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Day 29: Snake Oil

Today, I woke up and weighed myself. Weight is: 83.7Kg. Yesterday I consumed 328 calories below my BMR and did 906 calories of exercise above my BMR. Total deficit is 1234 calories.


The funny thing about the weight loss business: Snake oil sells and honest truth has to fight to be heard. I write about the honest truth of weight loss: It’s hard, it takes work, it takes sacrifice, it takes dedication, and it takes time. The snake oil salesman will tell you: “Take this pill, lose weight in your sleep!” or “Just 10 minutes a day!”, or “This one weird trick!”


Why are the snake oil sellers so successful? What is the psychological driver that they feed on? Obviously, they hit deeply in the human psyche. It must be some evolutionary trait that we always look for the easy way out. Back when calories were hard to obtain, we wanted to expend as few as possible to get what we needed. For instance, when hunting food, it was easier to guide animals over a cliff than it was to chase them down and kill them bare handed. That kind of thinking has guided us for hundreds of thousands of years. It has only been the last few hundred years where the average person could have enough spare time and enough wealth to be inactive and grow obese. 1000 years ago, obesity was a sign of great wealth.


It’s easy to grow obese: You just sit down and eat as much as you can for every meal, then snack in between meals on ice cream, candy, chips and pop. We do what our bodies evolved to tell us to do, which is conserve our energy and eat when you can, because you never know when the next meal is or how much it will cost you to get it. The problem is, our current scientific progress has made it exceptionally easy to survive without putting ourselves at any kind of risk, and high calorie food is easy to obtain.


I believe this appeal to our nature is one way the Snake Oil Salesmen trick people. Very often you will hear, read, or see phrases such as “It’s easy!” or “Works while you sleep!”, or “This one weird trick!”. These concepts appeal to our innate desire to conserve energy and do the least amount possible.


That’s not the only trick they use. Frequently they will have a doctor or a popular media personality endorse the product. How many times do you hear “4 out of 5 doctors recommend our product!” or “Hi, I’m well known TV personality Troy McClure, and I like to use this product!” This is an appeal to authority. We have a natural instinct to follow leaders, and doctors and media personalities represent leaders. So, if they endorse it, it must be good.


Also, they will have consumer endorsements. You could hear about how so many people use the product. This is an appeal to majority. We convince ourselves that if so many other people have used this, then it must be good.


There are many other techniques available to the snake oil salesman. This link provides a nice view of “cognitive biases” where you will find plenty of information. Influential sales techniques will exploit as many of these biases as they can.


So, how do you protect yourself from this when on a weight loss journey? Really, there are only two ways. The first is to understand that when losing weight the only time it is easy is if you resort to drugs or surgery, otherwise, losing weight requires effort and dedication. The second is to learn what those cognitive biases are and how they influence you. Armed with knowledge, you can defeat the devious tricks used by those devilish salesmen, and instead use them to your own advantage.


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