**This article was originally posted July 2, 2015.
By Steve Sharpton, Parsons Training, Tucson, Arizona
I remember the first time I tried a Powerbar. For a short while there, I was trying to get back in shape a little by joining some people I knew at the movie theater I worked at in a community basketball league. We were terrible so to speak, but I always crashed in the middle of the game, and since I really didn’t want to eat too much before a game, I had decided to finally give the bars a try. I thought, if it is good enough for everyone else out there, I might as well try it. Besides, considering my diet consisted of Subway sandwiches, popcorn and nachos at the time, I figured it would be a healthy alternative. Well, much like many other disappointments in my life, it really wasn't that great. The first time I ever tried Powerbar, it was like I was eating some gross food from the future. It didn’t last that good, it had the consistency of taffy and it really didn’t taste like the peanut butter that it listed as a flavor. I stubbornly ate it for a while, for I did okay in a couple game until I split my head open jumping for a loose ball. But such is the days of rec league basketball, for I was clearly too out of shape and just couldn’t (or was it wouldn’t) devote the time necessary to get myself ready for a game (i.e. training on my own time).
Other than that, I rarely ever ate any type of energy bars. I did have a short fetish with Nature’s Best Granola bars, especially when they barely released the Cinnamon flavor that was so ridiculously good. It was kind of funny how in 2014 I sort of had a strange hunkering for all things “fitness” related during Ragnar Del Sol. I had run too darn fast during my first leg and had the nastiest headache I had ever had. I tied eating as many of the little free Clif bars they had available, thinking the extra sugars and salts would help me. I even threw the warning “may have been manufactured on equipment that also manufactures milk products” or whatever it might have said out the window. Truthfully, the headache never went away, and I barely finished the race despite the mountains of Gatorade and peanuts I ate (and yes, I was pissing every ten minutes it seems). It took a good two days to really recover and get over the nightmare that was me not eating enough before the race (the next year I was much better prepared). But it kind of brings the question to the forefront….should I have expected anything less from the energy bars that I was hoping would give me some sustenance? Now it seems unfair to put such a wide burden on one little product, but then again, they are always making gigantic boasts.
Well, no surprise here, but those little energy bars may not be the burst of health you might think they are. http://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/not-so-healthy-truth-about-nutrition-bars
There was an interesting little psychological study that was produced by the Journal of Marketing Research which indicates we may be putting too much credence into the little bars of energy that have some 20 or so ingredients on it that cannot be pronounced. During a little study, they made some samples of trail mixes and gave them to people that were about to hit a stationary bike, marking the products with either nothing, a little running symbol or “fitness” on it. Some interesting results occurred, for the people that took the fitness mix of trail mix seemed to work out less on the bike, burning fewer calories in the process. So can we just say what some people might be thinking? I guess I will say it. People who think they are eating a healthier product tend to slack off on the fitness. Now, where have I heard this sentiment before? Oh yes, just about my entire 2014 consisted of this problem! Truthfully, part of the reason why I may have fallen into the trap of gaining weight because no matter how much I ate, I was eating healthier food than I was just a couple years before. I mean, I wasn’t even chowing down on the high fat replacement foods that so many people on my Facebook feed love and post. But I gained weight anyway, substituting “portion control” for “it’s vegan!” Little did I realize that you can gain weight if you are eating way too much Chipotle.
Either way, there is a specific psychological reason why we tend to fall into these traps. According to the researchers, labeling something fitness may wipe out some of the conflicts that we may have in our brains, thinking it is healthy and therefore okay to binge on. These bars on average have a good 200+ calories, so even though they may be good for you and provide a solid boost, some people like myself may actually abuse the issue. But the sentiment seems to be more based around the idea of not working out as much, which for most people might not be a problem. But what about the casual gym goer? If you have a pretty stable workout routine and eat well on the side, chomping down on a PHÖD bar like I do from time to time will be a wonderful fitness aid. If anything, I consider it a reward and a worthy reason to keep my head on straight, because one car accident due to fatigue might end this blog for me! Either way, this problem might be focused more on the types who rarely go to the gym. They partake in eating these foods because they believe they are better for you and can make you better. But that is simply not the case. Much like the low fat craze of the 80s and the No Trans Fat phase of the 90s, fitness related foods are becoming the new hazard for people that are not going full throttle on their health and fitness. It boils down to the idea of reading the labels carefully and counting the calories properly.
