The Curse of the Name; When Commitment and Loyalty Might be Screwing You Over

Everywhere you go, names are thrown at you. Names of people or names of brands. They are all promising you the easy, healthy, quick, fast, and magical methods to get you what you want. And we do want! Anyone who is reading this wants something. What? A better body? A snippet of information that will help you get that body? An insight? A brain tickle? A way to look, feel, or be “better”, however we personally define that?

What is in a name and what happens once you “brand” something?

Everything and nothing.

And this is the conflict we face in the fitness industry when it comes to marketing and fads. Successful (not necessarily good or ethical) marketing creates a brand and a name, and once you create a brand you must grow brand loyalty. It’s one of the reasons we fall for fads. It’s why we swing to either extremes. It’s the conflicting balance of being firm and sure of certain basics, and keeping context and perspective in mind. It can almost be confusing even when it know how simple it is in the end!

How do you build a name or brand that people can be “loyal” to? By setting up a set of claims, a process and a structure by which you guarantee a result and “prove” that “it” works, and then showcasing the results according to that method. And why do people stay loyal? Here’s a couple reasons:

1. Because it did the “thinking” work for you, and we all love to pick up a pre-made plan that makes it easy for us (and yet still appeals to our reason and logic on some level).

2. Because it did work for you once, but not necessarily because of the “factors” the brand/fad claimed and those factors are what the fad is built around in order to stand out from some other fad.

If those factors were not “magical” or “exciting” or just filling a need some how (insert a variety of adjectives), you could go replicate it yourself WITHOUT the brand….. and then where would all those companies be??? Not making money off you, that’s where.

The problem here is that most “methods” HAVE to ignore or maximize the HOW rather than the WHY. Knowing why something works means you can change the how to whatever you want. And that doesn’t bode well for keeping people using one method . Then there is the other side to this: once something worked for you, you feel rather obligated to defend it. Most people don’t stop to consider this when they decide to stay loyal to a brand and a method despite it’s inaccuracy or continued uselessness to them.

Choice and commitment are extremely powerful mental forces. And those forces will more often than not play a huge role in physical results. If you put your mind to it and consciously CHOOSE a method, you will make it work. It’s a form of accepting responsibility.  It can have great benefits despite specific flaws, yet can also lead to great damage in the long run when it corners you into a set method that you might have grown out of, or that you realize is not the best way. Why?

Because we grow out of strict methods and because brands and names are built on loyalty to what worked in the beginning and to creating working “factors” that have to stand out and separate them from other brands and fads. You can’t make money otherwise. I am ALL FOR making money (Randian that I am), but that’s not part of my discussion right now in case someone squeals about that.

I will use a personal example. No, not Crossfit this time. Even worse than that, wait for it…

When I was 22, I was living in Japan. I was working as a volunteer for a non-profit school, and very passionate about exercise. I had already developed the habit back then even though I wasn’t entirely “aware” of the process of how I was building that habit.  I would set goals for myself and try to keep variety in my exercising. I used to take LONG walks (literally 3-4 hours) pushing my daughter in a stroller up some serious hills (we lived in the mountains). I did Taebo faithfully (for up to two hours). I would mountain bike early in the mornings (my fingers would freeze off), and I taught myself to jumprope endlessly (despite HORRIBLE shin splits I am still pretty proud of my 1 hour 7 minute nonstop record. Truly nonstop). I gained weight during this time, despite “trying” to stick to a diet (my default was Fit for Life style of only fruit in the mornings, no protein and carbs together EVER, totally unsustainable). I wasn’t happy with my body, and just thought I had to somehow work out MORE and force myself to eat less (Hey, can you guess what this led to???? Binging and making up for binging with exercise.

Disclaimer: During this time I was also the heaviest in my life despite TONS of exercise and an “ok” diet. Ok, as in still better than 99% of the average american population. Correlation hehehe?

I was always looking for something work. I came across this book called “Calanetics”. Apparently it is still alive and well:

Calanetics (Tracy Anderson has her name attached to it, that should tell you something)

Old School Calanetics – Video

Anyway, not sure what the deal is now, but I had the original 80’s book, and it involved hundreds of pump n tone ballet style movements guaranteed to turn your butt into a “tight peach” (actual wording) and give you perfect proportions (“legs should touch in three places”).

