A friend of mine asked me recently about whether she should go vegan, and whether being vegan was “the healthiest diet.”
She elaborated further by saying she “watched some girls on Youtube” who’ve seen “great results by going vegan.”
She was thinking that maybe that’s what she should do too, to enhance her health and wellbeing.
I told her that the “girls on Youtube” who rave about vegan are not proof that going vegan is “the best diet.” I told her to do a search for people who rave about paleo, and she would find many people who would also be thrilled about the “great results” they got, even though paleo is almost like the opposite of vegan.
In other words, you can find people raving about anything (commonly known as anecdotal evidence.) But that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing will be equally good to everyone and that their diet is the healthiest diet. Heck, it doesn’t even mean that the cause of their improvement is indeed their diet and not something else that might have happened that they haven’t identified as a cause factor.
Meaning, yes, your skin may clear after you go vegan (I’m making this up), but maybe you were also less stressed, or changed up your exercise routine, or your relationship with your other half happened to be more enjoyable, or the weather changed, or all of that together.
So if you can’t listen to individuals reporting their “healthiest diet” stories, then who should you listen to?
Science. Scientists are the only people who have the power to do studies that actually have statistical significance.
10 people may rave about paleo, but a study that examines 3,000 people will bring more trustworthy conclusions than the individual stories of “the girls on Youtube” or the colleague at work, or any other anecdotal evidence.
Even though looking to science makes sense, it’s sometimes hard to do:
First, we trust the people around us. So if a recommendation comes from a friend, or someone we know, this feels more trustworthy than the impersonal recommendation that may come from the experiences of thousands of people.
Second, the media doesn’t help. They sensationalize every little thing. They result is we “drown” in a sea of information and it’s hard to discover what science really advises. It all seems all complicated!
Plus, sometimes there’s conflicting advice coming from scientists themselves.
That’s what used to bug me. I had heard from all sort of different experts, MDs and dietitians, all sorts of different advice.
How would I know who was right?
This is the difference between single scientists advocating for one thing, versus the body of science.
I realized I had to find the recommendations of the majority of scientists, the scientific consensus, not single cases (see the cherry-picking article I’ve linked to below.)
And this realization freed me and opened up a world that felt much safer than before, much less uncertain, and much more enjoyable.
- I didn’t need to worry about who was right.
- I didn’t need to worry about the latest media headlines that take a study that concluded that “Z factor is associated with a decreased risk of this disease, after controlling for A and B” and translate it into “Z prevents this disease!”
But I did need to cut through the mess and find what the scientific consensus was. With so many loud voices, exaggerated claims, anecdotal evidence, and sensationalization, discovering the voice of introverted scientists who represented the unsexy and underreported scientific consensus was tricky at first.
(Notice I’m not talking about opinions here, but about the majority of scientific research and studies on a subject.)
So here are some resources that may help you in your own endeavors to clear up the loud voices that scream “this is the healthiest diet.”
On eating natural:
I was vigilantly reading labels to discover whether the word “artificial” was in it. Until I realized I was thinking about it the wrong way. Food for thought: Would you think of an IVF baby as “less than,” just because it was not conceived “naturally?” (To my surprise, people did actually discriminate against babies born through IVF in the first years of this technique. So instead of celebrating the fact that people who would have never have kids would now have the opportunity to make that happen, we looked down on them. It makes total sense, I know.)
On cherry-picking data to prove your point:
It’s easy to make up a claim about almost anything. In this article a Nutrition Professor illustrates how easily it can be done, by turning broccoli into an evil substance.
On following the advice of the Environmental Working Group:
Jenny Splitter was a religious follower of the EWG, especially after she became a mom and wanted to provide the very best only to her children. Here’s how she changed her mind – not about providing the very best to her kids (obviously!), but about following the EWG guidelines.
On worrying about eating this or that but not exercising:
We miss the forest for the trees. And who can blame us when we’re swamped in fear-morngering “eat this not that” advice almost on a daily basis?
On detoxing through diet:
This concept has survived the test of time in popular culture, even though there’s no proof detox diets actually help your body detox. Your liver is already doing the job just fine. But again, who can blame us for believing it when we hear about it from the media, when our friends are doing it, when we see the word “detox” on super-market labels?
On Gwyneth Paltrow’s health advice:
Make up a claim, any claim, and use your fame to spread it around. Here, I’ll make up a claim that there’s one more planet in our solar system, I’ll call it “Hydra.” Scientists can easily discredit me, and since I have no mainstream fame, my idea won’t gain traction. Gwyneth’s made-up claims though can gain traction because of her fame, no matter how many scientists discredit her, despite her advice often sounding ridiculous (seriously, who wants to “steam their vagina?”)
More resources to help you on your healthier diet path compiled by Ashley Palmet of Youtrition – here.
And for some of you who may miss the point: I’m neither commenting on whether vegan or paleo or any other diet are good or bad, nor am I commenting on whether you should follow them. That’s your personal decision. The point here is to look at what science advises, instead of listening to single anecdotes.
Now on a different note…
If you’re looking for the healthiest diet, you shouldn’t set exercise aside.
Exercise is the one thing we ALL know is not a fad that benefits almost every aspect of your life, from your mood to decreasing risks of multiple diseases to increasing longevity. Here’s a quick exercise you can do to work your abs and improve your hip mobility:
LEG PRESS – Works your abs, perfect for beginners.I love this exercise because first, it helps out with your hip mobility, second, it works your abs nicely. Not to mention, you get to do it while lying down, so it’s perfect if you’re in a low energy day.Approved for all levels including complete beginners.
Posted by Fitness Reloaded on Friday, March 25, 2016
You’ll find more hand-picked exercise videos on Facebook.
Now, here’s my Q to you: Where you ever sold on a single diet being the “HEALTHIEST” of them all? How did you come to this conclusion? Bonus points if you also share whether you tried to get your friends or family that this was indeed the healthiest diet. Share your “healthiest diet” story in the comments.