Lately, my Facebook feed has been full of before/after pictures of my friends promoting weight loss programs they are involved with. I won’t call anyone out, or call out any specific company, but the general idea is that the weight loss company sells shakes (powder that you mix at home) and granola-bar type things, along with other “supplements.”
The company tells you that if the program works for you, and you share your results on social media, your pictures can go viral on their site, speaking to all of our secret fantasy to be Kim Kardashian-esque selfie-famous. Then, the company says that if you can get a few of your friends to commit to the program, you will get a huge discount on your next order.
Essentially, it’s a pyramid scheme. A pyramid scheme playing on the desire to be thin and beautiful, and potentially beautiful enough that your before/after pix make you the next online spokesperson for the company. And actually you are the spokesperson for the company; you are their entire marketing department… without a salary. They are using your social media platforms and your voice in place of traditional advertising, because you are more reputable than a paid advertisement.
On top of that, I worry about the nutritional content of their products. Historically, diet products are proven to be either non-effective or, like the diet pill of the 2000’s: Metabolife, the products are essentially legal speed (or, more specifically, not-yet-regulated amphetamines). Other diet products include diuretics which decrease water retention, or laxatives with cause diarrhea. Many of the most dangerous diet products have been banned, but companies are always producing new products.
I have been skeptical of these weight loss programs from the get-go, and then I got a particularly alarming email:
In an email to about six of us, a friend of mine invited me to join her weight loss “team.” One of the other women had just had a baby and lamented that breastfeeding was not leading to the weight loss she had expected and would love to try the program.
If you are not alarmed, let me recap: A new mother who is breastfeeding her child would like to lose weight by participating in a pyramid scheme involving selling and ingesting amphetamine-like appetite suppressants, laxatives and diuretics.
Here’s the deal: for most of us, maintaining a healthy weight is a struggle. Optimal health, weight and body proportions can only healthfully be achieved by eating well and exercising. It is a boring answer, and it requires us to admit to ourselves that there is no quick fix, but it is the truth.
For a Nursing and Nutrition class, I once wrote an essay on the harms of diet fads. I researched the most popular and bizarre American diet fads from recent history. The truth is, diet fads do work - at first. But they are too rigid and impractical to make long-term changes. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead was a popular movie at the time I was working on that report, and another good friend of mine (actually a biology major) was “juicing.” She lost 20 pounds in the first couple of weeks, and gained it back as soon as she stopped juicing.
She gained the weight back not because she is incapable of losing weight (she did!), nor because she has no will power (she did the program for a month! that takes commitment!), nor is she doomed to be overweight forever. She did not fail the program, the program failed her. This is the catch-22 with fad diets: they do work, at first, and when you invariably gain the weight back you are hungry to try again, which leads to yo-yo dieting and deleterious health effects on your internal organs.
So here’s what you do:
- Eat healthy foods, whether you are cooking or ordering out. You know the basics: stick to fruits, veggies, whole grains and small portions of lean meat and fish. If you are unsure of calories, sodium, or fat content, there are great apps for that now, I like “My Fitness Pal”
- Keep a food journal. I had to do this once for a class and was pretty shocked at my sodium intakes. A quick google search will show you how many grams of carbs/fat/protein you should be eating daily, based on you gender, activity level, and dimensions. Even for healthy people, food journals kept for a week or so can help get you back on track with nutritional goals.
- Exercise daily, even if it is just a brisk walk around the neighborhood with the dog.
- Make reasonable goals, and keep them.
- Respect and appreciate your body. If you are reading this blog, then you are an athlete - no matter what level. That is something to be proud of and you must remember that athletes come in many shapes and sizes.