Bad Science and Incompetence. And the Best E-Mail I’ve Ever Gotten

Seeing stuff like this at work was part of the reason I quit my job as a personal traner at a commercial gym.

Seeing stuff like this at work on a regular basis was part of the reason I quit my job as a personal trainer at a commercial gym.

I’ve been kind of down lately. I haven’t been able to block out all the pseudoscience, incompetence, and nonsense in the health and fitness community (and in general really). Since I primarily read books and research papers – rarely any newspapers, magazines, etc. – I’m usually well shielded from the worst nonsense, but there’s only so much you can protect yourself from, and sometimes it all just comes crashing down upon you. I vouched to myself that I would try to avoid focusing on the negative sides of the health and fitness industry on this site and instead try to make a change, but sometimes things get to be too much, and I have to let out some steam.

Nobody’s perfect, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve written, said, and done things that in retrospect weren’t that clever, but I’ve also learned from my mistakes. Today I try to live my life by a few simple rules, and one of the things I aim for is to always have a strong reasoning and/or scientific backing for every sentence I write, every exercise I prescribe, and everything I say regarding science, nutrition, etc. This might sound extreme to most people, but it keeps me grounded and humble in the sense that I can’t make any extravagant claims without making sure I can back them up, and it keeps me from talking about things I know nothing about here in life (which are a lot). If someone picks a sentence in one of my articles that they feel are inaccurate or false, I want to always be able to defend my position. I aim for perfection!

Science

Reading research can be a double-edged sword in the sense that you learn to distinguish fact from fiction, but at the same time you start to notice all of the pseudoscience and inaccurate conventional wisdom in our society. It can be really heart wrenching to see all the things people write, do, and say that are false or harmful to ones health.

Also, while you learn a lot from reading research, science can be daunting in the sense that you understand how much there’s still left to learn. Some researchers have spent their entire lives focusing on a single metabolic pathway and still haven’t gotten the answers they want.

I think it’s important to note that having read thousands of scientific articles in itself doesn’t make you smart or trustworthy. Some scientists have a skewed perspective on the scientific literature, and their PhD degrees make them even more dangerous in the sense that they are immediately thought of as trustworthy. And since they have put so much time and energy into their research, they are less likely to change their position even in the presence of new evidence.

Without a proper framework and a general understanding of how to decipher scientific studies, science can seem like an impossible maze with reviews and studies showing all sorts of different results, and it’s therefore no surprise that opinions on human nutrition are spread out all over the place. While proponents of a low-carb eating style typically emphasise the studies which show that reducing carbohydrate intake is beneficial for health and weight loss, vegetarians focus on the literature that seems to show that meat-heavy diets are associated with higher risk of chronic disease. And while the official dietary recommendations supposedly are based on the “best possible evidence”, official health authorities fail to take the second genome and the millions of years of human evolution into account when they develop dietary guidelines for the public. To be clear, I’m not questioning the guidelines to primarily eat unprocessed food, but I’m very much opposed to the idea that everyone should be eating a low-fat, grain-based diet.

Given all of these different views on nutrition, it’s no surprise that the general public is confused regarding what to eat.

Incompetence is everywhere

I couldn’t really care less about the diet scams and detox cures that people fall for, it’s the general incompetence that annoys me – Experienced personal trainers who have their clients do bosu-ball exercises and random mobility work the entire training session, people who have never read a scientific article or coached clients themselves, but have strong opinions about training, nutrition, and health, and teachers and professors that aren’t updated on the latest science in their field or haven’t got any evidence to back up their claims. I see this stuff going on all the time, and it makes me frustrated and sad. Health practitioners, fitness gurus, and teachers should be extra careful regarding what they say and do, as the information they put out is absorbed and spread by all of those people who rely on their expertise.

I realise that everyone has to start somewhere, and I don’t put a lot of blame on inexperienced personal trainers and coaches who are prescribing ineffective exercises and training programs to their clients. Hell, I’ve been there myself. During my first 1-2 years as a personal trainer I wanted to give my clients new and interesting movements and training routines, but as I learned more and more and started to understand the basic principles of effective training my coaching methods also changed dramatically. Where I live the courses you have to get through to become a personal trainer are fairly comprehensive compared to most other countries, but there’s still a huge gap between what you should know in order to be a good trainer and what you learn during your education. While there are a lot of things you can only learn from practical experience, it’s clear that personal trainers in general need to learn more about mobility, compound lifts, and functional rehabilitation before they are allowed to start working. I know I could have benefitted greatly from this added knowledge when I first started working as a trainer.

Motivating e-mail

While I try to not be affected by all of this and just do my thing, it does get to me at times, and lately it’s been especially bad. That’s when it’s extra motivating to get e-mails such as this one:

Just wanted to connect. You’re the panther of the jungle dude. You’re smarts are dangerous, your skills are untouchable, yet you’re a stealthy mother fucker laying just under the radar of the rest of the jungles population. There’s no way things like “she squats”, or Advocare should have more followers than you. It’s influential animals like yourself that I hope take our population by storm. I find your writing of the highest quality. It’s backed with studies (HUGE 1-up with me), outside the box, organized, and carefully crafted so anybody can read it. You Sir, will rise above. Keep at it!

