I have a client (and friend), named Kristal Allen, who is not a health blogger, but she totally should be.

The other day, she wrote a little Facebook rant that contained many good points (reposted below, if you want all the gems).

But I want to focus on one important sentence from her post: “you are an anecdote, not an evidence based conclusion.”

When it comes to health and fitness, there is so much information out there that we are literally drowning in it. People on Facebook groups are providing advice (and they aren’t clinicians or journalists or experts of any kind).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: crowdsourcing diet and workout plans is just dumb. Because there’s a set of people who either read something or try something and because it “worked,” (however briefly), or it “makes sense”, then that’s proof enough to recommend it to someone else.

But listen to Kristal: you are an anecdote, not an evidence based conclusion.

Here are two examples of trusted information sources I personally trust when it comes to reliable conclusions about health:

  • Harvard Public Health
  • Stanford Public Health

If it’s coming from the Public health department of a respected University, plus it’s been published in a peer-reviewed journal, (particularly if it contains hundreds of people and/or it’s a longitudinal study), that’s an evidence-based conclusion and I’m going with that over someone on Facebook. These studies reveal their methodologies (not always perfect methodologies), and use statistically significant volumes of test subjects. So it’s as close to rock solid as it’s going to get when it comes to health data that you can believe and create successful health habits around.

But there are always going to be people who believe that they know best and apply more weight to that than to science.

Example: Harvard Public Health recently published the results of a 26 year study on 600 obese adults to determine if their genetics impacted their results on either a low fat or a low carb diet. One of the conclusions was that those who cut carbs fared slightly worst on outcomes related to heart health due to a lower intake of grains. Before I go further, this single fact bears repeating: this study was for 26 years. Twenty. Six.

So when my friend (not Kristal — a different person) debated that study, because she personally thinks everyone should be on a “grain free” diet), I’m going with no. She told me that grains are bad because her skin breaks out, and her friend eats bloated. Therefore, grains are bad and nobody should eat them.

Ok.

But Harvard did a 26 year study on this. So I’m not going to recommend an anecdote-based conclusion over a published paper from Harvard when it comes to advising my clients.

She told me she likes Dr Axe’s opinion.

Ok.

But Dr Axe is not Harvard. Dr Axe is not a medical doctor: he’s a chiropractor and a nutrition practitioner. That doesn’t make him wrong. But I place significantly more merit on a peer-reviewed longitudinal study, myself.

Removing grains from your diet for 26 years means you have a slightly higher mortality risk from heart disease than someone who didn’t. That’s a clinical conclusion, and it unfortunately doesn’t matter what Dr Axe or my friend thinks or believes.

Do I think everyone should eat grains? Not necessarily. But if the goal is heart health, then I don’t think someone should remove them. Because there’s a 26 year study that followed 600 people and generated statistically significant conclusions.

Here’s another thing I trust: meta-analysis. Meta-analysis take dozens of studies (or more) on similar topics and combine data points to draw conclusions based on larger data pools than individual studies. They can include data from 1 million or more test subjects over the course of literally decades.

Generally, the reason we eat well and exercise relates to longevity. None among us want to die.

  • So we are cutting carbs to be skinnier now so that we don’t die later.
  • We are drinking water so that we don’t die later.
  • We choose to not smoke so that we don’t die.

It’s all about not dying.

But we are all going to die. And the meta-studies can track the factors that are the highest risk to mass volumes of people when it comes to dying.

I argued with the same (not Kristal) friend about a meta-study that involved 1.6 million people (using 13 different studies). That study found that high red meat consumption had a 22% higher mortality from any cause and 18% higher from cardiovascular disease. My friend says discarded the study because she felt like it didn’t take into account of the meat was “grass-fed”. Because the book she read by Mark Sisson assured her that grass-fed meat was healthy in unlimited quantities. So she feeds her family meat at every meal and snack, because it’s grass-fed and organic.

I’ve truthfully never read The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sission. So I’m not here to debate specifics of what he, in particular, said. I’m not here to debate the merits of eating meat (so don’t send me nasty notes).

I’m simply saying that a meta-study of 1.6 million people, published in a peer-reviewed journal and authored by the Public Health department of a major university is more likely to have meaningful conclusion-based data about the relative merits and dangers of “heavy” meat consumption than her personal household or even a popular diet book.

So remember that you are one person. Your opinion actually (sorry) don’t matter. A book you read about how and why everyone’s been eating wrong this year doesn’t matter. Quit posting it on Facebook and quit asking for help on Facebook.

And definitely quit listening to people who are posting stuff, believing they are an evidence based conclusion.

Kristal, you are my everything:

Thoughts that have percolated in my head lately, courtesy of increasingly polarizing commentary and posts read on Facebook:

(1) Every child, family and person is different. There is no one size fits all way that one should parent, foster a happy and connected family, or maintain their own happiness and contentedness. What other people tell you to do should be a suggestion, or at most a guide, not a law.

(2) You don’t have to eat organic food to be healthy, nor do you need to feel like you’re hurting the health of your kids or yourself if you don’t.

(3) Your time, and your ideas and opinions, are not more important than anyone else’s. Don’t talk down to or over people, and do try to hear people more often. Practice empathy – and no, that doesn’t mean that you have to adopt a bleeding heart for everyone and everything. It just means that you try to put on their glasses for a moment.

(4) You can eat carbs if you want to and enjoy them. You can eat fat if you want to and enjoy it. You can eat protein if you want to and enjoy it – and yes, if some of that protein is sourced from an animal, that’s OK too. You don’t have to give any of the above up to be healthy or be a good person. And it doesn’t make you somehow virtuous if you do.

(5) Just because something has not been or is not a problem for you personally, does not mean that it has not been or is not a problem. You are an anecdote, not an evidence-based conclusion.

(6) Stop congratulating people for doing awful or harmful things to themselves because it has resulted in them looking “better” (i.e. thinner). Let’s not encourage people to punish themselves. You don’t need to praise the achievement of unreasonable (and unsustainable) deprivation.

(7) Seek understanding and be kind to people. If you can’t be kind, at least be respectful. Not every situation has a clear right or wrong way or answer associated with it, and even if it does, not everyone is there yet (or, able to get there completely on their own).

(8) Take care of yourself. You weren’t put on this earth for the sole purpose of giving every sliver of yourself to other people, or things. Martyrdom doesn’t work very well, and won’t make you a better person.

*End rant*

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