For most people, the word “maybe” often indicates a lack of confidence in the answer to a question. For me, it’s become the standard answer to just about any health and fitness question. Because I have learned, time and time again, that there is no such thing as an absolute certainty anymore. When I first came out of school with my undergraduate degree in Athletic Training, I was very confident in myself and my skills. Like most young professionals, I thought I was the best and brightest wherever I went. Of course, now I know that what I learned then was only the tip of the iceberg. During graduate school, I became a lot less certain of how much I knew. And as I sit here and write this today, I realize that I am John Snow. Because the age-old saying is absolutely true… “the more you learn, the less you know.“
It’s Not Me, It’s You
I have a love-hate relationship with learning. I love to find out the right answers to questions, but I hate that the process inevitably adds more questions that need to be answered! It’s a positive feedback loop that drives some people to do crazy things like getting PhD’s. But what’s even more frustrating, is the fact that there are so many bad sources of information which are not always easy to sniff out. By now, most of us know some basic red flags to look out for such as:
If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is.
Specific results promised within a specific time frame.
You must do THIS exact thing to see results.
A magic pill, shake, supplement, etc without changing anything else in your life.
Using the phrase long and lean.
In academic research, there are no guarantees as well. One major issue in research is that people don’t like to change. So if you have been doing something for years, you don’t want to be proven wrong. This can lead to instances where studies may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias (2). This can be done by the misuse of statistics sometimes called “p hacking” (3). This is especially true when a study is funded by an industry, such as a food or supplement company (4). Study participants can also throw things off as well. For instance, we suck at reporting how much and what kind of food we eat (5). This makes it extremely difficult to accurately determine what dietary guidelines are appropriate (6). It’s why cholesterol was the worst thing for us a few years ago, but now it’s no big deal. Not to mention how the media will take a study and blow it way out of proportion. Remember when resveratrol found in red wine was said to be as good for you as exercise? Well, it turns out not to be true because humans react differently than animals do when it comes to that particular compound (7).
What I’m trying to say, is that we are all responsible for the quality of information out there. From the researchers to the study participants, to us the consumers of information, we can all do better at getting and creating quality information. Fortunately, there are organizations out there who are keeping track of the poor studies that should never see the light of day. And there are high-quality organizations who just want to help and aren’t looking to sell you anything.
Don’t get all bummed out about what you just read. The whole point of writing this is to tell you YOU’RE AWESOME! Taking time out of your day to read this means you’re willing to do what it takes to better yourself. You have a thirst for knowledge which is ultimately going to make you better! This leads me to my last point, we all need to be willing to change our minds instead of digging in. Recognizing the error of our ways can be difficult. However, admitting we were wrong about something and changing our ways is how we change for the better. Because as Ben Franklin put it, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” I don’t want to be done with discovering and growing as a person. I’m not finished with my pursuit of education. I don’t know as much as I did a year ago because I spent so much time learning.
- Klein, A. V., & Kiat, H. (2015). Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: A critical review of the evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 28(6), 675-686. doi:10.1111/jhn.12286
- Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2005). Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Medicine, 2(8), e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124
- Misinterpretations of the ‘p value’: a brief primer for academic sports medicine Steven D Stovitz, Evert Verhagen, Ian Shrier Br J Sports Med bjsports-2016-097072Published Online First: 24 November 2016 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-097072
- Colquhoun, D. (2014). An investigation of the false discovery rate and the misinterpretation of p-values. Royal Society Open Science, 1(3), 140216-140216. doi:10.1098/rsos.140216
- Schoeller, D. A., Thomas, D., Archer, E., Heymsfield, S. B., Blair, S. N., Goran, M. I., . . . Allison, D. B. (2013). Self-report-based estimates of energy intake offer an inadequate basis for scientific conclusions. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(6), 1413.
- Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2013). Implausible results in human nutrition research. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 347, f6698.
- Fernández-Quintela A, Carpéné C, Fernández M, Aguirre L, Milton-Laskibar I, Contreras J, Portillo MP. (2016). Anti-obesity effects of resveratrol: comparison between animal models and humans. J Physiol Biochem.[Epub ahead of print]PMID: 27981508 DOI: 10.1007/s13105-016-0544-y