Physical Fit: Powders and Programs and Pills… Oh My!

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I don’t really know about the rest of you, but I personally have noticed an uptick in the sheer volume of adverts and click baits pertaining to the weight loss and fitness realm. I don’t have any empirical evidence, but from the mere narrative perspective, there has been a virtual flood of infomercials and random articles that assault my desperate psyche every day. I shan’t even pretend to review the plethora of products out there. I actually thought of doing just that for a while. I considered actually sampling and trying various offerings from the smorgasbord of fitness fads just to see what was out there, but common sense (and lack of funds) won out on that argument and instead, I’m just going to speak in generalities and the observations I have made of the various pleas to our vanity, health, and desperation that I have made during my own journey of fitness acquisition (and no, I am by no means at my destination).

Powders

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The latest and greatest thing that has been suffusing the interwebs and social media has been the various offerings of what I will call the Power of Powders. By this, I mean the health food shakes and protein supplements and general liquid nutritional replacements that claim to support all your health and fitness goals. There are a lot of them, and they all have some similarities as well as having some significant differences as well. There are shakes to help you lose weight. There are shakes to help you build muscle. There are shakes to emphasize muscle definition. There are detoxes and microbiotics and macrobiotics and every other thing that you can imagine. Most contain some type of protein. The claim is generally that the addition of protein will satisfy the hunger on fewer calories as well as boosting the protein to fat and carbohydrate ratio of most dietary habits of the American public. Some are available at the grocery store and others from health food markets or GNC. There are others that are only available by subscription or via an agent (usually a friend or family member who becomes a vendor). The point is that all the shakes and powders generally have the purpose of replacing the solid food meals you eat with a liquid version, packaged in a tasty, milkshake-like solution. Some are actually supplemental to the normal meal intakes for people who are underweight or building mass and not getting enough protein in their normal diet.

I will not say that any of this is a bad thing. I have seen some products out there that have questionable ingredients, but for the most part, the popular varieties out there are not going to do you any harm to try them. Do they all do as they claim? Possibly. However, the important part here is to realize that we are not all of a piece, and you need to do your research (by the way, get used to reading that phrase). People are unique for the most part. We each have similarities. We are generally made of the same basic compounds and genetic codes (unless you are a mutant or have been infused with alien DNA… that is a joke, people, seriously). However, each of us probably has environmental and genetic differences that impact how we respond to various dietary elements; otherwise, we’d all be allergic to peanuts and gluten and lactose and any number of things identically. There are some people that can go completely vegan and be extraordinarily healthy… I’m not one of those… and others who to remove meat and dairy from their diets would cause all manner of problems. People have varying metabolisms and responses to how we use and store the nutrition we take into our bodies. What works for one person is not necessarily going to work for the next one. Sadly, we cannot all afford to go have genetic and dietary assessment to have a nutritionist design the perfect program just for us (wouldn’t that be nice, though). Additionally, we all have different preferences and what suits my friend over here, is not going to be my cup of tea… or coffee rather because any of you who know me are aware of exactly my preferences on that.

So, bottom line on powders? Do not judge your response to a product by how it performs with someone else. Just because Shakeology or Herbalife or Muscle Milk works for your friend, does not guarantee that it is going to be just the thing for you. It may not have the same effect, or you may not tolerate those formulas the same way. Does it mean that it’s a fraud or a scam? NO it does not. It means that the particular product is possibly not for you. Try a different one if you are intent upon a meal replacement or supplement. Just do your research. Meal replacements are governed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and usually that means they have at least passed some level of testing, but others that are considered supplements do not go through the same rigorous standards (more on that later). So, do your homework first, before your expend large sums of money, and try it for a short span (again, before you purchase a lifetime supply).

Programs

Can I just say that insomnia is possibly the worst trait if trying to resist infomercial sales pitches about fitness programs? They all sound so simple, fun… the pounds will just melt off you in just 10 minutes per day!!! Um, yeah. Not so much, people. However, that is exactly what they want you to believe, and always, it seems, at times of day or night when you are most susceptible. Again, just like with the meal replacement/supplement thing, I’m not claiming all of these programs are fraudulent. I am saying DO THE RESEARCH before dialing 1-800-LUZ-UR-ASS (yes, I know it is too many digits) at 3:00AM and giving Peggy your credit card number. I don’t care how many extra exercise bands in fluorescent pink and lime green they offer to send you if you ACT NOW!

Most of the programs or exercise equipment promise things like “So, fun you won’t even notice you are working out!” and “In a fraction of the time you would normally spend exercising you will burn a gazillion more calories!” If you don’t notice, then it probably is not going to have the results for which you are hoping. Even the least strenuous exercise that results in firmer posterior or decreased inches in your middle make you feel something… usually sore the next day for a while. That’s just part of the muscle training process. When an exercise stops feeling being an effort, it’s time to change the routine and keep the body working. Anything different takes some getting used to, and if you don’t feel a little of “the burn” you probably aren’t causing all those slow and quick twitch muscle fibers to get excited enough to burn calories. Additionally, your body will develop a tolerance to the level of activity and it may not continue to work forever (remember my Plateau piece?). So, beware of the programs that promise results without effort. Chances are that they are going to cost more than they are worth, OR the claims that you won’t notice the effort are drastically underestimated. When you cannot move the next day, those DVDs will just start collecting dust.

