Tag Archives: Health

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I've just got a quick, fun post for you all today.

Before we start this little quiz I'd like to explain why I decided to make this post.

If you spend much time on Facebook, especially if you follow extreme health 'purists', you'll find a lot of images like this scattered around:

Get it? The milk is blood. Because...blood is...bad?

Get it? The milk is blood. Because...blood is...bad?

Or this...

lolwat

For some reason, when we see images like those or articles explaining the points in finer detail, we tend to take it at face value.  Why would someone go through all the trouble to make that image or write that 1,000 word article unless it was true?

Unfortunately, that image is about as accurate as this quote, and not nearly as funny:

In this exercise I'm trying to drive this point home:

Just because it's in a book, on the internet, or got shared by a thousand people does not make it true.

Spotting Health Bullshit

Could you even recognize the truth if you saw it?  Let's find out.  In the pairs of images below, I edited the text in one of them with complete nonsense I came up with off the top of my head, or just made a completely new image.  (Photoshop skill handicap)

Can you find the fake? (I hope I did a decent enough job editing to make the answers not obvious...as well, you may need to click on the images to bring up a larger version to read the text)

#1 - Let's start with something easy.
ToF5

 

#2 - It's almost like the numbers were pulled out of a hat.

ToF4

#3 - Note that you must eat EXACTLY what's listed below...why?  Your guess is as good as mine.

ToF3

#4 - Ahhh a picture of something "natural" next to a laundry list of cures for very serious ailments that have been plaguing humans since the dawn of time.  Sounds legit.

ToF1

#5 - Yes, pure sugar in the form of honey or agave works wonders for your waistline.

ToF2

 

Answer Key

Let me take up some space here with some cuddly puppies so you don't accidentally spoil it for yourself:

#1 - Original on the left

#2 - Original on the right

#3 - Original on the right

#4 - Actually both of these are real.  TEN THOUSAND TIMES STRONGER THAN CHEMOTHERAPY!!!  KILL 10,000 TIMES THE CELLS!

#5 - Original on the left

How did you do?  Probably could have gotten a good score judging by not-quite-perfect font replacements, but hopefully they weren't too bad.

In any case, health bullshit around the internet is RAMPANT.  Everything cures cancer, everything causes cancer, everything is a harmful chemical, everything is an all-natural cure for HIV despite HIV itself being all-natural.

Be skeptical of what you see.

 

(taken from wikipedia)

"A lie, Mr. Mulder, is most convincingly hidden between two truths."

-Deep Throat, The X-files

It's Sunday morning and you're awoken by sunlight streaming through your shades.  Groggily, you reach over for your phone to check the time.

...

Revision: it's Sunday afternoon.  You had a pretty hard night - even if you didn't remember exactly how much you drank, your inability to stand up without stumbling would have reminded you.  That's what happens when it's nickel shot night at O'Halligan's.

Your head is killing you and walking is proving quite difficult.  Do you:

  • A) Find the nearest Waffle House, stat
  • B) Take some advil and settle in to watch The Princess Bride for the millionth time
  • C) Salt the shit out of two scrambled eggs and wash it down with a Diet Coke (that was my tactic, anyway)
  • D) Grab some Vitamin Water then go about your day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

Haha, Amish people!  That's so random and edgy Vitamin Water, you totally get me.

Well, this commercial would lead you to believe that 'D' is the best option.  Here are the claims made in this commercial.  The first two are stated explicitly, while the last is implicit - meaning they never actually say this, but it is glaringly obvious from the commercial.

  1. Vitamin Water Revive has B vitamins and potassium
  2. Vitamin Water Revive will re-hydrate you
  3. Vitamin Water Revive will relieve hangovers

Let's look at these claims more in-depth:

Vitamin Water Revive has B Vitamins and Potassium

VitaminWaterConfused

By 120 I mean 125.  If you know the reason behind the differences here, let me know!

This is true.  It DOES have these things.  However, in trying to find exactly how much, I came across some confusion in the actual nutrition label on Vitamin Water and what their website says.  It's possible this nutrition label information is out of date.

However, you shouldn't stop questioning there.  The next question you need to ask is:

Why does it matter that this product has B vitamins and potassium?

In the context of normal day-to-day life, it doesn't matter.  If you're not vegetarian, you're likely not deficient in any B vitamins.  If you're not competing or training in endurance sports or suffering from diarrhea, you're likely not deficient in potassium.  These are rare conditions.

So, if you're suffering from a hangover, does that change things?  We'll go over that in our last point.

Vitamin Water will re-hydrate you

Well, the first ingredient in Vitamin Water is - you guessed it - water.  (Right before the second ingredient - sugar.  Mmmm it's like hydration candy, delicious!)

Delicious hydration candy. Just look at all dat sugar. (taken from brobility.com)

So yeah, if you're dehydrated, Vitamin Water can help re-hydrate you.  So could tap water, or diet coke, or Gatorade, or tea, or broth...you get the idea.

Vitamin Water will relieve hangovers

Well, this is where we're getting into bullshit territory.  You would think that given humanity's long history of enjoying getting hammered, we'd understand hangovers better. Unfortunately, we don't have a strong grasp on exactly why they happen.

Home remedies abound however, usually consisting of some kind of salty food and water to 're-hydrate' you.  We all know that dehydration is the real cause of hangovers, right?

Well, it doesn't seem to be that easy.  Many hangover cures have been tried and found wanting.  (1, 2, 3) Dehydration only seems to account for a small fraction of symptoms, such as dry mouth.

But, that's not really my point.  This isn't an article about hangover cures.

My point was to draw your attention to one of many health and fitness marketing tactics: hiding the bullshit between some non-bullshit.  You can find examples all over the place.  Often you'll see this in nutrition products or supplements:

But you can also find it in different fitness routines:

SpotTheBullshit

I encourage you to go to the full website for hilarious explanations of the benefits of various yoga poses.

