Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Guest Post: The Fitness-Industrial-Complex is Deceiving You!

A short while ago science journalist Patrick Mustain wrote to me detailing a new initiative of his called New Body Ethic. After taking some time to look at it, I asked Patrick if he'd be willing to write a guest post to introduce this worthy initiative to Weighty Matters readers. If your job involves working with clients to help improve their health, fitness, or lifestyle, please take a moment to read through and then consider signing up.

The Fitness-Industrial-Complex Is Deceiving You.
A Group Of Fitness Professionals Is Setting Out To Change That.
Patrick Mustain, MPH, MA

Chances are, at some point in the last few days, you have been lied to about health. It’s a safe bet that some magazine or TV show has told you (yes, you!) that you can lose weight easily and quickly. This blatant lie is constantly being debunked by health and obesity experts, yet it persists, and people seem to continue to believe it.

More insidious, perhaps, is a not-so-obvious deception that permeates the language from the fitness industry--that dieting and exercise are things that you should be doing in the first place, and that failure to do either stems from a lack of personal responsibility, or some moral deficit.

Let’s put this notion to rest. Dieting and exercise are crazy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people who fail to do either, and the sooner we can all acknowledge this, the happier and healthier we’ll all be.

For most of the history of life, the most important thing, for most people, was obtaining and conserving energy from food. Feeling guilty about eating food, and burning energy just for the sake of burning energy would have made no sense to our ancestors.

Of course, 10,000 years ago, we didn’t have cars, escalators, and office jobs. We didn’t drink refined sugar with every meal, we didn’t eat dessert every day, we didn’t shape our children’s food preferences with billions of dollars in marketing, and we didn’t have an industrialized food system dominated by hyper-palatable, energy-dense, nutritionally devoid, highly-processed products.

Clearly things are quite different now than they were 10,000 years ago, and in lots of good ways--we don’t have to chase down and kill our food. Thankfully, most of us will not be chased down and become meals ourselves. And we have plumbing. But, along with these advances, we’ve inherited a growing burden of obesity and chronic disease, soon to overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death worldwide.

Enter the fitness industry.

As obesity and its associated health problems have reached global pandemic levels, the fitness industry has flourished. According to, the number of fitness centers in the U.S. went from roughly 17,000 in 2000 to almost 30,000 by 2008, and this growth is showing no signs of slowing down. A cursory glance at fitness websites, reality shows, magazines, gym literature, et cetera will tell us that the fitness industry is here to save us from being fat.

But being fat is not something that we need to be saved from. What we need to be saved from is an environment unlike anything any living thing has experienced in 4 billion years of evolution. A report from the Lancet concluded:
Obesity is the result of people responding normally to the obesogenic environment they find themselves in.
Let me repeat: responding normally.

It is no surprise that we hear very little from the fitness industry about fostering an environment that prevents weight gain. Weight gain is the fitness industry’s bread and butter, so of course the focus is going to be on the quick fixes, the anecdotes about extreme weight loss “successes,” and the false sense of ease and speed—very little that actually has a meaningful impact on health. All these things keep people striving for that unattainable goal, and coming back for that next issue of Shape, the next insanity workout, and the next belly-fat-busting miracle supplement. But the brilliant thing about all these products is that when they don’t work, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough to make them work. You failed at the diet. You didn’t exercise quite enough.

There are many health and fitness professionals out there who want to change this culture of fitness. They understand that health and wellness and come from a lifelong process of learning how to take care of one’s body, for the long-term, not the quick fix. They seek to understand the environmental and cultural contexts in which we make our health decisions. They avoid focusing mostly on aesthetic outcomes. Rather, they try to help their clients learn to appreciate their bodies the way they are in the moment, but also to realize the wonderful potential each body holds for overcoming challenges, adapting, and learning new skills and movements.

At New Body Ethic, we’re bringing these health and fitness professionals together to speak with a unified voice. We’ve had personal trainers, fitness instructors, physicians, physical therapists, gym owners, dieticians, health writers and more, from all over the world, sign our pledge to help make the culture of fitness more responsible, inclusive, and hype-free—to make fitness work for everyone.

Are you one of these professionals? Do you know one? If so, please visit, and spread the word. You can follow along on our blog, or keep up with us on social media. We’re here to kill diet and exercise with good food and natural movement. We hope you’ll join us.

Patrick Mustain, MPH, MA, studied kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, public health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and medical and science journalism at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is currently a Communications Manager at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, and a writer and multimedia producer for Scientific American’s Food Matters blog.

Patrick started his personal training and fitness career after catching the fitness bug in the U.S. Navy. He spent eleven years asking the question: “How can we make it easier for all people to live healthier lives?” This is the best answer he’s come up with so far. He likes climbing on things, running around outside, and sandwiches.

You can see Patrick’s writing and multimedia work at his website,, and you can follow him on twitter @patrickmustain.