Fear Based Marketing

While working over the weekend, I had a pretty terrible experience with someone. I hesitate to call them a customer or even athlete, as I don’t know if they were one, or if they walked in just to try to start an argument with me. I think it was the later. On Saturday I was at the Reston Performance Bike sampling some of our fruit blends, chews, wafers and protein bars-just typical sports nutrition. Sample events are great because it gives athletes a way to taste our products before buying them. It’s a win for the shop (bringing in customers), a win for the athlete (trying new things before buying) and a win for me/PowerBar (people trying our products). Well, part way into the day, a man walks in, walks right up to me, and starts to bait me.

I say bait because each of the questions he asked were designed to trick me, and each time I answered the question correctly, he got more mad. For example, he walks up to me and asks “which of these should I take to not increase my insulin?” Before answering him, I ask him if he’s a diabetic, trying to understand where he is coming from. He says no, and then I proceed to answer him that they all will. This then led into him spending the next 15 minutes telling me why companies like PowerBar, and the rest of corporate food companies in America are killing Americans. He believes that everyone should live in ketosis and not consume any carbs. Ketosis is defined as: accumulation of excessive amounts of ketone bodies in body tissues and fluids, occurring when fatty acids are incompletely metabolized. Or, in other words, the person isn’t using carbs as a fuel source, but must use fat, that has been converted to glycogen to then be used as a fuel source. 

I did my best to explain to him the latest research on athletes, and how athletic performance isn’t benefited on ketosis. Additionally, our products were for athletes, not the general population, and I too believe that the general population should not be consuming them. After a while I realized it was futile to try to speak with him. I asked him to leave, then the manager asked him to leave, and still he stood in the middle of the store screaming things like “You’re all so dumb, You’re all blanking Lemmings, etc.” Needless to say, I was pretty upset at the fact that he made such a scene in the bike shop.

It also got me thinking about how upset I get when people like him, use fear to intimidate. If someone with little understanding of nutrition heard him screaming, they might have started thinking that they should also be in ketosis, and that carbs are bad. I have no problem with ketosis, but I do not recommend it for athletes, and carbs are certainly not bad. Last year I spoke a few times about fear mongering, and how detrimental I thought it was for the society. Let me back up and say, I am all for free speech, I am all for people living their lives how they want, and I am all for people becoming more educated in nutrition. I love that people want to be more educated, and I love for people to ask questions, try new things, etc.

That being said, I am not in favor of fear mongering or using fear as a marketing tool. Yes, I get how it is a useful tool for an insurance company (get this or you’ll lose everything in a house fire, you’ll go bankrupt from a hospital bill, etc), but not useful in other ways. If we look around society, you’ll hear different things coming from each corner of the nutrition world, and that can be overwhelming. Additionally, there is good (and bad) research coming from both sides of the aisle. I believe we need to follow research, as it is the best impartial data we have. Anecdotal evidence can be helpful, but true research (not just correlational or observational) that has been collected on thousands of people, over multiple years, is the best we have.

Here’s an example of fear based marketing, or using fear to confuse:

  • Vegans or plant-based groups say soy milk is beneficial and prevents cancer (because you’ve eliminated cows milk) vs other groups like Paleo saying it causes disturbances in hormone levels and it can be GMO vs the dairy promoters saying it doesn’t contain as much calcium as cows milk, and cows milk prevents cancer/promotes weight loss.

So, just that one example shows 3 different opinions, all using fear, cancer and hormone imbalances as their basis. I can say with certainty that all 3 opinions have research done on them, and all show some data in their favor. Cows milk has been shown to prevent some cancer (but may lead to others), it has been shown to promote weight loss, and it contains more usable calcium than soy. Soy is a phytoestrogen and while it won’t cause a man to grow breasts, in too large of a quantity, it can cause a hormone disturbance.

Here’s a few more:

  • Artificial sweeteners- they cause cancer, negative neurological effects, vs, they allow diabetics and others to reduce their overall sugar intake, thus reducing incidence of diabetes, heart disease, etc.
  • Whole grains/wheat- they cause inflammation and we don’t need them in our diet vs other groups touting their benefits-reducing cholesterol, reducing heart disease, a good energy source
  • Organic-If you don’t eat organic foods you’re killing your body by ingesting pesticides and they are more healthful, vs organic foods also contain pesticides and there is no evidence they are more healthful.
  • Saturated fat-saturated fat isn’t what causes heart disease, so go ahead and eat that bacon, vs saturated fat causes heart disease
  • Doctors- Doctors that studied traditional medicine don’t understand the natural human body or nutrition vs Doctors that study “integrative” medicine are more knowledgeable, so don’t believe a traditional doc

