Logical fallacies tend to be commonplace in the world of fitness.
Some experts and gurus tout their claims based on fallacious arguments, and unsuspecting victims fork over their cash for pseudo-scientific programs and ideas.
This post will help you to identify logical fallacies when you come across them, and this will better-equip you to deal with the false claims of those attempting to trick you into buying their special programs.
It will also make you better at arguing. Seriously, who doesn’t like to argue?
Let’s get to it.
1. The Ad Hominem Fallacy
Essentially, an ad hominem attacks the person making the argument rather than addressing the validity of the argument itself. You see this all the time in the bodybuilding circles, and it’s quite frustrating because it often leads to the ignoring of perfectly sound advice. To some, especially in the fitness and nutrition industry, appearance equals knowledge.
Now, I understand the idea that someone should practice what they preach. For example, people always say that you shouldn’t take advice from a fat nutritionist. While it is a bit ironic to think that someone who is overweight can give good nutrition advice, appearance doesn’t make someone’s claims more or less valid.
Another example in the bodybuilding world is when someone will disregard advice from someone who is smaller than them. This is ridiculous, as there can be many reasons the person is not bigger than them including genetics and training experience, among many other factors.
Validity of a claim should not be based on the appearance or characteristics of the person making the claim, but rather whether the claim is actually true or not. Sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people resort to ad hominems to defend their ridiculous ideas.
2. Appealing to Authority
This is similar to the previous fallacy in that people will often believe the claims of others solely based upon their credentials. Using the bodybuilding example again, some people will believe everything Ronnie Coleman says about virtually anything related to fitness and nutrition.
Not to take anything away from Ronnie Coleman, but he doesn’t look the way he does because of his superior knowledge of nutrition and exercise science. He looks the way he does because of genetics, dedication, hard training/dieting, and special assistance (nomsayin’?).
“Well, if Ronnie Coleman says to do 25 sets of curls per workout, it must be true because…he’s Ronnie Coleman.” This is complete nonsense. You must take a look at the validity of the claims based on concrete evidence, and think for yourself. Don’t become a sheep and believe everything someone says because of their credentials.
3. Appealing to Common Belief
If something is said for a long enough time, it will eventually be considered fact, even if it has no scientific backing. I’ll use the example of eating six meals per day to boost metabolism.
This claim was pimped by everyone from doctors to nutritionists to bodybuilders even though there was no evidence to support it. Now we know that this is not the truth, and it can even be detrimental to hunger because of the small feedings and the constant thoughts of food. Martin Berkhan does a thorough debunking of this claim here, check it out.
Another instance of appealing to common belief is the statement that free weights are always better than machines. This idea has been propagated for as long as I can remember, and in terms of hypertrophy, this claim doesn’t hold much weight. The truth is that both machines and free weights produce a training affect, and assuming you apply progressive overload, machines can be a great muscle builder.
So, just because something is said over and over again doesn’t mean it’s true.
4. Mistaking Association with Causation
Just because there is a correlation between two variables, that doesn’t mean that one causes the other.
An example of this fallacy would be if someone who is extremely lean drinks a whey protein shake within five minutes of completing their workout, and they credit this for making them lean. Now we know that the “anabolic window” post workout is not as small as some bros like to think, so the consumption of the protein shake within five minutes of finishing a workout is not what made the person lean.
Confusion the association between two variables as one causing the other can lead to the spouting of completely nonsensical arguments, so when someone says “this….because that”, be wary and look at the evidence before you decide what to believe.
5. Relying Solely on Anecdotal Evidence
Anecdotal evidence is simply a personal account of a specific situation.
People tend to let their own personal experience and the experiences of those around them influence their interpretation of scientific evidence.
For example, those who push low carb diets like they are the only option tend to use arguments like, “It worked for me” and “It has helped so many others lose weight, therefore it must be the most effective way to diet” without actually looking at the evidence. The reality is that while anecdotes can be used in support of an argument, they don’t prove anything.
Anecdotes are often used to generalize, using the logic that “because it worked for me, it must work for others.” Obviously this is false. A personal example is that Carb Backloading worked for me, but do I recommend it for everyone? Absolutely not. I found that it fit with my lifestyle at the time and I was consistent, so it was effective. Anecdotes can be supplemental to evidence, but they should not be used to make any definitive claims. Just because something is true for you or a group of others does not mean you can make generalizations about a population as a whole.
Anecdotes are also an extremely common form of argumentation among those who have food allergies.
For example, if someone has digestive issues after drinking milk, some make a habit of projecting their beliefs onto others. They will say, “Well, I have digestive problems after drinking milk, therefore milk is bad for everyone.” Obviously this is not true, and this type of argument can cause some serious problems with people becoming overly obsessive with their food choices because they’re afraid that they might be intolerant to that specific food.
So, if something is true in your personal experience, don’t project it on others without supporting your experiences with scientific evidence. By the same token, don’t let someone convince you of something just because of their personal anecdotes.
Being aware of the common logical fallacies in the fitness and nutrition world will better prepare you to look at the evidence through an objective lens, and it will prevent you from adopting false ideas and accepting myths as fact.
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