In this case you have one realistic claim and two bullshit ones.  A warm muscle is easier to stretch (4), detoxification is bullshit, and it's doubtful that a hot environment would increase cardiovascular benefits. (5 - an ACE sponsored study that I couldn't find in any database so take it with a grain of salt.  Here's a different study showing benefits of training in heat...but it's with cyclists, who undoubtedly have a much different adaptation to their training the hot yogis.)

Or in fitness products, like the Sketcher's "Shape Up" shoes (I encourage you to watch this video and look for the numerous questionable promises), which claim to:

  1. Maximize calorie burn
  2. Improve circulation
  3. Strengthen muscles

While Shape-Ups (or literally any other footwear...or just your bare feet) could improve circulation and strengthen muscles - due to the fact that you are exercising while wearing them - they do not significantly change the amount of calories you burn performing a particular exercise.  But it's easy to glance over that when you're watching an entire infomercial, isn't it?

Moral

Beware of the many claims put forth in advertisements and promotions of health and fitness products.  It may be true that a protein powder helps build lean muscle and keep you full, but it probably doesn't keep your blood sugar levels steady or promote alert thinking while somehow at the same time reducing anxiety.

Take every claim one at a time.  Many times the real benefits are just the benefits you'd get from eating any kind of food, or doing any kind of exercise, then with your defenses lowered they hit you with a bogus, too-good-to-be-true claim.  More than likely you'll take it.

Trust no advertisement.  That should have been Deep Throat's advice in the X-files.  Perhaps not as pertinent to Mulder, though.

 

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Chapter / Rule 8 - Cut the Salt

When I read this title I was all ready to jump on the contradiction of telling you to reduce your salt (because it will cause you to retain more water) but to also take an electrolyte supplement (of which salt is a key ingredient)

But, to my pleasant surprise, Harper already addresses this:

"Yes you body needs some salt...(which is why you'll be drinking electrolyte replacements during this program), but too much leads to water retention, which leads nowhere good."

As we previously noted in the electrolytes section, there is little point in reducing simple water weight when you're going for an aesthetic change.  It just isn't going to make a big difference for the most part.  So while a lot of salt leads nowhere good, it doesn't lead anywhere particularly bad either.

This is all contingent on you not having an existing blood pressure issue.  People who have had their blood pressure checked by a medical professional and found it to be higher than it should could consider reducing their sodium intake.  Of course, you should listen to your doctor first before some random chick on the internet.

"...when you're looking to lose weight over the long haul and then stay thin, you should shoot for less than 2,000 milligrams [of salt] a day."

Here Harper just used "thin" and "lose weight" interchangeably.  Many weight-loss products will do this, since most of us associate weight loss with fat loss.  However when talking about water weight, it's important to make sure you're using the correct term.  If you lose scale weight, say 5 pounds, by dropping 5 pounds of water weight (a very feasible thing to do), then to keep that weight off for the long haul, you would likely need to continue eating less salt.  But why bother?  It's meaningless weight that will keep you from enjoying things like bread, french fries or popcorn.

As far as needing to keep sodium below 2,000 to "stay thin," that is completely baseless.  Sodium doesn't lead people to being un-thin.  So don't worry so much about it.

The end of this chapter is a little bit scary:

A box of how to become a big jerk with an eating disorder.

A box of how to become a big jerk with an eating disorder.

Goodness just look at some of this advice.  When your friend is kind enough to offer to make you dinner, you really need to be sure to let them know you've already had 778 milligrams of sodium today - could they make sure to only offer you a portion with 1,222 mg?  Oh, your mother-in-law wants to make you and your husband a delicious home-cooked meal?  Haha nope, you've got a DIET to uphold!  What's more important than that?  Instead of eating at the office party, follow around your hot intern.  She'll dig it.

Moral: Unless you have an existing blood pressure issue, don't worry about your sodium intake.  It won't help you lose fat, and the scale weight you lose is meaningless.

Chapter / Rule 9 - Take advantage of the restorative power of daily fish oil

Want to know a secret?

I'm not particularly knowledgeable about supplements.  It's not a subject that gets me very excited.

There, I admitted it.

So, here's what I'm going to do with this section: We'll use this as a little tutorial on how to traverse through a subject you're unfamiliar with.  This is also a great chapter to do so - Harper throws out a bunch of intimidating science-y terms.  What fun!

Let's start with the opening paragraph:

"You may have heard that taking a fish oil supplement every day is good for your heart...[scientists have] come across the benefits of fish oil for people who diet and exercise as well.  Fish oil can help with post-exercise soreness and also boost immunity."

So here we have 3 claims about fish oil:

  1. Good for your heart
  2. Help with post-exercise soreness
  3. Boost immunity

After this, there is a sensationalist paragraph about how soreness means you're probably going to find an excuse to not work out the next day, so take your fish oil.  This is fluff - entertaining fluff that is relevant to your life, to be sure - but it will not give you a better understanding of if you should take fish oil.

Next is a passage that is a bit tough to digest:

"Bear with me: in the human inflammatory cycle, a molecule dubbed E2, or PGE2 (for prostaglandin), signals other cells to become inflamed and, thus, painful.  So the research question was: Can we inhibit this process in a healthful way?

To find out, the investigators tested the effects of 8 different dietary oils containing high amounts of the anti-inflammatory molecule called docosahexaenoic acid.  Result: "It was identified that fish oil best inhibited the PGE2 signaling...[and] docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in abundance in fish oil, was identified as a key factor of inhibition of PGE2 signaling."

Whew, that was a mouthful.  Confused yet?  Don't worry, Harper will sum it all up for you:

"In essence: yay fish oil!"

Well, I personally would like a bit of a deeper understanding - something between that difficult-to-comprehend first passage and a simple "yay!"  You deserve that too.

First, let's establish what we're trying to figure out here:

  • Harper is using a study to confirm his assertion that fish oil helps with soreness and inflammation.
  • We need to determine if this study actually does confirm that fish oil helps with soreness and inflammation.