Once again, there are studies showing both sides to every argument. So, what are you to do when you’re being hit from every angle on the things listed above, plus many other things in our society? What I believe, and yes, this is my opinion only, is that we have to:

  1. Believe science that comes from reputable sources that have been studied and repeated-www.pubmed.com allows you to do your own research
  2. Find good websites or blogs to follow that don’t use fear based tactics or highlight studies that are not well done, or come up with conclusions that are not based on their findings
  3. Give your body what makes it perform its best-everyone is different
  4. Remember that everything in moderation is the key

My last point is the most important one I think-moderation. Too much anything is a bad thing, no matter what you’re talking about. Even fruit, let’s look at that. Fruit is an awesome food because it contains carbohydrates, vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, etc. Even though fruit is natural carbohydrates, it’s still carbohydrates, so if you eat too much, it can be stored as fat. Additionally, if you consume too many antioxidants as an athlete, you can actually hinder your performance. With athletes, inflammation is how we get stronger, faster, etc. So am I saying eliminate fruit? NO!

What I’m saying is, have several pieces of fruit per day. It doesn’t have to be organic, but if you can afford it and it makes you feel better, go for it. If you can’t afford it, please still eat fruit, you’ll lose out on the benefits. Eat one apple, don’t eat an entire bag of apples.

If you’d like to drink cow’s milk and your body can handle it, great. If you’d like to drink soy milk, great. Just stick to a moderate amount. If you’d like to eat a slice of bacon, go ahead, one slice won’t kill you. If you’d rather not, that’s fine too. If you’re trying to cut back on sugar, but want to indulge in one diet drink when you go out, are you killing yourself? Not in my opinion. Is it best to stay away from sugary drinks and artificial sweeteners, yes. But should you be afraid that you are killing yourself, no.

I read different research studies every day. Every day something new is being said, and every day the media is reporting something different. I especially like eat bacon vs don’t eat bacon. Or eat paleo vs whole grain carbs are ok. It can be a nightmare to navigate the news.

So, my last recommendation for every day nutrition is this:

  • Make half of your plate veggies-colorful and leafy greens are the best
  • Include fruit-concentrate on berries
  • Include lean protein-meat, eggs, fish
  • If you’d like to, consume dairy and/or soy milk in moderation
  • Consume whole grains, but feel free to do things that are sprouted, “ancient grains” like quinoa or spelt, or do gluten free. But whole grains are a great choice for athletes and gluten free grains still are beneficial
  • Include healthy fat-nuts, avocado, olive oil, hummus
  • Stay away from added sugar, artificial sweeteners, white flours (except when racing), packaged foods and sports nutrition (unless you need it for exercise-90min+). If you occasionally want to have a diet Coke, or you’d really like some crackers or chips and dip, go for it. Everything in moderation and you’ll be ok.

Don’t be afraid of what you eat. Use it as a fuel source to make yourself stronger. If you have questions about something, turn to your doctor or a licensed dietician. There are too many people with certifications that they get in one day, spouting off with fear induced rants. Food should be enjoyable, and not something to be feared. Life is too short to spend your entire day worrying. There is certainly a lot to worry about-employment, the economy, foreign nations, your families, etc. Don’t get caught up in the trap of one day this is in fashion, the next day this, the next day this. Science will continue to evolve, and our opinions on things will change. That’s good and how things work in science. Today though, focus on making  smart choices, think less processed=better, but don’t fear food.



  • By fueledandfocused - on

    I love those 3 sentences. Michael Pollan did a great job of summing up my entire blog in just 3 sentences. He article was a great read, and the last 9 suggestions were right on. I think my favorite line was don’t discount the yam for not saying anything. Thanks for sharing.

  • By Faith - on

    I am, for the most part, vegetarian-Paleo because it works for me. I like that Paleo allowed me to see what bothers my body and I use that information because it applies directly to me. Not everything non-Paleo is bad for me. I eat what works for my body. I am usually a vegetarian but I will eat it if I want to. I just listen to my body and eat what it needs. Despite the Paleo literature, corn products don’t bother me so I occasionally eat corn tortillas or popcorn. Wheat does bother me so I don’t eat it. I do eat sprouted legumes, grains, and seeds. I Love your blog and always look forward to it. Such powerful information Cristina, thank you!

  • By jhkane45 - on

    Thanks for blogging about this topic. I want to eat a clean diet and am overwhelmed by all the opposing literature (mostly anecdotal) out there about good and bad food choices. Ultimately, it is my body and I will make the best food choices I can based on information that makes sense to me. Keep these posts coming!

  • By fueledandfocused - on

    Thanks so much JHKANE45, I really appreciate it. You have the right idea, make choices based on what makes sense to you and your body, not what the media is choosing to throw out there.

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