YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsHealth

In Your Face Fitness: This magazine cover is not a health guide

A blueberry weight-loss phenomenon. A soap that shrinks cellulite. Publishers want you to buy this advice, but the old truth remains. You must develop good habits and stick to them.

August 02, 2010|By James S. Fell, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Some magazines provide vague references to science to make outlandish health and weight-loss claims seem plausible.
Some magazines provide vague references to science to make outlandish… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

If, perchance, you are a fan of magazines prominently displayed in grocery checkout lines, please accept my apologies for any shattering of delusions that may be about to take place.

A few days ago, I was in one of these lines, my eyes wandering over the various magazines, one revealing a bikini-clad and heavily Photoshopped Kim Kardashian, something about someone videotaping something they shouldn't have, some allegedly famous guy cheating on some girl of equally dubious fame — and cupcakes.

It was the image of cupcakes that caught my eye. They looked good. Not only that, but the magazine said they were "guilt-free." Underneath the photo were the words, "Our secret recipe has half the fat and 1/3 less calories!"

Wait. One-third less calories is not zero calories. If you're on a strict weight-loss regimen and cutting out junk food, then this is merely a "guilt-reduced" cupcake, not "guilt-free." I guess the line "1/3 less guilt cupcakes" didn't have the same ring to the marketing department. Even if it's just fat you're concerned about, there is still 50% guilt associated with these things.

As further proof that this particular magazine is terrible at math, the primary headline read: "The Juice That Melts Belly Fat! Drink Two Glasses a Day — and Lose 9 Lbs. and 3" in a Week!" Lose 9 pounds in one week? Is the juice made out of tapeworms?

I flipped ahead and saw that it's actually from blueberries. "Science" says the berries alter belly fat so that it, I don't know, evaporates or changes its molecular structure and is transported into a parallel universe or something.

I did more scanning and saw fashion advice that I was incapable of assessing — good? bad? I have no idea — and then read that lipstick makes you more likable. Hmmm … I can't comment on that one either. However, I was interested in the vast amounts of health advice the magazine contained. It must have a hypochondriac readership.

Here's are some samples — and my two cents:

• You can prevent summer colds with iced tea. The magazine said something about Harvard to make the recommendation sound legitimate. So much for hand washing, I guess — just drink tea.

• Apparently people in the Caribbean know of some foods that cure PMS. I won't make any further comment on this subject or it will take a "CSI" team to identify my Midol-riddled corpse.

• Some pill can make you feel five years younger 30 days from now. I'm actually in better shape now than I was five years ago, so I'll pass.

• Get this: "Magazine readers are healthier … than those who seek out information on the Internet!" Um, yeah. As one must pay to buy a magazine — yet the Internet is free — the motivations regarding this claim are suspect.

• There is a soap that will shrink cellulite. Soap? I wonder what would happen if I washed my car with it. We had a nasty hail storm a little while ago and my poor old Acura got hammered; it now looks like it has cellulite.

This was all in one issue of one magazine. It is not the only offender.

I'm not sure what goes through the publishers' heads. Surely they know that most of what is in their magazines is false or misleading — but they print it anyway. I suppose there are enough gullible and desperate people out there willing to pay money to read terrible health advice.

The magazines provide vague references to science to make outlandish health and weight-loss claims seem plausible, even though the weight of real scientific evidence shows otherwise.

Yet still, the magazines sell, and it makes us wonder: Are people who read them stupid?

Not necessarily.

In his 1997 book "Why People Believe Weird Things," author Michael Shermer asserted that "smart people" could be more susceptible to believing weird things than others. He further explained: "More than any other, the reason people believe weird things is because they want to. ... It feels good. It is comforting. It is consoling."

In other words, believing that rapid weight loss comes from blueberry juice makes you feel good, at least until the crushing reality sets in about how difficult weight loss really is. Some people just don't want to admit to themselves how much effort it takes, that getting and staying fit requires a lifelong commitment to healthy living. They want a quick and easy miracle cure, so they buy a magazine that promises one, or five.

There is good health, diet and fitness information to be found, but you need to be discerning. One bit of advice is to remember that if it sounds too good to be true, then it's about as reliable as using Lindsay Lohan as your designated driver.

A final bit of wisdom:

If you want to lose weight and be healthier, seek out exercise you can learn to enjoy — and think of healthful eating as a way to fuel this more active lifestyle. Diet and exercise cannot be seen simply as a means to an end, because you can't sustain something you hate long-term.

If you want to both get and stay fit, you need to learn to love the journey, and these magazines don't teach that.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.

Los Angeles Times Articles