How To Spot a Lie in Health Claim: 5 Simple Tips

If you've perused online articles that talk about the benefits of this food or that workout, you'll have probably heard some amazing claims! Will boost your endurance but 300%! Will fill you up for six hours! Will make you lose those last 5 pounds!

I love learning about nutrition, and I love being active and fit, and learning about how to improve my endurance and strength. I'm a long-time, long-distance runner, and I eat to fuel my runs (and because I love it. To eat, that is). But nothing frustrates me more about some of the things that appear in these articles.

Ok, so why trust what I' saying in this article? Well, maybe you shouldn't trust 100% of the things I say, because I, too am still learning. But I never will claim to know everything, and I won't be right all the time -- but I won't pretend to. I've taken nutrition classes and done nutrition research at Vanderbilt University, and I'm a current medical student -- and this experience has taught me that I'll be learning all there is to know about health for the rest of my life, and still never get there. There's just so much that science doesn't know about the human body, and they're really are no 100% "true experts", even certified MD's and PhD's. We just don't know everything yet in science.

Ok, so how can you tell if the article you're reading is full of false or unsupported information?

How to spot a lie in a health claim: 5 simple tips

My 5 Simple Tips:

  1. Who is writing the article? Is it a doctor, a licensed nutritionist, a certified personal trainer? Or a self-appointed expert? Someone blogging about "what works for them"? Or worse, someone or some company trying to sell products? The only people you should really trust are academics or those who have done their research, and who have done it well (not the same thing!). It's not necessary for everything you read to have been written by an actual certified, practicing doctor, but it's definitely good if it is. There are other writers out there, like licensed RD's (registered dietitians), who know their stuff really well. I encourage wherever possible to read from sources that are either licensed or have done thorough, accurate research and have cited it appropriately. Which leads to my next point...
  2. Does it cite any actual scientific literature? If yes, bonus points. If no, be wary unless it's coming from a verified source like a physician or RD (and even then...). It's not always a "must" that the article cite literature. If it's coming from a reputable writer, then it could be legitimate. But if it's not, and they're making wild claims without backing them up by anything, click exit and stop reading.
  3. What literature does it cite? Unfortunately, just because it cited some scientific article is not the golden ticket that everything is fact. Research studies are just that: studies. Experiments. And in that, they're extremely limited and sometimes not applicable to the world at large. For example: tabata. Everyone goes on and on wildly about how amazing tabata is: workout in only 20 minutes but get the workout of an hour! Burns all your fat away! Improves your endurance by 100%! Or something to that effect. But just a simple scroll through Pubmed, and you see that the Tabata experiment was limited, and didn't even study fat loss! So how can you be sure it will be good for that? Yet many are claiming that because of the decent results of the trial, this is a miracle workout. I'm not saying don't do Tabata. I'm just saying don't do Tabata and Tabata only, for 3 times a week and expect to be completely transformed after a month.
  4. Is there a conflicting claim? If you've just read some article about how coconut oil burns your body fat like crazy or something like that, look around. Does it combat some previously-held claim? Or does another, newer study perhaps counteract the one you just read? This is all over the place. One day, gluten is bad for us. The other, wheat is king. One second, we avoid butter, the next people are adding it into their coffee ("bulletproof coffee"?). What do you believe?! If you're seeing health claims like this, don't jump on the bandwagon. I love coconut oil. Like a lot. But I also 100% don't believe it will magically cure anything for me. It's a healthy oil, yes, but still an oil. Still high in fat, which means it's an unbalanced food. Which means you have it in moderation, and balance it with carbs & protein. There is no "miracle food" or "superfood" (gah, I hate that word). There is no quick fix or cure. 
  5. Does it sound too good to be true? It probably is. I've learned this the hard way. If you see articles that say "lose 10 pounds in 3 days" or "boost your energy, clear your skin, drop those last pounds", just don't engage. The author is liking trying to promote a product or program, and it's just not going to be worth your time. Extremism isn't the way; there is no all or nothing. No 3-day juice fast that will magically transform you, or miracle work out that sculpts you instantly. The best way to navigate the field of nutrition & health and fitness is common sense. It's the hard truth: You've got to eat right. Eat your veggies. Avoid processed foods and things you already know are bad for you. Workout out, and when you do, break a sweat and get your heart pounding. Vary the muscles you engage, mix up some cardio and weights. I know you want the quick fix; I know you want to eat what you want and be whatever image you're going for, but it doesn't work that way! If you're looking up health & fitness articles online, chances are you already know what you should be doing. Instead, tailor your research to inspiration to your common sense knowledge, and go from there!

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