Exercise & Diet Fads and Frauds
As long as there are people who want to lose weight and get in shape, there will be companies trying to sell you easy ways to succeed. Here are a few of the stranger ones that have been promoted over the years and their modern equivalents.
The Dumb-Bell Cane was originally sold in 1910 and it was exactly as advertised. A cane with a metal dumbbell attached. The ads said you could “Exercise as you walk to and from your business.” The cane can be “swung in various ways as you walk, with apparent unconsciousness…”
Swinging a weight around “with apparent unconsciousness” is a really bad idea. The danger you would pose to anyone walking nearby is serious, but then there’s the damage you might inflict on property should you swing in the wrong direction. To make matters worse, this glorified bludgeon wasn’t even heavy enough to actually build muscle.
A hundred years later, people are still buying weights to carry around or strap on their body while walking, jogging or running. Their effectiveness hasn’t improved; they’re just as bad an idea today as the Dumb-Bell Cane was in 1910.
Dr. Lawton's Guaranteed Fat Reducer was a round rubber disc that you could use to "reduce any part you wish quickly, safely and permanently..." By rubbing or "gentle manipulation" the Reducer "breaks down and disintegrates fatty tissue which becomes waste matter and is carried out of the system through the organs of elimination..."
Essentially you rubbed this rubber disc over any area of the body you wanted to shrink and the fat would break up and disappear. Think of it like a giant rubber eraser for your fat.
The advertisements claimed you would see “reduction taking place in 11 days or money refunded.” There’s no record of how many were returned, but sales of similar products continue to be sold today. Only now the vibration is done by machines attached to belts, wraps or while standing on platforms. Studies show the machines are no more effective than the manual method promoted by Dr. Lawton.
The Relax-A-cizor was an electrical muscle stimulator that debuted in 1949. Marketed as a device that would "tighten-in, firm-up and REDUCE the SIZE of your waistline!" The Relax-A-cizor featured ads of people laying back and "taking it easy" while it shocked their fat away.
Thank about that for a minute. You were supposed to thoroughly soak the Relax-A-cizor pads in water, attach them to your body, plug the machine into an electrical outlet and let it shock you. What could be more relaxing?
More than 400,000 of the machines were sold over 20 years, until the Food and Drug Administration finally banned them as ineffective and dangerous. While electrical muscle stimulators or EMS machines do have limited effectiveness for people with spinal cord injuries, they don’t reduce fat and are incapable of building muscle. The Relax-A-cizor was considered so dangerous, the FDA even banned the sale of used machines unless they were disabled.
Today there are abdominal belts with shocking electrodes sold as a way to reduce fat around your midsection. The Relax-A-cizor didn’t work then and modern electrical stimulators don’t work now.
The Twist-Away Twister was a device sold by Jack LaLanne and inspired by the 1960 Chubby Checker dance craze called “The Twist.” According to Jack LaLanne’s son Dan, it was “basically a bathroom scale on ball bearings.” Video of the device showed the user holding onto a string (the “isometric cord”) while twisting their hips back and forth.
It was promoted as “Something to tone and firm and to exercise and condition practically all the 600 muscles of the body.” Unfortunately users were unable to continue long enough to burn any significant amounts of fat or lose pounds. Because there were no weights involved, it also didn’t provide enough resistance to build muscle. The primary benefit was to improve people’s balance… while moving in a twisting motion.
Modern versions are sold as “aerobic exercisers” with the promise that they’ll “strengthen your core” and “trim your waist.” But just like the original bathroom scale on ball bearings, those “twisting waist discs” promise far more than they’re capable of delivering.
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