Love for exercise

The real deal is when you develop your own lasting, rewarding relationship. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times / December 24, 2010)

There is a word in fitness/health/weight loss marketing that is toxic. Sometimes it is blatant, other times implied. I hate this word. The word is "only."

You have to work out only this teeny bit to get amazing results. You only have to take this pill to lose all the weight you want. You have to cut only carbohydrates to achieve health and fitness.

The underlying message is this: "We know you hate this, so we've come up with some mythical, miracle fix that minimizes the amount of time and effort spent doing something you detest."

Never mind that the fix is often bogus and could cost a couple of mortgage payments: It also puts forth the idea that exercise and healthful eating are punishments to be endured in order to achieve a desired end.

Toxic.

This kind of marketing gets you thinking about nothing other than getting results from minimal or no effort. So let me ask a question: When has anything worthwhile in life been achieved without serious and sustained effort?

The answer to fitness woes is not going on some pseudo-reality, weight-loss game show or buying a battery-operated belt that electroshocks your abs. The answer, it turns out, comes from John Lennon. Sing it: "All you need is love. Da — da da da da."

Love gets you out of bed early to run or hit that 6:30 a.m. fitness class. Love prompts you to lift heavy and lift often. Love makes you embrace the pain and see your calluses as a badge of honor. Love is all you need.

Perhaps you've made New Year's resolutions that have something to do with fitness. If so, it helps to remember that there are no quick fixes. There is no such thing as easy.

Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on weight-loss products and services, and, according to the Federal Trade Commission, much of this stuff is bogus. A 2007 FTC survey of consumer fraud determined that Americans were more likely to be taken in by weight-loss scams than by any other type of fraud and that 4.8 million people were victims that year. Survey respondents stated that 20% didn't even use the product, 34% lost no weight and 28% lost just a little weight.

This year, fine-tune your male-bovine-droppings detector. You can't feel the love for a lie.

There's no need to be in a hurry to get fit. Love of exercise often takes time to develop. And like any good relationship, it must be nurtured if it's to grow. It also requires spending at least a little money, because those old "Magnum P.I." shorts from high school attract funny looks and chafe when you try to run in them.

Yes, money. Maybe you need a little more than love. (Sorry, John.)

That cash needs to be spent wisely, especially in this economy. Packaged meal plans and unpronounceable berry juices won't help anyone feel the love, and I bet most of those 4.5 million Shake Weights sold since they vibrated onto the scene were picked up as gag gifts for bridal showers.

I've spent thousands on Pearl Izumi, Lululemon, Nike and Reebok, and my ski equipment is worth more than my car. Like flowers, date nights and the occasional sparkly rock, this is money well spent. It keeps my relationship with exercise healthy.

How you decide to spend your money and your time this year is up to you, but remember the all-important quest to find love and keep it forefront in your mind. Search for your exercise soul mate. (Or three. In the fitness context, polyamory equals cross-training.)

The Internet can help you find love, and not just the eHarmony kind. It's a great way to get informed about diet and exercise — if one's cautious. We all need to learn how to separate the good information from the bad, just like life (hopefully) taught us to separate good relationships from bad ones.

Get informed about which gyms have complaints about automatically renewing memberships. (I never give bank or credit card information to a gym; I pay cash.) Watch out for high-pressure personal trainers who want to sell you a 50-pack of sessions.

And check into qualifications. I recommend that a trainer have a degree in exercise physiology and a good certification, such as from the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Assn.

Most important, if something sounds too good to be true, it's as reliable as a Pinto blowing blue smoke.