Ten Health and Fitness Fads You Can Safely Avoid
The fitness industry has no regulator in any country, yet it is a key part of the preventative health care system in every country. Fitness cowboys, ranging from individuals to large companies, are left free to market products and services that serve no useful purpose, other than to enrich the cowboys.
Here are ten examples:
1. Alkaline Water
Gwyneth Paltrow is now famously marketing Flow Water as a brand ambassador. It is touted as an alkaline water with healthy minerals and electrolytes. The fact is that Flow Water is no healthier than tap water. The human body very tightly self-regulates pH levels, and no amount of alkaline water will change that in a meaningful way. At £2.45 a bottle, perhaps it tastes better than tap water.
2. Vibration Plates
Madonna owns one. Lots of famous people do. Vibration plates do make your fat jiggle when you stand on them. They also make your muscles twitch. But they cannot make you lose fat (except to the very small extent that you happen to burn more calories when your fat jiggles and your muscles twitch). Plus, spot-losing fat is physiologically impossible. While your muscles work a bit when they twitch (twitching may contribute in a small way to strength improvements), twitching will not result in the progressive overload that is required to increase lean body mass.
3. Keto Diets
We all have friends who have been on a keto diet, which involves eliminating carbohydrates from your diet and eating lots of fat and some protein. Some call it the bacon diet. The fact is, just like every other diet on the market, they do work – but only if you are in an average calorie deficit over time. That said, ketosis is a thing. Your body runs out of carbohydrates as a fuel source, produces ketones and uses fat as a fuel source. You still need to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat. A carbohydrate-free diet is by definition not a balanced diet. Carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source. They deliver the vitamins, minerals and fibre that are essential to maintain health.
4. Waist Trainers
The Kardashians wear them. Used predominantly by women, they are essentially compression bands worn around the waist while exercising. They are marketed to promote fat loss and fat “redistribution” (moving fat from the midsection to some undefined location that is less visible). However, they do neither of these things. They do make your waist look smaller while you are wearing them, yet so does a corset.
5. Juice Diets
There is nothing inherently wrong with drinking juices made from fresh fruits and vegetables, including those promoted by Jason Vale. If you enjoy them, drink them. It becomes wrong when you start believing that they are some sort of magic health bullet that delivers benefits that you wouldn’t otherwise get from a well balanced diet rich in whole foods. It is also wrong if you forget that they contain calories.
6. Fasted Cardio
Jump out of bed, drink a glass of water and run a couple miles before breakfast. It’s meant to promote fat loss. It is true that the human body uses three different energy systems. Only one of those energy systems uses fat as a fuel source. All three work all the time, though in differing ratios. It is true that fat is used more as a fuel source when doing steady state cardio (like a long walk or run) than when lifting weights or doing short, high intensity exercise (like sprints). It is also true that when you are fasted, you have less glucose available to burn, so your body will be looking for the fat to burn. However, the science shows that over time the body adjusts and calls on other fuel sources, so that the fat loss benefit of fasted cardio has little or no impact on the amount of fat loss over a 24-hour period.
7. Coconut Oil
I’m not a fan, because I think it makes your eggs taste like a piña colada. Some people like the taste. It has a relatively high “smoking point” so can be used to fry foods with less degeneration than most vegetable oil. Beyond that, it’s 92% saturated fat (more than butter and lard). At one time, claims were made that coconut oil was a different kind of saturated fat from the others and that its consumption actually improved lipid profile. Those claims have since been disproven. A bit of saturated fat is fine (in fact, good) as part of a balanced diet, provided you are also eating essential fat (Omega 3) and you are not overeating saturated fat.
8. Detox Teas
Tea can neither “detox” nor “cleanse”. Detoxification is the process of removing toxins from the body. Unless you have lead or mercury poisoning, I cannot imagine what toxins you need to remove. And if you do have poisoning, tea won’t do it. “Cleansing” may be a more general word than “detoxification”, but I cannot think of what needs to be cleansed from your body and how tea might do that. If you enjoy a particular tea, by all means drink it. Just be aware that it may contain caffeine that impacts your sleep or may have laxative properties. We’ll agree that for some people tea can help you lose weight, but only if as a result of drinking it, you are not eating or drinking calories that you otherwise would have consumed.
9. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
High intensity interval training is popular these days. It is any cardio exercise performed at high intensity for short periods of time, followed by a rest period, and then repeated. Like all exercise, it can improve a number of health markers, such as blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, and promote health. However, it does not maintain or enhance lean muscle or improve bone density the way resistance training does. Many people find interval training less enjoyable than steady state cardio or resistance training. If you enjoy it (or can manage a HIIT session every now and then), by all means do it. One thing is true: Over a fixed amount of time, you will burn more calories performing HIIT than engaging in most other types of exercise.
10. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is simply not eating anything on particular days or during particular times of the day. It makes me very hungry and very grumpy. Some people, however, manage quite well. If you want to lose weight and you can handle intermittent fasting, then it may be a great tool to help you lose weight provided that as a result of the intermittent fasting you consume fewer calories over time than you otherwise would have consumed. If, on the other hand, you follow your fast by super high calorie binging, it won’t help. Interestingly, research suggests that fasting can have some health benefits, including for blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and hormonal health, though it is not entirely clear whether the benefits result from fasting or from associated weight loss. It is also not clear to what extent these benefits are impacted by other variables, such as sleep quality, age and stress. On the negative side, fasting can reduce muscle protein synthesis, so may not be ideal for people wanting to maintain or enhance lean muscle mass.