I ranted on the frustration of misinformation in the fitness industry a few weeks ago, and I suppose, in a way, this post is just the continuation of that. Every day I get questions about products, workouts, foods, and supplements that purport to be “healthy” or “quick fixes” to weight loss or “the last diet you’ll ever need.”
Trust me, if any of that stuff was true and valid (for everyone/anyone/at a reasonable price point), there would be a helluva lot more healthy, fit people walking around these days.
That is NOT to say that there are not certain things that are better than others when it comes to how you spend your health and fitness dollars, and I want to highlight a few of the most common ones I get asked about along with my convenient rating system.
Here’s the deal, folks – for each product/service, I am going to rate both the level of GIMMICK and the level of actual UTILITY. The reason I want to separate these two things is because sometimes, the two can come together in glorious harmony, as in my beloved Orangetheory Fitness, while in other cases, they are completely in opposition, such as the over-hyped (and IMO, unsafe) SoulCycle.
Let’s get started, shall we?
GREEN (AND OTHER MAGIC) POWDERS / GIMMICK SCORE: 8/10; UTILITY SCORE 8/10
I wrote an entire entry on the “magic dusts” that are the lifeblood of L.A.’s Moon Juice Cafe; recently a reader asked me a similar question about green powders (like the one above). The basic concept is this – you take all the good things out of vegetables, you put them into a powder, you drink the powder and BOOM – it’s like you ate the vegetables.
Higher-quality green powders do in fact provide some nutrient value – much like high-quality protein powders do in fact provide dietary protein. The key thing to remember here is that green powders are better at providing micronutrients – think things like certain vitamins (be careful not to get TOO much of certain ones, like vitamin A), and some minerals – rather than all the great things a rainbow of fruits and veggies provide, such as water content, fiber, and non-green benefits (like beta-carotene).
I will always – always! – reiterate the mantra of REAL FOOD FIRST, meaning you absolutely do not need pills, powders, or anything that didn’t grow out of the ground to stay perfectly healthy and fit.
WAIST TRAINERS / GIMMICK SCORE: 10/10; UTILITY SCORE 3/10
Or should I say “waste (of time)” trainers? Eh? Eh?
Ok, seriously though. Let’s take an honest gander at the image above and what do you see? A medieval-era throwback to a corset, except these bad boys are rubberized (to maximise sweat-related water loss, and no I’m not kidding) and close shut with metal.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t just skip over the whole explanation and give this one a utility score of 0, get ready to be aghast – I actually used one to shrink my own waist once, and it actually sort of worked (!).
In terms of short-term squeezing and sweating your skin into a particular shape for a particular dress, it works. In terms of trying to permanently reduce the size or change the shape of your midsection for anything longer than a couple weeks, it doesn’t. And there’s a ton of evidence that these things are dangerous, pointless, and ineffective.
SHAPE-UPS & “FITNESS” SHOES / GIMMICK SCORE 9/10; UTILITY SCORE 1/10
Look at that shoe. Just LOOK at it. I don’t care if the godawful thing gave you Blake Lively legs; I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing this monstrosity of a wedge with any public audience.
The concept here, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is that you walk in these “Shape Up” shoes all day and they rock your foot back and forth as you do, forcing your body to “use more energy” (the industry jargon for BURN CALORIES! LOSE WEIGHT! GET SKINNY!) and thus become fit.
Not only is there less-than-zero evidence for the “toning” effects of these rockin’ shoes, the unstable nature of the soles mean they’re not even fit for actual running or any sort of vigorous exercise, simply as a safety concern. If a client of mine walked into my gym with these on their feet, I’d rather they work out barefoot.
AB-TONING BELTS / GIMMICK SCORE 9/10; UTILITY SCORE 2/10
My dear brother sent over an inquiry about this one after having watched a (very convincing, I must say) infomercial on the product. Do ZERO exercise? ZERO crunches?And STILL get abs? LET’S ALL GET ONE!
Oh wait, no. Because the caveat still remains: you can contract your abs a thousand times a day and STILL not have tight, visible muscles there. Great abs don’t come from contracting the muscle (although of course, you have to do some of that, too). They come from decreasing overall body fat to a point where it is low enough that the central muscles are visible – and this takes a very clean, lean diet and lots of (general) exercise.
The reason I gave this one a slightly lower gimmick score than the waist trainer is simply because it AT LEAST has some science behind it – there is ONE credible study of these machines that shows some moderate self-reported results. But the fact remains: a belt like this does not deliver what it promises, and it sure won’t outweigh a bad diet.
MORINGA PILLS / GIMMICK SCORE 5/10; UTILITY SCORE 7/10
Finally, a quick note on supplements in general: I distrust them. Even though I use a few myself (protein powder to hit my macros; BCAAs for better recovery; fish oil for Omega-3 support), I don’t recommend them to clients unless they are absolutely necessary (for example, a vegetarian anemic that might truly need an iron pill).
I want to separate “moringa” as a general supplement (which is what I assess here) from the brand-named Zija Moringa, which is a weight loss diet built on small doses of the actual supplement alongside larger doses of things like protein powder, caffeine, and a whole host of other fillers and crap to make it seem like it’s a legit thing (it’s not).
Moringa itself has some compelling scientific research backing marketers’ claims about its use as a “superfood” and “miracle cure.” It has some proven antioxidant value and is more nutritious than kale when eaten raw (but um….maybe isn’t QUITE as tasty, to say the least). More interestingly, there is some preliminary research suggesting it can slow or reverse the onset of Type 2 Diabetes and certain cancers (such as liver and kidney), meaning this so-called “gimmick” could actually become a valid medicine with a few more decades of well-funded study and double-blind research – I’ll sure be staying tuned.
Do you use/swear by something for your health that others consider a “gimmick” – and if so, why? Have you ever been “underwhelmed” by a health & fitness product you tried?