PHIL KAPLAN'S FITNESS TRUTH - Nutritional Confusion

Update - March 14, 2005 - Visit the Update Menu for Previous Updates

The 5 Fitness & Weight Loss "Scams" of 2005???
by Phil Kaplan

Scam is a pretty strong word. It suggest an intent to defraud. The guy who stands on the street corner in New York promising to sell you a Rolex for $20 is a quantifiable scam artist, but perhaps it's unfair to categorize the issues I'm about to raise as scams. They may in fact be the result of marketers promoting offerings based on misinformation rather than disinformation (misinformation is accidental, where the purveyor of the message is misinformed; disinformation is intentional). Regardless, however, of the intent, when flawed information and false promises accompany a product offering, consumers will be in a position to waste hope, money, energy, and time, so allow me to share some fitness truth related to a few "hot" items on the slate for "big sellers" this year.

I must admit, the idea for this article was not my own. It was sort of delivered to me, not by a publisher, but by a PR agent who books me on radio shows. I periodically receive emails and faxes of scheduled appearances coordinated between my assistant and a PR agent, and I make the mistake all too often of trusting that the PR agent represented what I do accurately. I've learned, over the years, that PR agents will sometimes say whatever they have to say to get "the booking." As an example, I remember being on hold about to be on a major radio morning show in the Chicago area and listening to the hosts introduce me. "And here he is, the man who turned Cindy Crawford from average to supermodel . . . Phil Kaplan." Suddenly I'm on the air, and two radio personalities are firing away questions about which supermodels had boob jobs. Of course i straightened things out quickly, and of course I made a few changes in the PR people I utilized, but not before the time I was introduced as "the fitness psychic," or the time the host insisted I was there to talk about which pro athletes use steroids.

While most appearances run smoothly, every now and then I'm surprised by an introduction and have to spend a few minutes dispelling misinformation related to "who I am" and "what I do."

A few weeks ago Holly called me on my cell phone as I was walking into a meeting and she asked, "can you do a show in Dallas by phone at 4 PM Eastern Time Saturday?" Holly manages my calendar, so if the calendar was clear, sure, I'd do it. The day before the planned interview, the producer of the show called, just to make sure he had the right contact information. We had a brief chat and before he hung up he closed with, "I can't wait to hear what the top five fitness scams of 2005 are." I knew immediately. A PR agent came up with a "topic," a "hook," that I didn't even know I was supposed to be ready for.

The following morning, on my own radio show, I thought out loud and came up with what I believed the top "scams" that are presently facing the fitness and weight-loss-wanting public are. Here they are in no special order:

1. The Ephedra Free "Natural" Fat Burners -

Many of the supplement sellers are having a field day selling new addictive stimulants wearing labels that say "Natural." Natural suggests the compound is something found in nature, either in plants, animals, or yes, even people. That really allows for a great many compounds to be packaged as "natural," after all, the human body produces hydrochloric acid and ammonia, animals sometimes have poison glands that house neurotoxins, and plants are the raw material for everything from opium to cocaine. Natural does not necessarily equate to "safe."

When ephedrine was "pulled" (not banned as many believe - you can still buy OTC asthma meds such as Primatene tablets, pure ephedrine HCl in pharmacies) from the shelves of health food stores, the supplement sellers were not surprised. They had fair warning so their scientists created new formulas that the marketing folks would make sure the public bought into. They searched for a compound with similar attributes to those we associate with ephedrine, but one that had not been sold in great volume for regular usage so the risks and hazards were unproven. They found synephrine, the primary ingredient in many nasal sprays. Just as ephedrine can be derived from herbal sources (ma huang, ephedra), so too can synephrine (citrus aurantium, bitter orange). These "new" compounds "work" primarily via diuretic water loss (of course they are loaded with "natural" caffeine) and appetite suppression, not unlike the diet pills of the 1970's. They are in most cases a 21st century legal version of speed, and while they can result in short term weight loss, and even short term accelerated fat loss in individuals committed to eating right and exercising, they alter endocrine production and find repeat buyers not because of a metabolism boost, but rather because of the initiation of a legal "natural" addiction. I suspect that with time we'll find the "new" fat burners to be just as potentially dangerous as those that were scrutinized by the FDA.

2. The "Work the Abs Using Proven Research and Reduce the Waist" infomercial products.

Get great abs? Get a tiny waistline? Get in shape for the beach? There are common come-ons, but when they tie into an ab exerciser there is need for a red flag to be raised.

