The “Sounds Good” Effect

The health & fitness industry is awash with conflicting and unsubstantiated claims.  Everything from doing a certain exercise will burn off your belly fat, to taking a certain supplement will prevent cancer.


Happy Pills 2

The supplement industry is worth billions worldwide and I’m not at all saying it’s a con or is misleading.  What I am saying, is to be wary and to have a cautious view on any claims made.  Millions of people strongly believe in supplements and feel better by taking them, I’m only a personal trainer and am just sharing my thoughts.

This is going to get my into a bit of trouble with those who strongly believe in supplements but here’s my opinion for whatever it’s worth.

Go into any health food store and you’ll find a relief, cure or purported benefit for almost anything.  Although you’ll notice none of the packaging will make any claims.  They can’t legally unless its been rigorously tested and backed up by scientific findings.  You’ll find anything that has been proven by science to be effective, is called medicine.  However, the shop assistant can make any verbal unsubstantiated claim that any product does such and such.

Why do we put so much trust into a most likely untrained shop assistant that by taking X, we’ll cure Y?   Is it because what they say sounds good?

A good example is cold sores.  Someone recommends to the person with one, that taking supplement X will speed up the cold sore disappearing.  They also say a prayer to whichever God they believe in, that it goes quickly and they also apply ice.

They’re desperate to get rid of the unsightly thing, so will try anything and a week later, sure enough the the cold sore is gone.  Did supplement X, the prayer or the ice really speed it up?   Or would it have gone in the same time anyway?  It’s now gone so the person can recommend supplement X, a prayer &/or the ice to their friends, when they get cold sores.

It’s very easy for me as a personal trainer to tell a client to take X and Y, to make them lose fat or have shinier hair or whatever.  People trust me and my experience and generally would go and buy anything I recommended.  Personally I rarely give advice like this.  Similarly we gain the trust of some unqualified blogger on instagram and buy their hair product, supplement or vitamin injection.  Checkout Bloggers Unveiled on Instagram to see some of the ways this can be misguided advice and fraudulent sales practices.

The factors that make a person decide to take mine, a health food store worker, a celebrity endorsement  or anyone’s advice, is partly based on;

  • Trusting the person saying it,
  • The potential to help them achieve something they want,
  • It’s easy just to take a pill to solve a problem,
  • It’s potential to act quickly,
  • They’re desperate or in urgent need and will try anything
  • To feel in control and that they are doing something about their problem
  • It’s potentially low cost.
  • It can do no harm
  • Maybe I should take it, just in case
  • It sounds good

When in fact if I did ever recommend someone to take a supplement, it’s really only based on small anecdotal evidence I have experienced.  Or is based on the fact I read an article somewhere, that recommended it and it sounded good.

That’s what’s great about supplements, they’re hard to prove or disprove.  As people want to believe they have an answer or have the potential to help or advise someone in pain or in need of help, so we all make recommendations, usually in good faith to be fair.  It’s hopefully rarely done to con someone, but a recommendation may commonly be made to sell the person something, especially online. It’s a bit like religion when you think about it.  I believe a certain thing and feel I have the answer and want to share it with you.


Weightloss Supplements

Miracle Cure 2

When it comes to weightloss supplements, it’s highly unlikely the person you met or the article you are reading, has just right now, found the solution to the world’s obesity epidemic.  If they have, wait until next week and it’ll be in every shop in the world and they’ll be trillionaires.  If there’s an online resource, article, advertisement or video claiming you can take X to lose weight, chances are it’s either illegal, ineffective, unsafe or isn’t something that will be effective in the long-term.  So even if the pill does somehow make you lose weight, when you eventually stop taking it, will it mean you quickly regain any weight you lost?





Some supplements claim to affect a feeling, whether it’s having more energy, more concentration, a better mood.  Or by wearing a magnet or crystal around your neck or wrist you’ll feel better.  These are the most controversial supplements in my opinion.  Human feelings are so susceptible to wanting to believe and to the effect of placebos.



When you take a supplement to cure something, would it have been gone anyway or would other changes accounted for the improvement?

Things to question when taking any supplement:

  • Is the effect significant?
  • Are the benefits measureable?
  • Are any results potentially from other changes in your diet, exercise, other medicine or routine at the same time?
  • Did you notice a change backwards after you stopped taking X?
  • Would the ailment have resolved itself anyway?
  • Is it affordable?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • Are the claims made, only relevant over a very long period of time and in vast quantities?
  • Can improvements to diet, compensate for the supplement?
  • Are the claims made by the seller huge, substantial or miracle cures?  If so, run a mile.  There are no miracles.

Supplements are revered the world over and I do take a couple myself from time to time.  I rarely recommend them to clients, or at least warn them that the truth is I have no idea, if they really do work or are effective.

When I take supplements, it’s because they’re relatively cheap, potentially do no harm and makes me feel more in control when I take them.  I usually take fish oil.  As I don’t like fish and rarely eat it, so figure as we live on an island I probably should eat more fish, so take fish oils – just in case.  I never notice any difference when I forget to take them, sometimes for months.  I also take Vitamin E and D, can’t for the life of me remember why I started, but I have them now, so will finish taking them.  Since taking Vitamin C about 18months ago, I haven’t had a cold (was getting 4/5 colds in a short space of time) and also haven’t had a cold sore (was getting them every 6 months).  Did Vitamin C cause these benefits or was it other changes to my diet or stress levels?  I don’t know.

Use common sense and good judgment when it comes to supplements or claims made in the health and fitness industry.  Supplements are meant to supplement your diet, not replace something in your diet and aren’t, I believe, something that should be taken in the longterm.  Always do some research before trying something new and never stop mainstream medical advice on the basis of claims made by supplement sellers.  In conjunction with medical advice, supplements may be ok, but always speak to your doctor first.

Remember I, or any other personal trainer, shop assistant, market stall owner, blogger, celebrity etc are not qualified to give advice on supplements or give any other medical advice. It is all anecdotal based advice or from something we’ve heard that sounds good.

Be careful of some nutritionists or guru’s, as doing a weekend course or a 3 month internet course, does not qualify them in my opinion.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

author: Andy Kenny