As regular readers already know, I’m a major Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan. There is a scene where she is teaching how to kill vampires and she says “It’s not what do you think, it’s always what do you know.” That flashed into my mind today during a panel discussion that I was involved in.
One of the panelists was a dietician and 90% of what she said was information that was accurate based on my research and she had a really positive attitude. She made a really interesting point that we are being told to eat more closely to nature but we judge our results by the completely artificial standard of modern beauty – she asked the group how we would eat if there were no mirrors. Great question! But then someone asked about weight loss and she said that the reason that 95% of people gain weight back after diets is because they lose weight too fast. That caused me to raise an eyebrow because I don’t know of research that supports that. Then she said that people who lose weight very slowly keep it off long-term. Note that she didn’t say that these were her ideas or opinions. As the only professional dietician on the panel she said these things as if they were true.
So I asked if there was any research to support that and she admitted that there was not. I later pointed about that there isn’t any research that shows any method of weight loss that works, and the rest of the panel nodded their heads in agreement. The effects of this were amplified by the fact that I was at CalTech where most, if not all, students are trained to make decisions based on evidence. Several audience members came up afterwards to thank me for taking an evidence-based approach.
People who are looked upon as healthcare experts need to realize that there is a vast chasm between what they think and what they know, and it can only be crossed through disciplined research. That doesn’t mean that it’s not ok to give theories, talk about what evidence might suggest (without mistaking that for being ” sure proof”), or make their own choices based on what they think is right. But they still need to have the intellectual humility to realize that they cannot ethically and responsibly state their opinions or pet theories as fact when they are speaking in a professional capacity, regardless of how good their intentions might be.
If we were making health decisions based on evidence we would have long ago suspended the practice of recommending dieting on the basis that there is no evidence that would lead us to believe that it is possible for most people and there is evidence to suggest that it may be dangerous. One of the reasons that dieting continues to be recommended by healthcare “professionals” who should know better is that they are confusing what they think for what they know. That’s dangerous, and for those who get paid to sell weight loss it borders on perpetrating a fraud.
We may not be able to stop them from doing it, but as consumers we can educate ourselves to know the difference, and we can demand that our healthcare professionals provide us with evidence to back up their interventions and treatment plans. You are the boss of your healthcare underpants, don’t trust them to just anyone!
I wrote a piece for iVillage about the dangers of villifying a certain food (fat, sugar, carbs, gluten). You can find it here. As always if the mood strikes you, it’s awesome if you want to read and comment!
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