BS Filter: Activated

My first post is slightly general but I feel it conveys an important message: you must question many things in the fitness industry and dig deeper in terms of the legitimacy of statements that are made – specifically on the world wide web. Mass amounts of information are available on the web – some of it is very good stuff; stuff that is undoubtedly beneficial. However, much of it is absolute garbage with no sound evidence backing up claims. With opportunities for money to be made, millions of people look for the quick buck. Examples include ‘quick diet pills’, ‘lose 20 lbs in 14 days’ offers and countless others. Often within seconds of being on a website, you should be able to get the ‘general feel’ of the site. Are there dozens of ads surrounding the margins? Are there offers for you to make absurd amounts of money in little time? Are there flashing red banners stating that you are the 1,000,000th viewer and have won $100,999,999? These I would say are blatantly obvious and there is no need to go into any more depth about why you should not waste your time on these sites.

There are more subtle things that may arise, especially when looking for personal trainers or coaches. Let’s say ‘Brad’ is a personal trainer and charges $100 an hour for his services. You go to his site and it says, “Train with Brad!…One of the best personal trainers in all of Wales!” There is no way one should take this at face value. I mean, who is Brad to say he is one of the best trainers in Wales?! What standards is he going by? Define ‘best’. You need to look past statements like this and delve deeper. Who has Brad trained in the past? Where did Brad get his professional qualification? Was it a certification that was acquired through an online multiple choice test? Did Brad even have a practical assessment? A rather accurate way of portraying to a potential client how successful you are is to have testimonials, or even ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures showing progression (of course with the client’s consent). This may seem cliche, but its a pragmatic and effective way of marketing oneself – especially in an industry such as personal training where you are not attempting to sell a tangible object, rather a service. You can create some sense of tangibility through these pictures.

You can ‘turn your filter on’ by simply thinking logically. If you were to believe the majority of information regarding health and fitness on the internet, you’d be sent in circles – your life would be one hell of a contradictory circle. I can’t stress this enough. Self proclaimed ‘fitness gurus’ are so prevalent in fitness and it is our job to break them down, push them towards the truth, or simply ignore them. Losing 20lbs in two weeks may seem ideal, especially when you have that formal dinner coming up; however, the fact behind this statement is that it is ridiculously unhealthy. Although possible, it is through means that are not conducive to a healthy lifestyle and you will NOT be able to maintain your ‘new weight’. This is why 95% of diet attempts result in failure, and many result in weight gain. The best ‘diet’ consists of gradual lifestyle changes stemming from nutrition alterations and physical activity.  It is beneficial to go into a situation a sceptic and determine the truthfulness, rather than enter a situation a believer. You will be led in so many different directions if you believe everything – you will never find a definitive answer.

Let me provide a personal example regarding contradictory information and the pursuit of acquiring knowledge. A couple years ago, I decided to start buying Men’s Health. I didn’t buy a subscription but I made sure I was purchasing a copy for most months. I’d say for the first couple months I had a positive outlook on the material and I even jotted down some of the workouts and cooked some of the meals. However, after a few more months of reading the monthly magazine, I noticed the contradictions were almost unbearable. Now I knew that Men’s Health was somewhat ‘faddy’, in that they would advertise on the cover for a secret workout that would get you 6-pack abs in 9mins, three times per week, but I figured the majority of the stuff was beneficial to the reader. However I soon came to question the authenticity of some of the statements in Men’s Health. They would say something which was rather profound, and then back it up by “…as one study in California showed.” Saying this really doesn’t hold much significance in my mind. Saying that something was proven in a single study by an unknown professor in an unknown lab in California isn’t very meaningful.  One technique you can use to avoid getting sucked into these traps is to look at a meta-analysis; forget these one liners in magazines and blogs about the single study proving that if you eat one serving of yellow peppers four times per week you can increase rotational velocity in your golf swing by 37%. Now a meta-analysis of anything takes an awfully long time to compile and become published, and this is why research often falls behind field work, or professionals practically applying the work. To keep on top of your game, you need to constantly be interacting with professionals in your field; professionals who are open-minded, articulate, and reputable. Although this is helpful in the fitness industry, this can be applied to almost any other field.

