You don’t need 20/20 vision to look around and see that obesity is on the rise, it’s a growing problem that’s only been getting worse over the years, and it seems like the industry most logically suited to turn back the tide has been an absolute failure (at best).
How bad is the failure, especially considering the industry itself has been growing at an unprecedented rate? Well, in the United States, nearly 75% of adults are either overweight or obese. So pretty bad.
Truthfully, the reason why the health and fitness industry has failed so miserably is that it has attracted a hoard of predatory leeches eager to feed off of your insecurities and sell you on false promises and quick fixes.
Over the years, their tactics have grown ever more sophisticated and they can operate effectively behind technological smoke screens. False information spreads at unprecedented rates (thanks social media). In this age of mass communication, nutritional claims are completely unregulated and often made entirely for the purpose of generating profit. Actually helping people lose the fat plaguing their lives and destroying their health is less than an afterthought to most of these marketers.
That’s a key word to emphasize: marketers. These are people who are simply looking at the financial side of things and viewing people as numbers…numbers they can sell stuff to.
These are people who come from the world of business and sales first and foremost, and see the obesity epidemic as a fantastic opportunity to make money. Do not confuse these people with qualified health and fitness professionals who are out there to build a career by genuinely helping people gain control over their lives and health!
This is the heart of the problem:
Those who are actually qualified to help and make a difference in your life spent their time refining the skills and learning the information necessary to provide accurate and effective nutrition and fitness guidance. In a perfect world, great fitness professionals would hire effective marketers to grow their business. However, the expense of bringing on a legitimate marketing agency is more than most trainers and dietitians can afford, and that’s assuming they have enough of a business background to realize the importance of doing this (and can properly vet talent along with doing a million other business related things right).
It’s truly a rare thing to find an organization in the health and fitness space that has both competence and effectiveness in the application of nutritional science and business acumen.
Fortunately, there are a few effective ways of separating the con artists from the people out there genuinely trying to make a positive impact on your life.
Without further ado…
Here are 5 helpful guidelines for identifying a weight loss scam:
1. Forcing clients to be dependent on special foods or devices
Anything that’s going to put a weight loss service into the “scam” category is going to be a nasty thing by nature, but this one is particularly nefarious as it plays on human psychology.
Here’s how this one works:
A special shake, food, device, or supplement will be used in conjunction with an extremely low calorie diet protocol, and of course (due to the low calories) weight is going to come off rapidly. However, the companies pushing these particular scams are going to want you to attribute that “positive” result to the usage of their products.
A great example of this would be a multi level marketing company pushing a “detox” or “cleanse” drink, and then talking about how their cleanse/detox allows for fat loss to take place. And sure enough, as you’re choking down some proprietary blend of “superfoods” or magical greens, you’re also seeing weight come off the scale at an unprecedented rate.
So when you stop using the products and go back to your normal life, the number on the scale will surely go back up, and it’s in your head–IT’S YOUR FAULT. (at least that’s what these companies want you to think)
Of course you know that you’re “bad” for not using their products any more, and if you want that same result you’ve got to go back to the same product, and they’ve successfully trapped you in their oh-so profitable cycle of psychological destruction.
2. The promise of rapid and dramatic weight loss
Sustainable and effective weight loss diets balance out the rate of loss with your own ability to control your appetite, prioritizing mental and hormonal health and the preservation of lean body mass.
Ineffective and damaging crash diets put you in extreme calorie deficits to achieve drastic short term results, that of course go away just as fast as they came.
After all, doesn’t “lose 30 or more pounds in a month!” sound so much more appealing than “lose up to 6 pounds in your first month”? Of course it does, and that’s why you see this kind of messaging spread all over the covers of some of the most popular weight-loss publications, and any variety of magazines at the grocery store check-out line.
“Lose 5 pounds in your first week with _____’s fast five, guaranteed!”
We’ve probably all had that line drilled into our heads at one point or another and there’s a reason why it stuck.
It’s effective marketing and it sells like crazy. However effective marketing should never be confused with an effective diet.
3. Promotion of Nutritionally Unbalanced or Extremely Low Calorie Diets
Much the same as the Bubonic plague spread over Europe in the 1300s, extreme low-calorie weight loss clinics and nutritionally unbalanced fad diets have multiplied at an alarming rate, like parasites clinging to the obesity epidemic.
B-12 injections at weight loss clinics are claimed to assist in boosting metabolism and shedding unwanted fat, but the truth is there’s no solid evidence (according to the Mayo clinic) supporting these claims. These types of clinics are known for prescribing extremely low calorie diets to go along with the injections, and grow their business rapidly by using just about every unethical trick in the book related to fad diets and weight loss scams!
