Selling the Sizzle But Not the Steak

There are lots crazy things out there in health-and-wellness-land:  Shake Weights, Free Flexors, this thing.  It can be tough to figure out the good information from the bad, especially for women.  Women are ripe for the picking when  it comes to diet and fitness marketing.  We need to be educated consumers when it comes to what we will and won’t do to our bodies.

When I decided that it was time for me to make fitness a part of my life, I had reached a point where I no longer liked to look at myself in the mirror – certainly not in any state of undress.   When I first started trying to figure out how to get fit, it was like fighting my way through a jungle of information.  Some great, some not so great.  What most of us (myself included) end up falling back on are the things that we see the most often.  That’s how marketing works – top of mind awareness  It’s not necessarily about convincing people to buy your product right away.  It’s about being the first thing on their minds when the time comes for them to buy.  That’s what fitness infomercials sell.  That’s why people buy GoodLife memberships.  Familiarity.  If you see it every night on your TV, or you drive by three on your way home from work, when the time comes for you to get active, the popular choice is, well, popular.

I have never been a gym-rat.  I’ve been to a few gyms a few times.  They never really jived for me, so I sought out in-home fitness options when I decided to get fit.  The ones I bought were the ones from the infomercials – Turbo Jam, P90X, Insanity!.  I tried them all.  And I was one of the lucky ones – I program-jumped – doing each program for a few weeks then getting bored and moving on, I didn’t change my eating habits, I didn’t really know what I wanted and didn’t have defined goals – and I still got results!  And didn’t get injured!

Why?  Because I was just starting out.  I was going from doing relatively nothing, to doing relatively lots, and my body made gains.  It was fantastic.

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t sustainable.  Like I said, I would jump around.  I couldn’t stick to one course of action, and there were a couple of reasons why.  First; I didn’t have clear goals.  I didn’t know that I had to have clear goals.  In the end, I think my goal ended up being to fully finish a program (which is not a bad goal, and is often more psychologically challenging than you think).

The second reason ties into the first; information overload.  The health and wellness industry is CRAZYTOWN when it comes to competing information.  Especially for women.  Pick up any women’s lifestyle magazine.  Look at the front cover.  There is almost certainly an article proclaiming “One Week to Flatter Abs!” or “Drop a Jean Size in 21 Days!”.  Or both.  Probably both.  And then a couple of diets.  That don’t say the same thing.

And then you turn on the TV, and there’s one trainer telling you to lift no heavier than 3 pounds and do lots of cardio – low weight, high reps, so that you can burn lots of fat.  And then there’s another trainer telling you to lift heavy – high weight, low reps, so that you can build muscle and burn fat while you rest.  And then there’s The Biggest Loser, and Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition and all those transformation shows showing a myriad of dramatic diets, intense training protocols, and huge results.  And it gets confusing.  Shouldn’t there be one answer?  Isn’t that one answer what everyone is trying to sell us?

That’s the trouble.  There isn’t one answer.

There is science to back up almost any claim that the health and wellness industry can make.  Our bodies are always evolving.  Experts are always learning new things.  Trends come and go and those in the industry want to be on the cutting edge.  The diets and training programs in magazines, or on TV, or that you hear from the wellness guru of the day will offer you an answer.  But it might not be the right answer for you.

There are lots of folks who do really well with Intermittent Fasting, or Paleo, or Gluten-Free, and maybe you will too.  And maybe you won’t.

There are lots of folks who really love lifting heavy and hitting PR’s, and maybe you will too.  And maybe you won’t.

There are lots of folks who thrive on marathons and heavy endurance work, and maybe you will too.  And maybe you won’t.

Here’s the other trouble: Health and Wellness Experts don’t always listen to what you are really saying.

So, I like to lift heavy now (in addition to sport-specific derby stuff).  That’s where I choose to plant my flag.  It’s easy to set performance goals, I like the way it has shaped my body, and it makes me feel bad-ass.  And, yes,  my increased muscle mass helps me to burn more calories just going about my life (and it’s much more enjoyable than an hour on the elliptical).  But I need to remember – that’s how I feel.  Not how everyone feels.  As a fitness professional, it’s my job to give you the science and to tell you what I think will work best for you.  But it’s just that – my opinion.  And my opinion is biased by what has worked for me personally, or for my other clients.

And my opinion is also coloured by wanting to stay current.  I need to know who’s getting results with IFWho loves their Paleo protocolWho thinks that Prowler pushes are the best thing since sliced breadWho’s changing the way we do metabolic circuits.  And because I have to stay current, I get sucked in.  I find something cool, something that seems to be working for a lot of people, and I want to bring it back to my clients so that they can think it’s cool too.  The challenge is to always ask, “is this the right thing, or is it just a cool thing?”.  There’s nothing wrong with cool things, but too many cool things are the equivalent of me program-jumping for my client.

On top of that, I want you to be fit and healthy.  I want you to feel good about yourself and develop positive, lifelong habits.  BUT I CAN’T READ YOUR MIND.  I don’t know exactly what your ideal shape looks like to you, or what your ideal diet plan is.  It’s my job to figure it out (and believe me I will try my darndest to do so), but I can guarantee what I see in my mind’s eye when I look at you and what you can accomplish with time, and what you see when you look in the “future mirror” are not exactly the same.  They should be very close, but they won’t be identical.  It’s like bringing a picture to your hairdresser, if they’re good at what they do and you trust them, you’ll end up with something you love – but it probably wasn’t exactly what you imagined before you came in.

So, how do we figure it all out?

Short answer – we don’t.  Health and Wellness are ever evolving.  So are you.  It’s exciting to learn about your body, what works for it and what doesn’t.

What you need to do is learn to trust your intuition.  Question WHY a particular piece of information is being given as law.  At the Canfitpro conference, in John Berardi’s session on Intermittent Fasting, he said that the “don’t eat after 8 pm rule” is totally not based in science so much as it is based in calorie-control psychology.  BLAM!  Mind blown.  My whole life I’ve felt like I was bad at eating because I typically eat dinner around 9 or 10.  Now I don’t.  Because that’s what works for me and I can keep my dietary intake under control that way.

If it helps, find a trainer or coach that you trust, who can guide you through all the information.  When you find a good one, they’ll have done a lot of the research for you.  And even though they’re trying to sell you something too, when you find someone you really connect with, you’ll know that the opinions they bring to the table have your best interests at heart.

So, every time you hear something new, be it a diet, or exercise, or training protocol, or piece of equipment, ASK WHY.  Why is this person selling this idea to me?  What do they have to gain?  How does this jive with what I believe and what has worked for me in the past?  Know that you are being marketed to.  For sure, there is room for your opinions to change.  Mine certainly have.  But be a critical consumer of health and wellness.  Think before you buy (and before you buy in).

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