Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Snake Oil

Happy New Year!

I love this time of year because it is a fresh start for everyone. I know I am not alone in saying au revoir to 2014 and don't let the door hit you in the a%# on way out.

People are excited to start their new diets/fitness regimes/ race planning for the upcoming year (maybe that is just me) the optimism is contagious.

There is plenty to do outside this time of year: skating, skiing, sledding, snowshoeing.... If you don' embrace the cold, the winter can and will be long and harsh. (Please don't post to me about cruising and tropical winter vacations.)  I have found that most people who complain about the weather are inappropriately dressed. Technology exists in clothing. Coats are lighter & warmer. Base layers are & technical and let's not forget hand & foot warmers. If you are dressed appropriately, outdoor activities will be fun.  There is nothing better than spending an hour or five (again, probably just me) outside in the cold only to come indoors to cuddle up by the fire and sip hot chocolate.  Hot showers feel like warm blankets and you get to cocoon into the sofa under your favorite blanket (try doing that in July). I have just discovered how much I love winter and what a wonderful Norman Rockwell visual I just verbally painted.

Although the gyms are packed, this is still a great time of year to go and try a new class at your local gym or studio.  Instructors are prepared and have written new classes to get you in and keep you interested. Good instructors will make it challenging enough but most important, fun.  If it is not fun you won't go back.

And then there is the dark side...the reason I find this time of year so unpleasant.


Something here probably caught your attention.  They all catch mine and make me want to change the channel.  Marketers are smart and good at their jobs.  This is why I hate this time of year. Marketers prey on the ready-to-change, willing-to-spend crowd and desperate for something to actually work.

All the diets that are out there work. Anytime you restrict calories you will lose weight.  Whether this is done on your own through an app like fitness pal or you join a weight watchers or Jenny Craig,  again, restricting calories and watching everything you consume will results in weight loss. Which is also why they fail.

The real key  is a matter of what is sustainable for your actual life.  There is trial and error to find out what works for you. Do you prefer to eat two large meals or six smaller meals, high carb, no carb or no gluten? In the end, if you can't do it every day and eat foods you like how you like them, you won't do it.

As a naysayer of "big" diet and "big" exercise, if I had to choose I would err on the side of diet.  Even though some of the diets are ridiculous, (cabbage soup anyone?)  I do believe that you can learn something from each and every one of them. Even if it is only that the food in Nutrisystem is disgusting and bacon is not diet food (Atkins anyone?). The exercise side of this equation is as vastly different as it is dangerous and absurd.  We are not even going near the topic of diet supplements like Lipozene, raspberry ketones or garcinia cambogia. On these we could probably write a book.
What do I mean by absurd?  The Flex Belt (one of the newest for me although they say they have been around for 15 years), the shake weight, thigh master, the hula chair, Tae Bo, body blade, and yes even BowFlex (I Desperately wanted one of these back in the 90's).  All promising to help you shave inches in the shortest time imaginable.  We can also include on this list 8 minute abs, leg magic X, slender tone. Let's not forget Richard Simmons with his sweating to the oldies and his deal-a- meal.  My point is we are all looking for the quick fix, the magic pill or a short cut. You know, a passive solution.

One of the most prominent this New Year’s commercial fitness saturation is The Flex Belt.  Snake Oil if I have ever seen it.

The commercial opens with Brian Wade, actor and fitness trainer. He is slim and he is trim.
The claim: wear this belt you will get 150 ab contractions in just 30 minutes. . The product is endorsed by Lisa Rinna, Denise Richards and Jill Wade, Brian's body-builder, fitness model wife. An A-list set if I ever saw one.

How it works: the belt contracts your muscles comfortably over the course of 30 minutes giving you the ab workouts you dread with no effort from you. This is an FDA approved device and 100% of the people who have worn it have strengthened their abs.

AND it is all TRUE.