Now, back to those measly little studies carried out by the no-name researchers. Many studies nowadays are manipulated in a fashion that benefit the researcher. Researchers are constantly trying to get published, and for many, they are willing to manipulate what they can in order to get that “statistical significance” to get a positive result…and BOOM their findings are published. In addition, even if the experiments aren’t intentionally manipulated, the main problem with research and human behaviour is the fact that it is so difficult to isolate a single variable, often impossible.

My ties with Men’s Health were soon broken and I no longer bought the magazine. I figured there were better ways of acquiring knowledge.  A very knowledgeable and reliable individual later told me that Men’s Health maintained a database of thousands and thousands of articles. You can guess what’s coming next…yes, they recycled them. Of course they can throw in some new studies and relevant information (i.e. is running barefoot really that great?), but I would imagine before some issues are released, it’s similar to picking names out of a hat – some articles are picked at random to be featured in ‘this months issue’, which may be freakishly similar to the Nov. 2002 issue. I bet if you were to keep every monthly issue for the next 20 years, you find some pretty distinct similarities between certain issues. They can get away with this because the average subscriber is not a dedicated member who renews their subscriptions annually for a decade. By the time the recycled content comes back around, the reader is typically long gone. Here is an example of pure and utter laziness on behalf of the Men’s Health team:

The above two magazine issues were only separated by three years. Now I realize the coverlines used on magazines are far different from the content inside, but if writers are willing to make covers identical – except for switching the ripped dudes on the cover, there is nothing stopping them from recycling content inside, which is even less identifiable.

I would like to provide an example of how problematic isolating variables can be in studies. The example is from Kris Carr’s book, “Crazy Sexy Diet”. It’s rather popular and when my wonderful girlfriend picked up a copy, I definitely wanted to flip through some pages and see what this Kriss Carr woman was all about. She has some good material and she shares her remarkable story of survival; however, there were a few things I disagreed with – often the way she would use studies to prove her points. For example:

“For those gals looking to start a family, a 2008 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that mamas who guzzled high doses of caffeine during pregnancy (around 200 milligrams or more per day, or two cups of brewed coffee) had a greater risk of miscarriage than those who drank less caffeine.”

Now there are so many additional factors that must be considered – its hard to say that if you drink more coffee, your chances of miscarrying skyrocket.  I would say people who drink more coffee typically lead a more stressful life. This isn’t to say everyone who drinks coffee is stressed and steaming through the ears, but there is definitely a positive correlation between the two.  It can also be said that many people who smoke also drink coffee – I mean, the two go hand in hand. How often do you see people (many in the corporate world) go for a coffee and cigarette break…and now I’m not sure if I even need to say this, but inhaling thousands of harmful chemicals, along with high levels of stress are absolutely tied to greater chances of miscarriage. Perhaps increasing levels of acidity in the human body due to caffeine consumption is not the main culprit – or maybe they are. All we can say is that there is correlation, which differs from causation.

I also want to give you a classic example of a fad that is absolute bullshit: the ‘Power Balance Bracelet’. In advertisements, it claims to improve balance, strength, and flexibility. They got Drew Brees to wear it on his wrist and claim the benefits were incredible, along with dozens of other individuals in their marketing campaign. Through terminology such as “natural frequencies”, along with the incorporation of athletes, hundreds of thousands of people were duped into purchasing the fony product. However, once the company was questioned and pushed a little further, it was discovered that there was absolutely no scientific evidence to back their claims of ‘athletic enhancement’. As a result, appearances in court followed…surprise surprise!. After settling to pay consumers over $57 million in compensation and filing for bankruptcy, the case was settled. About two years ago, my former housemate came back from holiday with one of these bracelets, and boy did he hear it from the rest of the housemates! The jokes were spewing out in a relentless manner…we loved every minute of it. And when it finally became public that the bracelet was a complete hoax,  it was that much more hilarious.

In conclusion, all I ask from you is to turn your filter ON. It’s not that hard. When necessary, question everything worth questioning. Is there any scientific evidence supporting the claim? Is what someone claiming at all logical? Dig deeper and uncover the fact that someone making absurd claims actually has no formal education in the field they are ‘covering’. It may take some extra time but it’ll be well worth it in the end. I promise.

That’s all for now peeps. Shoot some feedback below as this is my first post and first blogging experience. That’s the only way I’ll improve right? 😉

Jeremy

Fun fact: The internet weighs about the same as a large strawberry – 50 grams.

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2 Comments on “BS Filter: Activated”

  1. Crestwell Stuart April 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Great job man im liking your examples a lot keep up the good work…

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