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!
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.
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
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