5 Fitness & Weight Loss "Scams" of 2005???
by Phil Kaplan
is a pretty strong word. It suggests an intent to defraud.
The guy who stands on the street corner in New York promising
to sell you a Rolex for $20 is a quantifiable scam artist,
but perhaps it's unfair to categorize the issues I'm about
to raise as scams. They may in fact be the result of marketers
promoting offerings based on misinformation rather than disinformation
(misinformation is accidental, where the purveyor of the message
is misinformed; disinformation is intentional). Regardless,
however, of the intent, when flawed information and false
promises accompany a product offering, consumers will be in
a position to waste hope, money, energy, and time, so allow
me to share some fitness truth related to a few "hot"
items on the slate for "big sellers" this year.
I must admit, the idea for this
article was not my own. It was sort of delivered to me, not
by a publisher, but by a PR agent who books me on radio shows.
I periodically receive emails and faxes of scheduled appearances
coordinated between my assistant and a PR agent, and I make
the mistake all too often of trusting that the PR agent represented
what I do accurately. I've learned, over the years, that PR
agents will sometimes say whatever they have to say to get
"the booking." As an example, I remember being on
hold about to be on a major radio morning show in the Chicago
area and listening to the hosts introduce me. "And here
he is, the man who turned Cindy Crawford from average to supermodel
. . . Phil Kaplan." Suddenly I'm on the air, and two
radio personalities are firing away questions about which
supermodels had boob jobs. Of course I straightened things
out quickly, and of course I made a few changes in the PR
people I utilized, but not before the time I was introduced
as "the fitness psychic," or the time the host insisted
I was there to talk about which pro athletes use steroids.
While most appearances run smoothly,
every now and then I'm surprised by an introduction and have
to spend a few minutes dispelling misinformation related to
"who I am" and "what I do."
A few weeks ago Holly called me
on my cell phone as I was walking into a meeting and she asked,
"can you do a show in Dallas by phone at 4 PM Eastern
Time Saturday?" Holly manages my calendar, so if the
calendar was clear, sure, I'd do it. The day before the planned
interview, the producer of the show called, just to make sure
he had the right contact information. We had a brief chat
and before he hung up he closed with, "I can't wait to
hear what the top five fitness scams of 2005 are." I
knew immediately. A PR agent came up with a "topic,"
a "hook," that I didn't even know I was supposed
to be ready for.
The following morning, on my own
radio show, I thought out
loud and came up with what I believed the top "scams"
that are presently facing the fitness and weight-loss-wanting
public are. Here they are in no special order:
1. The Ephedra Free "Natural"
Fat Burners -
of the supplement sellers are having a field day selling
new addictive stimulants wearing labels that say "Natural."
Natural suggests the compound is something found in nature,
either in plants, animals, or yes, even people. That really
allows for a great many compounds to be packaged as "natural,"
after all, the human body produces hydrochloric acid and
ammonia, animals sometimes have poison glands that house
neurotoxins, and plants are the raw material for everything
from opium to cocaine. Natural does not necessarily equate
was "pulled" (not banned as many believe - you
can still buy OTC asthma meds such as Primatene tablets,
pure ephedrine HCl in pharmacies) from the shelves of health
food stores, the supplement sellers were not surprised.
They had fair warning so their scientists created new formulas
that the marketing folks would make sure the public bought
into. They searched for a compound with similar attributes
to those we associate with ephedrine, but one that had not
been sold in great volume for regular usage so the risks
and hazards were unproven. They found synephrine,
the primary ingredient in many nasal sprays. Just as ephedrine
can be derived from herbal sources (ma huang, ephedra),
so too can synephrine (citrus aurantium, bitter orange).
These "new" compounds "work" primarily
via diuretic water loss (of course they are loaded with
"natural" caffeine) and appetite suppression,
not unlike the diet pills of the 1970's. They are in most
cases a 21st century legal version of speed, and while they
can result in short term weight loss, and even short term
accelerated fat loss in individuals committed to eating
right and exercising, they alter endocrine production and
find repeat buyers not because of a metabolism boost, but
rather because of the initiation of a legal "natural"
addiction. I suspect that with time we'll find the "new"
fat burners to be just as potentially dangerous as those
that were last scrutinized by the FDA.
2. The "Work the Abs Using
Proven Research and Reduce the Waist" infomercial products.
great abs? Get a tiny waistline? Get in shape for the beach?
These are all-too-common come-ons, but when they tie into
an ab exerciser there is need for a red flag to be raised.
It appears, based on some very
credible research (find
info on a study that reviewed common ab exercises at
San Diego State sanctioned by ACE) that movements that allow
you to safely move, in a horizontal face-up position, to
a hyperextensive position beyond a neutral spine allow for
both a greater recruitment of abdominal muscle fibers and
a greater overall muscle contraction then a standard crunch
where the floor limits the range of motion. In other words,
if you can envision a crunch performed on a stability ball,
you'll recognize that the shape of the ball allows for a
greater extension of the abdominal muscles than the same
crunch performed on a bench or on the floor. There is some
degree of hyperextension range in the thoracic vertebrae
as well as the lumbar vertebrae and the support of the ball
prevents the spine from hyperextending beyond its normal
capacity. The full extension and full contraction would
amount to the "full range of motion" we use when
training other muscles.
