Politics, Polarization, Propaganda And The Health & Fitness Unicorn
How Popular Health & Fitness Memes Keep You Trapped
“A common danger unites even the bitterest enemies.” ~Aristotle
Nothing unites and ignites a tribe like a dangerous common enemy.
Every great marketer — and cult leader — will teach you to choose your enemy before presenting your solution. This is how the power of polarization works — as you can all clearly see in our nation’s politics. Now more than ever.
This power of polarizing is the force behind many, if not most, of the movements in the health and fitness industry.
And for the good it can serve in getting people energized, I contend it does much more harm; halting progress, keeping people trapped and blind to better, simpler solutions to achieving their goals.
The good news is you can break out of these loops if you can learn to see through them. And become wary to the ways we all get played by those who would have us buying into their particular health-cult.
A simple, real life example from the fitness could be seen in the early days of Muscle Media and EAS, where Weider — who represented the establishment, and everything that is wrong with fitness — was the early chosen enemy.
Imagine how a young kid sitting in a small office in Golden, Co could rail against the mega-power of the Weider empire in those early days — and win. Choosing a big-enough enemy is a good tip, I might add. For fighting cancer activates more people than fighting the common cold ever will.
When Muscle Media could drum up a fight with Weider it instantly forced you, the reader, to take a side. And those who stood with us, the anti-establishment, had no choice but to agree and align with us.
Inside your mind you will feel you’re making a rational, logic driven decision but the fact is your brain is instantly hijacked by the emotions of the battle. This is especially potentiated by injecting a dose of fear or anger.
Then, with your emotionally charged amygdala overpowering your decision making prefrontal cortex, the discomfort of conflict is calmed by choosing sides. As quickly as it came on, choosing gives you a feeling of power and certainty. You feel righteous knowing you are on the right side in this one.
Now, mind you, in the battle with Weider — however real or exaggerated — aligning with Muscle Media was the right choice. I think you know that.
Clearly this polarization is in major play with the country and politics. With every passing day another “scandal” arises and yet those who have aligned emotionally with POTUS become increasingly certainty of his innocence and strength.
I use this only as an example of the impenetrable nature of the emotionally charged and polarized mind. No amount of facts will tear down this wall. Once we choose our tribe we are inclined to only see and accept that which strengthens our closely held beliefs.
This is not an attack but merely a fact.
Now, I ask you not to dance with your political leanings but to reflect on how this law and flaw of the human condition permeates the fitness landscape, locking millions of people into extremist traps, flawed paths and endless struggles — blind to a way out.
…and to take an honest assessment of how it may be affecting the clarity of your own life and path to fitness freedom.
Propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”.
The True Enemy
Now, the Weider example above is just one way to create an enemy and align a tribe. There are many other ways to activate the emotionally charged, ever more certain mind.
For instance, let’s say you make sugar into an evil, life destroying toxin. That’s a start. Now, let’s say you add in the mysterious and always popular story of a Government plot or some faceless, dark, mega corporation conspiracy.
Now you’re talking! Right. By the way, starting to sound familiar?
Now try replacing sugar with GMO’s, gluten, carbs, fats…You get the idea.
Take your pick. What you’ve got here is a series of emotionally activating threats to your health — compounded with an evil overlord of a big money, power broker trying to screw over your life.
Can you feel the emotional charge — the polarization taking place?
This is a formula for a meme that quickly takes on a life of its own. People get very charged up about these stories and thus, easily align with any number of extreme views and absolutistic practices. They also enjoy spreading the meme — as they eagerly consume more info that supports their chosen belief.
This is precisely how Crossfit caught fire. A radical, eccentric leader who — if you listen to for more than a few moments, is clearly nucking futs — a case against the dysfunction of conventional strength training and a united message that “we got it right. We’re the smart ones.”
If this pisses you off… Good. Think about it.
Want to sell something as copious as coffee? Concoct a story about dangerous, invisible toxic mold hidden in your coffee. Tell the world you have single-handedly created a magical coffee that can save them from this terrible pandemic. Then, just for good measure, convince people butter is now a health food and should be added to your coffee.
Congratulations, you just got health-punked!
