I get approached with questions in the gym a lot. So much that sometimes I feel like an information vending machine. Comes with the territory, I guess. I really don’t mind… usually… unless someone taps me on the shoulder while I’m right in the middle of a set, which has been known to happen…Anyway, a young guy – must have been about 19 or so- came up to me yesterday on the gym floor and just started asking me questions out of the blue. His name was Jose. I had to ask him because he didn’t even introduce himself, he just walked up and started firing questions at me.
Jose looked to be in pretty decent shape. Maybe he was ten pounds or so off of being really lean, but anyone on the street would have known that he worked out, even with a casual glance.
I remember his first question very distinctly:
“Hey, I was wondering if I could ask you something… Which pills should I take to help me lose more fat?”
This might seem like a perfectly fair question that anyone with an inquiring mind might ask about health, fitness or losing weight. But to me, the way he phrased it and the fact that it was the very first thing out of his mouth revealed a lot to me about him, about human nature and about the sorry state of the health and fitness industry today.
“What makes you think you need a pill to lose weight?” I asked.
He seemed stunned. His head pulled back and twisted slightly to the right, with a quizzical expression on his face. I suppose he was so used to having some gym “expert” rattle off a whole laundry list of pills and powders to take that it never even occurred to him whether he needed any of them in the first place.
He had NO solid answer to my question:
“I Dunno… I guess just because I thought I needed it. That’s what everybody tells you.”
I continued, “WHY do you think you need help? Are you unsatisfied with the results you’re getting?”
“Ummm, actually I just lost 30 pounds.”
Well, I darn near fell over when I heard that!
“Are you serious?” I said, “That’s awesome – congratulations. How did you do it? How much cardio are you doing? What’s your diet like?”
Jose said that for the past four months or so he had been walking on the (inclined) treadmill for 45 minutes to an hour every day and he was lifting weights three days a week.
He then ran through his daily menu plan with me and it was pretty darn good – all the right stuff – egg whites, oatmeal, chicken breasts, fruit, salads, vegetables, brown rice and so on.
I kept picking his brain, still wondering why he felt he needed a pill even after this much success…
“Let me ask you something else Jose. It sounds like you’ve been doing great. Have your results stopped? Are you having trouble with the last ten pounds or so?”
Jose confirmed what I suspected: “No, I’m still losing weight – I lost two pounds last week – but I still can’t really see my abs yet.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said, “You’re on the treadmill every day, you’re up here lifting weights three times a week, you’re eating well, you’ve lost 30 pounds so far, you’re still getting results every week and you’re DIDN’T take any “miracle pills” to do it, is that right?”
“Jose, you’re doing everything right – and you’re getting great results. Don’t you think that if you keep doing more of what you’ve been doing that you’ll keep getting more of the same results and you’ll have your abs looking exactly like you want them to?”
At that moment, fortuitously, Bob, one of the trainers at our club, chimed in… he had been “eavesdropping” from the next bench over… “You look totally different than you did a few months ago. I can totally see it. You might not notice as much because you see yourself every day and don’t see the little changes, but I can totally see it. Trust me, you look great man. Tom is right. Forget about pills – you don’t need them.”
After getting confirmation from a second trainer, it was as if Jose suddenly “believed” me. He started nodding his head, a satisfied grin spread across his face, he thanked us and then walked away.
In the coaching and personal development world, there’s a saying, ” Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day, teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.” In the weight loss advertising and marketing world, there’s also a much-embraced expression: “Just give them the damn fish!” Translated, this means, “Don’t teach people how to eat and exercise, just sell them the pill… which is what they *want* anyway, (but not what they *need*”)
Every day I thank God that there are trainers like Bob -who “teach people how to fish” and who encourage, motivate and steer their clients in the right direction – and away from quick fixes. It’s too bad that we are the minority.
For every trainer who answers the question like we did, there are a dozen others who are more like “supplement salespeople” than “fitness advisors.” For many, it’s a requirement in their PT jobs at commercial health clubs (literally – they have quotas).
Those so called “fitness professionals” are all too happy to give the member or client the pill without ever a word being spoken about exercise or nutrition.
I’ll be the first person to tell you that there are some supplements worth taking to support a good training and nutrition program. I’ll tell you that there are supplements that might be beneficial to people with health problems – legitimate “natural remedies,” you could say.
I’ll even tell you that there have been scientific studies proving that test subjects who took ephedrine/caffeine pills lost more body fat than the control groups who did not.
But in the same breath, I would also tell you not to bother with any “fat burning” pills because they’re unnecessary when your training and diet are in place and because they cannot possibly help you to lose weight and keep it off in the long term. (It’s just a temporary quick fix at best… a total scam at worst. I’d love to see what the test groups from those studies look like today).
In my opinion, the entire concept of taking a pill to lose weight – regardless of whether it’s a prescription pharmaceutical or an over the counter supplement – is misguided and shows ignorance of the basic law of cause and effect.
Taking a pill to treat an effect or symptom (body fat) does not address what created the body fat in the first place (inactivity and poor nutrition). To permanently fix a problem, you must trace the problem back to its cause and treat that.
Whether you agree with this viewpoint or not, one thing is for certain: To even think about using a “weight loss pill” without having your nutrition and exercise houses in order is absurd.
When the very first question from the mouth of a newcomer to fitness is, “WHICH pill should I take?” you know there is a serious problem. There’s an even bigger problem when an answer is quickly given to that question rather than inquiring about whether it was the right question to ask in the first place.
The answers you receive can only be as good as the quality of the questions you ask. “Which pill should I take?” is the wrong question.
With a recent judgment ruling in favor of bringing ephedra back on the market, and with cortisol pills still riding their wave of popularity, despite FTC lawsuits, I think this is a perfect time to repeat the same message I have repeated since I first started publishing online in 1999 – and that is…
Fitness doesn’t come in a pill – it never did and it never will.
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author of Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 140 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for Global-Fitness.com and the nutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com and his articles are featured regularly on literally dozens of other websites.