Part 1 in a series on why articles on ‘nutrition’ and nutritional advice from ‘experts’ on diet is a waste of time, energy and effort [for the non-medically institutionalized population].
Summer is winding down, but hopefully at some point this summer you spent some time in the great outdoors. If you did, and if you did spend some time outdoors in the evening and into the night then its likely you had to build a camp fire or you hung out by a camp fire.
If you have never built or worked to maintain a fire then this blog may offer an experiment that you need to explore – safely so you don’t set yourself or anything else on fire – in order to truly appreciate that its the fire that matters, and not the fuel (and why advice on nutrition is the equivalent of pushing on a string).
If you focus on the fuel… as in what you want to burn, you will never build a fire that is able to be sustained with ease.
If you focus on the fire… as in what stage is the fire, and what fuel the fire needs at that stage, then you will be able to get a fire going, build it up, sustain it and eventually get it to the point that it can be left to generate heat, cook food, boil water, dry clothes… do whatever it is you need it to do without constant attention.
So how do you start a fire? Have you ever watched the TV series Survivor? Have you ever seen contestants of that series have to compete in fire building? If not, then it may be worth searching for and watching on Youtube. For the purpose of this post I will quickly run through the steps of starting a fire so that I can draw the analogy to nutrition, and nutritional advice.
To build a fire:
- Start by accumulating a variety of fuel… you will not have time once the fire is started to go search for the fuel needed at each stage: you will need paper, or leaves, or twine, anything that is bone dry and will easily take a spark and turn it into a flame; you will also need every conceivable size of fuel to help the fire grow from flame to the size of fire you want. A collection of twigs, small thin branches, thicker branches, thick branches and a log or two.
- Needless to say this is also the time to accumulate all the items you may need to either put out the fire if it gets out of hand or if it spreads… water either in a bucket or coming from a hose, sand is an alternative when water isn’t available, a shovel or rake or other tool that will keep you at a distance from the fire but can be used to put out a fire.
- Plan the location of the fire where at its full size you will not set anything above or around on fire and start something you didn’t intend… like a forest wild fire.
- Plan the location of the fire so that wind doesn’t put out the small flames that you will start with, nor blow the full size fire in a direction that can cause anything else to catch on fire.
- You are ready to build your fire… (here are the pivot points to this post): you need to create a spark or a small flame to start… matches, magnesium & flint, magnifying glass, whatever.. and that small flame needs fuel that will catch on fire easily. As the flame catches and grows, the fire will need to be fed a steady diet of increasingly larger pieces of wood as the fire will burn through smaller items faster and faster to the point that the fire can extinguish itself if it doesn’t get fuel that is hardy enough to grow it or at least sustain it.
Now think of fires that you have enjoyed this summer or in past summers. What are the best fires to sit around, to cook hot dogs, smores, to warm yourself by, to simply be around? Its definitely not small fires that are constantly requiring attention in order to be built or maintained. Its definitely not the fires that are raging in all directions, fires so big that we have to escape their flames if the wind so much as whispers in the wrong direction. The fires we are enjoy are the ones that have burnt long enough that there are coals, hot coals, coals so hot that even if a damp log is put over top… the coals will dry out the log and in time make that log burn. These fires we can cook food overtop, we can sit beside for long periods warming ourselves, we can even sleep beside them through cold fall or wintery nights.
What’s this got to do with nutrition?
Today, the nutritional advice is focused solely on the fuel (as in the food you ought to eat), yet as the analogy to a wood burning fire demonstrates what a fire needs depends on the stage and size of fire. When was the last time that a nutritionist evaluated your ‘fire’ (as in your metabolic rate, your physiology, your psychology), before advising you on the fuel you need?
Nope. Exactly. Never. Its straight to the superfood fad of the week… Goji berries, Acai, kale, blueberries, walnuts… oops, sorry no, almonds and sunflower seeds, oh and dont forget gluten is bad bad bad (even though only 1% of the population has Celiac disease and needs to go gluten free). Which makes my point… nutritional advice is a waste.
What fuel you put into a fire is entirely dependent on the type of fire.
