-proclaimed experts will naturally jump onto the bandwagon as well and add fuel to the fire.
Before you know it, voila! . . . Instant public enemy No.1.
So, what are some notable imaginary enemies that have caught on in the health and fitness world in recent times?
- Gluten – celiac disease actually only affects less than 1% of the U.S. population, yet the gluten-free food industry is widespread and targets the entire population.
- Dairy – again, lactose intolerance does affect a segment of the population, but dairy has been portrayed as everyone’s enemy by some.
- Toxins – in this modern age our bodies are supposedly being flooded with dangerous toxins and they’re supposedly unable to deal with them, despite having a working liver and kidneys. The only problem is, no advocate of detoxing has ever been able to define what these toxins are exactly, to show that our body can’t remove them naturally, or that their products actually can remove them. If they knew what they were. Or if they even existed.
- Carbohydrates in general.
- Saturated fat – this is a real oldie but it’s still struggling to shed its bad reputation.
- Science – huh? What? Science is the enemy? Some individuals (“bro’s”) would have you believe just that. Scientists are just skinny nerds in lab coats who don’t even lift! What would they know? Actually, scientists are very intelligent individuals who dedicate their lives to understanding the truth through meticulous research and thorough and logical testing with large groups of participants, as opposed to randomly reaching conclusions based on what happened to “a guy they know”.
The fact is, as far as exercise and nutrition go, there really are no enemies. Anyone who tells you different should be avoided like the plague.
Anything in excess is bad (even water) and anything in an appropriate measure is okay (even sugar).
2. The mystical product
Another great way of capturing an audience’s attention is to make a product appear exotic or to give it some mystique. This is a powerful way of capturing the market’s imagination and thereby creating desire for the product.
For many years, the traditional martial arts were surrounded in mystery and mysticism. Stories circulated throughout the community about ancient and contemporary masters with seemingly super-human abilities.
It was a great marketing tool.
Students flocked to lessons, eager to learn the ancient secrets of how to easily and quickly overpower any and every opponent.
But then in the 1990’s, the birth of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), or as it was called back then, cage fighting, or no-holds-barred fighting, changed everything. Many traditional martial artists were shown up and proven to be totally ineffective in real-life combat situations.
And so the myth of traditional martial arts was also exposed.
We can see a similar strategy used from time to time in the health and fitness world, with the appearance of so-called superfoods that supposedly originate from a dark corner of some jungle, and were supposedly discovered by some ancient tribe.
Often times, these foods may have high nutritional value. But usually no more than any other comparable well-known food.
Try and promote some common, everyday food, like strawberries, for example, as some special superfood and no one would buy it. Come up with something new, on the other hand, and have an exotic story to go with it, and you’ll have people’s attention.
Here are a few examples of over-hyped exotic or mystical “superfoods” that have enjoyed widespread popularity in recent times:
- Acai berries and supplements.
- Goji berries.
- Chia seeds.
- Buttered (bulletproof) coffee.
- Garcinia Cambogia.
- Coconut water.
As a general rule, anything that’s heavily promoted everywhere you look online should be viewed with suspicion.
Ignore the hype behind anything that sounds mystical or exotic, and do your own objective research. Rely on the facts, not the mysticism. You’ll find that more often than not, the numbers paint a much more realistic and sensible picture than all the marketing rhetoric.
3. The convenient bias lie
It’s an unfortunate fact that when it comes to information circulating around the health and fitness industry, lies are usually more attractive and interesting than the truth. And as a result, they tend to spread far more rapidly.
Consider all the people competing for attention in the industry, either to make a name for themselves, to increase their public following, to sell products, and so on. Only a relatively small number of them are actually qualified to even know whether the information they’re producing and/or disseminating is factual or not.
And because they’ll have a natural bias towards information which is exciting and interesting to their target audience, that’s what they’ll tend to favor when deciding what to pass on, whether or not it’s accurate.
Sad, but true.
As an example, imagine two different scenarios involving one of these typical individuals.
Imagine firstly that they come across an article stating that eating certain foods increases your body’s levels of testosterone and growth hormone, allowing you to gain more muscle mass. It therefore labels these as “muscle-building foods”. (I’ve personally read several articles stating this).
Now imagine that the same individual comes across another article stating that no food can significantly affect the body’s testosterone and growth hormone levels. It also goes on to say that any changes in the body’s levels of testosterone and growth hormone within the normal physiological range in fact have no effect on muscle growth. (This is actually the truth).
Which of these pieces of information do you think the individual is more likely to pass on to his target audience?
The first one, right? It’s far more exciting and interesting, and he knows it will capture his audience’s attention and be better received. The second one, on the other hand, is pretty disappointing.
For this individual, who doesn’t know any better (because he probably isn’t interested in doing his own research to get to the truth), it’s convenient to believe whatever is more exciting and marketable. And that’s what he will therefore propagate.
And so the lie spreads.
It’s very important, therefore, to be very discerning about the sources that you trust for health and fitness information and advice.