These B-12 weight loss clinics raise all five red flags that scream “Weight Loss Scam”:
– Forcing clients to be dependent on special foods/devices (B-12 injections)
– Promising rapid and dramatic weight loss (a predictable result of starvation protocol)
– Promotion of an extremely low calorie diet (this one is pretty self-explanatory)
– Collecting large sums of money upfront
– Failing to encourage a permanent lifestyle change
It’s NEVER the product or supplement that’s responsible for rapid and dramatic weight loss, it’s ALWAYS the extreme low calorie diet protocol!
Now what about nutritionally unbalanced diets?
There’s plenty of these out there as well. In fact there’s more than we can cover and still keep this a blog post! If we went over all of them, it would more or less be an encyclopedia. Here’s a short list of examples that most of us are probably familiar with:
– Carnivore Diet: promotes eating literally nothing but meat
– Ketogenic Diet: without proper instruction and supervision, can result in severe nutritional imbalances and adverse health outcomes (elevated uric acid, dangerously low blood pressure, constipation, fetal harm and stillbirth, etc.)
– Ornish Diet: promotes eating such minimal amounts of fat that essential fatty acid needs may not be met
– Vegan Diet: complete exclusion of animal products, which can result in micronutrient deficiencies
All of the above diets have extreme claims associated with them, and extreme claims are super marketable and effective at grabbing people’s attention. If you or someone you know has had personal experience with one of these diets, reflect on why that diet was chosen. Was it because you reached the conclusion on your own it was best for your health and fitness goals? Or was it because someone else convinced you it was the right thing to do?
Really think about that for a while, and then take time to reflect on the long term sustainability of that approach and what ended up happening when returning to normal post-diet life. You’ll probably have some lightbulbs go off.
4. Collecting large sums of money upfront, and forcing clients into contracts for expensive, long-term programs
While there are legitimate reasons for collecting up front payments for services in some cases, there are many cases where this is an application of the “sunk cost fallacy.”
The sunk cost fallacy is an economic term that basically means someone has already invested so much in something that they will continue to invest in it, even if they know it’s no longer something they want or need. An example of this would be going through with something like an NPC bikini competition, even after you’ve decided that all the dieting and deprivation is miserable. “I’ve already spent all this money on a posing suit, and paid this entry fee – so I’ll keep making myself miserable even though I hate it and know that I’m going to rebound like crazy as soon as the show is over.”
Raise your hand if the above statement sounds familiar…
The same concept applies to diet systems that will collect a large, often non-refundable payment up front, and then convert to a lower monthly payment plan. You’ve already made this big investment, so why would you cancel?
That’s you psychology being tapped into, and unless they can give you an incredibly good reason why there’s high upfront cost, you better go on high alert as you’re likely dealing with an overpriced and sub-par product or service.
5. Failure to encourage (or even allow for) permanent lifestyle changes
Do you know what happens to someone at the end of a diet that doesn’t develop a permanent lifestyle change, or include a post-diet maintenance plan?
If you guessed that they gain the lost weight back, you’d be correct the vast majority of the time. Congratulations!
This is why you see so many companies pushing extreme diets that WILL work in the short term. The omit the real cause of the dramatic weight loss (slashing calories) from their marketing materials, all the while knowing that the dieter will think that the program is somehow unique and magical.
With virtually no knowledge of how weight loss works, and without a lifestyle change or maintenance plan in place, the crash diet will inevitably result in weight regain… and of course repeat business when the dieter has nowhere else to turn but back to the manipulative program that gave them the impressive (but temporary) result the first time around.
People are creatures of habit and after seeing some kind of success with a diet, even if that’s a crash diet, there is a high probability of them returning to it right around the start of the next year come resolution time. This is the cheap repeat business that so many unscrupulous health and fitness companies rely on… The customer thinks that the product or service works because the scale was moving when they were with them, and of course it was moving the wrong way when they left.
So what’s a confused person who needs to lose weight to do?
If you guessed “come back to the same shady company that set them up for weight regain”, you’d be right again. Congratulations again.
The basics of real change:
Transformations are great, but the transformation you can keep for the rest of your life without feeling restricted and miserable is infinitely better.
You’ll get this permanent transformation by following an approach that’s sustainable long term (think decades), learning the all important “why” behind the changes in your body composition and health, having an exit strategy for the fat loss phase of your diet that is going to work (we call this a reverse diet), and finally having an understanding of the most basic truths of what food really is (protein, carbs, fat, micronutrients, and fiber). All of this will give you the tools necessary to sustain results for the rest of your life.
Your body is the vehicle that your consciousness uses to experience life, and the more in control you are of the vehicle, the more amazing your time in this world will be!