Illustration for article titled How To Avoid Wasting Money On Health GimmicksPhoto: Skylines (Shutterstock)

Whenever I see a compelling ad for a new health or fitness product, or hear about an enticing trend, I have to admit that I’m just as tempted as everyone else. Sometimes that stuff looks cool! I imagine what the people in the ad are like and get the benefits it promises – and then I turn it off and ask myself two questions.

  1. Does this solve a real problem?
  2. Is it the best way to solve this problem?

Both questions filter out bullshit pretty quickly, but the second has the added value of helping you find the best solution to what your problem really is. You might not be buying the thing from the ad at all, but doing your research will give you something better, cheaper, or otherwise more appropriate.

Here’s an example: There is a company that sells electrolyte powder that you can put in a water bottle. The copy of the ad states that the product “can moisturize your bloodstream faster and more efficiently than water alone”. So let’s ask our two questions:

  1. Was I surprised by the problem of inefficiently getting moisture into my bloodstream? No not true.
  2. We don’t even need the second question.

Does this mean that all electrolyte powders are unusable? Not exactly. It just depends on what problem you want to solve. If I was training for a marathon and doing lots of long, sweaty runs, I would want to make sure that I replace the sodium that I’m exuding. So I could look at the same product but start with a different question:

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  1. Does this solve my problem of getting enough electrolytes while running? As long as the label is checked out, yes.
  2. Is it the best way to solve this problem? Maybe. I have a couple of options.

There are several electrolyte tablets and powders on the market; They’re handy because you can wear them dry and put them in your water bottle on the go. Another option is to drink watered down gatorade. Another option is to hydrate with water and allow my meal to get electrolyte replenishment once it starts. Now that I have a list of options, I can go over the pros and cons of each option. Perhaps I will end up buying the thing that initially got me into this thought process, or I might discover that another option will solve my problem better.

Let’s try a few more. (All of these are things I saw in advertisements recently.)

Immune-boosting food supplements:

  1. Are you solving a real problem? I don’t want to get sick, so in that sense, yes.
  2. Are they the best way to solve this problem? No, Strengthening your immune system is not a panacea. When I’m worried about COVID, my best options are things to stay home as much as possible and wear masks when I’m out.

Lightweight plastic dumbbells:

  1. Are you solving a real problem? Yes, if I didn’t have weights at home, I would like something I can lift without investing in an entire home gym.
  2. Are they the best way to solve this problem? Well, all of these (I’ve advertised multiple brands) are expensive and actually don’t weigh much. If I start working with them now, I’ll have to quickly replace them with something heavy. I’d be better off buying something a little more versatile, like heavy resistance bands or a kettlebell or two, or saving up for a real barbell and plate.

Leggings with pockets:

  1. Are you solving a real problem? YES. Pocketless clothing is the bane of my existence.
  2. Are they the best way to solve this problem? As a concept, yes. In terms of product, some brands of leggings fit better and last longer than others. I asked friends for recommendations, and now I have several pairs of pocket leggings that I absolutely love.

The answers to the two questions are personal as they relate to whether the product solves a problem for you. So give it a try the next time you come across a product or trend (or even a workout style!) That appeals to you.