As human beings, we are hardwired to seek the path of least resistance.
According to evolutionary psychologist Dr. Doug Lisle, animal behavior (including humans) is governed by pleasure seeking, pain avoidance, and energy conservation. In other words, we as a species are always looking for the maximum reward for the least amount of effort. This is no secret and unfortunately there are individuals and companies that exploit this knowledge for gain.
We all want to believe there is a better way, don’t we? There are numerous accounts of scams and schemes that have cost people hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars. We have all been taught from a young age, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” And yet, multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes like the one perpetrated by Bernie Madoff still occur.
The fitness and weight loss industries are no different. These companies hire very astute marketing firms that understand psychology and human motivation, and direct their marketing campaigns accordingly. As logical, mature adults, we understand that in order to lose weight, we must eat less and exercise more. If ever there was a magic formula for weight loss, that’s it – eat less, exercise more. However, since we are genetically programmed to seek the greatest reward for the least amount of effort, we suspend our disbelief when a company tells us we can eat chocolate cake and hamburgers, and the pounds will just melt away.
Let’s take a look at a few of the claims that the general public is being sold on right now:
- Chocolate weight loss diet. According to these folks, they will teach you how to eat chocolate and lose weight while you sleep. No, I’m not kidding.
- Low calorie food delivery diet. This company tells you to choose from some of the following breakfast choices: a chocolate frosted doughnut, a cinnamon bun, and southern style biscuits and gravy. What exactly do you think will happen when you stop eating special frozen low calorie versions of these foods?
- Hot dog diet. This plan, which allows you to eat just a few hot dogs over the course of the 3 days in addition to ice cream, peanut butter and eggs. Chow down on hot dogs and lose weight in 3 days? Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!
Perhaps even more telling than these bizarre claims is a report published in 2002 by the Federal Trade Commission analyzing current trends in the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry. According to the FTC, “despite the well-accepted prescription of diet and exercise for successful weight management, 42 percent of all of the [weight loss] ads reviewed promote an array of quick-fix pills, patches, potions, and programs for effortless weight loss and 64 percent of those ads also promised fast results. The ads claim that results can be achieved without reducing caloric intake or increasing physical activity. Some even go so far as to tell consumers, 'you can eat as much as you want and still lose weight.'” *
Ultimately, the FTC concluded, “the use of false or misleading claims in weight-loss advertising is rampant. Nearly 40 percent of the ads in our sample made at least one representation that almost certainly is false and 55 percent of the ads made at least one representation that is very likely to be false or, at the very least, lacks adequate substantiation.”*
There you have it, hard evidence from the Federal Trade Commission whose stated mission is “to protect consumers from fraudulent or deceptive claims that mislead consumers.” Don’t buy into the hype from diet and weight loss companies. At the very least, these plans and products are ineffective; at the very worst, they could cause harm to your body.
We’ve established that neither diet plans that make ridiculous claims nor weight loss pills and potions that sound too good to be true are the path to healthy weight loss and management. The next option is a nutritionally sound diet, which significantly reduces calories over a period time to foster weight loss. While these types of diets can be successful for short periods of time, research indicates that they are generally not sustainable. In fact, a recent Women’s Health article stated, “by some estimates, more than 80 percent of people who have lost weight regain all of it, or more, after two years. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles analyzed 31 long-term diet studies and found that about two-thirds of dieters regained more weight within four or five years than they initially lost.”**
So what is the answer to healthy weight loss and maintenance? The answer is and always has been a sustainable diet and exercise plan that you can practice consistently for the rest of your life. This is certainly not as sexy as the latest whizz-bang fitness gadget, 90-day hardcore workout program, or Hollywood diet plan – and you won’t even get a free t-shirt! However, eating a balanced, healthy diet combined with regular exercise (3 times per week minimum) will lead to sustainable health and fitness. It may take longer than an extreme diet or workout plan, but the results will be long lasting and worth it.
* “Weight Loss Advertising – An Analysis of Current Trends." 2002. <http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/reports/weightloss.pdf>
** Voss, Gretchen. "When you lose weight – and gain it all back.” 6 June 2010. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36716808/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/when-you-lose-weight-gain-it-all-back/>