Fads, Fixes, and Fakes: dealing with health hype around the new year


“New year, new you!”

Is there any time of year more obsessed with health habits than the new year? Even the “beach body” craze of late May doesn’t reach the same level of hype. Every time you turn the corner, somebody else is trying to get you to try a class, a supplement, a shake, a piece of equipment, a diet, a lifestyle … and it can be exhausting trying to figure out what’s bona fide and what’s bogus. It’s perfectly normal to look forward to a fresh start in January (or not!), but here’s a little guidance on whether to put money down on that hot new habit after the holidays.

Is it promising a quick fix?

If whatever you’re thinking of trying swears you’ll get the desired result in no time at all, you can be pretty sure you’re entering into scam territory. The human body is based on homeostasis. It can change, and it does, but most of those changes occur over time. There’s a reason why most things that cause fast changes in the body (like surgery and drugs) require a physician to administer them; they can be dangerous if not used carefully. If you’ve been out of shape for five years, don’t expect to get back in shape in five weeks. That’s just not how the body works.

Does it promise a panacea?

There are diets that can help you lose weight. There are exercise routines that can help you gain muscle and strength. There are massages that can help you relax and manage your stress levels. (Might want to get on that one soon.) But if someone is selling One Amazing Thing that will evaporate your fat, increase your happiness, straighten your posture, whiten your teeth, cure your cancer, and send your sex drive through the roof? You can be pretty sure it’s not worth your money. No, that essential oil will not prevent ebola, but it does smell nice and could help improve your mood if you like it. Don’t pay a Magical Thinking Tax for exaggerated claims.

Is it relying on conspiracy theories for marketing?

Conspiracies can be fun to read about, but if the main selling point is that “doctors hate it” or “Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about this,” it’s probably not the best addition to your life. Why? Because you and your physician (and your dentist, your massage therapist, your counselor, your personal trainer, your nutritionist …) are part of your health and wellness team. If any one of them refuses to be a team player, they’re not doing what’s best for you. Casting aspersions on some of your VIPs? Not cool. If you haven’t heard much about a particular tool, it’s probably not because your health team is trying desperately to get you to stick to being sick. It’s much more likely that the thing just doesn’t work at all.

Does it fit your life, your budget, your goals, and your understanding of reality?

If yes, then this is something worth looking into, whether it’s a gym membership, a cookbook of heart-healthy meals, or a habit tracking app. Ultimately, we try things out and see how they work for us over the long haul. Not everything will be a perfect fit, but at least we can weed out some of the resolutionist marketing malarkey and move forward with our best efforts into the new year.

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