So, let's look up this study.  I use PubMed to find almost all of the studies I've looked at in these series.  You could also just Google the title of the study.  (Harper has a works cited section in the back of the book, thankfully.)  We lucked out with this study - the full text is available for free.  Many journals require you to pay to access more than just the abstract (A brief summary of the study).  Sometimes you can miss crucial context without the full text - so it's best to reserve complete judgement on a piece until you can read and understand the whole thing.

After a cursory glance over this paper I have reached one conclusion:

This is WAY over my head.

I'd say it's over the head of most non-biologists.  I have very little hope of understanding what is going on in this paper - so I will stick with the parts that are generally in English: the "Discussion" and "Conclusion" sections:

"Finally, we conclude that fish oil is a promising dietary oil used to prevent and reduce inflammation-mediated diseases, such as heart diseases, cancers, arthritis, and pain."

"... taking 500 –1000 mg fish oil daily is recommended based on the findings in this study."

So we have determined that this study concludes what Harper says it does, and even gives us a recommendation for how much fish oil to take.  Sadly, the methods used to gather and analyze this data are way over my head.  It could be complete crap - I wouldn't know the difference.

What do you do when you don't understand a study?

The further you step away from the root of the study, the more caution you should take.  I do have a few trusted sources I turn to for nutrition information.  I went to 3 different sources who look at research and give layman's descriptions of them:

Alan Aragon

Examine

Precision Nutrition

So, in comparing these 3 different sources, there are some common conclusions:

  • Fish oil can help with inflammation.
  • Enough fish oil can help with muscle soreness.
  • Too much fish oil can have a negative effect on your immune system.

This last point makes a sort of sense to me (I could be wrong), since inflammation is a response of your immune system.  Reduce inflammation too much, you're compromising your immune system.  Maybe.

Based on this, I would conclude that taking fish oil to help with decreasing inflammation and muscle soreness may be a good idea and perhaps something worth pursuing.   1-6 grams is a wide range of recommendations, and is also a crap ton of pills.  The upper doses seem to be the ones that help best with soreness.

That doesn't sound very conclusive, Kat.  This didn't help at all.

Well, that's because I haven't devoted more than about 3 hours to look at all this stuff, compared to a lifetime of some of these researchers.  Yeah, 3 hours is how long I've spent reading everything above.  It probably sounds like a lot.  But even if it doesn't, imagine the fact that you may find yourself needing to do similar research for your multi-vitamin, calcium supplement, creatine, or even if you should eat eggs.

That's a lot of time.

That's especially a lot of time for not coming up with a very definitive answer.

If you don't have the time to devote towards researching a topic thoroughly, that's fine!  Most of us won't bother to do everything I just did above.  The answer then is to just not take yourself super seriously.  Don't take a hard moral stand on something you're not willing to look at the studies for.  

Moral: Fish oil has a ton of positive research around it.  It would appear that fish oil is helpful in reducing inflammation and even preventing muscle soreness if you take enough.  Too much, however, and you may suppress your immune system.  1-6 grams seems to be the range of recommendations.

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Chapter / Rule 4 - Get rid of water weight by drinking more water

In bodybuilding competitions, The Biggest Loser weigh-ins and wrestlers trying to make weight, water manipulation is huge.

Look at how pure it is! Drinking a bunch if it MUST be good for me! You know, because toxins, and whatnot.

For bodybuilders it's because at 3% body fat, a little bit of water weight can be the difference between 1st and 5th place.  (Not so much of a big visual change for you and me)

For The Biggest Loser, it's to make it seem like you've lost more fat than you really have - but more importantly so that you can stay in the competition.  The only way to lose 20 pounds in a week is to shed a bunch of water weight - aka weight that isn't making a big difference in the way your pants fit.  (It's a great way to make yourself pee blood though!)

For wrestlers, a change in weight class can mean wrestling someone with 20 pounds more muscle than you.

For followers of Jumpstart to Skinny shedding water means basically zero positive change in appearance, but you'll sure feel like the program is working when you step on the scale and have pissed away 10 pounds of water!

Really that's the only benefit you'll see from getting rid of water weight.  You would have a similar effect going on a low-carb diet, since carbohydrates cause you to hold onto water.  This is also why low-carb diets are seemingly more 'effective' in the short-term.  Water doesn't actually mean any good changes in appearance unless you're a super-ultra-lean bodybuilder right before a show.

But Harper has a few other things to say about drinking massive amounts of water so let's take a closer look:

"Next, there's the scientifically complex but pretty straightforward truth that increased water intake lets the liver devote more resources to fat metabolism..."

'Scientifically complex but straightforward' sounds like an oxymoron to me.  Of course there is no citation for this particular gem, so let's do some digging ourselves:

Some things that your liver is good at doing in regards to fat -

  • Converting stored fat into energy
  • Converting excess carbohydrates and proteins into fat

Now, does water affect this?  Perhaps, if you're dehydrated.  I was unable to locate any studies regarding water intake and liver function aside from the obvious fact of dehydration not promoting optimal organ function.  Again, though, I couldn't find any studies backing this up.  (Here is a link to a little blurb in a Harvard Health newsletter though.  Take it with a grain of salt.)

Let's just assume though that dehydration adversely affects your liver's ability to metabolize fat.  Do you need to be drinking the amount of water that Harper recommends?  (80 ounces at MINIMUM, which is equal to almost 5 standard bottles of water)

Lots of time to get real familiar with our porcealin friend if you follow this rule.

As I discussed in my review of Harper's last book, there is very little evidence regarding the 'optimal' amount of water for an individual.  There isn't much backing up the assertion of '8 glasses a day,' or '1/2 your bodyweight in ounces of water.'  In the link to my last review above, there is also a discussion about what all can contribute to your water intake for the day.  (Soup, fruits and vegetables are big contributors, especially on this diet where you eat a lot of these)

That review also debunks Harper's assertion of water causing you to burn more calories in and of itself.  He mentions it again in this chapter.

Now it has been found that drinking water before and during meals can help you eat less.  Not only does it help fill your stomach some, but it also makes you take longer to finish your meal which leads to eating less overall.  (Some studies point to soup as being even better at keeping you satiated for a long time - it has a ton of water in it on top of being combined with more solid substances that prevent you from just passing it through 5 minutes later)

Really though, I don't think that there is any strategy you can use to ever feel satiated on this 800-calories-a-day diet.