There are some decent programs out there for home use. One that has caught on pretty readily (thanks to some good PR, brand name recognition, and target marketing towards wrestling fans and veterans) is DDP Yoga. All the reviews indicate that the program is pretty easy to follow and provides workout that has some decent results, but you know how I found that out? I did the research and read what others were saying… the good and the bad. There are also a number of free programs with YouTube videos and subscriptions that allow you to get new workouts and articles every week, such as Fitness Blender. These usually are simple exercises that you can do at home, and generally do not take more than half an hour (sometimes less) for the whole workout. For those who prefer to go to a gym, ask if there is a trainer that works there. Many places have a trainer on staff that can help design a program to achieve the specific goals you want. Some may have a fee for that service, but others, like Planet Fitness provide this as a free service to members. So, before you dig for your wallet and phone in the wee hours at the behest of the fitness guru touting the efficacy of their Fat Burning Program GUARANTEED TO LOSE FAT, do a little research. Take some time to see what else is out there.

Pills

This one is the absolute worst, in my opinion. We have become, in American society, the pharmaceutical and supplement dream. It seems that everyone is looking for the miracle pill that will make all the negative aspects of our lives go buh-bye. And, yes, that is absolutely a generalization… broad and sweeping and probably doesn’t apply to every single individual in the country, but there are enough of them out there to make it worthwhile for the shysters, cons, and snake oil salesmen (and women) to continue their patter like side show barkers trying to draw the moths to their particular flame. Why on earth would we expend physical energy and restrict eating what we like if we can just take a pill or sprinkle something on our food and make that food skip the storage as fat portion of the program? Sure would be a whole lot easier, right?

Remember how I said I was going to talk more about supplements and the FDA issue? Yeah, this is that portion of the program. Many of the miracle pills and solutions that are advertised for fat loss and weight loss fall into the category of a supplement. They have been categorized as such rather than as a medication or a food which would be governed by the FDA. Again, I’m not going to go through the enormous list of various pills that have been advertised as “fat-melting” or “appetite suppressing”. Most of the time, these little gems are either diuretics (meaning they make you pee, thereby losing water weight), have a form of stimulant suppressing appetite (and making you pee), or have some sort of fat blocking compound that causes your body to excrete said fat (think Olean and some of the “anal leakage” tales). Others are cocktails of vitamins and caffeine that rev your energy levels (if you don’t mainline coffee like I do). Many are pretty harmless for the normal healthy adult, but sometimes, not so much.

Usually, when it comes to the miracle pills, the advertisement or infomercial will spout a mouthful of jargon and sciency-sounding hogwash that includes actual chemicals in the body like Leptin or Ghrelin and pontificate upon some theory of how the manipulation thereof will result in dramatic body-composition changes. Occasionally, there will be some repackaged manure about high levels of Vitamin D or B or Omega 3 compounds for which they will give you a free trial (you just pay shipping and handling), and can cancel at any time if it doesn’t work. What’s the harm in that? None at all, except that they frequently charge your card astronomical sums of money when you forget to cancel the automatic refill and the shipping and handling probably paid more than the cost of manufacturing and shipping. Additionally, because they have classified their product as a supplement, they may not have been over-careful about adherence to health regulations. Be cautious. Sing it with me all together, now… DO YOUR RESEARCH! Be wary of claims that seem miraculous and contrary to the laws of physics and nature. Listen for phrases like “It is impossible to lose weight without this product!” If it sounds too good to be true, guess what? It probably is.

Click-Baits

What are they? They are those eye-catching headlines or lines in your social media feed that say “5 FOODS NEVER TO EAT WILL LOSE BELLY FAT” or “MY SECRET TO LOSING 30 POUNDS IN A MONTH” or “THE HOLLYWOOD SECRET THAT NO ONE WANTS YOU TO KNOW!” We’ve all seen them. Most of us have clicked on them at least once… well, I have, and I’m not too proud to admit it. The problem is that when you get in there, it is all of the stuff I have mentioned above: Some eye-catching pseudo-science with a trustworthy person in a white lab coat talking about their amazing breakthrough that the government doesn’t want you to know, or maybe even some snazzy animated illustrations to explain how their product or program or powder blocks your fat-making body and will turn you into a god/goddess.

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In the modern era where obesity has become a disease that everyone seems to catch (at least in western society and the “first world”), people become frustrated and desperate to lose weight and conform to the modern, western view of beauty. The charlatans of the world prey on that desperation and know that most of the people in the world who have been frustrated by their own attempts will not do their own research and prefer a nice packaged version that is easy to digest and understand… and of course will not require too much time and effort on their part. As my friend says, humans will eat the candy if it is packaged prettily and put before them. So many people want an easy way. Others have tried and failed so many times that they are willing to believe in anything if it will let them have some success in their weight loss and fitness efforts.

Ideally, everyone out there should do the work, read the research, understand what they are reading, and try different things until they find the right formula that works for them. But that takes time. That takes effort, and too many people want someone to boil it down to a simple format. They prefer for someone else to take all the available science, assimilate it, simplify it, and regurgitate it in a readily understandable form. Most of the time, the result is crap; boiled-down stinky crap. Weight loss and physical fitness have become the spiritualism movement of the 21st Century. It isn’t all fraud out there, but you need to debunk the stuff that the charlatans are dishing out. Do the work. Read product reviews (somewhere other than the website owned by the seller or company manufacturing the product). Sift through the technobabble and garbage science, and look for the reputable. Also, watch the customer testimonials. These are generally the most dramatic changes and chosen for that reason. If you read the fine print, you will often see “Results vary” or “Results not typical”. For people who had more than 100 pounds to lose, frequently any change of lifestyle to something healthier will prove more dramatic than for those who have a few pounds to shave off.

Remember, not all the powders, products, and pills (even if they are legit) will work for everyone. So, be savvy and cautious and get fit in a healthy way, AND check in with your primary care physician before starting out on any fitness or weight loss lifestyle change.

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