Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Get Ripped Fast

I have been seeing an incredible number of ads lately trying to sell me 'free' weight loss or 'muscle gain' pills.  All kinds of sites I regularly frequent have ads linking to the following sort of page:

So here is the question:  Why do people fall for this kind of stuff?  Everyone knows how to be thin or get really cut but we don't generally make the choice to all be beautiful people.  Before you argue with me about that, just ask yourself what would happen if you took all the junk food in your diet and replaced it wholesale with broccoli, spinach and brussel sprouts, then spent 1 hour a day every day doing a really hardcore cardio and weights workout.  Obviously even someone with a really slow natural metabolism is going to drop a ton of weight and put on a lot of muscle doing this and it isn't any kind of secret.  Everyone (nearly so anyway) knows that the 'formula' I just listed will get them thin and fit, but there are obviously huge numbers of people out there pouring money into scams like the website I listed nonetheless.

I am not saying that everyone can have a supermodel body easily, on the contrary it is quite hard.  It requires discipline and a ton of work.  I should get a lot more exercise than I do and could easily be more fit, though my diet is really quite good.  What I suggest though is that nearly anyone *can* do it if they really want to, it is a matter of priorities.  In this way I think it is similar to my financial situation in that a lot of people like to talk about it like it is impossible when in fact it is just challenging.  In this case though I have decided to have the discipline to live on very little money I don't seem to have the drive to get really fit and cut.

So when people look around at their lives and decide that they aren't willing to cut out junk food and aren't willing to exercise really hard every day they are deciding that they would rather maintain the bodies they have and the lifestyle they have.  This isn't a wrong choice, but it is a choice a lot of us make and we should recognize it as one.  Once a person has made that determination though they have the choice to either accept the consequences of their lifestyle decisions or hope for a miracle.  Of course in this case the 'miracle diet' on the cover of Woman's World (funny how they have a new miracle diet every single issue... you would think some of their readers would be getting thin by now what with all the miracles) is the miracle we are referring to, rather than some kind of divine intervention.

So week after week, month after month people buy these magazines for their miracle weight cures, use internet sites to buy harmful pills to purge themselves and any other number of desperate gambles.  There simply isn't enough money in these schemes to keep them rolling if people aren't buying in over and over so clearly many people go for sucker scheme after sucker scheme trying to get their perfect body the easy way.  After the first 4 'get fit quick' schemes horribly fail you might think that the average customer would end up getting smart and stop buying this crap, but that doesn't seem to happen.

My theory is that people need some ray of hope, some reason to believe their situation can be changed.  Perhaps it is that they accept that they won't ever change their lifestyle in the ways they would need to but still find solace in the idea that things will change and that the improvement they desperately seek is just around the corner and all that is necessary is for them to find it.  It might even be that people don't accept that others have the discipline to get really fit and that there in fact *must* be a secret out there because clearly there are beautiful people who have taken advantage of it.

I don't begrudge people their lifestyle choices most of the time.  If someone wants to eat terribly and not exercise and is okay with that choice and the inevitable results then fair enough.  I would hope for their sake that they exercise moderation and find some healthy path, but it isn't a big deal.  Far more frustrating are people who refuse to take that final step and accept responsibility for their actions and the obvious, logical results.  This is particularly true when they continue to throw themselves after mirages in the desert chasing a secret cure that clearly doesn't exist.  If an easy way to a beautiful body did exist we would all be using it already.

The path to beauty is there and we all know it.  Don't eat crap, do eat green vegetables, exercise a lot.  Do, or do not, but don't complain that it is impossible and please, please stop giving these scoundrels on the internet your money.


  1. I think there's a lot more going on here. While I totally agree with you that in order to lose weight you need to diet and/or exercise, I'm not convinced that everyone is actually aware of this, and our society is not really set up to make this easy or straightforward.

    There have been all sorts of crazy theories floating around for years about how calorie restriction doesn't actually cause weight loss because your body goes into starvation mode. That some people have hormonal imbalances which make it impossible for them to lose weight. That exercise causes you to gain weight (because unless you're really careful about what you eat, it will). I think it boils down to the fact that personal weight loss/gain is something that everyone has a personal opinion on (because it happens to all of us) but that we don't experiment on ourselves in carefully controlled ways. So it is very very easy to make a change to your diet or exercise level, not realize the other changes this induces, and come to the wrong conclusions.