You could stop reading this part of the review right here and skip to the moral.  What I'm going to post below is speculation on my part:

As far as the assertion that drinking crap tons of water will help you drop water weight, I don't think you'll see much of a difference.  Your body is rather good at regulating itself.  Drink less than you need and your body will conserve more of it and you'll urinate less.  Drink more than you need and it'll just pass right through you.  Losing water weight has to happen in a very short window, say for a competition.

Drink lots and lots of water for a week and your body regulates hormones so that it doesn't hold onto very much water.  Then you have a very brief window to cut out your water while you still have the hormone levels that promote losing water.  After a while of not drinking much, it will level off again.  Homeostasis is a wonderful thing.  It keeps us from doing stupid shit like dying from trying to lose pointless scale weight through water loss.

Moral: Manipulating your water weight is not going to do a lot for your physical appearance.  Don't bother.  Drinking water can help you feel full, but I doubt you could do anything to reduce your hunger cravings on this diet plan.

Chapter / Rule 5 - Get your electrolytes

Here's a rule I'm having a tough time understanding.

Electrolytes are most commonly seen in sport drinks:

Some electrolytes include: sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, bicarbonate and phosphate. Wheee science-y terms!

Why are electrolytes so common in sport drinks you ask?  I AM SO GLAD YOU DID!

When you sweat, as you do during exercise (some of us more than others), you lose water and electrolytes like sodium. (Which is why it's salty.  Also if you don't take a shower for awhile after and all the sweat evaporates, you may find your skin a bit grainy from leftover salt.  Fun facts!)

Generally we need electrolytes for various bodily functions.  But another reason is because they promote water retention.  So if you just dehydrated yourself running a marathon, a combination of electrolytes, glucose and water are a super way to re-hydrate quickly.

Now the reason that I was SO EXCITED to explain that to you is because it is a DIRECT CONTRADICTION of the rule we just posted about above!  Drink a crap ton of water to lose water weight, then re-hydrate with your electrolytes - brilliant!

Generally in a normal diet you'd be getting enough electrolytes (presuming you aren't a marathon runner or doing 3-hour practices for your sport) and you wouldn't have to worry about it.  However since you'll only be eating 800 calories a day in this diet, you may be deficient - I'm not really sure to be honest.  I can't claim to be an expert on that.  However you're probably deficient in a bunch of other things as well (like, calories) so electrolytes is just one of many worries.

"After decades of irresponsibly selling high-sugar electrolyte replacements in the form of "sports drinks," manufacturers finally get it: we don't want or need the sugar.  We just need the electrolytes, thank you."

Now, I'm hardly a big defender of the food industry, if you couldn't tell.  In fact, sports drinks are really only necessary for people doing long endurance events or marathon practice sessions - not that you'd be able to tell that from their commercials.

But the purpose of a sports drink is to re-hydrate you and give you a little bit of fuel.  Sugar is needed for this.  It's not the sport drink manufacturers at fault here.  It's YOU for thinking you need a sport drink for your 45 minute strength training session.  Or for following a ridiculous 800 calorie diet.  Sports drinks serve their purpose.  Normal people do NOT need electrolyte supplements.

At the end of this chapter, Harper says that you should not take diuretics to lose weight.  Finally something we agree on!

Moral:  If you're trying to lose water weight, taking electrolyte supplements is perplexing.  I'm not sure if they're necessary on an 800 calorie a day diet - they might be.  Either way, you should really not only be eating 800 calories a day.  Have I mentioned that?

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Just a quick little post today about "trigger" words used to grab our attention.

I've spent the past 3 months collecting keywords on the covers of several popular men's and women's magazines, most with a focus on fitness.  Here's what really matters to us, according to marketing:

MagazineCoversWomen

I'll bet you can guess which is which.

MagazineCoversMen

A couple of interesting things about magazine covers,

  1. Men's magazines used the word "sex" ONCE. ONE TIME. TOTAL. As you can see, women's magazines were WAY more obsessed with all derivatives of the word.
  2. Men's magazines in general used about 1/2 as many words as women. Don't really know how to read into that one.

An additional observation was that the models on the covers for men's magazines were predominantly athletes or former athletes with a few actors or performers in the mix. Women's magazines had ONE athlete on the cover (Maria Sharapova), the rest were models, actresses and singers.

Once again, we come back to a pivotal questions: Are marketers simply giving us what we want, or are we being force-fed these desires?

I'm going to take a stab at this and say it's a little bit of both.  Here are a few things that are innate in human nature:

  • Desire for sex, and thus to be sexually appealing.
  • High social status, to be on level with or above our peers.
  • Safety for ourselves and our friends and family.
  • To quickly understand and organize the world around us.

Marketers didn't need to make any of these up - most everyone is born with these desires.   Where they come in is evident in the keywords:

  • Sex appeal for men equals having lots of muscle, low body-fat and to a smaller extent strength.  Sex appeal for women equals being as small as possible with very little muscle (but not NO muscle), minimizing signs of aging such as wrinkles, cellulite or thinning / dull hair.  These are by far the most popular terms used above.
  • Social status means owning expensive things, having an advanced career or having stronger 'willpower,' 'work ethic' or knowing things your peers don't which manifests itself in a 'better' body than they have.  (Recall I'm focusing on the health and fitness industry here.  Obviously for different subjects this will manifest in other ways)
  • Safety for ourselves, friends and family is signaled with claims to prevent cancer, prevent obesity-related diseases and being overall highly concerned about health.
  • A quick and easy understanding of the world is shown through words like "secrets," "quickly," "by tonight," "easy," "slash," etc.  These are the most commonly used words behind those for sex appeal.