All the wording and presentation told me that THIS was it! The method I had been waiting for! It was THE exercise style to get me the best results. Toned, tight. Sound familiar? Its really hard to market anything nowadays without that compromise. How do you create brand loyalty without saying that YOURS is the best? How can you get people excited without final and absolute claims? No one gets excited about the usual stuff! We are attracted to confidence. It does something to our perceptions of an event or person when everything seems so sure, even when we believe we are involving critical thinking into the process. When someone is sure of themselves, and their products, even in our skepticism, we are affected by that confidence, and that is a big component of good marketing. If you don’t believe in your product, why should I?

Once you choose something, something happens in your brain. That choice starts the path of loyalty. Choice is a very, very powerful factor. The more you invest in something through time, effort, thought and emotion, the bigger your loyalty grows and the the more committed you become. After all, look how much you are putting into it. The longer this goes on, the stronger the commitment. Before anyone freaks out, let me say that loyalty is a good thing. It’s a trait that I consider a good indicator of someone’s character. But it depends on WHAT you are loyal to. Talking in a strictly diet and training arena, loyalty needs it’s partner in crime; an unquenchable desire for improvement and learning. You could say that someone needs to be loyal to getting it right, and looking at both facts and experience.  One without the other is a recipe for stalled progress and frustration and potentially settling for excuses and reasons instead of growth and continued success. Or it can lead to you weaving huge webs of theory and “proof” to suit your claims (confirmation bias?). Logical fallacies, appeals to authority (“I’ve been at this longer son…”), etc etc. Without change and growth you, as a person, will stagnate. And if you are in a position to influence others, this can be very detrimental. Not gonna pull the Hitler example card…..but ya know.

Back to Calanetics. So for about two weeks I pumped and toned. Literally the most fucking boring shit I have ever come across. But I wanted that peach booty (which I now have, no thanks to Calanetics). What happened? I felt some results. Why? Was it because I had commited to the process and therefore a placebo effect was going on? Or maybe I had never “targeted” my behind before and it was benefitting a tad in the beginning (ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING)? Was I reflecting a placebo effect because of the confidence of the creator of Calanetics and her assurance that this WOULD work? Was I such a “physical strength” noob that anything was going to show some improvement? Bret Contreras and Jonathan Fass talked about this in their last podcast, giving the example that with untrained subjects or noobs stretching could cause muscle hypertrophy! Stretching! Calanetics stopped working “amazingly”, of course after a couple weeks and then I felt guilty about my waning  will power in sticking to it, and soothed my conscious with extra TaeBo. Yet during that time I felt compelled to preach the good word of the secret to peach butts and credit my “success” (no matter how short lived) to 45 minutes of sitting on the floor pulsing my leg.

We feel compelled to defend and back up a method that has worked for us and given us results, even if it is seriously flawed. If we don’t, we feel that we are being dishonest and disloyal. We all feel that “giving credit where credit is due” is an honorable thing good people do.  Even if we now “know better” it is hard to swallow your gut and say “I probably succeeded because of my commitment and because it fulfilled certain basic principles (calories in vs out for instance), not because this method is particularly special or magical”. If we decide to commit to a method, especially if money and reputation is involved….we better fucking make it work! That attitude right there can move mountains despite massive flaws in approach or design. It can also build blinders around you, that you may never shake off when things stop working or stop progressing. What if that attitude was put towards what TRULY moves mountains? Or what moves mountains BETTER. Think about it. Examine your life for areas that you cling to because of loyalty and commitment and a sense of indebtedness to a process that benefitted you once upon a time. That feeling is good, its fine, and it is useful, but what is more important is understanding WHY it worked. Because that knowledge rather than strict loyalty to a “name” and a “brand” is what will keep you improving. Certain methods will reveal to you aspects of yourself and your needs that can then be pieced together to build your ideal plan. You hear fitness professionals reiterate the need over and over to find what works for you personally. There is no set standard. There is the framework of successful dieting and training and then there is the methods that fill everything else in. Think of the basics as the foundtation, walls, roof and plumbing of your “house”. The way you diet, what you do for training, is the furniture, the decor etc. Take the good, take whats needed and leave the rest. Acknowledge what works, give credit to what works. You don’t owe any more than that.

