I’ve been hesitant to write this post, as I know many of my friends are dieting and/or embrace the weight-loss supplement trend. It’s never my goal to offend anyone, undermine someones success, or spark a nutritional war. But nutrition, health, lifestyle, and food are important to me, in fact it’s my life and this is my platform, so here it goes.
I’ve witnessed friends and family members spending hundreds of dollars on weight-loss supplements, dieting plans, nutritional cleanses, and other weight loss “miracles.” I’ve been asked on multiple occasions to become a rep for these nutritional companies which market themselves to people struggling to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. Sure I would be an ideal candidate. Studying nutrition & dietetics at The University of Connecticut and aspiring to become a Registered Dietician, it would make sense. And sure it would be awesome to make some extra cash on the side while selling diet products to friends, family, and others. But the truth of the matter for me, I don’t believe in these products or the companies promoting them. Some call them pyramid schemes or ponzi schemes, but I won’t refer to them as such. Many people have gained success from these companies and I totally respect that. But I don’t believe these products are the secret to leading a healthier lifestyle. In the same token, I do believe in supplementation. I worked in a health food store specializing in supplements for over a year and it was absolutely my favorite job. But do I think dietary supplements, meal replacements, or weight-loss miracles can replace or fix a poor diet and lifestyle?
You’ll probably lose weight
If you’re looking to lose weight, I’m sure many weight-loss supplements will do that for you. I mean you must receive some payoff for your $200, 30 day weight loss challenge – right? It makes sense when all you consume in a day is three shakes made from powdered nutrients which have limited calories and carbohydrates, that you would drop some pounds. Although we contribute weight to health, weight isn’t the deciding factor. You could have a perfect BMI and perfect abs yet still be unhealthy, unhappy, and fall victim of sickness or disease. Furthermore, losing a ton of weight all at once isn’t the best thing for your body, metabolism, or maintaining a healthy weight. A staggering statistic I found in a book called, What the World Eats by Faith D’Aluisio states, “95% of dieters will regain their lost weight within 1 to 5 years, in America.” Shockingly that statistic was paired with two more concerning the United States, “25% of men and 45% of women are dieting on any given day,” and “annual spending for dieting and diet-related products is $40 billion.”
I’ll let you think about those numbers for a minute.
Companies Built on Marketing
I will give credit where credit is due, these companies have amazing marketing tactics and I’m sure they teach their reps how to market their products just as well on a personal level. Yet it troubles me that these companies are almost solely based off marketing weight loss and nutrition through their products. Their costly products, which are powders in a plastic container, snacks which aren’t necessarily any healthier or tastier than ones you can purchase at health food stores or make at home, and other supplements that promise you the world. If you really want to feel great, lose weight, have better skin, have more energy, build more muscle, age better, perform better, and feel happier then you’ll have to purchase at least 10 products every two months or better yet the value pack which lasts three months and then purchase again in three more months! The questions I always ask people are, what do you do after the weight-loss program or after all your product (food) runs out? How do you keep the weight off and not revert back to your old habits? How has a supplement taught you anything about eating better foods or leading a healthier lifestyle? Do you keep spending hundreds of dollars on these supplements for the rest of your life or whenever you start to gain weight? Does powder in a plastic container become your new and improved “lifestyle” for the next fifty years? It just doesn’t make sense.
I’ll never understand why Americans have become more enthralled with a powder filled plastic container (which is considered safe until proven unsafe per FDA guidelines *comforting*) rather than a beautiful bunch of beets or a delicious piece of herbed chicken. I suppose most people would agree convenience is a huge factor, and yes mixing a spoon full of powder with 8 ounces of skim milk is a lot easier than slicing beets, boiling them, seasoning them, and baking a piece of chicken for twenty minutes in the oven. But no powder in a container, no matter how much protein, nutrients, vitamins, omega-3’s, or whatever could EVER replace REAL food. You could purchase three supplements: one for losing weight, one for energy, and one for healthier skin or you could spend your money on a few pounds of chicken that will do all three of those things plus more, all packaged nicely into a REAL food item.
The real issue I have with the lose-weight-fast supplement companies is they don’t teach their consumers how to cook, what to buy at the grocery store, how to read a food label, where food comes from, what healthful food is; because frankly most of their reps are only taught to sell, sell, sell. In the long run, the consumer is left with empty pockets and little knowledge about regaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet. So I guess they have to buy into that companies product again and the cycle continues.