So what can we learn from this?  Well here are my takeaways:

  1. Sex appeal can mean so many different things to humans.  Our brains can be much more complex than "skinny waist and big boobs," despite what many an internet troll will tell you.  A potential mate's desire to have sex with you is not always derived from how conventionally "sexy" you are.  But damn if it isn't easy to sell something if you assure someone it will boost their appeal to potential mates.  This also ties into a desire for a quick and easy understanding of the world.  No cellulite = sex!  Big muscles = sex!  IT'S THAT EASY!
  2. Who gives a shit about how wealthy or perfect your peers perceive you to be?  Yoga pants are yoga pants, ice cubs are ice cubes.  You know who you are.  I know, that's not a very helpful or scientific observation, but I'm not going to claim to be an expert on our desire for social standing.  Someone else out there has probably written something much more insightful.  If you know of any, let me know and I'll link it here.
  3. Exploiting this desire is one of my least favorite tactics.  I know, cancer is brutal, terrifying and unfair.  Its existence causes us pain, fear and anxiety for good reason.  But how much does the latest article (about how in an observational study based on self-completed questionnaires, researchers found a small correlation between diet coke consumption and breast cancer) ACTUALLY help?  Does it REALLY deserve the title "The SECRET Big Pharma doesn't want you to know about stopping cancer in its tracks!" or "Ground-breaking new study finds potential cure for cancer!" ?  NO.  THIS HELPS NO ONE.
  4. Us humans are fantastic at identifying patterns.  Unfortunately, when we see a pattern we also automatically assume it means something significant.  So we read about a study that says obesity rates have increased as carbohydrate intake has increased - and now that you think about it, you really don't eat very much meat, just a lot of bread and candy.  The brain sees these threads and leads you to conclude carbohydrates = fat.  Unfortunately it missed the part where you and the public at large were just increasing your overall caloric intake.  Whoops.

Anyway, that's a little bit of a rant from me today.  Hope you found those keywords as interesting as I did!  I may try to keep this up for a year - I think that would give a better perspective.

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Pinterest remains a constant source of fascination for me.

Sometimes I'm not sure if the pins I'm seeing are from companies or from the average user.  But regardless, every post on the Health & Fitness board is still about the same as when I posted about it a few months back.  The bad fitness ideas are still perpetuated.  It's still all about spot reduction, running for fat loss and toning with light weights.

However, I do think I've been seeing more posts about interest in lifting heavier, getting stronger and focusing on health.  (Even if the 'focus on health' motivation typically just happen to include fitness models.) I don't have any stats on that but, I suppose you could either call it wishful thinking, intuition or just spending waaaay too much of my time browsing the board in a kind of morbid curiosity.

But sometimes I still need to let off a little steam.  In particular, there is this one "beginner's routine" I see pushed around constantly.  I'm procrastinating on starting my next book review, so indulge me here.  Perhaps you've even seen this article here and there.

What's so bad about it?

Well, first of all it's hosted on PopSugar, one of several emerging websites that don't offer much in the way of quality, but mostly just exist to push out as much content as possible with as many ways to accidentally click on advertisement, sharing and affiliate links as can fit on your screen.

WebsiteMoney

I AM SO DISTRACTED BY ALL THESE SHINY POP UPS...what was I reading again?

I'm not sure if you caught onto it, but I'm not a fan.

But, let's focus on the routine.

This BEGINNER routine features 5 days a week of 90 minute workouts (more if you include the time to get there, change, warm-up, etc.) and 2 rest days.  They emphasize this is for people who are completely new to working out.

Do you remember the first time you tried a completely new activity?  Maybe you even remember the first time you tried to workout.  You were probably so sore the next day getting off the toilet took a few minutes of preparation.  This workout ensures your complete soreness by not only putting you through 80 minutes of working out your first day, but following it up with a 90-minute high-intensity one the very next day!

Not to mention, why are you telling a complete beginner to go to one of the more complex and intense yoga classes in the first place?

Why does the beginner need 4 days a week of cardio, especially if fat loss is the goal?

Why is a beginner being told only to do 10 minutes of either arms or legs followed by a quick 5 minutes of abs for strength training?

This routine ignores reality.

If you're a complete beginner, what are the chances you're counting your calories enough to even know what it would mean to 'cut out 200 calories'?

What are the chances you're going to be ready to just jump into an intense fitness class?

No really FitSugar, what do you mean by 'cut out 200 calories'?  Subtract 200 from what?

Does this routine sound enjoyable?  Does it sound like something a beginner would be able to stick to long-term?

Is this routine flexible?  What are you supposed to do when you are inevitably too sore to go to your intense spin class the day after your hot yoga class and abdominal routine?

Why am I phrasing all of my critiques in question form?  Because I want YOU to ask MORE QUESTIONS from EVERYTHING you see!

Here's what I'd like to see:

Sunday: Go for a 5 minute walk and think deeply about your fitness goals.  Why do you want to achieve them?  What is holding you back?  What are your priorities in life?

Monday: Try a total-body strength routine with just your bodyweight.  2 sets of 10 squats, incline push-ups, body rows and glute bridges would be enough.

Tuesday: Try another 5 minute walk.  Think about what kinds of activities you enjoy.  Did you totally hate that workout yesterday?  Why?  Did you love it, or feel just meh about it?  Why?

Wednesday: Take a couple of minutes in the middle of your workday and just focus on your breathing.  10 deep breaths.

Thursday: Let's go for another walk!  What about 10 minutes this time?  Think about how you feel while you're walking and how you feel after.

Friday: Even if you totally hated it last time, give that bodyweight routine another go.  Take your time and think about how you feel afterwards.

Saturday: Evaluate all you did this past week.  Take some time to think about those same questions from Sunday.  Did anything change?

That's about it.

Boring as hell to read probably.  I'd bet you wouldn't lose a pound.  It's not sexy.  It's not anything I can sell.

But it is realistic.  It is a great start.  Hell if you get out the door that first day, I'm ecstatic.  Obviously you'd progress week to week.  Progress would be slow.  But it would be a far more enjoyable and tenacious experience than 5 days a week for 90 minutes while cutting out an arbitrary amount of calories.

Sustainable weight loss is about sustainable changes.  If you make a change you can't stick with forever, it may not be worth making at all.

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Sometimes a good rant involves more than a mere 1,000 word blog post.

