Who's seen the 'news' about 'The Nike Mannequin'?
If have been living anywhere near social media in June 2019, you'll know what I'm talking about. Apparently, placing clothing (which already exists) on a mannequin larger than a size 6 with an ectomorph body shape is actually so controversial it constitutes as 'news'.
I'm not even going to discuss the horrendous newspaper article Tanya Gold wrote (or link to it because she doesn't need any more traffic), and I'm definitely not going to rewrite the ridiculous, insensitve comments made by some on Twitter. Rather, I want to reflect on what it tells us about our current societal norms and how they affect the way we view 'wellness' (why do I have such an irrational hatred for that word?!), health and fitness in 2019.
Let's start with my new favourite hashtag. I first discovered this on Joshua Wolrich's Instagram account where he dispels popular nutrition myths on a daily basis. (Read to the end for more social media accounts exposing #nutribollocks.)
"spurious nutrition advice with little to no scientific evidence, frequently used on social media to make a profit; promotes disordered eating"
Unfortunately, the very definition of nutribollocks means that it is exceptionally well marketed making it difficult to distiguish between the facts and the pseudo-facts. Some typical examples of nutribollocks are 'skinny' teas and coffees, adding butter to coffee as a fat loss aid, juices which 'detox' your body or return it to its natural PH, and fat burning tablets. Nutribollocks at its best will simply rob you of your hard earned cash offering you little in return; however, at it's worst it can be far more dangerous masquerading as normal eating, all the while creating disordered eating patterns in those who try it.
Let's take an example to see how this works... Here's my new nutribollocks product of the month:
The Spark Super Juice Plan
Maggie had struggled to lose weight for years. Yo-yoing between one diet and the next, rather than lose weight, Maggie had piled on the pounds but had also noticed her health deteriorating. At rock bottom, worried about Type II Diabetes, metabolic diseases and high blood pressure, she went on holiday and discovered the super juice! A secret recipe of juices that has been keeping residents of a remote village in the Mediterranean healthy and happy for over 100s of years.
The unique blend of super antioxidants flush the body with an antidote to the toxins of our modern lifestyles creating feelings of renewed energy, vital vitamins and minerals which nourish the body.
After just 1 week of no processed foods and drinking the super juice, Maggie felt lighter and had more energy. After 1 month of no processed foods and drinking the super juice, Maggie was shopping smaller dress sizes, enjoying regular exercise and felt a renewed sense of wellbeing far exceeding anything she could have imagined. After a year of avoiding processed foods and partaking in regular super juice cleanses, Maggie felt her body was finally free from the toxins that had slowed her down so much; she felt healthier, fitter and most importantly was no longer worried about Type II diabetes, metabolic disesases and high blood pressure.
Maggie knew she couldn't keep the juice a secret any longer and so Spark Super Juice Plan was born. Since it's inception, millions of women, just like you, have experienced the amazing effects... and you can too!
Typical advert right? Sounds good... it worked for Maggie and you can google the product providing many more testimonials for how amazing the Spark Super Juice Plan is. Plus, usually the plan costs £600 to join but for one week only, you can buy the whole plan for just £200... what's not to like!?
Well, call me a cynic, but I apply the same principal to this as I do to politicians... let's ask some critical questions:
Is someone trying to sell me something?
This is not a bad thing - our livelihood relies on us selling the benefits of personal training to people - but we should alwasy approach with caution and therefore more questions; the purchase of this product doesn't just benefit us.
Is there any factual, scientific evidence to support the claims?
To answer this, we need to pick out the claims. These are not always written directly but inferred. In the example above, they are: causes weight loss, promotes greater health, increases energy levels, flushes the body of toxins (detoxifies), increases levels of fitness, promotes an overall sense of wellbeing and happiness, and - heavily insinuated has the potential to reverse Type II diabetes, other metabolic diseases and reduces blood pressure.
There's NO evidence. Not in the copy, not on the whole website, not in the FAQs, not even when you independently google the benefits of drinking juice. Nothing. Nada. Not a jot.
