The merits of keeping nutritional advice simple, even when dealing with arguably complicated hot potatoes like carb back-loading, are massively underestimated. We seem to live in an internet dominated world where so-called “nutritional consultants” spout vitriol and bile at anything they disagree with, whilst trying to confuse everyone around them with the sole intention of appearing to be cleverer than they really are. The fact that a senile donkey is cleverer than half this breed (of failed medical students and failed scientists) is irrelevant, and I do sincerely apologise to those intelligent and decent nutritionists who are trying to do good and help people rather than start fights in empty rooms because I know they’re not all a bad lot. I actually feel sympathy for the ethical nutritionists as they are getting lumped in with the dross. All the decent body composition related people I know have been getting attacked by these intellectual pygmies – I literally had one of them chase me around the internet wanting a row and had to block him on all forms of social media. So shall we say that I am fed up on my own behalf with these idiots and if they push their antics any further with me I’ll give them a taste of their own medicine. Sadly for them, I’ve got a blog that can rank their name above their own websites which would let me have a whole world of fun if I was as aggressive as they seem to be, so they need to start looking at what is their own plates and not caring about what other people do. Everyone who is involved in the wider health and fitness industry should be primarily motivated by helping others. Those of you who see the tirade of rubbish that I have to endure on Facebook, and one reason why I have been forced to interact less and therefore help fewer people, will appreciate that this nonsense needs to stop and that we need sane, logical, non-egomaniacs to start raising their profile and drown out the wannabes. And with that rather unique introduction, allow me to present a guest post on nutrition by Carl Gottlieb, a voice of sanity, reason and intelligence who makes some supremely erudite comments on the fact that the most important thing is simply to get the right message across to the right people at the right time. “Nutritional consultants” take note!
(PS – my advice is to look up Carl on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CarlGottliebNutrition and start asking him questions. He has a fantastic way of expressing himself so that you walk away feeling well informed and smarter than when you started, and his natural bookworm tendencies and non judgemental approach make him a great sounding board for a huge array of questions on nutrition).
Keep It Simple, Stupid; Carb Back-Loading & Other Ideas
Within my immediate circle of friends and family I am known as the one that understands “food and stuff”. The unfortunate consequence of this is the countless questions I receive about diet and nutrition. They usually revolve around what time in the evening they should stop consuming carbs or what type of margarine will help reduce their “bad” cholesterol. These questions drive me nuts. As a logical fellow and a consultant by trade I feel the urge to give a complete and accurate answer, which depending on the audience can become tiresome.
To discuss carbohydrate intake I begin by explaining what carbs are and what hormonal impact they produce. I then realise that the already bored questioner doesn’t know what insulin is and probably doesn’t care, but earnestly I restart my explanation and describe what hormones are and why they’re important. As I get into my stride I notice their eyes glazing over, but then they ask another qualifying question. Stupidly I expect something intelligent along the lines of, “So are insulin levels something I should minimise or spike periodically?”, but instead it’s always some counterargument based on their deep knowledge of nutrition learnt from the Daily Mail Health section or Dr Oz. I especially love the universal response of, “What about that 110 year old man on TV that drank a bottle of Whiskey and smoked 20 cigarettes every day for all his life?” Clearly that’s what we need to be doing!
At the point of the stupid question I try and give a clever answer but I soon realise this futile attempt is a waste of everyone’s time. So what do I do? I always give in and just deliver some straight advice, lacking in any explanation or reference, but simple enough to get the message across. When asked about carb timing, in the end I’ll just say, “Latest research suggests eating carbs at night is better for fat loss than during the day. Give it a go and see.” Frustratingly I know they’ll ignore my guidance, even though they asked for it in the first place. The advice contradicts what their doctor told them so I must be wrong. Doctors are well trained in nutrition aren’t they? (They’re actually not, but that’s another story). I now regret the whole conversation and contemplate never discussing this topic again.
I’m sure many of you have been in this exact same situation, whether it be questions around diet, training or the IT question from your parents that you know is best answered by instead driving round to their house and fixing the computer yourself. Maybe the reason this can be so frustrating is that we are so sure that our advice is correct. In contrast, for those of us that read beyond the traditional nutritional advice from Governments and health professionals, we know that much of what they teach us is BS. It is factually incorrect and dangerous. The failing state of health within Western populations is a clear indicator of this. Despite the growing body of nutritional information to the contrary from the likes of UP Personal Training, the Paleo movement and countless others, the “official” guidance is not changing. But why?
The most obvious theory is that the media and medical community are inept, providing guidance based on outdated and misunderstood information. Whilst the latter part of that is undoubtedly true, it is questionable as to whether we should blame health practitioners for failings on their part. General Practitioners are just that, General, and as such will rarely specialise in lifestyle components such as nutrition. Their workload is considerable and if they are lucky enough to have a few minutes of spare time in a day then the study of modern nutrition would be most likely at the bottom of their list. The counter argument is that this understanding is critical to their job, and that they MUST make the time, especially if it serves to improve patients’ health and reduce the volume of drugs prescribed. The cost saving angle is an interesting one. Some doctors are incentivised to push drugs onto their patients, others, (notably GP’s within the UK) manage their own Government funded budget which therefore promotes finding the most cost effective remedy possible. Hopefully we can expect to see more lifestyle based remedies being recommended by doctors within the UK, but with the poor understanding of options available, we will most likely simply see cheaper drugs being forced down us instead. I’m sure there’s also the consideration of entirely spending this year’s budget, to ensure increased funding next year, so maybe the cost saving incentive is minimal.