REAL food forgotten
But really what ever happened to having a relationship with REAL food? Admiring freshly grown, in season, and locally grown vegetables or fruits? Or even growing your own garden or having a few chickens for fresh eggs? Taking a half hour to cook a REAL meal? Eating at the kitchen table with loved ones talking about each others day? Nutrition is far more than the amount of nutrients in a product. In fact while reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, Pollan describes a new wave of defining nutrition called, nutritionism, and it’s a pretty dangerous ideology. Nutritionism says, “the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient.” (Pugliese) Pollan describes baby formula as the perfect poster child (no pun intended) for nutritionsim.
In 1950’s America, baby formula was the gold standard and breast feeding was considered a thing of the past. In fact in the 1950’s, 70% of American babies were formula fed. (Gordon) Again, mothers loved the convenience (how ironic) and companies marketed baby formula as having all the same nutrients if not more than breast milk. By 1980, many studies and reports had been published that breast milk conferred far more benefits to infants compared to formula. Today, we know it’s nearly impossible to mimic the exact chemistry and nutrient makeup of breast milk through a powdered formula made in a lab. Yet baby formula companies still try to convince consumers that their formula is superior; again doing so by marketing! The same idea applies to real food and dietary supplement companies.
Nutrition and Dualism
Americans have become obsessed with dualism. Especially when it comes to nutrition. Don’t believe in dualism? Take a look at body image in America. Skinny is good, chunky is bad, abs are good, flab is bad, crew cuts are good, mow-hawks are bad – again the list goes on and on. Fat used to be SO bad, now its considered good. One year coffee causes cancer, the next year it protects against it. Processed food corporations have built their success through the teamwork of dualism and nutritionism. The U.S. government generates labeling laws that allow food companies to label processed foods as, low fat, low cholesterol, low calorie, high iron, enriched, fortified, and so on. These companies have erased our relationship with food and replaced it with the idea of good and bad nutrients. They’ve made a fortune doing so, all at the expense of the consumer. According to the CDC, 35% of adult Americans are obese and 17% of American children are obese.
The study of nutrition tends to contradict itself every day. In America, I believe we’ve failed at simplifying food and nutrition. Nutrition has become a battle field conducted by the dualism captain. “That’s bad, don’t ever eat it!” “That’s good, eat a boat load of it!” Unfortunately, that’s not how nutrition works and it’s confused the heck out of consumers. On top of all this, everyone has become a nutrition expert. It’s wonderful that people are starting to care more about their health and what their putting into their body, but I think its counterproductive and even dangerous to have under qualified individuals preaching about a subject they know little about. This not only weakens the goal of health and nutrition but dishonors qualified health care professionals who have gone to school for years, taken countless science courses, spent sleepless nights studying for exams, and learned how metabolism and the human body works.
I came across a really wonderful weight-loss report from Live Science, written by Rachael Rettner, a Senior Writer with a Masters degree in Biology and Science, Health and Environmental Reporting called, The Best Way to Lose Weight Safely. I would recommend this report to anyone who is looking to lose weight safely and effectively. And to understand the ACTUAL science and research behind weight loss. In the article, I found a remarkable passage by Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance.
Dr. Cohen states, “If you make this commitment to lifestyle changes, then maybe five years from now, you’re 10 pounds [4.5 kilograms] lighter. If you’re doing crash diets, you would probably be 10 pounds more. People should focus on making lifestyle changes — sometimes even small ones, like cutting down on the sugar in coffee — to reduce their overall calorie intake. While these changes might not lead to drastic amounts of weight loss in short periods, they can produce healthy, gradual weight loss that will counter the natural tendency for people to gain weight as they age.”(Rettner)
So readers, I urge you to eat real food. Love real food. Cook real food. Share real food. Grow real food. Understand real food. Admire real food. Dedicate your life to real food. Owe your health to real food.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface Farm and the author of Folks, This Ain’t Normal; You Can Farm, “This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal.”
“Data & Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 June 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/index.html>.
Gordon, Sandra. “What Should We Feed Baby?” Infant Formula Timeline & History. Parent’s Choice. Web. 11 June 2016. <http://www.parentschoiceformula.com/articles/Infant-Formula-Timeline-What-Should-we-Feed-Baby.aspx>.
Menzel, Peter, and Faith D’Aluisio. What the World Eats. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle, 2008. Print.
Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.
Pugliese, Gerald. “Disease Proof : Disease Proof : Health & Nutrition News & Commentary : Dr. Joel Fuhrman.” NY Times: Michael Pollan on Nutritionism : Disease Proof. NY Times, 29 Jan. 2007. Web. 11 June 2016. <http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/healthy-food-ny-times-michael-pollan-on-nutritionism.html>.
Rettner, Rachel, M.S. “The Best Way to Lose Weight Safely.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 June 2016. <http://www.livescience.com/52992-weight-loss-safely-be-healthy.html>.