How to Stop Yourself From Wasting Money on Health Gimmicks

How to Stop Yourself From Wasting Money on Health Gimmicks
Photo: Skylines, Shutterstock

Whenever I see a compelling ad for a new health or fitness product or hear about a tantalising trend, I must admit I’m as tempted as anybody else. Sometimes stuff looks cool! I imagine myself like the people in the ad, reaping the benefits being promised — and then I snap out of it, and ask myself two questions.

  1. Does this solve a real problem?
  2. Is it the best way to solve that problem?

Both questions filter out bullshit pretty quickly, but the second has the added value of helping you find the best solution to whatever your problem really is. Maybe you don’t end up buying the thing in the ad at all, but in your research you end up with something better or cheaper or otherwise more suitable.

Here’s an example: There’s a company out there selling electrolyte powder that you can drop into a water bottle. The ad copy claims the product can “deliver hydration to your bloodstream faster & more efficiently than water alone.” So let’s ask our two questions:

  1. Have I been flummoxed by the problem of getting hydration in my bloodstream inefficiently? No, not really.
  2. We don’t even need the second question.

Does this mean that all electrolyte powders are useless? Not exactly. It just depends what problem they’re trying to solve. If I were training for a marathon and doing lots of long, sweaty runs, I’d want to make sure I’m replacing the sodium I sweat out. So I might look at the same product, but start with a different question:

  1. Does this solve my problem of getting enough electrolytes while I’m running? As long as the label checks out, yes.
  2. Is it the best way to solve that problem? Well, maybe. I have a few options.

There are several electrolyte tablets and powders on the market; they’re convenient because you can carry them dry and add them to your water bottle along the way. Another option is to drink watered-down Gatorade. Yet another is to hydrate with water and let my post-run meal provide the electrolyte replenishment. Now that I have a list of options, I can run through the pros and cons of each. Maybe I’ll end up deciding to buy the thing that originally sent me down this thought process, or maybe I’ll discover that another option solves my problem in a better way.

Let’s try a few more. (All of these are things I’ve seen in ads recently.)

Immune boosting supplements:

  1. Do they solve a real problem? I don’t want to get sick, so in that sense, yes.
  2. Are they the best way to solve this problem? No, boosting your immune system is no panacea. If I’m worried about getting COVID, my best options are things like staying home as much as possible and wearing masks when I’m out and about.

Lightweight plastic barbells:

  1. Do they solve a real problem? Yeah, if I didn’t already have weights at home, I’d love to have something I can lift without investing in a whole home gym.
  2. Are they the best way to solve this problem? Well, all of these (I’ve been advertised multiple brands) are expensive and don’t actually hold much weight. So if I start working out with them now, I’ll quickly need to replace them with something heavier. I’d be better off buying something more versatile, like heavy resistance bands or a kettlebell or two, or saving up for a real barbell and plates.

Leggings with pockets:

  1. Do they solve a real problem? YES. Pocket-less clothing is the bane of my existence.
  2. Are they the best way to solve this problem? As a concept, yes. As to the specific product, some brands of leggings fit better and last longer than others. I asked friends for recommendations, and now I have several pairs of pocketed leggings I absolutely love.

The answers to the two questions will be personal, since they relate to whether the product solves a problem for you. Go ahead and give them a try next time you come across a product or trend (or even a style of workout!) that speaks to you.

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