- Charley Fraser

Thanks Charley!

While I’ll probably never get as many followers as “She squats” (people are generally more interested in half-naked women than long and somewhat technical articles on nutrition and health), that isn’t really my goal anyways. It might sound heartless, but I have no interest in providing information or help for those who just want a quick fix for everything. My goal is to reach smart people who are genuinely interested in health, question the way the system is, and dare to think outside the box. Hopefully you are one of them :)


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Comments

  1. Erik,

    I just want to say I LOVE all of your articles so far. I would probably be qualified as one of those inexperienced trainers but luckily my bosses (not box gym!) keep me reigned in and in fact they are the ones who turned me on to your beautiful site. I love how humble and down to earth you are, and how you speak TRUTH backed by science. I shield myself from most of the diet and fitness stuff out there and yours posts are one of the very few I subscribe to. Thank you!

    Roberta

    • Eirik Garnas says:

      Thanks Roberta!

      • Wayne Ralph says:

        Hi Eric

        I have been reading your posts for the last 6 months or so and have been on a very low card (no grains etc.) and high natural fat diet for approximately a year now. I run regularly and try and do two marathons every year. My body is now adapted to burning fat as my fuel. My next step is to work on my speed to try and get it back to pre-low carb days. I know it will come, the science is there…

        Mainstream literature such as the newspapers, health magazines and especially women’s magazines are particularly good at spreading this misinformation. They are typically not educated in this space and really only have one aim, and that is to sell more of their newspapers and magazines. The processed food companies are possibly the greatest villains in this, as it is in their favour to have this bad science out there. In fact I am sure they are responsible for a lot of this nonsense spread around. They will always find an Ancel Keys to tell people what they want them to hear.

        I myself really do not care what others eat or the exercise regime they follow. I know what has worked for me, both in controlling my weight and improving my overall gut and brain health.

        Keep up the good work. There are a lot of people out there that have changed their ways and now see the benefits. The movement is growing, and with change generally, it will take a generation to see the low fat, high grain diet for the killer it is. Unfortunately millions will suffer as a result of this, but that is the price society will always pay for ignorance and stupidity.

        You are not a lone voice in the wilderness any more…

        Wayne Ralph

  2. Nancy Myers says:

    I’m very impressed with your articles. Much appreciation!

  3. Love your stuff mate. Keep on keeping the good fight .

  4. This post could not have come out at a better time for me. I have just enrolled in CPT courses and have started increasing outside research to ensure a well rounded education but it is so frustrating! It’s nice to hear that even professionals of your level struggle with the scientific community as well. It reminds me to keep pushing on and striving to find my own way. Thank you. You are an inspiration.

  5. John Knapp says:

    I echo all the sentiments above. I read your posts because of how well you analyze what others have done studies of, or took a position on. I’m tired of how many voices there are on diet and exercise. Your measured, considerate tone is very welcome amidst a sea of pseudo scientists and poseurs.

  6. Eirik Garnas says:

    Thanks for the comments/feedback everyone! Not going to turn this site into a place where I talk about my feelings (Haha), and I definitely don’t want to sound like some guy who’s sitting up on his high horse thinking he’s better than everyone else… but sometimes I just have to let out some frustration.

  7. jim nonnemacher says:

    Wondering if you have any comments on the paleo diet? The reading I’ve done would seem to indicate there’s a spectrum of “paleo diets.” First there’s what I would refer to as the strict paleo with high consumption of protein & fat with very little carbohydrate. Then there’s a modified paleo where you vary the amount of macronutrients based on your lifestyle…..a marathon runner would eat more carbs than someone following the “strict paleo.” But, both would try to get foods as unprocessed as possible; i.e., whole, unprocessed foods.

    I personal don’t like the idea of high protein, high fat diets as I don’t think there’s any long term studies (years, not month long) that show they are in fact healthy. There are other diets, as outlined in, “The China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell, that are long term and show the health benefits of a plant based diet.

    So, wondering what your thoughts are.

    • Hi Jim! The paleo diet, as originally outlined by Boyd Eaten, Loren Cordain (thepaleodiet.com), etc. includes (as you probably know) meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, berries, and nuts. However, most paleo dieters eat a less strict form of the diet, including some dairy products, cacao, wine, etc.

      I think the paleo diet is a great starting place, and I’m a big fan of Mark Sisson and some other paleo/primal gurus. However, while I agree that most people benefit from reducing or eliminating their consumption of grains, there’s little evidence showing that potatoes, legumes, high-quality dairy products, and some other foods unknown to the paleolithic man can’t be a part of a healthy diet. The paleo diet is very healthy, but unnecessarily restrictive for most people.

      The china study has been thoroughly debunked by for example Denise Minger (http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/07/07/the-china-study-fact-or-fallac/). There’s no reason to shun animal source food.

      - Eirik

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