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Fitness Industry Deception

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen it at one point or another in our health and fitness journey; the program or the trainer or the supplement company that boasts unbelievable success, and I admit it’s hard to ignore these claims when you are chasing a goal. As humans, we like to see proof of concept before we buy into something, but we can’t resist a great sales pitch with unbelievable results. We’ve been struggling with this goal for so long that it doesn’t take much to convince us; some pictures, a few well-written marketing pitches, some statistics, and a lot of “air” time. They convince us those products like juice fasts, wraps, and pills are quick and permanent solutions to our fitness problems, that these products or programs can make it easy and will get us what nothing else ever could. It’s sad that fitness preys on ignorance through flashy and sometimes dishonest marketing methods. The proof that calm our doubts and make us into believers can be manipulated to look better! I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing the hype marketing of the fitness industry, but I will say that as consumers, we need to ignore all the buzzwords. We’ve all been victim to the word game; we get drawn in and go further down the rabbit hole until we analyze the total package. Just a few buzzwords or phrases you see in fitness every day: Muscle Confusion, ROI, Effortless, Alpha, Super Secret, Revolutionary, Shortcut, and Ultimate. Of course, I have to mention the outcomes of these programs: Shredded, Jacked, Beast, Toned, and Ripped. These lists can go on and on. This is where your bullshit-o-meter comes in to play and can move you through the flashy, buzzword, speak. Images are another element the fitness industry uses to lure you to listen to their sales pitch. They place oiled, tanned, beautiful people on the screen to sell the product.Seriously, when’s the last time you saw a normal person in clothes selling the newest fitness craze? I’m betting the only ones you remember are freakishly fit and wearing skin-tight clothes. Then they flash amazing transformation photos and have these amazing transformations speak about how easy it was. They fail to mention that most of these amazing changes took longer than the 12 weeks of the program. Other photos are less grandiose but never do you see the photo of the participant that lost less than 12 pounds in 12 weeks. It’s as if the average result is tucked away because the average truth doesn’t sell. While photos seem more reliable than marketing, multiple trainers have debunked the before and after photos by showing how to do it in under an hour. I’m not saying everybody does it, but be aware; it isn’t that hard to do. If you haven’t seen the before and after tricks, here are two sites to check out:

This is where you meet the hardest challenge, the numbers. If you don’t have an idea of what is realistic, you can get caught in the amazing numbers touted by programs. Most people don't want to think about the data and the fitness industry knows it. Programs tend to show their successes, and rarely, their total data including their failures. I’m naturally a skeptic, but when I see only positive data or data that nobody else can substatiate, I get a little worried. Some examples of claims that make me think hard:

Participant’s averaged 80% pure fat lost in the first two weeks. Participant “X” lost 50 pounds in 12 weeks. Participant “Y” gained 10 pounds of lean muscle in 12 weeks. Participant “Z” improved their [choose a lift] by 50 pounds in 12 weeks.

All of these start my BS meter chirping because they are all things we want, but in over 15 years, I’ve learned these types of successes are the rarest exception and some, I have never seen verified, only estimated. I am not saying these numbers are impossible, but results like these are highly unlikely. I’m going to take a realistic view, break down the examples, and explain where I have issues. Participant’s averaged 80% pure fat lost in the first two weeks. 80% fat loss sounds really, really, good, right? The biggest problem I have is I want to see the bodyfat measurements, not an estimate or an average. Here’s my second problem; most people entering a diet knowingly or unknowingly restrict their carbohydrate intake. Carbs encourage your body to retain water, so cutting carbs results in lost glycogen and lost water weight. Some estimates say that for every gram of carbs cut from the diet, 3 grams of water weight will be lost. If we accept that it takes a ~3500-calorie deficit to burn a pound, that is a maximum of 125 grams of carbs being removed from a diet per day(I eat over 400 grams of carbs on a normal day, so it’s possible to remove that much). That would be 1500 grams lost between the carbs and the water in one day. That’s 3.3 pounds on day one of just carbs and water, not fat, not muscle! Say you run the same deficit for multiple days and your water loss slows and eventually stops after about a week. Assuming the 80% is truthful, that means you have to lose over 16 pounds just to match up with day one's 3.3 pound water loss. So that was an extreme, let's take a smaller number. A very low estimate of water loss for two weeks, 2 pounds (1 pound per week); that means losing 8 pounds of pure fat over two weeks (~14000 calories below TDEE per week). That doesn't include how much lean muscle would be lost as well to claim 80% pure fat. I can continue to scale the numbers to lower and lower weight loss per week, but you should be seeing the point by now. Takeaway: If the claim doesn’t have verifiable bodyfat measurements, take any short-term fat-loss claims with a grain of salt. Participant “X” lost 50 pounds in 12 weeks.

It troubles me with the lack of details because weight loss is a percentage thing to me. Safe weight loss per week is estimated at 1%. First thing I want to know is how overweight was the client? If the client was 400 pounds, this is possible, but if they are 250, not so much. For those of you that watch Extreme Weight Loss or The Biggest Loser, remember those clients are selected because they have over 75 or 100 pounds to lose! Takeaway: If you have less than 200 pounds to lose and you’re doing it the healthy way, don’t expect to see 50 pounds of weight come off so quickly, and that’s including the water. Participant “Y” gained 10 pounds of lean muscle in 12 weeks.

I only want to know a few things with this type of claim. First, what was the training age of the participant? A low training age allows for “newbie” gains, and those can be massive. Second, what was their diet? If they ate poorly, didn’t get enough protein, or just plain under-ate, they have room for growth. Third, what is their actual age? Younger, more active participants have the hormonal advantage that us older people don’t have. Finally, show me the bodyfat measurements. Anybody claiming pure fat lost or lean mass gained should have bodyfat measurements to back it up. Takeaway: Research their “proof.” If it’s a supplement company, ask for a study to support their claims. If they can’t cite a complete study or the numbers don’t line up, chances are it’s a bogus claim. Participant “Z” improved their [choose a lift] by 60 pounds in 12 weeks.

After 15 years, I know there are two truths to this: The participant was a new lifter with very low training age and was given an appropriate progression or the lifter fixed faulty technique. For people that have been training for years and training with progressive overload programs with solid technique, the chance of this happening because of the program is slim to none. The last piece I worry about is the change in bodyweight. Mass moves mass, so if I put on weight, I expect a jump in my lifts. Takeaway: Check the background on their participants. Younger lifters and lifters that haven’t trained for long can make these gains easier. If they’re experienced, check the starting and finishing bodyweights. Finally, ask yourself if it’s a technique fix. The big takeaway from all of this is to be skeptical of fitness industry claims that seem unbelievable. In the fitness world, we are all different, but when the claim seems unbelievable, lack concurrence, and have poorly administered studies or no data at all to back them up, it is probably the exception and not the rule. Do your research, take a moment to think about all of the information, and then make the decision and put 100% effort into it. Fitness is a journey, not a dash.

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