Dear Supplement Companies: Stop Trying to “Enhance” Me. [Plus: The New Dove Campaign - love it or hate it?] Featured

Authors: TheGreatFitnessExperiment

proteinpowderCannot even tell you how many times I’ve either given a baggie like this or gotten one. And it makes me giggle. Every. Time. (My fave was when Deb the Smoothie Girl sent me a whole package of baggies of different white powders! I can only imagine what FedEx thought. But I still love xantham gum to this day so thank you, Deb!)

“Nope, never tried it. But I bet Charlotte has!” Turbo Jennie waved at me over her shoulder, still talking to the girl in the tank top about some supplement or another.

“Tried what?” I asked, before realizing that her answer didn’t really matter. It didn’t matter because the sad truth – and in truth I really am sad about this – is that I probably have tried it. Illegal drugs hold no interest for me. Legal drugs terrify me. But call it a vitamin or slap a “proven by research” label on it and I’m a serious sucker.

This has gotten me into trouble in the past. You may have seen the recent news about the FDA warning about a supplement called dimethylamylamine (also known as DMAA or Chinese geranium) – it’s the active ingredient of popular workout boosters like Oxyelite Pro and Jack3d and it functions like an amphetamine. Remember the race a few years ago where I took an unknown supplement from a friend and ended up puking my way through an entire 10-mile race, only to collapse at home thinking I was dying? (Spoiler alert: I didn’t die.) I found out later what I had taken was these two. Together. And after reading the FDA briefing, I think I’m lucky to be alive. Lots of people will argue with me about this. Heck, lots of people have - my previous post about the dangers of DMAA has gotten a lot of really negative comments from people who think I’m impugning the greatest supplement on the market – and for some people it probably does work and is safe. The combo worked great for my friend who gave it to me. But it did not work, nor was it safe for me. And it wasn’t safe for these people either – and they’re dead because of it.

But the real question for me isn’t whether or not DMAA is safe. (Truly, I’m not telling you what to do. And I’m not reopening that argument. All I know is my personal experience.) The real question that I can’t stop asking myself is Why did I take the pill/powder in the first place? Indeed, Why do I feel so compelled to keep trying all these supplements, vitamins, boosters and whatevers at all? 

Because I want an edge.

But that’s not the whole answer. Why would I want an edge? At first I wondered if this was just my Type A, competitive instinct coming out but no matter how I tried that one on, it just didn’t fit right. I’m a moderately-fit suburban mother of five. I’m never going to win a race or anything else and moreover I’ve never even been close. And I know that. I’m not even the fastest or the strongest among the Gym Buddies (Megan and Allison are, respectively). It was then I realized it is the opposite: It’s because I have never, ever felt like I am on the same level as everyone else. I’ve never been enough.

No matter how much I workout, how (comparatively) strong or fast I get, or how much work I do on myself, I still feel like the gawky high schooler who only made the mile run because her teacher taunted her and threw footballs at her the entire way. I remember praying for rain or my period or another presidential impeachment – anything so I wouldn’t have to go to gym class. Because all of them would laugh at me. And talk about me. And I would feel like a total failure, again. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I was a special case or that I had it any worse than any other gawky high schooler.  High school is pretty much known for being the seventh circle of hell. But what I told myself, to make myself feel better, was that I couldn’t keep up with them because I physically couldn’t do it. Maybe my metabolism was slower or I had undiagnosed asthma or a bum thyroid or maybe I was born with a heart with only three ventricles and no one knew it but when I dropped dead on the track then they’d all feel really bad, by golly! I wanted this to be true so badly because that would mean my failure wasn’t because I didn’t try hard enough. It would mean it wasn’t my fault that I wasn’t living up to my potential.

Of course none of those things were true. I mean yeah, my metabolism is slightly slower than most people’s and I wasn’t born with a heart capacity like Michael Phelps but all things considered I’m fine. In fact, I’m pretty normal. And yet, I’m still that girl who feels less than normal. I didn’t take those pills because I wanted to be better than everyone else. I took those pills because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up with everyone else. On my own, un-”supplemented” Charlotte, I’m not good enough. Again.