Are the claims made purely anecdotal or are they supported with facts?
We've all heard of the placebo effect and yes, sometimes that really is all you need. But I'll be honest, if I'm going to part with my hard earned cash, I'm going to expect more than placebic benefits... I'm going to need something concrete. You see, the problem with anecdotes is that you have no idea what else the person changed in their life at the moment they started 'the plan'. In the example above more exercise is insinuated - great! But also, we have no idea what Maggie's diet was like before she started the juice. If she was eating processed foods every day, she likely felt sluggish and low on energy; if she was eating in a caloric surplus every day, she was likely gradually putting weight on; if she was worried about the weight gain and the negative consequences, she was likely feeling quite stressed... just drinking juice for a bit, cutting out the processed foods and exercising would naturally have made her feel better - and lighter!!! I mean there's no fibre in juice so she's definitely losing weight because things are gonna be speeding right up!!
What pain points are they trying to trigger?
Those bods in the marketing departments know how to hook us right in. They know what makes us sad and they use that to sell us things which will stop the pain and make us happy. What's the pain point above? Weight loss. The classic diet culture marketing drug. Marketing tells you, you need to lose weight, it tells you you're at risk of illness and disease just by being overweight, you believe you need to lose weight, you look for something which helps you lose weight quickly... Annnnnd we're back to the juice plan. Plus, guess what - it's totally healthy too!
Except it's not.
The problem with Nutribollocks
It would be easy to dismiss this. You could argue that I've fabricated the above copy and it's over the top; but in order to write that, I actually re-cobbled the copy of 3 'juice plan' websites in to one - and no I'm not sending traffic to them, not a chance!! ;-)
So, this is real. But what's the problem?
We could argue that people are being hoodwinked into paying huge amounts of cash for something that doesn't work and will never work, but if it makes them happy to do so and they feel the benefits, why not? Well, that's not really the problem I have with it.
The big issue is that whilst we are sold these, and our friends promote them, and we feel left out and take part in them too we're all gradually creating more and more disordered eating patterns. Disordered eating patterns are hazadous to our physical and mental health. And that is a fact. We're not being sold the idea we need to lose weight because it's going to help us; we're not being sold the product to lose weight because it's going to help us; we're being sold these things because they make A LOT of money out of us doing it. Meanwhile, a year down the line, we weigh more than we did before (not necessarily a problem but also not the outcome we were looking for), we're lighter in the pocket for it, and we've become scared of certain foods. We've added another 10 items to our list of 'shit foods I couldn't possibly eat', we restrict whole food groups that are actually essential to good health, and we're more miserable about the image we see in the mirror than ever before. Once again, our physical and mental health is more likely to have deteriotated than improved.
Pseudoscientific claims are attached to pseudoconcern. The companies which sell us these products do so from a position of concern for our health. And even that in itself moves us all even further away from the actual answer.
Here's how we think it works:
a) Advertising tells us we need to lose weight because it's the sole cause of our physical ailments and being fat makes us sad. They show us pictures of 'normal' people who are size 6 or have washboard abs and make us believe that 99% of the population look this way rather than 1%
b) We believe we need to lose weight because we compare ourselves to 1% of the population and talk to the other 99% about how fat we are and how sad that makes us. We know that our health will be better if we lose weight but we can't do something like exercise until we've lost the weight so we can wear the workout gear sported by 1% of the population and size 6 mannequins in the fitness stores.
c) In order to lose weight quickly so we can start to improve our health and so we'll be happy again, we buy into the latest diet/tablet/juice/shake/meal replacement/unicorn blood that will transform our lives forever
d) The latest unicorn blood is awesome for the first 1-2 months and we are on a high. In fact, we're feeling so good, we hazard a return to the gym and sign up to a year's contract. We've not bought new workout gear yet because you still need to be a size 6 with washboard abs to wear that, but we'll treat ourselves as soon as we've lost the weight.