In my view a high level of disdain should be aimed at the media, who by and large are well educated intelligent people whose job it is to research and investigate. If anyone would be up to speed with modern nutrition you would expect it to be journalists. But critically the media is all about motivation. Stories are rarely controversial, and always angled to sell more newspapers and promote a shared political view. So again the advice will always be mainstream, with daily stories of “Radical low-carb diets” and “Red meat causing heart disease”, keeping us scared of new thinking and reaffirming what our doctor has told us. I do wonder how many unethical journalists know they are putting out bad advice and writing scaremongering stories to simply sell copy. I expect many. Interestingly the media actually recognise their own BS. The recent “Pink Slime” campaign by ABC promoted fear of a particular food stuff in the USA despite it being just meat. Its rival Fox News then attacked ABC, criticising them for their poor journalism, and demonstrating how safe the food is by eating a pink slime burger live on air.
Government advice suffers from similar issues, with its own internal guidance being provided by health advisers and steered by politics. Personally if I was the UK Health Minister I would be making a lot of noise, but the political backlash for my controversial views would have me out of a job within days, ruining my hard earned career in Politics. So clearly making waves isn’t in a politician’s interest. The same holds true for any adviser. Don’t rock the boat, just keep the ship sailing and stay in favour with your politician boss. These advisers are in a privileged position and potentially have the power to really make a difference, and no-one knows this more acutely than the lobbying firms that promote the status quo. Eat grains, corn products and margarine, all made and subsidised by our great nations. Recent history is littered with examples of the influence these firms have had on food policy, especially in the USA. I am no conspiracy theorist but I have little doubt that current Governmental advice is swayed by these third party bodies.
So what are we left with from “Official” advice? We’re told to follow the rules, eat our 5-a-day, wholegrains and avoid the saturated fat; and this will keep us healthy. We don’t need to know why we should dogmatically follow this advice, we should just do it. Dogma frustrates me, because like you I want to know more, so I spend my time seeking more knowledge, challenging ideas and experimenting with new protocols. And regrettably I keep trying to spread the truth (my version anyway) in all its detailed glory. But is it working? Are we genuinely helping people by getting the message across or are we seen as the noisy controversial folks that promote radical diets to get attention, and in silent really eat normally like everyone else? After all, no-one really eats meat and nuts for breakfast do they?
If we do genuinely want to make a difference and get the message across, we must recognise that most people don’t want to know the detail. Whether people are too stupid, too ignorant, too lazy or simply just uninterested to want to understand, we must still be able to help improve their basic appreciation of nutrition. You could call this “dumbing-down” but people need a headline. We need an executive summary to latch onto, and if we’re interested we can then read the detail.
There’s another reason why we need to push the basics. Within the cutting edge, the nutritional guidance, research and theory are evolving fast. Really fast. Take the Paleo food movement for example. This started as a very fixed approach to eating, backed by anthropological, anecdotal and biological evidence. But as followers began benefiting from its regimen, they also started tweaking its rules and started scrutinising its scientific grounding. Thanks to scientists such as Mat Lalonde, many are dropping the anthropological and n=1 anecdotes as “evidence” and simply using biological processes as a basis for dietary recommendations. This has resulted in the drastic re-evaluation of foods such as white potatoes and fermented dairy, which for some are now seen as staples on a Paleo menu.
One of the most bleeding edge diets is Kiefer’s Carb Back-Loading protocol. The core concept is to modulate the body’s tissues to respond to hormones and diet in a positive fashion. At a basic level this involves minimising breakfast, keeping lunch low carb and using carbs to aid recovery, muscle growth and fuelling your resistance training. Whilst this sounds amazingly unoriginal, it is the tweaks that Kiefer promotes that are highly complex in their nature. Other techniques he describes such as large evening caffeine intake and the use of nicotine gum for fat loss are highly controversial. For those in the Carb Back-Loading community there is a wide held view that to truly understand Kiefer’s book you will need to read it at least three times. And together with Kiefer’s regular updates to the protocol, based on new research, anecdotes and metabolic understanding; many are left needing to spend significant time having to re-educate oneself. Whilst this pursuit of accuracy is ideal, this is extremely off putting for the 99% of society that aren’t obsessive about nutrition like I am. Fortunately Kiefer is acutely aware of this issue and promotes his work at both a simple level, and at an advanced level. His books appear to be doing well and his followers record much anecdotal success, so his educational technique does have some merit.
Finally consider the disparity between one so called expert’s guidance and that of another. Everyone is tweaking their diets and holding different interpretations of the same information, leading to inconsistent advice. And when many recommend to simply experiment to find the right protocol for you, the confusion grows even further. But surely the body is a simple machine that we understand? Surely nutrition and dietetics must be black or white with no room for interpretation? Sadly, we all know this isn’t the case but people still want a definitive answer. Fortunately we can all agree on some core concepts, especially those that have biological basis with repeatedly demonstrated anecdotal examples. A good example is the recommendation to consume MCT oil as a tool to help fat loss. It’s a simple message with a solid biological mechanism that proves time and again to help burn fat.
So when you next feel the need to give some nutritional advice, or any other advice for that matter, how are you going to pitch it? Are you going to start with the appropriate level of detail and help sell your message? Maybe it’s time you swallowed your pride, dumb-down and just spout some generalised headlines like, “Try eating more meat” or “Eat carbs later in the day”. If it gets the message across then you’ve done your job and helped another soul.