I defended and preached a certain diet approach for years because of my success with it once upon a time. That success came because of my absolute concentration and loyalty to its parameters (I ended up in a serious caloric deficit), and also becasue it worked so drastically in the beginning (my calories went WAY low, and bam, I lost literally about 15 lbs in two weeks as a teenager). For years after once I gained the weight back (I was way too skinny anyway), I kept trying to replicate the results rather unsuccessfully. You hear this constantly. “Oh I have to get on the band wagon, or restart, or have a fresh start.” Why? Are you putting enough thought into what structure will contribute to permanent change? Are you hanging onto a “default” method that has worked in the past, but which you have to keep returning to once you stray outside its borders and gain the weight back?  Since it had worked once, it should work again right? It could, but do you want to be “dieting” for the rest of your life? What if you could pick and choose your tools and put your “diet battles” to rest?

Beware of defending a diet or training style with the default of “It works for me”. Every time you say that, ask “Why” to yourself. Why does it work for you? Why DID it work for you? Why IS it working? Don’t ask someone else, ask yourself. And then examine your answers for bullshit. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how much bullshit you build up to defend a “method” you are comfortable with, rather than explore one that takes a bit more thought, but will get you better long lasting results.

“I am Paleo because it works for me.” Why?

1. I don’t have a high level of activity and find I love carbs too much, so it helps keep me from overeating.

2. I don’t have a lot of muscle, and I find carbs just make me bloated and I don’t have enough activity to support eating a lot of them. I don’t care about building a lot of muscle or doing heavy weight training.

3. It helps me exhibit portion control without counting calories all the time, and honestly you’re not gonna get me to count.

4. I don’t give a shit about counting calories, and I find eating paleo means I am not going up and down in weight because I get more protein and stay away from foods that trigger me.

5. I am the kind of person who is a major sweet tooth, so eating paleo gives me some discipline, and that discipline translates into the results I am trying to get. It makes me make better food choices as a whole.

VERSUS (as you can see, there is truth AND untruth to both sides, but the framework is different)

1. I eat Paleo because its how ancient man ate and my genes have not developed to support grains.

2. Paleo man was the epitome of health and the way we produce food today is the reason people are fat and full of diseases. Most toxins are found in processed grains, dairy and anything sweet that isn’t agave syrup and raw honey.

3. I eat Paleo and high fat because our bodies weren’t meant to run on carbs for energy. My body runs on fat for energy (do you actually know enough about it to make this claim?)

4. I eat Paleo because its fucking cool to say I eat Paleo.

5. I have a cult mindset and now have to believe everything about Paleo because I used it with a level of success, and now can’t go back on all my declared “rules” (this was my problem).

I am picking on Paleo to use it as an example. I don’t have a problem with the style of eating, just the claims it makes which are not accurately supported by science and through which is builds a “name” following. There is a well-known Paleo couple who are parents and run a popular blog, facebook page etc, and posted an article about some of the flak the wife gets for being “Paleo”, but also very large (she can easily be called obese). She lost a lot of weight intially, just switching to a Paleo style of eating (which is a much healthier style of eating than she was doing before). But eventually the weight loss stopped, and she is still quite large. Why? They defended her weight with a long and “sciency” argument about anthropology and “why women are not meant to be lean”, not to mention playing the “not everyone is meant to be fit, and what does fit mean, and what does healthy really mean” etc etc. (what do THEY mean??). If you follow their recipes and see their diet, its clear that they still eat a ton of calories, and lots of sweet foods (but hey, its NOT SUGAR, its agave!). What are they ignoring? Think about their framework for their claims? I don’t care about them personally, I care about how they are defending the obvious contradiction going on.

If there’s one lesson I continue to learn in my personal education, it is to question everything (thanks Alan)! Questioning everything does not mean you are being a petty bitch, though some people will always get defensive and take it as such. It means committing to really learning and coming to the best conclusion possible with the knowledge you have. Every time you make a statement about something, stop to think if you ACTUALLY know?  I still do it, haha, in fact I did it last night. I made a claim and realized I didn’t ACTUALLY know, I was just repeating something I had heard or read. That’s fine in the right context. After all, where else do you get information from? But its not to make you terrified of choosing a program or a diet style, its to get you to ask the RIGHT questions in order to pick the right method. Once you know WHY something can work or not work, you know HOW to go about making something work for you. That is freedom right there. Freedom to craft your own success with the myriad of great tools, and not be tied down to one method and one way because its what’s worked before, or works with enough of the wrong, and potentially  unhealthy kind of effort. 


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