It appears, based on some very credible research (find info on a study that reviewed common ab exercises at San Diego State sanctioned by ACE) that movements that allow you to safely move, in a horizontal upwards position, to a hyperextensive position beyond a neutral spine allow for both a greater recruitment of abdominal muscle fibers and a great overall muscle contraction then a standard crunch where the floor limits the range of motion. In other words, if you can envision a crunch performed on a stability ball, you'll recognize that the shape of the ball allows for a greater extension of the abdominal muscles than the same crunch performed on a bench or the floor. It also appears that movements that roll the hips forward and tilt the pelvic bone involve greater "core" stimulation. Research revealed the "captain's chair" exercise, otherwise known as a hanging leg raise or hanging knee raise, to be very effective at stimulating abdominal muscle recruitment. The same research showed the stability ball to be a valuable tool in enhancing the abdominal muscle stimulus in a crunch movement. The research is legit. Product marketers know if they can say "research has proven," and if they can even recruit a researcher to appear in an infomercial validating a study's efficacy, people will pay attention.

A new breed of products have emerged that allow for a greater abominal muscle extension, but here's the "scammy" part of the equation (I don't think "scammy" is a word . . . but you know what i mean). These products are sold, via infomercials, claiming that they will reduce the waist. The reseach really took place, but it was not directed at waist reduction. It measured abdominal muscle contraction. While we all intellectually know by know you can't "spot reduce," the allure of these clever infomercials causes people to put common sense aside as they buy into yet the latest abdominal miracle promising "the 6 pack."

3. The confusing language of "net carbs," "low carb," and "no carb."

As our population has been impacted by Atkins and low-carb advocates, the mistaken mantra that "carbs are bad" has led to the recognition by food sellers that carbohydrates scare people. Rather than attempting to educate the public as the virtues of good complex and fibrous carbohydrates, they direct their attention to simply modifying their labels. New loopholes in labeling laws allow food companies to sweeten foods with sugar alcohols and not categorize them as "sugars" or "carbs," even though these sugar alcohols can have a significant insulin response. They use very screwy math as there are products touting labels that read "3 net impact carbs" on the front, and when you turn them over you find the nutritional panel reads "Carbohydrates 28 grams." What does "net carbs" mean? The food manufacturers using the term will present some jargon that suggests they are the carbs that are digestible and impact blood sugar, but the reality is, the term is meaningless. Ignore the big print on the front. Look at the nutrition panel, the serving size, the sugar content, the fat content, and the ingredient listing if you really want to know how supportive a food is.

4. The carb blockers and fat trappers

Along with the push toward lower carb promises, supplement sellers have reignited carb-blockers and, while they're at it, why not also reignite the fat blockers using language that suggests that with these compounds in pill form you can eat anything you want and prevent the fat and carb calories from being absorbed. The "carb blockers" contain either HCA (from garcinia cambogia) or Phase 2 (from white navy bean), both of which I've addressed at the site, neither of which provides any sort of license to feast on cookies and cakes without worrying about fat accumulation. At best these compounds may prevent the conversion of a small amount of ingested carbs (glucose) into triglycerides, and to turn that into "eat anything without worry" requires wild exaggeration. The fat blockers contain chitosan (from the exoskeleton of shellfish) which does have a propensity for attracting oil particles, but has no effect on stored bodyfat. To suggest that it's OK to eat high fat and high carb foods and cancel their negative impact with a pill is pure fantasy, a fantasy without a happy ending.

5. The "leptin" and "lipin" pseudo-drug promises

Leptin is a hormonal messenger that takes you from the point of being hungry to the point of satiation during the ingestion of food. It acts at the hypothalmus, which is considered "the control center" of the brain. Leptin is produced naturally, and when scientists found that injecting leptin into an obese genetically altered mouse with a flaw in the OB gene caused it to lose 1/2 of its bodyweight in a 4 1/2 weeks, needless to say they were thrilled. If you are a genetically altered mouse with a flaw in the OB gene, then yes, leptin injections may help, but there is very little human research to validate the long term weight loss benefits of exogenous leptin injection. Worse yet, some early human research indicates that leptin may disrupt the action of insulin. Of course the drug companies are very anxious to release a "leptin" drug, even though there has been little or no validation of an oral compound having the effect of leptin injection. Here's what you should keep in the front of your mind as you're lured by the new "leptin" promises. A commmitment to supportive eating and a dual commitment to resistance and aerobic exercise can optimize leptin production and help to regulate metabolism and appetite. We have evolved into a society looking to medications to adjust serotonin, dopamine, leptin, thyroid hormones, insulin, testosterone, growth hormone, etc. etc. and these are all biochemical compounds we are quite capable of manufacturing and optimally utilizing if we'd only, as a population, learn to take responsibility and learn to recognize that outside of cases of specific pathologies or medical abnormalities, we are in control of the hormonal cascade.

So, there you have it. The five "scams" that may or may not be actual intention to defraud, but certainly warrant ongong discussion and careful review before any consumer opts to buy into an unfounded promise.

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