Snake Oils and Charlatans

We’re coming up on the new year. People are getting their New Year’s resolutions lined up and are seeking the way that they are going to accomplish them. BEWARE! There are plenty of people and companies ready to sell you the easiest, fastest, best way to get there even if what they’re selling doesn’t really work. They know that you’re desperate and you will buy into the dream.

There are things you can look for in promotional material or advertising for products or programs that are clues to its false advertising. These include:

  • Using definitive terms, such as “will”, “always”, “proven” (without actually scientific proof), or even “best” is usually a giveaway that it’s false advertising. Nothing always works! There are also too many options to claim “best”. Something could be the best within defined parameters, such as “the best coffee as rated by a panel of 12 coffee drinkers.” One indicator that it could be legit is that it’s not using definitive terms. Instead, they use terms like “can”, “may”, “seems to indicate”, “should” or other terms as well as citing the research that backs up the claim (if it’s based on actual research, not just generically “proven”, they will tell you).
  • Using themselves as proof. “Look what it did for me.” First off, they’re selling something and they want you to buy it. Of course they would say it worked for them.
  • Using a celebrity endorsements. This is not to say that celebrities don’t use the product, but is that the reason they got the benefit? They are paid to say that it works and there could be many reasons why they may look or feel good that are not product or program related.
  • Even using others’ testimonials is not a good bet. The placebo effect, the “if you believe it, it can actually help” scenario, may be why they got their results and which may not translate to you. (For more on the placebo effect click here.)
  • The best way to know if something really works is to look for the peer-reviewed research (in journals). Do an internet search using phrases such as “research studies on…” or “scientific evidence on…” and then check the sources, making sure that they are reputable.
  • When in doubt, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

CNBC recommends, “When in doubt about whether a site or a claim is real, there are resources available such as or APFactCheck. It’s also always worth seeing if the information is corroborated in mainstream news sources. For health information, authoritative sites to check include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.”

Don’t get fooled this season (or any other for that matter) and make sure you do more research on the product or program before you buy into it.

You’re Going to Fail Trying to Reach Your Goal!

You are, you know. Going to fail. I don’t mean ultimately. That’s really up to you, but somewhere along the way you will fail. Let’s face it, your goal is probably something challenging. Maybe it’s losing a certain amount of weight. Maybe it’s getting your cholesterol down. Maybe it’s being able to get up and down from the floor. Whatever it is, there will be times when you stumble on your path to achieving it.

Our perception of failing is typically tied to following our initial plan exactly. Perhaps part of your diet plan is, “I will not eat desserts.”, but then, you attend a birthday party and the birthday cake wins the battle. Afterward, you feel that you have failed, and then, a week later, some other dessert opportunity gets the better of you. “Why even bother! I’m such a failure! I can’t do this.” This is your turning point.

You have a number of choices you can make. Many, frustrated, just give up. Some, keep trying with the same plan and continue to fail and feel badly. Others look at their situation, analyze what happened that threw them off, and change their plan to better handle that situation. It’s all a big experiment. You have an idea of how it should go (your hypothesis), you test it, if it works…great. If it doesn’t, you look at why and make new plan with your next best guess. Test it, repeat, repeat, repeat until you ultimately reach your goal.

Don’t judge yourself for failing. Failing is a part of learning and learning is what’s going to get you to your goal.

So, fail away and embrace the experiment.