Opinions are like assholes—everybody has one. At least that’s what my mother always said.
A couple weeks ago, I read a piece by David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, that really hit home for me. In the article, Katz calls into question the way that our culture tends to be okay with the fact that lots of people declare themselves nutrition experts despite a lack of training. To illustrate his point, he uses scenarios that we would consider ridiculous in other fields. For example:
“I’m not convinced that someone who happens to live through a bad car crash to drive again is automatically qualified to take over NHTSA, or set up shop as a motor vehicle safety expert, and dispense advice accordingly. Call me crazy.
“I am not at all sure that someone who inadvertently sets fire to his kitchen, and manages to put out the fire before burning everything entirely down, is a shoe-in as fire commissioner, or qualifies as a fire safety expert. I am not sure that he should go on to establish a cottage industry in fire safety, selling expert advice in books, blogs, and programs.”
Sure, he employs hyperbole and dry humor, but he hits on a very serious issue. Nutrition has a huge impact on our health and well-being, and though we look to experts for insight into other aspects of our lives, we treat nutrition differently.
Now, I’m not talking about people who share what works for them and acknowledge upfront that they are not a doctor/dietitian/etc. What upsets me is people who dispense diet advice (which may or may not be sound) without being qualified to do so. It can get a little scary, at times. One thing I love about the blog world is the open communication and sharing of ideas, but whenever I come across a bit of “this is what you should do,” I immediately start looking for credentials or at least appropriate research to back up the claim. If I can’t find what I’m looking for, I move on, but that’s because I’ve been taught to look for these things. I’ve met many people who get all their health information from resources you wouldn’t be allowed to cite in a research paper.
As an RD, obviously, I’m biased. I’ve devoted many years of my life to learning a science. I work with this science every day and continue to educate myself so that I can stay current and maintain my credentials. I’ve earned my gray hairs and am working on earning more of them. I don’t expect to get fabulously wealthy doing what I do (though if I did that would be awesome), but I love the field I work in and am passionate about helping people enjoy a better quality of life through good nutrition. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it upsets me to hear people dispensing less-than-helpful advice as if it were gospel.
I rarely speak up, but sometimes I wish I had. Like that trainer I overheard at the gym recommending a scary-sounding deprivation diet…I don’t tell people I counsel for nutrition how to do burpees or what kind of HIIT will make them burn calories most efficiently—don’t preach dangerous holy grail fad diets to your clients! And what about that mom at the coffee shop trying to coach her teenage daughter on carbs? Or when I overhear things like, “Eating meat makes you fat,” or “white potatoes are bad.” Says who?
These are just some of my thoughts. While I think it’s important for everyone to have access to information on health and nutrition, I agree with Katz when he says we need to “treat nutrition and weight management like every other legitimate field of inquiry. With no more respect than all the others, but no less either.”
So wow, thank you for reading to the end of this lengthy post. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What did you think of Katz’s article? Do you look for credentials when seeking health or nutrition advice online? Was there ever a time you wish you’d stepped in when you overheard something that you felt could put someone else at risk?