Now, I've made plenty of those, don't get me wrong.  But I've been thinking for a while that I'd like to compile all the fitness-industry ranting in my head and put it in one neat package.  I've been doing a not-really-consistent semi-weekly series on my facebook page called "Let's Sharpen Our Bullshit Detectors!" where what usually happens is I stumble upon some particularly offending health or fitness article and dissect it for everyone's viewing pleasure.

Since they usually go pretty well, I've been planning out a short book that goes through how we can protect ourselves from all the bullshit that gets thrown at us on a day to day basis.  It will come from the perspective of the health and fitness industry (since that's what people come here to read about, and it's also my favorite subject), but you should be able to take away tools and tips to apply towards anything.

Topics that I plan on going over include:

  • The importance of skeptical thinking
  • How to read a scientific paper even when most of the jargon goes way over your head
  • Common tactics used by marketers in the health and fitness industry
  • How to improve your own critical thinking skills
  • Becoming an intelligent, rather than an emotional consumer

Here's an excerpt I've got written so far.  I'm still not sure if I'm going to make this into a series of posts or one short ebook.  Either way, I'm pretty pumped about the content and hope that you all get something fun and interesting out of it.  Drop me a comment below if you have any feedback or if there's anything in particular you'd like to have covered!

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The internet lets marketers get pretty creative when it comes to making money. In this particular example, it really looks like that is all they care about. I want you to take a note of the actual CONTENT to ADVERTISING ratio here:

Exhibit1

#1 – Slideshows

You may have noticed lately many of your favorite websites use a “slideshow” format. If you're like me, you find this very annoying. But websites do this for one main reason: more page clicks. The more viewers it appears that it has, the more money it can get from advertisers, the more people will be willing to affiliate with them and the more likely they'll be able to enter into lucrative sponsorship deals.

This also affords them the opportunity to insert in more advertisements. If you only had to view one or two pages to get all your information about 'weight loss superfoods' (or whatever the hell) instead of 29 pages, there is much less page real estate to sell. If you have to click through to a new page 29 times – and maybe even insert a full-page ad around click number 16 – that's a lot more opportunity to sell you crap.

#2 – Strong headlines

The stronger the headline, the bolder the claim, the more likely you will be to actually click through all 29 pages. More page clicks = more money. If the headline was something more realistic, such as “A few nutrient-dense foods that, eaten in combination with an exercise plan and reasonable-calorie diet, may promote weight loss,” there is a real good chance you won't care enough to muck your way through all 29 pages of advertisement opportunity.

#3 – Do Our Advertising For Us

Didn't you just love this article? Share it with all of your friends who may have missed it so that we can get more page clicks.”

Now, this isn't a bad thing. If you love an article, a product, a particular group, sharing is a great way to help them continue to do whatever it is they do. But just recognize that is what you're doing – and always be aware of what you're sharing.

If you clicked to share this article, what are you really promoting? Did you actually get a lot of useful information out of the slideshow? (Did you actually make it all the way through?) Do you support whatever Health's general mission statement is? Do you want to look like the kind of person who is into being really healthy, and the best way you can do that is showing everyone on facebook how much you love “superfoods”? Before you click, think about these things.

Be a knowledgeable consumer, not an emotional one.

#4 – Seriously, click through to the next page. And share us on facebook.

Having multiple opportunities to share / stay on the website increases your chance of doing so. This leads to more page views for Health.

#5 – Did we mention we're on facebook? And twitter? And pinterest? And instagram?

Following Health on one or more leads to more page views.

#6 – Other links in the same category

The vast majority of blogs do this. If you label a post as a certain category, such as “nutrition,” you can have a list at the bottom or the side that shows other past posts from you under “nutrition.” They already know you're interested in it, so you'll be more likely to continue clicking through the website. More page views = more money.

#7 – Affiliate programs

Affiliate programs are a popular way for bloggers to make money. Amazon has a very large affiliate program, and in the fitness world it's not hard to find a product or program to affiliate with. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is good to know as a consumer that Health would make money if you purchased that product.

#8 – Paid Advertisements

I don't think I would have thought to make that tiny space an advertising spot. I guess that's why I'm not in marketing!

These are the straight-forward ads. The company or group directly gives Health money for page real estate. Simple!

#9 – Beware the “free”

Here is why Health wants to give you free stuff:

  • So that you sign up for 2 free issues of the magazine which requires your credit card information, thinking that you'll just use them and leave once you get your free stuff.
  • But then you actually just forget and end up paying $50 before you even remember you didn't want the magazine in the first place.

Conclusion

Just look at the content to advertising ratio on this page. You get 2 paragraphs with nothing but buzzwords in return for 9 opportunities to give Health money. And if you think that's only because it was the introduction page, here is the next slide:

Exhibit1b

Oh, a paragraph devoid of anything substantial followed by a link to a recipe on your website? How long you must have spent researching this piece! What a cornucopia of value for me!

There's a bit of a "chicken or egg" argument about certain marketing tactics.  The dual argument will go as such:

"The media just give us what we want.  We fear being unattractive or appearing old, and they prey on those already existing fears with weight-loss products and wrinkle creams."

Or,

"The media makes us think that being old is a bad thing.  By rarely portraying women over 40 in big productions, or women who are more than a size 2, they make us think that being old or fat are bad.  We get that message, then advertisements and other marketing tools drill it in by selling us products to solve a non-existent problem." 

I admit myself, I am not sure which camp I agree with.  Both seem plausible to me.  Some will bring up evolution as a way to say that the desire to appear young and healthy (aka, not overweight) is bred into us.  The more you look to be between 18 - 35, the more likely you are to be fertile, the more attracted potential mates are to you.

(Of course, I could perhaps buy that for the 'old' argument, but considering overweight and even obese women were literally idolized in the past, I'm not sure about that particular side of the argument. )

I used to have a client who was a big advertising executive.  I was always fascinated by his job and we'd spend time in between squat sets talking about his work.  He told me one day about one of his biggest challenges in marketing.  His company had a client trying to sell a television that was much more expensive and vastly inferior to their competition.  Off to a great start, right?

