Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Don't Believe the Hype!

Being a dietitian is one of the best jobs.  I love meeting new people, telling them what I do and then, like magic, they start to talk to me about the latest new diet they are on, hoping to hear my vote of approval.  The only approval they usually get is a smile, a nod and simple comment, "That's nice." I also love just walking around and seeing all the ads and products out there that entice us to lose weight with minimal effort.  Being a dietitian is not just about having good counseling skills, you have to have a little myth busting skills also. This past week I had two different experiences that were great examples of what I described above.

Photo Courtesy of
First off, my family and I ventured to the local mall on Saturday night.  It's 100+ degrees where we live and my wife and I figured we'd give our A/C a rest and head over to the mall for dinner and some people watching.  As we were strolling along, I came across one of those kiosks they have set up in the middle of the mall.  This particular one was selling a vibrating platform exercise machine (left).  Naturally, I had to stop and take a look.  My myth busting sensors were going berserk. Could standing on a vibrating platform really deliver all the benefits they promised?  They claim that you can replace your 60 minute workout with just 10 minutes on the vibration exercise machine and "melt" the fat away.  The machine is simple, you stand on the platform and it vibrates from side to side.  In order to maintain your balance you contract your muscles multiple times per minute.  The constant contracting creates a feeling like your muscles have exerted themselves but are you getting the same benefit from other forms of exercise?  From what I've found here, here and here, the answer is that these machines do serve some purpose for a select few groups: It can provide a brief benefit to athletes, it can help prevent bone loss and may be beneficial with some improved balance.  There has not been substantial research to prove that it is as effective as a 60 minute workout especially for the benefit of weight loss.  Research aside, these products (and there are a lot of them) prey on our hunger for the easy way out.  We want so badly to think that vibrating for 10 minutes a day will pay off with six pack abs, tighter tushies and will make the fat fade away.  If this is really how desperate we have become, I shudder to think about what product is coming out next.  Your guess is as good as mine.

The second "dietitian moment" I had this week was when I learned about a new weight loss plan: the 4-Hour Body Diet.  I was at a wedding and someone who was sitting at the same table told me about their experience trying this diet. What is the 4-Hour Body plan? Well first off, the author has created this amazing movie-style trailer that would sell anyone!  The program claims: 20 lb weight loss in just 30 days, improved testosterone and sperm counts, increased energy with only two hours of sleep each day and six pack abs with just a six minute workout.  The meal plan is similar to any other low-carb or paleo style diet.  No carbs, no fruit and limited dairy.  What's new about this though is there is one day when you are allowed to eat whatever ever you want and as much as you want.  The author, Tim Ferriss has no credentials in nutrition or exercise to substantiate his boastful claims but instead says he was the "guinea pig" and tested the different ideas on his own body. So for those who love studies, when it comes to the 4-Hour Body, n=1.  There are some great articles that discuss why the 4-Hour Body is not a good idea and you can read them here, and here. Besides not being based on any sound science and totally unrealistic, if you need another reason not to do something like the 4-Hour Body, it is endorsed by my favorite TV doctor, Dr. Oz which should speak volumes enough.  So back to my encounter at the wedding, I asked the person telling me about the diet how they did and they said, "Great, I lost 5 lbs."  They also said that they stopped the diet because they got sick of eating so much meat and ended up craving more fruits and carbs.

One week and two more examples of our quick-fix mentality about weight loss.  As we focus on the scale and obsess about our bodies, we lose sight of the fact that improving our health takes work.  Getting healthy is not about the number on the scale or about your dress size or about how big your biceps are.  It takes effort.  It takes a commitment to self-exploration.  Improving your health is about learning how to deal with your emotions without food. Its about moving your body not just to sweat or to build muscles, but because movement helps relieve stress and because you feel better about yourself after a workout.

If you want to lose 20 lbs in 30 days go for it.  If 10 minutes on a vibrating machine sounds fun to you, have at it.  Once you get tired of your no-carb, no fruit, high protein diet with one day to "pig out" and once you realize that our rattling innards have had enough, call me.  I'll be here, waiting to help you on the journey to improved health.  No gimmicks, no promises of quick fixes.  Just an honest conversation about food, exercise and your health.


  1. So true! It's a little frustrating that people spend billions of dollars on weight-loss stuff that promises miracles when time after time, these "miracles" disappoint. It's about selling the fantasy. It works on me, too, for what it's worth: I get excited by the hope these things promise, but experience and training keep me from wasting my money on them (anymore). If there were legal ramifications for lying to the public, I wonder how many of these "miracle" cures would stick around?

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