5 Rules to Keep in Mind Before Buying Weight Loss Products or Programs
When I initially posted about starting the Slow-Carb diet, I was cautiously optimistic. As anybody else who starts a new diet or weight-loss program, I was hopeful that it would work, and that I'd be able to shed a few pounds. Even so, there was always still a bit of doubt in my mind as to whether or not it would work as desired.
After all, how many diet plans oversell their promises for the sake of getting new people to try it? It seems to be the MO of nutritional supplement brands, diet plans, and wellness brands to oversell on what their products can do only to under deliver on the results.
For example, I recently saw a thermogenic product online that was rated really highly for it's abilities to enable users to lose more weight passively by increasing their resting metabolic rate. Most of the reviews were by people saying that they were shedding weight quickly, and were happy with the results. Assuming they were real people, I hope that that's true for their sakes! At the same time, the realest sounding comments also included a mention of lower portion sizes, high amounts of cardio, or intense workout routines.
I'm intentionally avoiding naming the brand or linking to its products because I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure that someone has invested a lot of time and money into building that brand, and I'm not going to bash their hard work. However, the reviews highlight one of the biggest issues in marketing wellness brands, and that is a confusion about correlation and causality.
If I were to start chewing on oak leaves every morning at 4AM as a part of my new workout plan, and followed my leaf chewing with 2 hours of HIIT (high-intensity interval training), as I started to see progress in fat loss and muscle gain, I could accurately say that there's a correlation between my leaf chewing and weight loss as well as my HIIT and weight loss. Correlation shows that two things happen concurrently, but not necessarily because of each other. The issue is that if I were to market 4AM leaf chewing as the next big workout craze, I would position it as causation.
"I'm losing weight and I'm getting up at 4AM to chew on leaves" is correlation.
"I'm losing weight because I'm getting up at 4AM to chew on leaves" is causation.
So many diet plans use causal language that it can be hard to believe what's true and what's hyperbole. As a general rule of thumb, when a brand advertises a clear line between their products and your weight loss success, they're seeking to angle their products as the causes of whatever weight loss or wellness successes you encounter along the way.
The thing is, even if their products do have an impact on your fitness journey, chances are they can't take all the credit.
For example, someone who is willing to spend $90/month on a dietary supplement has some skin in the game. That significant monthly expense is going to stand out in their mind, or at least linger in their subconscious. Throughout their day, they're more likely to have thoughts like "oh, I should skip the chips because I don't want to undo the benefits of my supplements" or "I've been sitting for a while, so maybe I should help these supplements out by getting up and doing a little exercise."
In situations like these, it's important to recognize that even if the supplements are helping, the actions that the user is taking are also helping. Both the supplements and the changes in activity level are going to correlate to the user's success, and it would be bad science to suggest that any individual thing was the cause of their success.
How To Tell if A Wellness Plan or Product is Legit
One of the reasons the Slow-Carb diet appealed to me is because Tim Ferriss directly addressed overpromising and the causation-correlation debate in his description of the diet plan. As someone who comes from the dietary supplement industry, he knew the tricks and ploys that these types of companies used to get people to use their products. This transparency and empathy was then used a way of leading into why the Slow-Carb diet he's designed doesn't fit into these models.
As promising as that is, being a marketer, I was still leery. Why? Well, establishing an empathetic connection with your audience is another really common sales tactic: I was [fill in the blank], just like you. But then I discovered [fill in blank], and everything changed. No ploys, no gimmicks. Just results.
To be honest, the part that sold me on the Slow-Carb diet was the fact that Tim Ferriss wasn't going to make any money off of me trying the Slow-Carb diet unless it worked.
I had already bought The 4-Hour Body, so Tim wasn't going to be making more money off of me by trying the Slow-Carb diet. There weren't any branded products I had to buy, referrals I needed to make, or subscription fee to pay. If I wanted to do it, I just had to go to the grocery store and buy the right ingredients.
As a general rule of thumb, that is one of the biggest tools in your arsenal for evaluating whether or not a weight loss product or program is good. If you have to continually pay more and more in order to see results, chances are it's a pay-to-play program that's designed to make someone wealthy rather than to make you healthy.
Not only was Ferriss' Slow-Carb plan pitched in a way that I understood that the benefit of the diet would be for me, rather than for his bank account (which I am sure is totally fine as it already is), but the actual plan that he outlined made sense and I could understand and identify the components.
