How to beat health & fitness quacks at their own game: A guide for science-based practitioners.
Guest Banger by Bryan Krahn
Editor’s note: The following article by my friend & colleague Bryan Krahn originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of my research review (AARR). I rarely air-out AARR pieces for public consumption. I’ve done it a total of 4 times since 2008. However, I feel that this article is of particular importance, especially in the current climate where slick pseudoscience and flat-out guru insanity seem to be at an all-time high. Ready or not, I reserve the right to use Bryan as a weapon of mass destruction in this dogfight. 🙂
Here’s a test: head to the mall and ask a dozen random people who they’d consider to be the most influential person in health and fitness.
Unless this particular mall shares a parking lot with Gold’s Gym Venice, the top 3 responses will be Dr. Oz, Jillian Michaels, and The Food Babe.
Ever wonder why the mainstream health and fitness industry is so heavily dominated by quacks and hucksters? There’s no shortage of capable and educated practitioners – why do so few ever bust through the glass ceiling into mainstream popularity?
How can we take back our industry?
It’s no secret – at least among real fitness pros – that the trainers and health gurus basking in the limelight are among the worst at their craft.
But rather than snark on Facebook about Jillian Michaels’ kettlebell swing or the Food Babe’s issues with pronunciation, pros should instead key in on what these media darlings do right – and then do it better.
Here’s what the who’s-who in mainstream health and fitness have in common:
- They look “good.”
- They communicate well and are charismatic.
- They’re marketing machines.
- They seem knowledgeable.
- They seem experienced.
Got all that? Now here’s how to beat ‘em at their own game.
1) Look better than the quacks. There’s an undeniable truth in fitness that never fails to evoke a tsunami of butt-hurt: Those who “look the part” have more perceived credibility.
That’s why the dudes and dolls hawking fitness gadgets on TV at 3am are in shape. And the Food Babe is where she is because she’s an attractive woman. She knows it helps.
This is obviously a very superficial criterion, not to mention a deeply flawed one, but the general public largely operates on superficial ideals, so good luck fighting it.
A fat loss expert is swimming upstream if he or she is overweight. They can have more degrees than a thermometer and even legit excuses for being heavy, but the average person will still think, “I dunno, they’re kinda fat to be telling me how to eat.”
Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.
What to do:
Leaders lead from the front. Make the aesthetic part of your “package” a priority. You don’t need to look like a ripped figure competitor to show Mrs. Jones how to do a lat pulldown, but you should show some mastery in whatever your specialty is.
2) Become better, more compelling communicators. Dr. Oz is very telegenic, while Jillian Michaels has her own “charms.” On the other hand, many health and fitness pros (especially the academics) have the charisma of a peed-on urinal puck.
Communicating with the general public doesn’t mean you have to bust out magic tricks or turn your 500-word pelvic tilt article into comedy writing. But you still need to entertain. The pro that can leverage humor, wit, and effective anecdotes with all the hard science will be far more successful than a sterile PubMed Jedi.
What to do:
Not everyone can write well (even fewer enjoy doing it), so don’t force it. Maybe your strength is public speaking? Or doing a podcast? Or YouTube videos?
Find “your” strength, your talent, and infuse it into the high quality work you’re already doing.
3) Become better marketers. We all know that the best trainer isn’t always the most successful. Many top-shelf coaches, the type that can recite Supertraining like a yoked-up Rain Man, will go out of business after 18 months while the airhead marketing maven down the road continues to pack them in.
Self-promotion is a huge weakness among science-based practitioners, as are general people-skills, but it’s necessary. Now, marketing doesn’t have to be embarrassingly cheesy – though no one seems to go broke doing that – but something more nuanced can be very effective, provided it goes viral and doesn’t just copy what everyone else is doing.
What to do:
Social media in all forms should be leveraged. If you don’t like social media (I’m with you there) a professional marketing expert with a proven track record can help.
Now don’t break the bank cause you can never compete with the big quacks here, as this is where they spend most of their considerable resources.
But you can still produce meaningful, engaging content that offers a helpful alternative to the quackery. Just be mindful of your tone – while “hating” and “ranting” can be cathartic, humor and positivity are far more effective.
And remember, repetition creates fatigue – people are “designed” to tune out what they’re repeatedly exposed to, while something novel triggers alarm bells. That’s just something to consider before penning your version of the “Why I think the Food Babe is dangerous” polemic.
4) Become far more knowledgeable than the quacks. It would be convenient if all the quacks were idiots but that’s simply not the case. Dr. Oz has been a professor at the Department of Surgery at Columbia University since 2001. That isn’t exactly a position you can Ferris Bueller your way into (at least I hope not), so clearly there’s some candlepower behind his ears, albeit misdirected.
Conversely, the Food Babe has the doe-eyed, glazed over look of someone who visited the stripper booth at high school career day and left with her first set of clear high-heel stilettos. So it isn’t a slam-dunk either way.
What to do:
It’s your responsibility to sharpen up on the academic fundamentals of your area of expertise — in other words, hit the books. Knowledge expands competency and confidence, both of which you’ll need to go toe-to-toe with the quacks and their legions of followers.
5) Become more experienced than the quacks. Quacks often skate by on minimal to no field experience, and many have dubious track records. Often they get caught trying to distance themselves from their shady beginnings or citing experiences that are either irrelevant or grossly exaggerated. This opens up a huge opportunity for the real pros to gain ground.
What to do:
Develop real-world, verifiable results. Work with more clients or patients and create a team of happy people ready to offer real testimonials. Best of all, experience builds confidence (there’s that word again) and deepens your perspective so that you can speak from a platform of wisdom rather than mysticism or hippy-dippy bullshit.
You might even develop a newfound appreciation for some of that bro-science you made fun of on Facebook, but that’s another article.
Now that’s quite a to-do list. But you’re not done, sport. Tackling the next three will help you smash any barriers and start taking on the quacks head on.
6) Publicly debate the quacks and expose their weaknesses. If you can convince a quack to leave the safety of their tightly controlled media bubble and engage in an open debate, then it’s both your opportunity and your obligation to out them for the hucksters that they are. Just do it with wit, style, and grace — everyone loves a winner, but no one likes a whiner.
7) Collaborate with other non-quacks in the field. Quacks have the backing of entire networks, not to mention other quacks. While you can’t compete dollar for dollar, forming partnerships with fellow like-minded pros can result in better material than what you might be able to produce on your own. This will also allow you to reach new audiences.
8) Be in it for the right reasons. The best quacks arrive out of nowhere, amass enormous popularity and then vanish, presumably to a beach somewhere to count their money. Truly helping people or being accountable is never on their radar.
I urge you to do the opposite. See helping people as your life’s work, your passion. Use every day as a chance to do something meaningful and bring about positive change. A chance to be more and do more, not just take home more.
You may not become a household name or take over Dr. Oz’s TV show, or even pay off your mortgage. But you will rest your head on the pillow every night knowing that you’re a person of enormous integrity. How many quacks can say that?
Bryan Krahn, BA, CSCS, is a fitness consultant, writer, editor, and online coach. He’s been published like, a lot, under his own name and has ghost written for many prominent figures in the fitness scene. He blogs about training, eating, and New York City at bryankrahn.com. And yes, he even lifts.