I admit it. I'm still carrying my winter weight and haven't done anything about it, yet. Now summer's around the corner and I'm that guy searching for something that will motivate me to be fitter and healthier before my bare chest is exposed to other humans on a beach somewhere come July.
Enter the internet.
The internet is beautiful for it's ability to connect us; to foster community and spread useful information. But it seems to struggle with bringing accurate information to the top. Likable and popular beats truthful. The gap between what my Facebook feed says I should do to improve my health this summer, and what scientific evidence says is pronounced and at times concerning.
I'm not a scientist, but I like the evidence based approach to life. If I tried everything my Mom "swore worked for her" I'd run out of time, and probably out of sanity. Asking questions about the evidence is a handy filter in that way.
If you're anything like me, what follows may help you avoid some popular but wholly unscientific, unproven health fads this summer.
1. Activated Charcoal
It's all the rage among people who eat Paleo through the week then binge drink on weekends (there's nothing cavemen liked more than Bourbon, apparently). The theory is that before you drink alcohol, downing a couple of capsules of Activated Charcoal can lessen the effects of your hangover.
Thomas Pirelli, Ph.D from HealthyButSmart.com says "It came to popular attention because of it's use in hospitals. There is reliable evidence of Activated Charcoal being useful in episodes of poisoning."
The problem started when people deduced that if it can help rid the body of poisonous substances, it can also help clear other "toxins" from the body. And in the discussion of "toxins", those poorly defined nasties that generate so much fear, Alcohol is always front and centre.
Dr Pirelli confirms: "There is no evidence to suggest that Activated Charcoal helps the body eliminate toxins any better than the average person's liver might".
Helpfully we can discard talk of Activated Charcoal's benefits for anything other than acute poisoning and it might even be doing more harm than good.
2. Bulletproof Coffee
You've heard of it. Your friends have heard of it. Some of them probably love it.
But according to research, the claimed health benefits of Bulletproof Coffee are based on some misguided assumptions.
Assumption #1: There are mycotoxins in coffee which are bad for you. Therefore a coffee free of such toxins is superior and better for your health.
Authority Nutrition covered this coffee myth, essentially concluding that "trace amounts of mycotoxins have been found in coffee beans, but the amounts are way below safety limits and too low to be of any practical significance."
In other words, you're no healthier drinking coffee that is free of mycotoxins than you are drinking regular coffee.
Assumption #2: Putting butter and MCT oil in your coffee provides energy, important nutrients and offers a low calorie start to the day.
As it turns out, depending on one's current diet, this assumption may hold some truth. But replacing an otherwise nutritious breakfast with a drink that contains 51 grams of fat (assuming two tablespoons of MCT oil and two tablespoons of butter) simply isn't the better choice for most people, according to nutritionists.
3. The Squatty Potty
I confess, this one is my favorite fad.
The claim is that by using a small stool under your feet when you're sitting on the toilet, you can achieve a "fuller release", help clear your colon, have greater energy and more. It's been endorsed by celebrities, so you know it's legitimate.
The claims appear to have been based on a couple of studies that are referenced on the Squatty Potty website. One of them was a study of just 6 volunteers in Japan. A scientist friend told me this is one of the easiest filters for evidence: Exclude results from small samples. The results of 6 people don't indicate proof of much.
The second study was of 30 medical patients in Iran and concluded that the squatting position helped more of them complete the evacuation of their bowels.
But the authors of the study stated in their notes that these patients weren't accustomed to sitting down on Western style toilets! They admit that changing their positions may have put stress on their bowels and changed the quality of their bowel movements.
Thomas Pirelli believes this study was of such poor quality that it shouldn't even have been published.
Unless you're fine with splashing out $50 for a fun story to tell your friends, the Squatty Potty shouldn't be taken very seriously.
Fads & More Fads
The more interested I become in research and living an evidence based life, the more health fads there seem to be.
Avoiding unproven advice helps you save money, save time, and avoid health risks.
As for getting into shape for summer, I suppose I'll have to stick with exercise and nutritious meals. Boring, fad free, and proven.