9 Popular Health Trends That AREN’T GOOD For You (Avoid!)

Written by Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn2

Ditch These 9 Popular Health Trends

I can’t think of any other field where trends are discussed as heavily as they are in health and fitness. I also can’t think of any other industry where they come and go quite as much or as often. And while most of the discussion takes place around the New Year, we thought it might be appropriate to take a mid-year inventory and have identified 9 health trends that aren’t good for you. Enjoy!

9 Health Trends That AREN’T GOOD For You

1. Information Overload

We’re fortunate to be living in the information-packed Digital Age. But this blessing can also be a curse if we just bathe in “stuff” without ever doing anything with it. In this unprecedented time of self-tracking (e.g., sleep, macros, heart rate, and so on), I find that most people, figuratively speaking, are like hamsters spinning on a wheel. That is, they’re trapped consuming information and collecting data—without doing anything with it.

If you really want to personalize your healthcare, seek to apply relevant knowledge. Instead of tracking more measurements and compiling more dependent variables, gain wisdom through application. By no means is that meant to discourage you from testing and collecting objective data, which is indeed very important. What I’m saying is that rather than gathering more information, we often need to use the information we already have in a better way.

As author Ryan Holiday says, “When intelligent people read, they ask themselves a simple question: ‘What do I plan to do with this information?’” (Yes, that goes for this blog too.)

2. Looking For the Next Big Thing

This trend (which probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon) piggybacks on the one mentioned above. As functional medicine clinician Dr. Bryan Walsh recently said in an interview, “How many people buy a whole bunch of books on a topic because they’re looking for the answer when the answer may have been there, but they just didn’t really sit down to apply it?”

The crux of it is that as soon as we start looking for “the next big thing,” isolating variables, or looking myopically at individual markers, systems of the body, and pieces of the puzzle, we often miss the forest for the trees. For Dr. Walsh, “My antidote is to go back to the basics. Forget all this fancy stuff.”

If you keep chasing that next shiny object, chances are you’ll never stick with anything long enough to move the needle. And if you do, you may never know what worked. This isn’t meant to disparage innovation nor is it intended to discourage scientific discovery. Rather, as we reach new frontiers, the encouragement is to connect the dots rather than isolate variables.

3. Viewing Supplements as Replacements

This may sound odd coming from a guy who fully and transparently endorses the use of supplements, but far too often I see people who aren’t willing to put in the work. Instead, they’re searching for a pill, potion, or patch that replaces—instead of complements—behavior modification. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that adequate intake of nutrients from foods reduced the risk of death, but supplemental nutrients did not have the same effect. 1

Does that mean there’s no place at all for supplements? That’s absolutely not what I’m saying. I wholeheartedly believe that supplements have their place. And the reality is that supplements have even more powerful, measurable, and noticeable benefits when you’re already doing the lion’s share of the work.

As many have said before me, you simply can’t supplement yourself out of a bad diet or overall crappy lifestyle. Take an honest inventory of your lifestyle and behaviors and identify areas you can improve. Meanwhile, opt for selective supplementation, which involves using supplements for targeted needs, purposes, and goals. For instance, use supplements to cover nutrient gaps you struggle to fill despite eating a diet that’s made up predominantly of whole, minimally processed foods.

4. Fad Diets

I get the allure of diets. Most people like to have boundaries set for them, and many want someone else to take the guesswork out of nutrition, so they can focus on other things that matter. I’ve also found certain folks actually get some satisfaction out of deprivation, and of course, there’s solidarity in jumping on the bandwagon.

But here’s the deal: Once you start throwing around the big d-word (diet, that is), you’ve almost invariably set yourself up for failure. While the word “diet” really refers to the kinds of foods you habitually eat, the overwhelming majority of us associate the term with a restrictive and short-term regimen we use as a vehicle to get from point A to point B.

As soon as you abandon whatever behaviors got you where you wanted to be (i.e., point B), you’re bound to find yourself right back where you started (i.e., at point A). That’s not to say diets don’t work. They most certainly can, and often, they work remarkably well. But if you want the results to stick, the behaviors have to as well.

Along those lines, diets really start working for you when you accept the real definition of the term and embrace diet as part of your lifestyle. This is why approaches like the Mediterranean-style and Paleo-style ways of eating tend to be so successful and are unlikely to go anywhere soon.

5. Everything in Moderation

On the other side of the coin, you have the “everything in moderation” mindset, which seems to be increasingly embraced. It seems like such a rational, pragmatic idea, and it’s nice, neat, and simple to say. For most, it “feels” good too.

Quite frankly, when it comes to diet, my experience tells me it’s a cop out. The problem isn’t that people are using this mantra in reference to eating a variety of colorful veggies and fruits (which is a good idea). The problem is that “everything in moderation” is typically an excuse to overeat, indulge, and put better choices on hold until tomorrow…or Monday, which ends up never coming. It’s permission to hold off on exercising self-control for another day. It flies in the face of discipline.

And research doesn’t disagree. At best, according to a study published in the journal PLOS One, the data does “not support the notion that ‘eating everything in moderation’ leads to greater diet quality or better metabolic health.” 2 Worse, this mindset (at least in the context of our current food environment, which is riddled with an abundance of highly-palatable, energy-dense processed foods) associates with weight gain and elevated waist circumference. Diet quality is key.