Think about it. Your drinking a special, expensive toxin-free coffee laden with pricey grass-fed butter that’s costing you over $5 a cup (at home) but it makes you special. Unquestionably better and wiser than those idiots donating their hard earned money to “the evil” corporation serving overpriced (irony alert) coffee. Plus, it’s helping me shed fat (you keep repeating to anyone who will believe it).
Well, that’s one way to look at it.
Now Try This
Now, for a moment let us compare:
- a story about deadly sugar, evil gluten — take your pick — and the supportive diet that is extreme, heavily rules based, which calls for abstention of many common foods.
- An non-diet diet that advocates a healthy balance of proteins, carbs and fat with a rational moderation of sugary and highly processed foods — along with a freedom to be flexible.
Which one do you think is going to be carried through the fitness fog? Pretty easy to see, right?
The Fame Folly
The further terrible, wonderful, frightening thing about these contagious myth-meme’s is they can take on quite a life of their own.
Born in the niches where the most zealotry of people propel them, in time they reach the wider audience where they are endorsed by some quite famous people — people who may have a certain talent or expertise but who simply do not know any better.
This unknowing blind endorsement becomes a blanket cover for all the nonsense that has been propagated and usually fuels a new wave of ever more colorful unicorns.
A Virus is Born
How are these wild and crazy memes born into the world? And who are these evil masterminds?
First, let’s be clear…
All polarizing fitness memes are not evil schemes created by masterminds intended to steal your money, distract your attention and keep you trapped in an infinite loop of loopiness.
Not all just most of them. But seriously…
Certainly some are created by people up to no good but more often I contend they are the product of people who think they have found the rosetta stone.
Limited experience, knowledge and science leads them to confuse a partial truth with an absolute truth. Often these “masterminds” have emotionally charged minds by nature. They see the world in black and white and can be quite certain they are saving lives.
This certainty itself can greatly amplify the belief of others and be quite contagious. Viral in fact.
The damned thing about fitness that I’ve become more and more clear on over the years is that fiction sells way better than fact. Given the choice between a $100 unicorn ride or a free horse ride, the unicorn always wins.
And while most health and fitness solutions follow Occam’s Razor — the simplest path is usually the best — simple simply isn’t sexy. We don’t like to discover that it’s our inaction that got us out of shape. We prefer to discover there has been a secret withheld from our awareness. For it is in this story we project the magic to reignite our hope.
Yes, unicorns are cooler than donkeys and we’d all rather have a dragon than a house cat but the reality is work must be done. Most of it not at all sexy and
The Forrest For The Trees
It’s an understatement to say that, for most people, navigating the health and fitness landscape is confusing. It’s a freaking nightmare to be honest.
But here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind that I do believe can help you maintain your sanity and find your way safely.
First, understand that in most claims there may be found a partial truth but know it’s partial.
For example, when told that your weight loss is ALL ABOUT leptin… the proper response is:
“Oh, so interesting… leptin is involved in appetite. Let me learn more about this. And know, simply by the complexity of your body-mind that leptin, however isolated in this one argument, is one factor of several thousand interactions. None which act in isolation.”
You might want to buy into butter no being the premier health food. Yet, may I suggest a better — aka higher view would be to say:
“Oh, seems butter is no longer the most evil compound on earth. I can buy that. And while I like it in my coffee, logic suggests and science supports that however unicorn powered, drinking 500 cals of fat for breakfast is neither a path to getting leaner or lower lipids.”
I know this being and acting like an ad-ult may sound a whole lot less fun than the fleeting excitement of unicorn fitness but trust me, try it and see if it doesn’t quickly become a whole lot less crazy making and a hell of a lot more effective.
The most important thing you can come to know to further your path to fitness freedom is…
The Truth is always less “exciting” than the myth.
Here are a few basic rules to keep top of mind:
- Question everything. Buy quickly into nothing.
- Look for the enemy / evil formula.
- Seek science and sound consensus of smart people.
- Divide all advertising promises by a factor of 100. You’ll still be over shooting but 100 times closer.
- Find a mentor, experienced voice you can trust.
- Go easy on yourself. Mistakes will be made and the puck is always moving.
Finally, know that the simplicity you seek is simplicity on the far side of complexity not the one that is actually passive ignorance.
Keep your head up and eyes open. It’s a scary world out there.