e) 3 months' later and life has got busy. The kids need ferrying places, work is absolutely manic and the unicorn blood has definitely lost it's allure, especially after that surprise night out where we ate our bodyweight in pizza because it tasted 'oh so f*cking amazing we'd forgotten it tasted that good' and we'd 'blown it anway' when we'd had the second glass of wine.
f) 3 1/2 months' later and we feel like a complete failure. Once again we've been incapable of sticking to something and we know it's because we've no willpower and that's why we're fat in the first place and that's bad because it's not healthy but we can't be healthy until we lose weight because fat people aren't allowed to exercise and even when we do we aren't allowed to wear fitness clothes to do so because that's promoting obsesity and we know all this because of the comments at the bottom of social media and turdfaced journalists who like to make their name by writing controversial articles that are purely designed to upset people and call out the trolls who pretend that they're worried about the health of the nation but really they're highly fat-phobic and they couldn't actually give a shit about the health of people who are overweight because if they did they would actually want to encourage people getting out and exercising and being able to do so in nice clothes like the size 6 people with washboard abs are allowed to wear and the advertising companies and all their social media perpetuate this even further with their pictures of all the size 6 people with washboard abs who are definitely what 99% of the population look like except for us and we need to go on a diet so we should definitely buy that new plan from celebrity asswipe because it's definitely going to make us healthier and happy!
The short of it is this. We've bought into diet culture's idea that all our problems will be solved by losing weight. So much so that we've intrinsically linked health and weight loss together which is actually preventing us from becoming healthier. Instead we're falling for the kind of nutribollocks which if it was presented to us in any other sphere of our life, we would be highly cynical about - imagine if you were sold the best way to detoxify your 3 year old would be to give them nothing but celery juice for 2 weeks! Or would you believe that the best way to help your dog drop some pounds would be to feed them coffee laden with butter twice a day?!
The antidote to Nutribollocks and pseudo-concern
Firstly, we need to accept that there's no magic answer to this. Good health takes time. I also think it's important to separate weight loss from health. The reason being that it's perfectly possible to increase your health without losing weight. Those who adopt healthy habits such as a balanced diet, gentle nutrition, happy movement and exercise do improve their key health markers even if they don't lose weight.
The other reason is that very often, focusing on weight loss is also a short-term focus. We've been socialised to believe that weight loss is something to be achieved before a holiday, or within X days; it's not something we see as either long term or sustainable. Not only does this cause people to give up when they feel like their hard work over a few weeks has elluded very little improvement but it even prevents people starting in the first place; how many times have you heard yourself say 'I'll do X when I've lost 'X'? Or I'll buy myself something nice to wear once I'm a size 'X'? This achieves nothing. The very mindset keeps you in the identity of someone who is stuck in their ways with no way of changing until you've started changing, which can't happen because you're putting off changing! That made sense, right?!
In short, quick fixes don't exist. A lot of the images you see and stories you read on social media are either just not true, took much longer than they care to have you believe, or required an upheaval of someone else's life that just isn't applicable to your own.
You do you
Get rid of the 'fitspo' social media accounts; hell, hide those people you know on your timeline who are spouting #nutribollocks every day, clean up your timeline and start making your own decisions. Ignore those who show mock concern for your health, question your desire to lose weight or tell you you should. Question what you read and critically evaluate the claims; you're an intelligent person if you really stop and question whether it's possible for fruit and vegetable juice to detox the liver, you'd realise that it would be the cheapest solution available on the NHS for those with liver disease. So why don't they use it?
Adopt a lifestyle which you'd be happy to recommend for your son, daughter, dog, grandmother: Eat a balanced range of foods that fill you up, fill you with nutrients and fill you with happiness; take walks in the park and playtime with your favourite people; have chats, cuddles, social times and catch-ups in your downtime away from work. Make small changes, build new habits one step at a time and keep them going day in, day out. Eventually, you'll get where you want to be and yes, it may be slow but you'll get there... which is damn closer that where you'll get if you trust the charlatans in the diet industry to guide your way with their nutribollocks and psedoconcern!
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