OK, so I have written on this topic before but my recent prowling on LinkedIn has motivated me to revisit it. This discussion will work best if, like me, you have at least one of these two qualifications:
- You are not a veterinarian, and
- You don’t know anything about cars.
If, like me, the workings of cats and cars are a mystery, this should be a piece of cake (no pun intended).
A couple of weeks ago our cat, Rue, started having problems in the litter box: straining, clearly uncomfortable, very little production. Because it was late Saturday afternoon (of course) our regular vet was closed so we rushed him to the all-night vet place. After a couple hours, numerous tests and a bill of well over $300, they gave us some medicine and told us to “keep an eye on him.” He did not improve over the weekend, so we took him to our own vet early Monday morning. Thirty minutes later we brought Rue home, with a $25 bill and a $30 bag of special food. In two days he was fine, and he has been fine ever since.
A few months ago, the used Jeep Cherokee we bought for our son (thinking it was as much of a tank as we could afford to keep him safe) was running really rough. He took it to the local muffler place in his college town about 90 minutes from our home. I told him to have them write down exactly what needed to be done, and give us a cost estimate. Sure enough, it turns out that:
The thing-a-ma-bob was not sitting in the watcha-ma-call- it anymore, and so we had to replace the whole who-sa-ma-what-see.
The cost estimate was in much simpler English, however, approximately $760. I had my son ask them if it was safe to drive home. They said yes, so he did. The next day, we took it to our own mechanic who fixed it at the cost of about $340.
The Link to Human Nutrition
Seeing any connection to human nutrition yet? Here’s a hint. When I wasn’t satisfied with the first vet and when I was blown away by the cost estimate of the first mechanic, I took my cat to another vet and my car to another mechanic. I did not take my cat to an auto mechanic and I did not take my son’s car to the vet.
Getting any clearer? When I challenge people on LinkedIn about the (often outrageous) nutrition statements they are making, I typically get the following responses:
- Most nutritionists are in the pocket of big food companies anyway so I don’t pay attention to them.
- I have been to a number of nutrition professionals and they were not helpful at all. and/or
- I have counseled hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people around nutrition for years and have been very successful.
Before I continue, here are just a few of the recent LinkedIn statements I am referring to:
- Eggs are as bad for you as cigarettes – Eggs are actually a powerhouse of nutrition. “Eggs contain the highest biological value (or gold standard) for protein. One egg has only 75 calories but 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, along with iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. The egg is a powerhouse of disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. And brain development and memory may be enhanced by the choline content of eggs.”
- No foods are neutral – All food you put in your body is either helping or hurting you. The truth is that too much of almost any food (and anything for that matter, including oxygen and water) can be detrimental to health. All or nothing food thinking can actually trigger disordered eating.
- Sugar is 3 times more addictive than cocaine – In fact, in spite of the popularity in the lay press, the belief that sugar is addicting in a manner similar to illegal drugs of abuse (never mind 3 times more addicting than cocaine) is not supported by many nutrition and metabolism experts. 1-4
- By 2030, 80% of Americans will be obese – Despite lots of lip service stating otherwise, obesity prevalence has not increased in this country in the past decade so any prediction about what will happen in the next 15 years is at best premature.
Here is the point…when your cat is sick, you go to a vet. When your car is broken you go to a mechanic. If the first vet you see doesn’t help, you go to another. If the first mechanic you go to seems dishonest, you go to another. But where do you go when you want to learn about the extremely complex relationship between you and what you eat; to just anyone who starts talking about nutrition? And if you do go to a nutrition professional and it doesn’t feel helpful, where do you go next, to the local barber?
5 Ways to Help You Know If a Nutrition Source is Credible
Of course there are all levels of quality in every profession and even given equal levels of education and experience we still all have our individual preferences for certain doctors, psychologists, vets, mechanics, and nutritionists, etc. – just human nature. Here are a couple of suggestions for how you might begin to separate the wheat from the chaff when you consider going to someone for nutrition/weight loss information and counseling.
- Ask them about their training. Your vet will likely have her diplomas on the wall and your mechanic may as well also. A 4-year, or at least a 2-year degree, in nutrition is not a bad place to start. You might want to be wary of practitioners who have a certificate that can be obtained by paying for it and taking an online, open-book test.
- Ask them about their experience. For how many years (to some degree the more the merrier) have they been counseling individuals and groups and/or teaching nutrition? Since anyone can hang a sign on their door saying “nutrition counseling” you might want to use this one in conjunction with some of the others.
- Ask them if they have penned any nutrition publications, book chapters and/or books.
- Read their materials or visit their websites. Look for an acknowledgement of the complexities and subtleties around human nutrition and weight issues. Be suspicious of black and white, all or nothing thinking about food.
- *Run the other way if they claim that the weight-loss program they are promoting will help you lose weight and keep it off.
Finally, ponder this question: Why is it that so many of us know where to go, automatically, almost without thinking, when we need help with our cats and our cars, yet we are so often willing to take advice about food and weight-related issues from just about anybody?
Conflict of interest disclosure: I am a nutrition professional with a master’s degree in human nutrition and a PhD in health education. I have taught nutrition at two major universities (Michigan State and Western Michigan) for 20 years, written two nutrition- related books (The Spirit and Science of Holistic Health and How To Build a Thriving Culture at Work,) many nutrition-related chapters and peer-reviewed articles, counseled many individuals and groups, and presented keynotes and workshops at many of the major nutrition-related conferences over the past 25 years. I am no friend to the national nutrition organizations or the big food companies. I think food is very important to the human experience; and I know it is an incredibly complex and nuanced issue that can go bad really quickly in the wrong hands – just like our cats and our cars.
- Benton, Plausibility of sugar addiction & its role in obesity & eating disorders. ClinNutr 2009
- Wilson, G.T. Eating Disorders, Obesity and Addiction, Eur. Eat. Disorders Rev.18(2010):341-351
- Ziauddeen, H. and Fletcher, P.C. Is food addiction a valid and useful concept? Obesity Reviews 14. January 2013:19-28.
- Ziauddeen, H. and Farooqi, F. Obesity and the brain: How convincing is the addiction model? Nature reviews/Neuroscience. 13 April 2012:270-286.