    People are still doing tons of research in this area. The conclusion they are reaching is calories_in - calories_out = weight change, which is what you're stating, but there has been a lot of controversy in the past. Also, it does appear that diet+exercise is better than diet alone (both were controlled for # of calories taken in/used up) - they produced the same effect on weight, but other factors were improved by the exercise. Given the amount of research going on, there is a lot of money available to do it, which is possibly just a symptom of the problem you're describing, but also an indication that it is a fairly complex problem.

    Also, it is way too easy to stop in for fast food and drink a litre of soda than it should be. Grocery stores are set up to encourage people to buy pre-prepared and calorie loaded foods because those are the most profitable. Cooking healthy meals takes time and training.

    You've also got to take into account the placebo effect. If someone goes out and spends money on some crazy pill which comes with specific instructions about what to eat...they'll lose weight because of the changes in diet rather than the pill, but it is the pill (I'm paying for this thing and so I'm doing it right) which is motivating the changes.

    Finally there's the fact that different diets work for different people. Some people can avoid sweets entirely, some people do better by limiting themselves. Different people enjoy different types of exercise, or need company in order to actually do it. I think we're mostly aware that there isn't a magical pill that will make us healthy (although the supplement companies would like us to believe otherwise), but we all know that somewhere out there is the *best* diet/exercise program for *you*. The magical solution that will make it all easy instead of impossible. Sure the last 60 diets didn't work, but this one lets me eat steak every night!

  2. While I have a tremendous respect for science and scientific studies I don't think that there is any reason to wait for them to weigh in on certain issues. Look at people who exercise really hard all the time, don't eat junk food and eat lots of vegetables. Then look at people who eat junk food and don't exercise. The difference between them is stark and undeniable.

    While one might question whether or not other factors were being controlled for and whether there was simply a correlation instead of causation involved that would be to ignore all our day to day experience. We all know people who changed their exercise and eating habits and can observe the results for ourselves. There is a quick and repeatable pattern there when people make lifestyle alterations that we all have experienced second hand, if not firsthand.

    What makes us overall the most healthy is a very tricky question, but what makes us slim and fit is not.

  3. The difference between people who eat well and exercise and people who eat poorly and don't exercise is not stark and undeniable through casual observation. It probably is undeniable through statistical research, but everyone knows someone who eats trash all the time never exercises and ends up rail thin. I know several of these people. I even know at least one who ate badly and never exercised and was dangerously underweight, then got *up* to a healthy weight by improving diet and exercise. I can hardly imagine myself ever being slim. I can be and have been slimmer than I am, but I am always going to be pretty big.

    Doing a google search for "Healthy Weight" I can quickly find out I am "supposed" to be between 173 and 216 pounds. You've known me for years and presumably seen me at different stages. At my slimmest I was about 245 pounds, and while I might have been able to go a little lower than that, 216 is pretty much unattainable through a healthy lifestyle. Of course I know that this concept of healthy weight is completely misguided, skewed badly for people of extreme heights, and that actually your life expectancy is longer when you are a little above ideal weight than when you are at ideal weight.

    Confusing the entire debate is the spurious connection that is constantly trumpeted between weight and health. If you eat a healthy diet and get your heart rate up to a certain level for about five minutes three times a week then you don't really have a diet and exercise risk factor for diabetes, heart disease or any of the other myriad of supposed weight-caused diseases, regardless of what it says on the scale. People see weight as a proxy for health and it is a very poor one.

    Furthermore weight is not really a good proxy for beauty either. There are all kinds of things (including more than anything else the preferences of the observer) that go into beauty. Many of the people who are latching on to miracle diets may be doing so because they want to be beautiful, but the real problem is not with their weight, it is with how their feel about themselves. People literally starve themselves to death because even when all their bones are visible from the outside they still think they are too fat. While this is clearly mental illness, what we call mental illness is just one end of a spectrum we all fall on. In many cases, people who are buying into these plans don't really want to be thinner, they want their spouses to be deliriously attracted to them like they were when they first met, they want to feel in control of their lives or they want some other body-type independent goal. A pill you get from the internet can't do that, and while a healthy diet and exercise might actually solve the problem to a great extent, it will do so - if it does so - by generally increasing confidence and sense of well-being, which is not what the person thinks they want then they order that pill.

    I think to understand the diet industry it would be more fruitful to study why people join cults than it would be to study how to get thin.