You’re stupid, but you can blame the media a little
Every talking head on the moving picture box likes to tell you that they have the answers. That science just discovered that carbs are a panacea and will lead you to the promised land. No, wait! Carbs are a product of Satan™ and they will eat your children and sodomize your house pets and give you cancer!
And a lot of it sounds somewhat reasonable. You get someone in a labcoat with a bunch of letters after their name, or someone that everyone calls “Doctor” – I unfortunately am not a doctor, no matter what you may have heard that young lady calling me – talking about how they have discovered the One True Secret that THE MAN Doesn’t Want You To Know About.
And really, there is so much conflicting information out there if you don’t know how to sift through it. Are carbs bad for you? Are fats bad for you? What makes you fat? Is it calories? Is it carbs? Is it sugars? Is it salt? Is it processed foods? Does exercise make you fat? Does cardio make you thin?
The real answer to all of these questions is: 1) It depends, 2) Maybe, and 3) Not really, but sometimes. But those aren’t good sound-bites.
These topics tend to get people very worked up, even if you don’t go into things like gluten, GMO’s, or Paleo. And usually the people who have the strongest views on them are utterly convinced that they are right (usually because it worked for them), and completely unwilling to accept that there might be evidence to the contrary. They also usually have basically no idea what they are talking about, other than regurgitating sound bites that they have heard from daytime television.
The studies that the media reports on are usually on diseased populations, rats, or are in vitro studies. And guess what… rats aren’t humans! And (metaphysics aside), neither are in vitro cells. And if you don’t have whatever disease or condition they were studying, it probably doesn’t apply to you.
Can you trust the mainstream media to ever get it right? Well, it depends. But a pretty good rule of thumb is that if they are preaching anything other than moderation, they are probably trying to sell you something, or it is something that you actually don’t need to worry about. Ditto anyone who tells you that calories don’t matter.
I’m just as guilty of talking out my ass about stuff I don’t actually know about, but thought I did. Until I read a couple of really good deconstructions of his work1, I was a firm believer that Gary Taubes actually knew what he was talking about. He cites studies! Dieting using the principles he espouses worked for me! I was in the grip of the Demon Carbs™ but now I am free and I must spread the word! Hallelujah and all hail Satan! Or whatever. But then I learned about cherry-picked research. And bias. And people selling things.
So… I just told you that you can’t trust anything you read. And that sometimes that people will lie to you to sell you something. And that everyone who sounds like they know what they are talking about probably doesn’t, including the government. What do you do now?
Well, you’ve taken the red pill and now your eyes have been opened and I can sell you the truth! Just thirteen easy payments of $19.99.
… Just kidding. Mostly. If you want to send me money, I’m ok with that.
A good litmus test is that people who give you definite answers to general nutrition questions are pretty suspect, because the answer is usually “it depends.” There is good2 information3 out4 there5, you6 just7 need8 to look beyond the shiny sales pitches that get thrown at you.
Anything that strays too far from “try to eat mostly things that are identifiable as coming somewhat recently from plants or animals, and try not to sit on your ass all the time” is probably something you should be suspicious of.
We will wrap up this series on Monday, and then make some reasonable suggestions as to what you can do to help yourself on your journey to awesome.