Now there might be a reason for this issue, and I’m gonna get all conspiracy theorist on you. First of all, most healthy people know regardless that even a PHÖD bar or a CLIF bar eaten in excess can lead to some poundage, especially if you are just replacing your Snickers bar. We know these bars are meant to aid in the recovery process after a big workout or help maintain some energy for a 40-hour race, and I think most health conscious people enjoy these products for that reason. But for average people, you might be falling directly into a trap. Most products that have labels of fitness and health on them really have no incentive to be actually healthy due to lax laws or regulations (much like muscle building supplements can hide the majority of their ingredients through deregulation). There has already been some issues in the past with the type of products, with the FDA coming down on companies like KIND and Quest for false advertising (which if you look at the internet, for even that is rife with controversy). More than anything, smaller companies are making a killing in this field, like IdealShape, Vega One (despite the 10,000 ingredients!), Pure and of course PHÖD due to better transparency and more honest claims. I think more than anything, this might play a hand in your selection, for the bigger the company, the darker the ulterior motives it might seem. Powerbar is owned by the Nestle Corporation, which is doing a good job of draining water aquifers in California, so eating a product from a company that wants you to eat candy bars is kind of interesting. Nature’s Best is still a good company, but that doesn’t mean the granola bars I’m eating are all that good to my waistline. I think this is why labeling and figuring out what you are eating is so important. I think this is why I like PHÖD bars, for they are healthy but they are primarily labeled as a “protein bar” (**in 2016 the company relabeled the bars as 'Energy Bars"**) rather than a “fitness bar” or a “snack replacement bar” which many label themselves as. So if I want to keep enjoying the chocolatey goodness of the Vanilla Chocolate Chip bar, I’m going to have to keep banging away on those 70-minute sessions in the gym or keep doing Ragnars!
Now I know it seems pretty heavy handed of me to say all this stuff, but I got to tell you, it is easy to fall into the trap. Just remember the hilarious joke from “Mean Girls” where good girl Cady Herron tricks the resident Queen Bee Regina George into eating a fitness bar, but it turns out it was just a carb loaded nightmare meant for people to gain weight! While this was meant to be a running joke during the movie, this is the sort of thing that many of us kind of fall into. I remember the days when I would try to eat nothing but Nature’s Best bars for lunch, which then turned into a two-pack for lunch and ultimately a three pack! I was wondering where the heck the weight was coming from. Same thing happened with Lean Cuisine, which promised frozen microwave food without the calories. Boy did I abuse those, giving up on them at one point and then just going for the Michelina’s, which had all of the goody badness that I really wanted. And of course, much like I have mentioned before, I really went nuts when Chef Boyardee started boasting their canned pasta was the equivalent of a serving of vegetables. Much like the kids in the commercials, I hated veggies at the time and thought this would be a great way to get some better health into my diet. Of course, it didn’t help that I was eating the family sized can of the stuff and occasional adding a small can of the stuff on the side (eating the mini-raviolis was fun and easy!). The ingredient list certainly helps live up to that claim, for the amount of tomatoes and carrot may aid in this claim. But look at the health info, which I never did. One 15-ounce can had 460 calories (I would eat two or three of these!), 16 grams of fat, 1500 milligrams of sodium (imagine nearly eating a teaspoon of salt!), 62 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of sugar, which almost blows up the 17 grams that is the new suggested requirement for your daily intake! I used to eat the 40-ounce cans regularly, which is nearly three cans! I was literally eating 1,000 calories and then some and considering I liked dipping bread, crackers and even chips into the spaghetti sauce, I could have been chomping down on 1500 calories or so! I even made the ultimate poor person’s food…..Chef Boyardee burritos.
I guess it is no wonder why I became such a big guy, for I believed everything I read without a thorough understanding of what I was actually eating. If anything, this is cautionary tale, and for me it was even worse considering I was such a compulsive eater. The fact I am not drinking a boatload of coffee everyday or a bag of chips everyday or even soda kind of illustrates that I have taken some control of my diet. But it is still a long battle, and at least I have the tools to lead a healthy life. I had a good reminder this past week about where I was possibly heading when I saw a very sick and unhealthy looking gentleman in the check out line ahead of me. I think he had kind of given up, for here he was hooked up to a oxygen machine, walking slowly and very overweight. But he was sadly oblivious, for he had all the pork shoulder and beef ribs he could carry in his cart, gleefully talking about the new smoker he had at home that he was going to fully use this week. He had a few 12-packs of soda, all of them the ones that we're on special and couple bags of chips. I couldn’t help but think that this was going to be me in the future. I looked at the kale, carrots, tomatoes, green onions, rice and beans I was buying and didn’t regard them as a jail sentence so to speak. I looked at them as life and sustenance. Personally, I’m glad I decided to start reading and looking at labels, finding means to restrict myself. Who knows where I would be right now.
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Meet the Author
Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.
When you read this blog you are reading through the eyes of someone who is winning the battle of real weight loss. Steve is not a fitness professional, but he is someone we can all learn from.
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