Allow me to explain.  The Flex Belt works from EMS (electric muscles stimulation).  If you have ever been to the chiropractor or physical therapy you have probably have had those little sticky pads applied to your skin. They send and electric pulse. If you have ever have experienced this you know that if they turn it up too high, your muscles will contract hard. They spasm and it’s uncomfortable. This is what is happening when you put on the flex belt.  The electronic pulses mimic the action potential coming from the central nervous system. EMS has received increasing attention in the last few years, because it has the potential to serve as: 1) a strength training tool for healthy subjects and athletes: 2) a rehabilitation and preventive tool for partially or totally immobilized patients: 3) a testing tool for evaluating the neural and/or muscular function in vivo: 4) a post-exercise recovery tool for athletes (Wikipedia).

The FDA approved two types of OTC (over the counter) devices for home use and prescription devices mostly used in physical therapy. The OTC devices are marketable for muscle toning. There are actual medical uses for the device such as re-education of atrophied muscles and increasing blood circulation and relaxation of muscle spasms.

So yes, the Flex belt does do everything it claims. However picture speak louder than words and the picture they display on their website and in their TV ads lead you to believe something completely different.

The real secret to six-pack abs are 1) genetics 2) lose fat & build muscle 3) sacrifice 4) patience 5) time.

The people they use in their ads to represent their product paint a very different picture. The company has chosen models, actors and fitness gurus. These people are already in excellent physical condition with very low body fat [Editor’s Note: As well as a need for cash and low self-esteem]. This is something the flex belt cannot deliver. 

The ads for the flex belt never tell you will look like these models and athletes but by using them in their ads they certainly imply that you will look like them if you use their product.  The bodies advertising the flex belt were not created through flex belt but through a disciplined diet, dedication to exercise (even the hard stuff) and the gift of genetics.

The second most bothersome ads of “resolution season” is The Daily Burn.  The daily burn is a website that allows you to download a workout every day and works from the devices you may have in your home like an Xbox, PlayStation, iPad or TV. It is also absolutely free for 30 days and you can cancel anytime (right, good luck with that).  

I had high hopes because I saw Bob Harper.  I used to like Bob Harper very much.  He was the anti-Jillian, the good guy. Now I realize all he ever wanted was Jillian's endorsements deals.  The daily burn puts Bob in the front of the ad and at the top of the website to draw in the fans. Once on the site, they walk you through a series of questions to determine what type of person you are, how much you have to lose and how fast you want to lose it.

My fictional self-need was to lose 100lbs and I was only allowing myself to workout 15 minutes a day but I wanted to workout out with high intensity.

For fitness pros out there, we know this is a potentially dangerous situation.

I ultimately did not sign up for the daily downloads. Of course I didn't. I just wanted to see what they were all about.  I did click on each of the types of workouts.  Once again I was visually bombarded with fitness professionals and models who have bodies that won't quit and were visually stunning.  Most of the workouts required a high fitness level (my fictional self was prescribed the workout called Inferno) and promised fast results.  Almost every 30 second to 1 minute clip described the workouts and used words like: “15 minutes in 15 days”, “maximum results in just 30 days”, “get toned in just 2 weeks”, “ballistic training”, “fast, fast, fast”, “quick, quick, quick”.  According to the daily burn you can have s trainer's body by the end of the day, well at least in two weeks’ time.
I heard something recently about broccoli.  Wouldn't it be great if you could eat broccoli only once and get all the health benefits of a life time? I wish that were true but only because broccoli is not my favorite veggie. That is sadly not the case. It must be eaten often, just like exercise needs to be done.
January is an ideal time for these ads to appear, when everyone is resolving to change and looking for a way to do it. They have beautiful sales people pitching their wares for the latest and greatest fitness inventions. Promises of Hollywood bodies in a short period are offered when all they are after is to separate you from your dollars.

To become truly fit, you need to exercise. To lose weight, you need reduce your calories and exercise. To be healthy, you need to accept who you are, accept your limitations while striving to be a better version of you. Don’t let the charlatans take you hard-earned dollars. There is no magic pill, formula or device that will do it for you.

It hurts sometimes to pay the gym membership but if you actually use it, it's not nearly as expensive. And isn’t that better than paying Lisa Rinna to lie to you?

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