It’s very easy to be misled when doing your own research among a large number of random sources. That’s because it can sometimes appear as though a particular belief has widespread, and even overwhelming, support within the industry. What you’re actually seeing, however, is a collection of clueless sources who are simply parroting information from each other because it’s interesting, not because it’s true.
Always remember – for health and fitness information, source quality is more important than source quantity.
4. The celebrity lie
There are two types of celebrities that you need to be wary of when considering health and fitness products and/or advice.
The first is the celebrity celebrity.
As in actresses, singers, socialites, and so on. People who, generally speaking, have no knowledge of or connection to health and fitness whatsoever. They’re simply paid to endorse, or put their name to, products or services, purely for marketing purposes.
A well-known example is the Kardashians’ endorsement of QuickTrim weight loss products, among others of course.
Consider this. If a product were truly effective and actually delivered on its promises, why would it need to rely on big celebrity appeal to gain acceptance in the market? Wouldn’t its results speak for themselves?
Now, that’s not to say that a product endorsed by a celebrity can’t possibly be an effective one. Of course it can. But the plain truth is that I personally can’t bring to mind one that is.
Marketers of celebrity-endorsed products expect people to place their trust in the celebrity, to be motivated by their admiration for her, and to look no further.
Don’t make that mistake.
Any health and fitness product or advice you’re considering should be looked into thoroughly and objectively, regardless of how it’s promoted or who endorses it. Especially when it’s promoted by an unqualified spokesperson.
The second type of celebrity to be wary of is the modern-day Instagram model. Or any other social media, for that matter.
These individuals use their good looks and great figure to capture wide popularity and admiration via social media. And once they do, they’re free to promote all manner of health and fitness products to their loyal audience.
While it’s natural to want to look like one of these models, you must bear in mind that the fact that they look good is absolutely no indication whatsoever that they have the ability to help you look good in any way.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- You may not have their training background, physiology or genetics (do you really believe that those models achieve super-human booties through special training techniques that no one else knows about?)
- They have the benefit of working with a trainer (though they would probably never advertise the fact).
- You have no way of knowing how much time they spend on their training and fitness lifestyle (for many it can be virtually a full-time job, so of course they look good).
- They most likely don’t have the knowledge of how to train different individuals, with different strengths and weaknesses and different needs, nor how to program effective workout plans. Doing something yourself and training someone else to do it are two vastly different things.
- There are also other “cheat” factors to consider, such as Photoshop and drugs – who uses these and who doesn’t is anyone’s guess.
All things considered, while it might seem exciting to associate with or learn from a model that you greatly admire, there’s simply no reason to believe she can help you to reach your goals.
5. The pseudo-science lie
One type of health and fitness lie that’s particularly difficult to spot is the one that’s supposedly based on science yet actually isn’t.
The reason this type of lie can be so deceiving is because it’s cleverly made to sound as though it has a logical, rational foundation, but in reality it’s purely based on manufactured fallacies, or intentionally misrepresented or skewed results of scientific studies.
To the lay-person with no scientific background, this lie can be almost impossible to detect.
The solution? Either be prepared to do your own in-depth research, which may even involve reading scientific studies yourself, or once again, turn to a qualified trusted source for their assessment.
Here are a few common examples of the pseudo-science lie:
- Detoxing/cleansing – proponents of detoxing and cleansing products and diets have to date not been able to identify the toxins their products are supposedly ridding the body of, nor prove that the body is incapable of ridding itself of these toxins (if they indeed existed), nor prove that their products can successfully rid the body of these toxins (if they indeed existed). Enough said.
- The Paleo Diet – while the benefits and drawbacks of this diet can be debated, the bottom-line is that it has been well-established now that the entire premise on which the Paleo Diet is based is false. The truth is that to the best of our knowledge, it actually bears little to no resemblance to the diet of Paleolithic man.
- The Flat Belly Diet – this diet is based on misinterpreted study results. Studies have shown that monounsaturated fats tend to reduce the redistribution of body fat to the abdominal region in post-menopausal women. Promoters of the Flat Belly Diet, however, misrepresent these findings to make the claim that monounsaturated fats actually reduce abdominal flat (in all people), which is highly misleading.
- The Blood Type Diet – another diet founded on pseudo-science with no real scientific backing whatsoever by an individual with no relevant qualifications.
- The Alkaline Diet – again, pseudo-science. There is no real scientific evidence that different foods alter blood pH at all.
Reading information about any pseudo-science lie such as these diets can, on the surface, appear to make perfect sense and to be based on good science. This can often times give them widespread support, making them even more difficult to identify as fallacies.
As I mentioned in a previous point however, look for quality of sources on a topic, not quantity. It can be absolutely mind-blowing how much support a well-conceived and cleverly-marketed health and fitness lie can generate.
Because the health and fitness world is such a huge and often confusing one, finding one’s way through all the noise can be very challenging.
When considering any advice, product or service, therefore, it’s important to put emotions aside and be skeptical. Collect your own group of trusted sources (there are many very honest and qualified people online) and also do your own research as well.
Never stop learning.
Hopefully this article will have helped you keep on your toes and out of trouble!