It also appears that movements
that roll the hips forward and tilt the pelvic bone involve
greater "core" stimulation. Research revealed
the "captain's chair" exercise, otherwise known
as a hanging leg raise or hanging knee raise (which is,
in effect, the "reverse crunch" performed vertically),
to be very effective at stimulating abdominal muscle recruitment.
The same research showed the stability ball to be a valuable
tool in enhancing the core abdominal muscle stimulus in
a crunch movement. The research is legit. Product marketers
know if they can say "research has proven," and
if they can even recruit a researcher to appear in an infomercial
validating a study's efficacy, people will pay attention.
So where's the problem? The problem is in the promises made.
A new breed of products have
emerged that allow for a greater abominal muscle extension,
but here's the "scammy" part of the equation (I
don't think "scammy" is a word . . . but you know
what i mean). These products are sold, via infomercials,
claiming that they will reduce the waist. The research really
took place, but it was not directed at waist reduction.
It measured abdominal muscle contraction. While we all intellectually
know by now you can't "spot reduce," the allure
of these clever infomercials causes people to put common
sense aside as they buy into yet the latest abdominal miracle
promising "the abdominal 6-pack."
3. The confusing language of
"net carbs," "low carb," and "no
As our population has been impacted
by Atkins and low-carb advocates, the mistaken mantra that
"carbs are bad" has led to the recognition by
food sellers that carbohydrates scare people. Rather than
attempting to educate the public as to the virtues of good
complex and fibrous carbohydrates, they direct their attention
to simply modifying their labels. New loopholes in labeling
laws allow food companies to sweeten foods with sugar alcohols
and not categorize them as "sugars" or "carbs,"
even though these sugar alcohols can have a significant
insulin response. They use very screwy math as there are
products touting labels that read "3 net impact carbs"
on the front, and when you turn them over you find the nutritional
panel reads "Carbohydrates 28 grams."
What does "net carbs"
mean? The food manufacturers using the term will present
some jargon that suggests they are the carbs that are digestible
and impact blood sugar, carbs that are other than fiber
and sugar alcohol. The reality is, for the public seeking
better food choices, the term is meaningless and misleading.
Ignore the big print on the front. Look at the nutrition
panel, the serving size, the sugar content, the fat content,
and the ingredient listing if you really want to know how
supportive a food is.
4. The carb blockers and fat
with the push toward lower carb promises, supplement sellers
have reignited carb-blockers and, while they're at it, why
not also reignite the fat blockers using language that suggests
that with these compounds in pill form you can eat anything
you want and prevent the fat and carb calories from being
absorbed. The "carb
blockers" contain either HCA (from garcinia cambogia)
or Phase 2 (from white navy bean), both of which I've addressed
at the site, neither of which provides any sort of license
to feast on cookies, cakes, and pizzas without worrying
about fat accumulation. At best these compounds may prevent
the conversion of a small amount of ingested carbs (glucose)
into triglycerides, and to turn that into "eat anything
without worry" requires wild exaggeration.
The fat blockers contain chitosan
(from the exoskeleton of shellfish) which does have a propensity
for attracting oil particles, but has no effect on stored
bodyfat. To suggest that it's OK to eat high fat and high
carb foods and cancel their negative impact with a pill
is pure fantasy, a fantasy without a happy ending.
5. The "leptin" and
"lipin" pseudo-drug promises
Leptin is a hormonal messenger
that takes you from the point of being hungry to the point
of satiation during the ingestion of food. It acts at the
hypothalmus, which is considered "the control center"
of the brain. Leptin is produced naturally, and when scientists
found that injecting leptin into an obese genetically altered
mouse with a flaw in the OB gene caused it to lose 1/2 of
its bodyweight in a 4 1/2 weeks, needless to say they were
you are a genetically altered mouse with a flaw in the OB
gene, then yes, leptin injections may help, but there is
very little human research to validate the long term weight
loss benefits of exogenous leptin injection. Worse yet,
some early human research indicates that leptin may disrupt
the action of insulin. Of course the drug companies are
very anxious to release a "leptin" drug, even
though there has been little or no validation of an oral
compound having the effect of leptin injection.
Here's what you should keep in
the front of your mind as you're lured by the new "leptin"
promises. A commmitment to supportive eating and a dual
commitment to resistance and aerobic exercise can optimize
leptin production and help to regulate metabolism and appetite.
We have evolved into a society looking to medications to
adjust serotonin, dopamine, leptin, thyroid hormones, insulin,
testosterone, growth hormone, etc. etc. and these are all
biochemical compounds we are quite capable of manufacturing
and optimally utilizing if we'd only, as a population, learn
to take responsibility and learn to recognize that outside
of cases of specific pathologies or medical abnormalities,
we are in control of the hormonal cascade.
So, there you have it. The five
"scams" that may or may not be actual intention
to defraud, but certainly warrant ongong discussion and careful
review before any consumer opts to buy into an unfounded promise.
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