If you’re the type of person who has struggled to achieve your health and wellness goals, maybe it’s time to ditch the “everything in moderation” notion. Instead, embrace a laser-like focus on upping your game. If you ask the most successful people in any domain, they’re unlikely to tell you that “balance” or “moderation” got them where they are. Rather, going “all in” is usually the recipe for moving the needle, which often requires putting all (or most) of your eggs in one basket.

6. Fitness gadgets

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but judging by the omnipresent supply of fitness gadgets, most people haven’t gotten the memo that the marketing promises drastically exceed the real-world results. And this is particularly relevant for the endless array of the so-called ab-training, waist-slimming, body-shaping, and spot-reducing products. These are just about perfect examples of the notion, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”—especially if you think you’re going to get supermodel lean without working out or just exercising minutes a day.

The problem is not just that these devices are highly unlikely to deliver the spot reduction they promise—although that is a big one. The problem is also that these gadgets become the routine. In other words, instead of complementing a well-rounded, comprehensive workout routine, these fitness gadgets (and their five-minute programs) constitute the whole exercise program. And that’s best-case scenario. More likely, you’ll find them collecting dust. Considering these tend to be poorly-designed and promote pattern overload (often of unhealthy movement patterns), maybe that’s where they belong.

Not all fitness gadgets are a waste of money. In fact, I’m a bit of a gym-toy junkie myself. But here’s the deal: Any fitness gadget is just one tool in a toolbox of many, and good fitness is achieved by consistent, progressive effort—not fancy apparatuses.

7. Faux Meat

I’m all about encouraging more people to eat a semi-vegetarian diet. After all, I think an overwhelming majority of people could stand to shift their eating habits toward the plant-based end of the spectrum. The key, however, is that shift needs to involve eating more whole foods.

Unfortunately, as more people have made this shift, companies have set out to capitalize on the boon. But as I’ve said and Coach Cristina said here, junk food is still junk food, and a perfect example is the meat alternatives that now line grocery store shelves. These are nothing but glorified processed foods.

Just because something is advertised cleverly doesn’t make it healthy. You still have to scrutinize the ingredients. If it comes in a package and has a laundry list of ingredients, please step away. Your best bet is always going to be to emphasize whole, minimally processed foods.

8. Alkaline water

A lot of people are interested in alkaline water, and accordingly, a lot of companies are keen on capitalizing on said interest. For example, there are multi-level marketing companies with fantastic money-making opportunities selling alkaline water generators. As water expert Robert Slovac said on a recent podcast with Ben Greenfield, “I call alkaline water the scientific misconception that became a billion-dollar business.”

“People think if pH is high, it automatically will neutralize acid. That’s the connection that’s made for them in marketing. It’s totally untrue. pH is like temperature in a way; just because you have something that’s at 451 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t mean it can heat your house.

“I give people the example: you have a match at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, and you have a fireplace at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, but only one can heat your home. pH is just like that. At any given pH level, like pH 9 or pH 10, which people consider supreme alkaline water, if it doesn’t have buffering capacity, called alkalinity, which is the equivalent analogy to the heat output of the fireplace versus the match, then it won’t matter. It will do nothing. It won’t matter if it’s pH 5 or 7 or 8 or 10. It’s irrelevant.

“The other thing I tell people is, ‘Listen, as soon as you drink alkaline water, the body is going to change the pH dramatically. What is the value really and how does it deliver its value? The stomach, your first place the water goes, is stomach acid.’ When I tell a roomful of doctors this, most of them raise their open palm to their forehead and slap it like, ‘How the hell did I not think of this?’”

Finally, Slovac urges (and I agree), “I tell people to not waste your money on it [alkaline water]. If you want to make water have the ability to alkalize your body, you have to add buffering capacity. You add buffering capacity by adding alkalinity in the form of minerals that have buffering capacity. Those minerals are typically in the form of carbonates and bicarbonates.” The key here is alkaline versus alkalizing.

9. Amateur Advice on Social Media

Now more than ever, amateurs can use their own “n = 1” experiments as a platform for “helping” others. In other words, there’s a massive (and concerning) contingent of unqualified people who are blatantly offering medical advice based on their own personal experiences. Despite being well-intentioned, this is not just misguided, it’s downright dangerous (not to mention unethical and illegal).

Be very careful whose advice you’re seeking and taking. Just because something “works” for one person doesn’t make it a good fit for you. And just because someone stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night does not make him/her a qualified healthcare practitioner.

Speaking of social media, I also want to call out the façade of social media that many people hide behind—picture-perfect gym shots, plates of food, and so on. Fitness professionals and models often portray perfection, but life isn’t perfect (for anyone). And the good news is that you don’t have to be perfect to enjoy extraordinary health and wellness. You just need to do your best and keep progressing over time. Hiccups are normal, and they’re critical for growth.

As Craig Ballantyne says, “It’s not win or lose. It’s win or learn.” Stop trying to live up to someone else’s fallacious ideal, especially when they’re hiding everything they don’t want you to see behind a distorted curtain.

Have you fallen prey to any of these health trends? Are there any others you’ve noticed and wondered about? I’d love to hear your feedback, questions, and criticisms below!

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References

  • 1. Chen F, Du M, Blumberg JB, et al. Association among dietary supplement use, nutrient intake, and mortality among U.S. adults: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 2019;170(9):604. doi:10.7326/M18-2478
  • 2. Otto MC de O, Padhye NS, Bertoni AG, Jr DRJ, Mozaffarian D. Everything in moderation - dietary diversity and quality, central obesity and risk of diabetes. PLOS ONE. 2015;10(10):e0141341. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141341