NOTE: discussion of diet culture, social expectations re: weight, and celebrity
Recently I had an exchange on a social network in which a commenter promoted the validity of a certain diet. I still haven’t figured out why this was a topic in the group as it is not connected to the groups mandate, but I have learned that if someone wants to promote their diet, they will find a way.
This is not an unusual exchange for me. At least once a year, someone somewhere wants to talk about the value they find in trying the currently trendy diet.
It doesn’t matter which one. They all claim to have had spectacular results once they started this diet. Or they cite sources which support their claims. Or they cite individual experts and refer doubters to YouTube or Facebook or their personal websites to get the true facts medical authorities in the thrall of big pharma have suppressed.
I started looking at the role celebrity play in diet culture quite a while ago. It’s not so much that celebrities shill diets (they do!) but that those who promote a particular dietary approach, be it Whole30, or Paleo, or Atkins seek to garner fame on the coattails of what they consider to be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) diet.
Curiously, the recent commentator highlighted how their diet’s proponents were experts with medical degrees and specialties and they were motivated by goodness and not filthy lucre. I did a search on the names and was less than impressed with the credentials of the experts cited. One person’s expertise, for example, was gained by the serendipitous discovery of the true food path when conventional medicine failed them.
Now I am all for being skeptical, asking questions and looking for the truth in evidence. And I think looking outside the box of your own professional background is a good thing to avoid any internal biases.
But I worry when I encounter evangelism as the means of persuasion no matter what the subject. The argument “it worked for me, so it must be great” bothers me a great deal. As the saying goes, one swallow does not make a summer, or in more scientific terms, correlation does not mean causation.
We see this belief process not just in nutrition but also fitness, preventative medical initiatives like vaccines, and so on. I had a conversation once with a counsellor who noted their concerns with the rise of vegetarianism/veganism and/or gluten-free eating among young women. Such diets can often mask eating disordered behaviours. This isn’t to suggest that a vegan eating plan is a recipe for poor health; just that exclusion of one kind of food without replacing their nutrients with different sources of foods can be an unhealthy approach and lead to negative consequences for long term health.
When evaluating any kind of approach recommended for health, look at multiple sources. Establish guidelines for your belief in the quality of the information. Check their credentials. I was once referred to a doctor online as an expert; they had even been published in a prestigious medical journal. A closer look at the publication revealed it was a letter expressing an opinion, not a research study report.
Assess the voice of the promoter. Are they dismissive of those who disagree with them? Look at who references and supports their work. Are they log rolling — that is, promoting each other over and over in an endless circle? The language they use, especially any arguments that suggest they are being persecuted or discredited for bucking a trend, should be another clue to question the validity of the diet bandwagon they are driving.
Does every post on their website sell something? It may not be an actual product, but a dream, a vision, a hope or an expectation.
I had responded to the original request for information with a variety of sources I have used in the past and found to be reliable and sound. One of them cited a research report which demonstrated credible evidence that the particular diet asked about could benefit certain individuals with very specific health issues. Curiously, that study wasn’t even cited by the poster and others holding the contrary opinion to mine.
What do you think readers? How do you evaluate information so you can an informed decision about your health, nutrition and fitness?