This is another aspect of diet and wellness plans that trips so many people up, especially when it comes to supplements. I'm not the type of person that says "if you can't pronounce it, don't consume it," because there are some inorganic compounds that are absolutely wonderful (point in case, Escitalopram is my saving grace). But, when it comes to weight loss, if a drug or supplement has ingredients that you have no idea what they do, even after some Google searching, and you seem to only lose weight while consuming that particular drug... chances are that's the point. You may lose weight, but only if you get hooked on those particular drugs, meaning you're going to be shelling out cash for a long time. Plus, you may start to build up a tolerance to it and have to pay for even higher doses if you want your progress to continue.
On the topic of doses and supplements that don't fully make sense, perhaps the most important thing to remember when looking into weight loss plans is pseudoscience. In the age of fake news, pseudoscience is abundant.
If a program makes no sense at first, do your research before you partake. People can be very convincing of why you should give their products or routines a try. Rhetoric is not the same thing as sound silence. It can be hard to distinguish what is valid and what will kill you, but it's an important distinction to make. A prime example of this is a wellness program called "Jilly Juice." If you haven't watched the Dr. Phil episode about it, you need to. It's a hoot.
In a nutshell, an enthusiast with no scientific background created a concoction of water, salt, and cabbage juice and instructs her cult-like followers to consume a significant amount on a daily basis; she claims that it can regrow limbs, reverse cancer, and "cure" homosexuality (among other things). It does all of this by causing you to have explosive diarrhea, dehydration, puking, and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. But, if you just listen to the creator's content about how her creation induces a process of detox and healing, you might be swayed to believe it and give it a try.
Jilly Juice is also a prime example of another tactic that brands use to sell their products: it's too good to be true.
Everybody wants to make $10,000 a month without having to work. Everybody wants to shed 10 pounds a week without exercising. Everyone wants to find their soulmate, have better sex, make more money, get their dream career, and so on and so forth. And while the end goals (making more money, getting a better career, losing weight, having better sex) are possible, if they're pitched to you with promises that you can do it incredibly cheaply, easily, and quickly... chances are that's not going to happen. A good rule of thumb in life, and especially in getting in shape, is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Finally, once you start a workout or supplement routine, pay attention to how it makes you feel. If you're just getting started at working out or increasing your daily activity levels, you're probably to be a bit sore– that's not what I'm talking about. When you're working out regularly, you'll learn to tell the difference between muscle soreness caused by muscle activation and an actual injury. When you're exercising, if you're injuring yourself, you're not doing your body any favors. Injuries lead to time away from exercising, long term health complications, and invasive surgeries.
Supplements may not tear your tendons, but they can be equally hard on your body. If you're noticing that you have consistent diarrhea, nausea, trouble sleeping, sharp mood swings, elevated heart rate, or suicidal thoughts, there's a good chance that what you're consuming is not doing your body any favors in the long run. You may be losing weight or building muscle rapidly for the time being, but if you're destroying your liver, kidneys, and intestinal tract to do so, it's not worth it. The short term improvements you see do not justify the long term benefits you can encounter.
A good workout and supplement routine is going to make you feel better, look better, and live healthier. If you're being ripped apart from the inside out or spending more time at the doctor's office than anywhere else, your workout routine is not working, regardless of what you're seeing in the short term.
If you're looking to start a new weight-loss regimen, diet, or workout routine, always keep the following in mind:
- Who does the program benefit? Are you getting something that is sustainable and benefits you, or are you lining somebody else's pocket?
- Have you researched the ingredients or components first? Is there a general consensus that what you're doing is safe, or is it mired in controversy?
- Similarly, have you been able to determine if something is rooted in actual science or pseudoscience? As a good rule of thumb, if you're unsure, there's a good chance it's pseudoscience.
- Does it sound too good to be true? If it does, it probably is. You'll have more success being realistic about your wellness goals than investing time and money into something that's making promises too big to be fulfilled.
- Don't sacrifice your long-term well-being for short term results. Ultra-intense workouts or controlled substances may give you amazing results at first, but if you're setting yourself up for long-term pain, it's not worth it. Your health and well-being needs to last a lifetime (literally). Always think in the big picture.
As a quick bonus tip/ disclaimer: always consult your physician before starting a new workout routine, diet plan, or taking a new supplement (especially if you already take prescribed medicines). Your healthcare provider– not someone on the internet trying to make a buck– is going to be your best resource if you have questions along the way.
Written by Blake Reichenbach
He/ Him/ His pronouns. Blake is a writer, gym addict, dog dad, researcher, and general life enthusiast. He's passionate about helping others reach their goals and live happier, more fulfilling lives.