Seems like a silly question, no? We live in an era where information is available within a few keystrokes, and certainly, the Internet is rife with health and fitness info.

And yet, people are confused. The fact is, there are so many contradictory and/or vague recommendations out in the ether that the overall impression is that no one really knows anything.

A study by Rebekah Nagler (reference below), published in the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, highlights this problem. Nagler determined that in the face of too much contradictory information, consumers understandably get confused and as a result ignore not only the contradictions — since they can’t figure out which is correct — but also the long-standing well-documented information, such as increasing intake of vegetables and some fruits. Presenting contradictions destroys the credibility of all recommendations.

And if you think that scientists don’t truly know what’s healthy and what’s not, the news media exacerbates the confusion. Science writing leaves a lot to be desired, and editors often present an over-processed, over-simplified explanation of study results, topped off with sensational headlines. People, this isn’t entertainment. This is science. But in the race for “likes”, media outlets want to reel in as many viewers/readers as possible.

So let’s extrapolate a bit to weight loss recommendations, a hot topic these days. People often repeat the mantras of, “I should eat better” and “I need to exercise more”. But what exactly do those mean? If you ask twelve different personal trainers — the professionals most likely to be sought for aid in “getting in shape”, another amorphous concept — you’ll likely get twelve different answers. Paleo vs. vegan? Moderate, consistent walking vs. high intensity interval training? P90X vs. Crossfit? Low-carb vs. low-fat? Which one is best? Or even more controversially, which one is healthiest? An “it depends” doesn’t work in a world where everyone wants a specific answer, and NOW. But really, it depends. 

The fact is, as far as food recommendations are concerned, the easy part is knowing you should lose the Doritos and drive-thru visits. The hard part is dodging the incoming missiles that tell you to eat bacon instead of whole grains, drink raw (i.e., unpasturized) milk, ignore vegetables because eating them is unnecessary, etc. Often, these recommendations go against the guidelines currently touted by the US government, which leads to an uncomfortable realization that what we thought was a good source of information is not trustworthy.

Or is it?

Or rather, is there anyone out there who really, truly doesn’t have a financial stake in this?

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Reference:

Nagler, R.H. (2014). Adverse outcomes associated with media exposure to contradictory nutrition messages. J Health Commun. 19(1): 24-40.

What message does this send?

As the primary food-shopper for my family, I catch up on all the latest gossip by the grocery store check-out counter where I have nothing better to do than read magazine headlines and contemplate my navel.

While I was standing in line today, the cover of Woman’s World caught my eye, specifically the diet plan that they’re peddling this week. Rejoice, America, it’s the Food-Lovers’ Diet! As a behaviorist, I don’t even know where to start telling you how wrong this is. And please, don’t jump on me for taking the fun out of eating. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know how I feel about pimping food as entertainment. That doesn’t mean meals can’t taste good and be satisfying, but part of our struggle with our weight stems from the fact that many of us are in LOVE with food and use it to soothe ourselves. We’ve taken our relationship with what we eat to a whole new level of emotional dependence.

I want you to consider the images on the cover. The toffee bars and frosted cupcakes seem so sinful and decadent, and if we can eat them and lose weight, YAY!!! Although the article itself may tout reduced-calorie versions of those desserts, what that cover suggests is that we shouldn’t have to cut back on the foods, laden with sugar and fat, that we’ve been told contribute to the obesity epidemic.

What if you need to lose more than nine pounds? 😛

We are clinging to the expectation that there’s no need to change our eating behaviors. The scammers will feed us that idea in order to sell “miracle” weight loss products (or copies of magazines) knowing that we so desperately want to believe there’s an easy fix.  Someone who doesn’t even read the full article will, consciously or not, register that there’s still some other “more permissive” way of dropping pounds than giving your body the nutritional respect that it needs through clean eating. People are dutifully waiting for the holy grail of diets to fall from the skies — or be delivered by aliens — and turn the weight loss world upside down.

For long term success in getting blubber to go buh-bye you have to inventory your eating habits. If you’re trying to shoehorn “treats” into your eating plan on a daily basis, you’re squeezing out more nutritious food. If you constantly tell yourself that you “deserve” to indulge, what are you saying when you try to limit the indulgences? That you don’t deserve them, that you’re not worth it. And feeling worthless is not a great mindset with which to embark on a fat loss journey.

What you do deserve is a fighting chance at improving your health. Not letting go of the behaviors that packed on the pounds will not get you there.

This is for squatting. If you're moving your arms and not your legs, you're not squatting.

First, for all the gym novices out there: the photo to the right is a squat rack. If you do biceps curls there, everyone’s going to think you’re a moron. If you’re not sure where the E-Z-curl bars are, please ask the facility personnel.

About 16 years ago I bought my first pair of weights: they were 3-lb dumbbells coated in green plastic. One of my best friends had been certified as a personal trainer and was trying to get me away from the obsessive lap swimming that was my life. She took me to her gym, ran me through some exercises. But you know what? I didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand the concept of training with weights because it seemed to burn too few calories. I was into distance swimming, several miles a day (and yes, I counted in miles). I wouldn’t even bother getting into the water if I only had time for a mile. In that case, I’d run about five miles and call it a “workout”.

The name of the game was burning calories. So lifting weights seemed pointless. Muscle-building? Why? I was almost 6-ft tall! The last thing I wanted was to be even bigger.

I didn’t GET IT.

It wasn’t until a few years later, after recurrent ear infections from constantly being wet, that the entire concept hit me, but it took several stages to get there. I started out with machines, then free weights, and soon I wasn’t happy unless I was intimidating the poor guy trying to work in with me.

My point is, we have to start somewhere. Most gym novices have little to no idea of what to do, particularly those of us who grew up in the aerobics era when arm-flapping was all the rage. Training wisdom is not encoded on our genes. While I feel that guidance from a knowledgeable trainer is more cost-effective than wandering through the twists and turns of the fitness information wilderness, most people won’t hire one (and, frankly, some trainers don’t deserve to be hired). They’ll search for info on the Internet, and maybe 50% of what they learn will be WRONG, depending on where they go.

Then they’ll go to the gym and end up as the ridiculed subject of blog posts.

Many people who are giving up on their resolutions right now will soon revert to their old habits, convinced that “weight loss” or “getting in shape” is too complicated, and will search for an easier way to go about it. And believe me, they’ll find it in the form of detox fasts, “shake weights” and magical fitness breakthrough pills that promise results without the effort. In a sense, when someone tries and fails going about it the ‘right way’ (um, what exactly is that?), they provide fodder for the scammers. These outrageous products wouldn’t exist if there weren’t a market for them. If you’re a trainer and not frustrated by the amount of misinformation on the ‘net, wake up. That’s your competition out there.

Next time I’m at a training facility and see someone curling in the squat rack, I won’t chuckle to myself. I’m going to gently and quietly tell them they look like an idiot and point them in the right direction. I urge you to do the same. The truth may hurt, but if you go about it the right way, someday they’ll thank you for it.