He detailed to me about one common advertising tactic: present your product as a solution to a problem, regardless of if your particular product is actually a better solution, or even if that problem is an actual problem.  They made a marketing campaign that promoted this particular TV as stylish enough for your wife to approve putting in the living room, but with a picture great enough to capture every bead of sweat on your favorite quarterback's face.

And, it worked.  They sold the majority of their stock and even outperformed their competition - who recall, had a superior product for a cheaper cost.

Does that sound familiar?  You can probably think of a few products and commercials you've seen use that same tactic.  Here is a completely made-up problem used to sell deodorant for example:

How have we managed for SO LONG to live without a special deodorant to deal with the super-special STRESS SWEAT?  That one was just an obvious example.  What about cellulite?  Another made-up problem with no 'solution' to date (aside from losing overall bodyfat), but that doesn't stop some of the most ridiculous advertisements I've ever seen from stepping in to "help":

LOBSTER WEIGHT LOSS TECHNOLOGY AHAHA THIS IS FUNNY SO WHY AM I CRYING??

LOBSTER WEIGHT LOSS TECHNOLOGY AHAHA THIS IS FUNNY SO WHY AM I CRYING?? (click to zoom in.  It's still hard to read the label - there's probably a reason for that.  That reason of course being that it says 'lobster weight loss inspired technology.')

Anyway, all of this is building up towards a discussion on an article I found in Self this month titled "Old Talk is the New Fat Talk."  I took the liberty to snap a few quotes from it that I found particularly controversial:

Hypocrisy

I'm going to go ahead and get a couple of issues I have about this out of the way that don't have to do with the content of the article.

  • Right before this article there were 5 pages dedicated towards how to look hot after you finish your workout.
  • Before that there was an article about how you should really consider using sandwich bread instead of a pita pocket for your lunch so that you could save yourself 50 precious calories.
  • And earlier in the magazine was a page dedicated to the #1 exercise to get a flatter belly, as if such a thing could even exist.

Now that doesn't mean the content of this article isn't worth reading.  After all, the author of this could have nothing to do with whatever else is put in the magazine.  Maybe she's as disgusted with the surrounding content as I am - who knows?  But don't the editors see the irony?  In reality it probably doesn't matter too much.  Just something to point out.

But let's take a look at some of those quotes:

"Now women are viewed as sex objects for a much greater portion of their life span."

Why is that?  Is it true that in the past when you hit your 50's you went from sex-object to dignified elder?  Or did you simply drop off the face of the earth, as many women in entertainment do now?  Which is better?  Here are some stats I took from a documentary (Miss Representation - starting at 0:58:00).  I tried to find their source but couldn't - I've emailed them to try and get where the stats came from, but here is what they claim:

  • Women in their teens, 20's and 30's comprise 39% of the population.
  • Yet, they are 71% of female characters on television.
  • Women 40 and older are 47% of the population.
  • Yet are only 26% of female characters on television.

"Thanks for that Madonna."

Is it that Madonna has somehow retained all of her youth naturally, or has she had to use a liberal amount of photoshop in her promotions to appear young so that we will still recognize her talent?  Is it really her fault?

Note, there is NOTHING WRONG with the former picture.  Oh no, she has some wrinkles.  BECAUSE SHE'S FIFTY-FIVE.

"Here's the deal: You're gonna obsess, whether it's about gray hair or cellulite or something else entirely."

Why would you even write that?  Why on EARTH should you just accept that you're going to obsess about your appearance?  Doesn't that sound like something you should, I dunno, work on?

Here we have a magazine that perpetuates our obsession, attempting to normalize that obsession as though it's just human nature to worry about whether you have thighs that touch or not, or whatever the latest body-flaw obsession is fashionable these days.

"...if you truly don't like the way you look or feel, use your vanity to inspire you to take steps towards a healthier life..."

What if you take those steps towards a healthier life and still don't end up as the perfected ideal you are presented, which is likely going to happen?  You're perfectly healthy, but still have cellulite, as normal human beings tend to have.  According to Self, whelp, you're just doomed to a life of fruitless obsession.

So, Self, I get what you're trying to say.  It's unhealthy to obsess over these pointless little things.  It's normal to age, it's normal to have cellulite.  But apparently they have reached the conclusion that worrying about these things is simply an inevitable consequence of being female.

They do a pretty good job of perpetuating that.

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I'd love to hear your thoughts.  What really causes these impossible ideals?  Do marketers use liberal photoshop because if Madonna didn't look picture perfect we wouldn't buy as many of her albums?  Or were we conditioned by the same marketers to expect that ideal so that the idol in question seems more awesome to us?

Are we given wrinkle creams because we inherently don't want to look old, or are we told not to look old and thus given wrinkle creams?  Does it matter which came first?  Should it make our strategies for overcoming this different?  What do you think?

Find all the segments of my review in one easy place - The Book Review tab at the top!

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So, there you have it.  All 20 rules.  So simple right?  All you have to remember is 20 simple, easy rules.  Wait, what was rule #9 again?  Uhh...wait he said that I can eat sweet potatoes right?  I think so...but there was something about not having them at...lunch?  Dinner?  For the first month?

THIS IS NOT SIMPLE.

THIS IS NOT NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Look, there is some decent advice in this book.  Eat vegetables, sleep well, protein is important, yeah, that's all well and good.  But what I found most amusing about this book is that he never mentioned the only ACTUAL non-negotiable rule for weight loss:

You must eat fewer calories than you expend.

He gave it lip service, and actually he does have ridiculous calorie ranges for men and women that I'll go over in a second.  But none of the non-negotiable rules are actually non-negotiable.  I think that's really the take-away from this.

These are some ideas to use for your own weight-loss journey at best.  At worst they're unnecessary, misinformed, neurosis-inducing pointless diet advice.  The only reason that there are 20 rules is to give it a little 'Harper' flair and make it seem like he has something unique to say.  He doesn't.  This book is 99% bullshit.

