How You're Wasting Money Trying to Get Healthy

wasting money trying to get healthy
Oren Aks/Thrillist
Oren Aks/Thrillist

Many people are willing to spend tons of money to get healthier, since the result is usually a longer, higher-quality life. Also, spending money is way easier than sticking to a diet or exercising regularly.

But in some cases, shelling out cash to improve your health only makes your wallet thinner. Instead, you could save your money for the things that really will make a difference: whole foods, exercise, sleep, and relaxation. Start by eliminating a few of these money wasters.

Alternative medicines are usually an alternative to keeping your cash

Americans spend $14.7 billion annually on complementary and alternative treatments. Some of those alternative treatments have the science to back them up. But some of them, well, don't.

There are situations in which acupuncture has research-backed benefits, and just because the mechanism by which massage works isn't fully understood doesn't change that feeling of calm many people get after a nice long massage. (And if it makes you feel better, then that's a health benefit at least.)

But around 2-3% of adults who seek alternative treatments are going through guided imagery, progressive relaxation, and homeopathy -- all areas where the research is, uh, lacking. Homeopathy doesn't even have a standard definition, and here's the very first thing the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has to say about the practice: "There is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition." It doesn't get a lot clearer than that. Save the cash you're thinking of spending on a shaman and go for a massage instead.

Fish oil might just be modern snake oil

Look, most supplements are a waste of money, since many of them don't have the research to support the claims they're making. That includes one of the more popular supplements out there: fish oil.

Around 8% of Americans take fish oil. This is despite the fact that dozens of studies in the last 10 years have found no benefits in terms of decreasing heart disease or heart attack risk factors when compared to a placebo pill.

This love of fish oil stems from research done on the potential benefits of a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, but also healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and some oils. Eat those instead. Or you could take placebos!

Brown eggs aren't any healthier, but often cost more

It seems like the brown eggs should be healthier. They look more natural. But they're not. There is, literally, no difference between brown eggs and white eggs -- except for one big thing: brown eggs cost more. This is partially because of our own perception that they're better and worth the extra bucks. And also because reddish-brown chickens make brown eggs, and reddish-brown chickens tend to be larger and therefore cost more to raise. But, you can save your cash. Brown or white, the difference in eggs is not in their color.

One caveat: if you taste a difference, it's because of what the chickens eat, not what they look like.

Gluten-free products can steer you wrong

Yes, if you actually have celiac disease, then buying gluten-free food is definitely worth the higher prices. But if you don't, then not eating gluten doesn't necessarily mean you're eating healthier. The possible benefits of going free of gluten are still debatable for the vast majority of the population without celiac, though there are people with wheat allergies and gluten sensitivities.

There isn't an actual test for gluten sensitivity, but plenty of people say they feel better when they cut gluten out of their diet. Of course, if you're getting all that gluten from cupcakes and beer, well, of course you're going to feel better when you cut it out. The problem is the misconception that gluten-free is automatically code for "healthier." It's not. It's code for "does not contain gluten." That's it. And plenty of companies are capitalizing on our misunderstanding by sticking a "gluten-free" label on foods that never had gluten in the first place -- that's why you can buy a bag jelly beans that proudly proclaims they’re gluten-free.

Anti-aging creams are filled with lies

You know what's free? Getting older. You know what's expensive? Trying to fight time. Consumer Reports has found that anti-aging creams largely don't work. You're paying all that money to soothe your soul more than your actual skin.

This is also true when it comes to expensive sunscreens -- it turns out that the more expensive ones don't work any better. (The highest-rated sunscreen was Target's up & up Sport.) In fact, if you buy a sunscreen that costs less, you might actually use it more. Which is definitely healthier.

Fitness trackers are pointless accessories

If you really need to know how many steps you take in a day and get those alerts emailed to your wrist, then a fitness tracker is a fine investment. But if you think it's actually making you healthier, then you need to reevaluate.

The academic universe is having a hard time keeping up with all the new fitness gadgets and their many (many) features, but these trackers have very little impact on your overall health.

Mostly, it's a motivation question. Many people see a jump in activity at first, when they become newly fascinated with increasing their arbitrary numbers, but motivation quickly disappears when it's not connected to a real-world incentive. The biggest impact seems to come when a fitness tracker is used as part of a larger incentive program -- like an employer-backed monetary award or insurance discount connected to activity levels.

Gym memberships cost money

But if you actually go, then it's not a waste.

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Kelly O'Mara writes about triathlon, training tip for marathons, and Olympic athletes. She also races a lot. Follow her @kellydomara.