Hello readers (it SHOULD be plural, right?)
First I want to say that I’ve been away from blogging for far too long. It wasn’t really by choice. I had a number of job-related issues come up that took all of my attention for the past few weeks. But you don’t want to hear about all that, and it’s not why I’m writing anyway.
Aside from finally having some time to write, I decided that today was a good day to put up a new post partly due to an unsettling trend I’ve noticed. Namely, it’s the new trend of being an online health expert. What do I mean by this?
I’m sure we all have a friend or two (or in my case, dozens) who think that they are in a position to dole out advice on everything from how weight lifting makes women look manly to why this organic supplement will keep you trim. While these people usually have the best of intentions — and I say “usually” since there are always the ones who try to peddle some supplement line or training DVD — they are not qualified to give even the most BASIC advice. Is your aunt in any way educated on human physiology? Could your buddy in the gym describe the shape of a hip joint, much less explain in detail how it functions?
Maybe I have high standards, but it seems a little idiotic to listen to the “facts” (read: misinformed opinions) of people with little to no education in exercise and nutrition! But we do it all the time. Someone is attractive or somehow has a persuasive manner about them, and we let them tell us whatever we want to hear. We choose to listen to talking points and sound bites instead of doing our own research or asking the person to further explain their point of view. But we must understand that, unless we do this, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
Now I would hope that anyone reading this is intelligent enough to know better than to buy a product just because it contains some impossible-to-find, homeopathic, all-natural, prestige, gourmet, mother-approved, tax-deductible extract made from a baboon’s ear wax! Many claims are obviously bogus. But others are far more insidious and may pass as legitimate to the casual observer. I won’t go on a rant today pointing these out (though that might be a good idea for a future blog), but just realize that there are more too-good-to-be-true schemes out there than you can possibly imagine.
So how can an average person sort out all of the B.S. from the facts? While there are no sure-fire ways to catch them all, I CAN offer a few guidelines:
1.) If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. — Of course I’d put this at the top. This will help to wake up your inner skeptic before things get out of hand.
2.) Fad diets/exercises come and go, but scientific progress tends to show more consistency. — This doesn’t mean science isn’t wrong at times. It means that we only have the existing body of research to help us to figure out what might really be effective (versus some new product that will just make a guy a quick buck).
3.) If we want to badly enough, we’ll believe anything! — We all like to think we’re beyond this, but reality seems to suggest otherwise. Most people are very susceptible to the power of suggestion, whether that comes from themselves or someone else, and we need to be aware of this fact and temper our decisions accordingly.
4.) Nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA! — Essentially, this means that product manufacturers aren’t required to list everything that is in their supplements. Moreover, they can make outrageous claims about the effectiveness of their products without much fear of reprisal, since there isn’t a massive agency actively investigating them.
5.) Learn to do your own research.— It may not be sexy or glamorous, but sometimes the only sure way to get the answer you seek is by digging through some research articles. Barring that, though, you can still get a good bit of info by consulting a number of experts in relevant fields and reading from major health/fitness organizations (CAUTION — even the big groups get it wrong sometimes!)
6.) Be wary of any “expert” who doesn’t do #5!— Anyone who’s trying to convince you of something should be able to back up the claims that they make. This means actually citing scientific research and logic instead of their own beliefs. We live in a world filled with gym science, prejudices, misconceptions and half-truths. If we’re to make any sense of it, we have to start dealing in facts without letting our feelings get in the way. Which brings me to…
7.) Bias is EVERYWHERE!!!— Most of the exercise “rules” that you’ve probably heard, particularly if they have come from a source other than someone who is very educated in the field, are the result of bias. Sometimes it’s subconscious, and sometimes it’s not. But to some degree, many of the decisions we make are largely the result of emotional attachments or aversions instead of reason. The next time you hear advice from someone, try to figure out if they are basing guidance on their knowledge or their feelings. I’ll explore this more in the future.
I could rant on about this, but I’ve already probably bored you to tears. So let me wrap up by simply saying that the world is full of lies and misconceptions. And the sad truth is, there usually won’t be anyone around to help you sort it all out. The best tool you have is between your ears, and you’re gonna have to use it a lot if you want to avoid falling into the traps that so many people do. That’s a big motivator for me as I write this blog. Namely, to dispel what myths I can and shed a little light on things for anyone kind enough to read. So until next time, keep learning and keep your eyes open.