Bonus Section - Part II Introduction

So, the 20 rules actually are only about 1/3rd of the contents of the book.  The rest is fluff with recipes and menu plans and other junk I'm not going to cover.  However, the first 3 pages of Part II are rather silly, so I thought I'd get into it a little bit.

"...you'll know what to do when you find yourself in this pickle: Janie's serving tacos and rice for dinner tonight, but it's not your splurge night.  You'll remind yourself...[don't go to Janie's].  Rule 4!"

Yes, this sounds like a recipe for a wonderful and fulfilling life - ignore social invitations because they don't fit into your pointlessly-rigid diet!  What fun!

"...when you're about to try to convince yourself...you should just eat breakfast when you get to work...you'll remember Rule 14.  And you'll not only eat something nutritious before you leave, you'll also set the alarm a little earlier for tomorrow."

Oh really?  Will you?  Just like magic huh?  Or will you more than likely NOT eat breakfast because you're not prepared, then feel guilty about it all day for no reason at all, and then decide that this weight loss thing just isn't for you?

"For now, you've got to eat like I do."

Ugh.  This is EXACTLY the line to look out for when trying to determine if someone is full of shit or not.  If someone is trying to convince you that you MUST eat like they do or else you will not succeed with <insert goal here>, then it's probably time to look elsewhere for advice.  There is no one-size-fits-all diet.

"Guys need to keep their daily calories around 2,000.  Women have to aim for 1,200."

Aaghasdfouhsadfa.  1,200 calories a day are you fucking joking?

Please, stop listening to Bob Harper.

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Chapter / Rule 17 - Eat Your Vegetables - Just Do It!

It's finally happened.  I found a chapter that I have basically no greivences with.  Vegetables are swell.  They can taste good if you learn to cook them right.  I agree with all this.

...What do I do now?  What do I use this space for?  No witty or sarcastic disagreements.  No silly pictures with ridiculous captions.  I got nothing.

Moral: Vegetables are a lovely weight loss tool.  They aren't magic, but they are very filling and tend to help you eat less, while simultaneously being nutritious.  Going to go sit in a corner and re-evaluate my life now.

Chapter / Rule 18 - Go To Bed Hungry

Oh good, something for me to vehemently disagree with.  I was a little concerned for my mental health after that last chapter there.  Let's take this opportunity to point out some really stupid quotes:

"...overweight people are often lonely and anxious; eating before bed is nerve-settling, comforting."

Well that sounds like a bit of an over-generalization...

"The absence of carbs in your bloodstream will let your body produce the hormones it needs for better sleep."

Come again?

In fact, in looking up what he could be talking about, I came across many articles that encouraged eating carbs before bed to help you get to sleep.  If you use Harper's logic about no carbs after lunch, it would make sense.  He says in that chapter that carbs make you sleepy.  So...why am I going to bed hungry again?  Sounds like a perfect occasion to eat cake to me.

This is me about 10 minutes post-Thanksgiving dessert.

"Denied fuel for more than 5 hours, your body will start burning its own fat and sugar.  That means that, if your dinner was at 8PM, you're burning fat by 1AM."

Again....what?

Your body doesn't work that simplistically.  It's not about trying to trick your body's processes into burning ONLY FAT EVER - it's about letting it do its own thing while just giving it a little less fuel total than it needs.  And that little less fuel could be done over the course of a day, over the course of a week, month, year, whatever.

And in any case, your body is probably burning mostly fat while you're sitting at your computer reading this.  It's just not burning very much of it.  Because you're just sitting around.  Same for when you're sleeping.

It doesn't even matter if your body is burning fat or glycogen anyway.  If you have eaten less than you need to function, your body will eventually get around to losing fat, whether you burned away fat directly or you burned out some glycogen stores.  IT DOES NOT MATTER.

So that 'fat-burning' zone on the treadmill?  You can forget about it.  Becoming 'fat-adapted'?  Pointless.  Calories reign supreme.

Moral: Going to bed hungry is not something we should aspire to.   When you are aspiring to the lifestyle forced upon people who can't afford food, you should really re-think your choices.

Chapter / Rule 19 - Sleep Right

Oh no...it's happening again.  A chapter I generally agree with.  Umm...okay...what did I do here last time.   Just cut straight to the moral.  Right.  But this time I'll add in a cute puppy:

Taken from 16-horsepower.tumblr.com

 Moral: Sleep is good.  It will make your weight-loss efforts easier to stick with.  You'll feel better, have more energy to do that exercise thing, and be less apt to over-eat the next day.  Sleep rules.

Chapter / Rules 20 - Plan One Splurge Meal a Week

One thing I do like about this chapter is that Harper concedes that there are many people who disagree with this rule.  It's easy when you've been restricting all week to have your cheat meal turn into a binge meal.  It would hardly be your fault.

Coming from someone who used to do things similar to this, it makes eating for me highly stressful.  The cheat meal is even stressful.  There are a million things I can't eat anymore, so what do I want to indulge in?  It was like trying to answer a trick question - if I didn't get exactly what I was craving (which was everything), I'd have to wait A WHOLE EXTRA WEEK to get it.  Pizza?  Ice cream?  Chinese food?  A sandwich?  Any dessert?  YES TO ALL OF THE ABOVE OM NOM NOM NOM.

I'm using this picture again because I love it.  OM NOM NOM NOM!

I'm using this picture again because I love it. OM NOM NOM NOM!

Then I'd feel guilty anyway.

So yeah, cheat meals don't work well with my brain.

But, again, that's me.  Just like Harper states, it has worked for him and his clients.  Doesn't mean it will work for you, and that's okay.

But either way, there are a few rules he gives even to your cheat meals:

  • No liquid calories except red wine
  • Make sure to count your calories anyway
  • Try to make your splurge at lunch or breakfast.  If it's dinner, make it before 7.
  • Only drink water, and don't get any of the bread.
  • No fast food.

This cheat meal certainly has an awful lot of caveats.  Some cheat.

Moral: Cheat days aren't for everyone.  They certainly aren't for me.  But, if it works for you, keep on keepin' on.