In recent times, evidence-based nutrition has become cool. I don’t know how that happened, but I’m pretty happy about this development! Influential people on social media have begun accepting that calories are a thing, and that the whole ‘clean-eating’ trend is kinda BS. Or at least some of them are.. I love this change. I see far less people pushing restrictive diets and gluten-free this, that, and the other on my newsfeed – though that could also be because I’ve unfollowed quite a few influencers! Either way, it’s great. What isn’t great, is that many people refuse to admit they were wrong in the first place. Nobody wants to be seen as having previously believed in nutribollocks. Admitting you were wrong is hard.
I read this article by Plant Based Pixie recently, and just knew I had to write one similar to it. In it she describes all the false nutrition beliefs she once had, and owns up to it. I’m here to do the same.
What my more recent followers may not know, is that my social media handle started out as ‘@AHealthierObsession’. The fact that I had ‘obsession’ in the name tells you everything, really. I was obsessed with nutrition, or at least my take on it. Despite having zero qualifications, I thought I knew it all. Who needs a dietetics degree when you have Google? The stuff I believed is pretty embarrassing now, but I’l share it regardless. Just don’t judge me, ‘kay?
This is pretty awkward, but I used to be a paleo zealot. Like, I properly believed in it. I read the books, trawled through the websites, and most importantly, used #paleo on every insta pic. Grains are the devil, gluten will kill you, legumes are evil. How can a diet vilifying most food groups possibly be wrong? Sure our paleo ancestors lived well into their 30s, and if it was good enough for them..
2. Low carb/high fat nonsense
This one is hard to admit, but I didn’t really believe in the whole ‘calories in/calories out’ thing. Instead, I believed that as long as you don’t eat carbs, you won’t get fat. Doesn’t matter how many calories of nut butter you consume, no carbs equals no weight gain. Obviously nut butter didn’t have any carbs in this utopia. In short, I was a Gary Taubes fan. Awkward. I really hope I don’t have to explain to you why this is completely absurd, but regardless, a medical student believed it.
3. Clean eating
This came before Paleo, and led into it. It wasn’t really about weight loss, initially at least. I just wanted to feel better and healthier. I wasn’t particularly sick or unhealthy to begin with – granted my diet wasn’t amazing, and I certainly needed more sleep, but that’s it. So I began cutting out everything- additives, gluten, processed food, junk food, you name it! If Saint Deliciously Ella tells you to restrict certain foods, despite having no nutrition credentials or scientific evidence to back the claims, you should obviously still do it. In the end, I felt amazing and got ‘the glow’ though, right? Nope, I was just left with a terrible relationship with food. And thanks to my new found love of nut butter, medjool dates, and ‘healthy’ baking, I’m fairly sure I ended up gaining weight.
4. Food is better medicine than drugs
This was both a belief I had, and a terrible Patrick Holford book I read. I believed every bit of it, naturally. It is a testament to health bloggers and the likes of Patrick Holford, that an otherwise fairly reasonable medical student could believe this kind of shit. Or, maybe I’m just really gullible.. Yes, nutrition is really important in the treatment and prevention of many diseases. If it weren’t, the discipline of dietetics wouldn’t exist. Yes, there are many conditions which can be ameliorated with lifestyle changes, but fuck, medications are still crazy useful! Despite having modules in university on ‘Evidence-based Medicine’, I still fell for inspiring anecdotes of people who ‘cured’ their illnesses through diet. Well the plural of anecdotes in not data. I didn’t believe in statins, and sure people with depression just need a bit of counselling, right? These beliefs are, of course, completely at odds with a huge body of evidence which supports these medications. I just didn’t want to listen. Nutrition could cure all.
The reason doctors don’t jump to put their patients on the latest ‘revolutionary’ diet which can ‘cure’ autoimmune disease isn’t because they’re in the pockets on Big Pharma. It’s because there needs to be scientific evidence that it works before we recommend it to patients. When you jump past this part, and launch into something that hasn’t been extensively studied, you can cause harm. Just look at what happened with Thalidomide.
5. Everyone should count macros
This is definitely a more recent belief. This may also be where I start to lose some people.. Don’t get me wrong, there is at least decent science behind tracking macros. It makes sense, and assuming one can be consistent, will work. It is not, however, the cure for obesity, despite what some may have you believe. For the majority of people, counting macros is completely unnecessary. If you are a competitive bodybuilder, then it may be a useful tool. The vast majority of us, however, are not looking to get stage lean. It’s easy to forget what the general population knows about nutrition when you’ve been in the #fitfam scene for a while. The reality is, not a lot. Ask the average person to start putting every morsel of food they eat into an app on their phone, and see how long they stick with it. I’d hazard a guess that most wouldn’t even as far as downloading My Fitness Pal. There are so many less extreme ways to improve your diet. The low-hanging fruit like eating more vegetables, getting enough protein, listening to internal satiety cues etc. should be extensively exhausted before the world ‘macros’ is even mentioned! Coaches, please take note.
6. Listening to nutrition ‘experts’
I think this may be the worst crime of all. I got my nutrition information from Instagram, bloggers, and random websites. Never once did I question the credentials of these ‘health bloggers’, or lack thereof. Once they had an inspiring back story, generally involving some personal battle with illness which was then cured by nutrition, I was sold. Never once did I question that these views were completely at odds with the scientific consensus. Here’s a fun fact – anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Yes, really. If I wanted, I could put ‘nutritionist’ in my Instagram bio, and start taking consultations right away, despite having no proper qualifications. ‘Dietician’ is the only protected term in Ireland, meaning you need a proper degree to call yourself one. Everything else, be it ‘nutritionist’, ‘nutritional therapist’, or ‘nutrition advisor’ is pretty much free game. If you’re confused, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute explains it here. Do yourself a favour and be wary of those who give nutrition advice who aren’t dieticians. That includes me! Sure there are some great, evidence-based nutritionists, but also some really shitty ones. Be careful of who you follow and listen to on social media. I know I certainly wasn’t!
I’m sorry that I believed all this nonsense (and much more there isn’t room for). And I’m sorry if I ever influenced any of you guys to believe it too. That isn’t cool.
So where do I go from here? I’m going to do my best to challenge the shitty nutrition advice that is rife on social media these days. Believe me, despite the trend towards evidence-based nutrition, there’s still a tonne of it. I want to provide value, not just ‘here’s a picture of my salad, give me likes for external validation plz’. Still working on that last one.. I’m probably not going to use my blog for recipes anymore – let’s be real, I’m no chef! I’ll probably still post some of what I eat on Insta, because food pics are fun, right? I’ll try to keep it real though, and post both salads and chocolate. Being real, I probably eat similar quantities of both.. Expect more blog posts calling shit out for what it is – they’re definitely the most fun to write! Expect frequent swearing too.. you’ve been warned!
Finally, to all the ‘health bloggers’ peddling bad science and coconut oil miracle cures.. I’m coming for you 😉