Over the last few days I’ve become acquainted again with how the world of nutritional quackery works.
The formula goes something like this:
1. Take one charismatic and audacious personality and combine them with outrageous medical claims and a weak qualification and build a social media following targeting vulnerable people.
2. Whip up such fervour in your beliefs that your followers convert to your particular belief religion without hesitation.
3. Shoot from the hip like a cowboy in the unregulated space of the internet and social media.
This formula is a licence to print money, but in my personal opinion, isn’t exactly an ethical way of making a buck.
Typically when you question them with dispassionate logic, they’ll launch into a personal attack upon you in order to get you off the scent of their incompetence.
Thus a personal attack was never in question, when I questioned one such “practitioner” (I say this in the loosest of terms) over an article by the Daily Mail about a mother who was feeding her baby a “Paleo” diet, deciding to exclude all grains from the child’s intake. I applauded the intake of whole food, yet suggested that the inclusion of grains as part of a well balanced diet was not harmful (unless the child had coeliac disease).
Rather than have a measured debate about the subject matter, I was personally attacked, under the guise of that old chestnut, the fat shame. My knowledge was questioned justified with a bogus assumption that because “I no longer looked like my Facebook profile page” and that I “ran away from her at the supermarket”, inferring how ashamed I was of myself, that I couldn’t give a qualified opinion on the matter.
The fact is that I have two degrees in the health (pharmacy and exercise science). My knowledge doesn’t change with my size and the typical retaliatory comments from this lady who didn’t like the subject nor her qualifications challenged just cemented that I’d been “quacked”.
Unfortunately many quacks have a large Social Media following and prey on vulnerable people who often suffer from “terminal uniqueness”, a belief that all of the maladies they are suffering are unique to themselves. Although most would never want to admit it, there’s often an accompanying ‘want’ to feel special. They often feel betrayed by conventional medicine, whether they have had appropriate treatment or not. Naturally, I want to stress that this is not a “blanket” statement, rather an observation.
If there has been any good to come out of nutritional quackery, it is that there has been more scientific enquiry being done into the claims that they make. Often it is the case of a “little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing”.
I don’t claim to know everything and I enjoy good robust conversations with those who possess an opposite viewpoint. It is my belief that the art of critical thinking has been watered down in recent times and we’ve all become a blob of homogenised “yes” people, accepting what we read on the internet without question.
Tips to Combat a Nutritional Quack:
1) Stay calm
2) Remain impersonal
3) Focus on facts
4) Share your findings with Anti Quack Social Media pages – knowledge is power!
5) Remain a critical thinker
How to be a critical thinker in the world of nutrition and fitness
1) Look at the qualifications of the writer/expert. Look for a degree qualification in dietetics and nutrition and on the fitness side of things, exercise physiology/science.
2) Look for experience in the field
3) A good practitioner will answer a question factually and without emotion. They will also provide peer reviewed studies to back up their claims.
4) A good practitioner will not mind if you ask questions or seek second opinions on material
5) A good practitioner will refer you to other allied health professionals if they cannot answer your question.
6) A good practitioner will work within the scope of their own practice. For example, the quack I have been dealing with moonlights in cardiology ( I say that with a sarcastic tone).
Overall it’s been an interesting few days. I cannot change the world. I cannot change how others think. I can provide a valid argument. I can welcome scientific enquiry into the exploration of quack claims.