Desperation, vanity, perfection. Whatever the driving force, virtually all of us know what it's like to really, really, really want to change something about our body - be that clearer skin or abs of steel. If you've been tirelessly trying to achieve that goal and getting nowhere, there comes a point where reasoned thinking goes out of the window and a short-cut becomes overwhelmingly attractive.
The diet and fitness industry is worth billions of pounds, yet obesity rates are rising in the West. That alone suggests that the majority of gadgets, pills and potions on the market that claim to deliver amazing results simply don't work. But with desperation clouding your judgement, how can you tell if it's worth giving a product a go? Here are five sneaky health and fitness product tricks to avoid falling for:
1. Before and after shots
Unless you actually know the person in the pictures and have witnessed their transformation with your own eyes, buy nothing based on a convincing before and after shot. A lot of trickery - clever lighting and body contouring with makeup for example - goes into producing those shots, which are often taken on the same day. Not convinced? Take a look at this article in which the BBC demonstrated how easy it is to make someone look like they've lost a lot of weight when they actually haven't.
2. Any pill that promises rapid weight loss
Practically all over-the-counter diet pills do nothing for weight loss. They're often packed with caffeine to make you feel like your metabolism is soaring when in reality, it's not. Most diet pills also come with the disclaimer: 'Only effective with diet and exercise'. This is the greatest cop-out known to man. If you lose weight the credit goes to the pill. If you don't lose weight the blame goes to you for not doing enough exercise or eating healthily enough.
The simple truth is that most people who slim down while taking these pills owe their success to eating less and moving more. There is not a shred of scientific evidence anywhere that these popular diet pills work in humans - the few that have been tested used mice as subjects. Diet pills that have been scientifically proven to work (like orlistat or metformin) are only available with a prescription and that's because they can have serious side effects. Save yourself a lot of money and disappointment by steering clear of diet pills - no matter how convincing the sales pitch.
3. Anything that promises you'll drop a dress size in one to two weeks
You've heard it a thousand times, but here it is again: crash diets don't deliver long term results. Studies, like one published last year in the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, suggest that any diet that delivers rapid weight loss in a matter of days or weeks will lead to rebound weight gain once the diet ends. Long lasting weight loss is achieved when weight is lost at a rate of 1-2lbs a week and lasting lifestyle changes implemented.
4. Detox products - in any form
You've got juices, shots, shakes, pills and body wraps. All claim to erase the impact of years of overindulgence by eliminating alleged toxins that make you feel under the weather, gain weight and look old before your time. The truth, of course, is that you don't need a special drink to keep your body in peak condition. All waste produced by the cells of the body is naturally eliminated via the liver and kidneys. You really only need worry about these toxins building up if you have liver or kidney damage, or if you're putting a lot of artificial chemicals in your body. If you are consuming known toxins (be that artificial sweeteners, preservatives, alcohol etc.) on a regular basis, it's infinitely more effective (and cheaper) to stop doing so than to rely on a detox drink to cancel out the harmful effects.
5. 'No diet' diets
Most diet companies have cottoned on to the fact that most of us like eating what we want, when we want. Capitalising on this, a new generation of diet plans have switched to a new tactic: claiming to be a non-diet. But if it tells you to avoid a group of foods and eat in a specific manner for a specific period of time, it's a diet. Simple. That doesn't mean that some of these diets won't deliver the results they promise (if you manage to stick to them), but be wary. Don't buy or commit to a 'no diet' plan without investigating it first, otherwise when you do start it, you're likely to discover that despite all of the promises, that 'no diet' diet is in fact... a diet.