This, as you may understand, was a particularly uncomfortable realization. You know, ’cause, I’m not, like, in high school, and stuff. I’m supposed to be past all this kind of angst. But before this gets any more depressing, I have another confession: I haven’t taken any supplements other than magnesium (I swear it helps my wicked cramps) and vitamin D (because I live in the land the sun forgot) in over six months. I don’t even take a multi-vitamin anymore. (Side note: those can kill you, “proven by research” and all that.) I’m not sure what the breaking point was. I think it was when I got a big ol’ box of “free” supplements from a bodybuilding company to try out and I just knew – I knew – that they weren’t going to work. Even without trying them. Even if they did build muscle, rev my metabolism or turn me into a Lisa Frank Pegasus with rainbow poop, they still wouldn’t work. Because I’d be taking them to finally make myself “enough.” And no supplement can do that.

So I started thinking. And because I still am honestly not sure how to see myself as enough, I started considering all the women I know, love and admire. The ones who, to me, are more than enough. And this is what I’ve concluded:

1. Athletes come in all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities and ages. Through my life and my work I’ve had the privilege of meeting a cadre of women who are crazy talented, not in spite of their differing bodies, but because of them.

2. You don’t have to be athletic or even “fit” to be an amazing person. You don’t have to be skinny to be good or beautiful to be kind or young to be relevant.

3.  They won’t let themselves be defined by the ones who hate them, criticize them or are jealous of them. They also won’t be defined by the ones who love them. The only one who shapes them is the one who made them in the first place.

(Side note: I think that is what bothers me about that new Dove “Real Beauty” commercial/campaign making the rounds. It’s a sweet video with a touching message but… why are other people’s assessments inherently more valuable than our own? Just because they’re nicer? Doesn’t that mean the cruel ones are valuable too? I would have preferred it if the sketch artist had taught the women how to draw themselves, create their own beauty, rather than letting a stranger draw them over.)

4. “Enough” is a choice. And it’s not something you decide once and be done with it. At least not for most of us. It’s something you decide on a daily basis. For me, the first step was choosing to ditch* all the “performance enhancers” (which makes me sound like I need Viagra or something, egads, no).

The thing is, even if you reject the idea that women need to be skinny to be attractive and worthy of love, there are still so many ways we are told we are less than. You’re not strong enough, you care too much about your looks, you care too little, you need a makeover, you have a lame job, your house isn’t pretty, your kids aren’t achieving enough… First they sell us on all our defects and then they sell us all the “fixes.” (Including, you know, Dove.) But you’ll never be able to buy “enough.” The great irony is that probably the best way to fix yourself is to stop fixing things. You’re not broken. I’m not broken. Sure, I can improve. Of course I can. I hope I can. But seeking to refine yourself is different than seeing yourself as inherently flawed.

I’ll never be that fast. I’ll always have thighs that touch (making it impossible to wear all those cute little running shorts because they ride up into my business until I look like I’m wearing giant polyester panties). But the race will be my own and I’ll love the legs that ran it.

Have you ever used any “workout enhancers”? Anyone else a total sucker for supplements? Does that new Dove campaign/ad bother anyone else at all??

Coming back to add: Having typed all that out now it all seems so terribly obvious. See those four points above? I already knew every one of them. I bet you did too. So why can’t I remember them? I can’t decide if this is the cheesiest, tritest post I’ve ever written or if there’s substance in here. Take the good from it if you will and return the rest with patience:)

*Note: I’m not advocating you ditch yours. If you take supplements, vitamins or medications that are vital to your health then stay with it.

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying EverythingDear Supplement Companies: Stop Trying to “Enhance” Me. [Plus: The New Dove Campaign - love it or hate it?] for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!

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