What food you put into you is entirely dependent on the type of fire in you.
If you do not know the type of fire burning, if you have no clue how to assess type of fire, if you have never built a fire, never maintained a fire, never experimented with different fuels with different fires then what business do you have calling yourself an expert on fires or in the case of nutritional advice, what business do you have calling yourself an expert on nutrition? You may be an expert in the nutritional value of different foods… but that’s like being an expert in insects, it has nothing to do with what insects if any we should be eating!
Anyone claiming to be an expert in nutrition yet lacks the education, and clinical and non clinical experience in relation to how the human fire operates [imo] should not be preaching anything about nutrition as they are clueless on what to prescribe. How can you prescribe fuel when you are clueless on the type and size of internal fire – metabolic rates & processes – of a person.
Knowing how ‘healthy’ a food item is and how much ‘health’ that food item may or may not yield when consumed by a person, or the ‘health’ of the person as a result of consuming that food… has no proven consistent correlation on any scale that is scientifically reliable or valid.
Yet we expect that by eating ‘healthy’… we will become healthy.
How’s that working out?
Let’s see… we have epidemics in obesity, diabetes, in chronic and lifestyle diseases… hmm… it appears that it ain’t. Meanwhile everyone is giving nutritional advice… from Oprah to Dr Oz.
The exception as I have stated at the outset is the medically institutionalized population as in patients of hospitals, long term care facilities, and hospices. In these scenarios, the patient is under constant observation thus it is possible to assess the impact that dietary changes have on the individual (and doing so without extracting applicability to the level of populations).
There is another exception which is disease specific individuals who would benefit from certain food items being eliminated from their diet, where the food item eliminated is the source of overwhelming and persistent inflammation which adds to the underlying dis-ease… but eating any specific food and obtaining health as a result… has yet to be demonstrated to occur with any degree of consistency, and reliably.
What matters is not the fuel, but the fire – its quality, its robustness, its longevity!
Want to change your health… then you need to change your fire, what it can burn, how it burns, what are the byproducts of it burning, etc… How do you do that?
HEALTHY EXERCISE PERFORMED OVER LONG PERIODS CONSISTENTLY
Not just any exercise, and most definitely not the exercise that is prescribed by virtually all trainers, coaches, gyms and so called health clubs: i.e. it is not HiiT/hi intensity interval training.
The exercise we are sold today as healthy is not, its ‘exercise’ in name only as it is designed to cause you to buy, buy, buy feeding the industrial machine that is our economy. Your health is irrelevant. What is relevant is looking as if your health is improving, as if your health is important, and selling you on the belief that everyone actually cares about your health when all they want is you to buy, buy, buy. We’re promised that if we only buy, our health will be restored: its is just a matter of spin sessions, yoga tights, and smoothees away.
For those who have had ‘results’ with eating properly, eating based on nutritional advice… I would caution you on giving credit to where it doesn’t belong. Why? There is something called the placebo effect. If unfamiliar with what the placebo effect is… in short, if a person in a white lab coat, with a stethoscope around their neck, a clipboard, basically someone who looks like a doctor or medical expert offers advice, when compared to the exact same advice given by someone dressed like your next door neighbour… the result is that the advice from the medical expert looking person ‘works’ better. How is that possible? Because we believe it will work better because we believe it is coming from someone who we trust is an expert. Our belief in what works and what doesn’t plays a massive role… its for this same reason that fortune telling and why nutritional advice ‘works’ and why both are still in business today.
The placebo effect is so significant that in order for any prescription drug to be permitted to be made available by medical doctors must demonstrate in clinical trials that the effect of the drug is not simply a result of the placebo effect… the drug actually has to work whether or not a patient believes it will work or not.
There is no evidence that I am aware of that demonstrates that nutritional advice ‘works’ (as in not just by placebo effect). If nutritional advice was ever shown by clinical trial not to deliver results greater than placebo effect, then the entire field of nutrition would cease to exist as a recognized and regulated health profession. I doubt that the profession is going to undertake any such research as the risk of self destruction is undoubtedly too high.