Trustworthy Experts vs. Shady Gurus: How to Tell the Difference

We long for someone to tell us the answers.

There is something comforting about not having to think entirely for oneself; to delegate the responsibilities that come along with critical thinking and rational inquiry.

Hell, even the most knowledgeable experts on any given topic rely on other experts for information that is outside their scope of expertise. Having someone act as a sort of filter is certainly beneficial from an educational standpoint.

It is also infinitely more practical than pure independence.

We all have responsibilities, careers, hobbies, and interests outside of the health and fitness scene. Many of us don’t have time to devote to trekking down the endless rabbit holes that are the intricacies of nutrition, fat loss, cardiovascular health, and insulin resistance; unless, of course, we get paid to do so.

So what is the alternative to completely independent self-learning?

It seems to me that, outside of complete self-reliance (which is, again, often impractical), we must find someone to trust; someone we can rely on to dispense the facts objectively and consistently.

Finding this person, or persons, is infinitely more difficult than it seems.

We are very susceptible to sexy ideas, especially regarding sensitive topics such as health and nutrition. Instead of being reasonable and searching for reliable sources of information, we have fallen to believing overly-hyped claims and riding the backs of those who promote nonsense and, in many cases, dangerous information.

This industry has been polluted by ignorance under the guise of expertise. Anyone with an internet connection can start a blog and spew nonsense that goes completely unchallenged. In this sense, the beauty of the internet is paradoxically its own worst attribute. People are helplessly confused because of the mountains of conflicting information, petty arguments, and self-proclaimed gurus mucking up the waters.

So the ultimate question is: how do you determine who is trustworthy? If you haven’t noticed (you most certainly have), health is an important area of knowledge and practice: which makes it all the more disgusting when “experts” distort the facts for their own benefit.

This post will examine some of the differences between objective, trustworthy commentators and attention-seeking, deceptive dirtbags.

The Truth Monopoly

“Trust those who seek the truth, flee from those who claim to have found it.”

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell

Unsubstantiated claims to certainty are all too common in today’s irrational diet industry.

The reason: certainty is a selling point. No one wants to hear caveats, doubts, reservations, or hesitations.

A buyer, ready to invest their hard-earned money, wants guaranteed facts, guaranteed return on investment, and guaranteed results.

Needless to say, marketers have taken notice of this inherent desire.

“Can’t lose fat? Oh, it must be because you are addicted to sugar. Here, buy my 21-day sugar detox program!”

“Fat doesn’t cause heart disease, sugar does.”

“Low fat diets are the cause of modern health issues.”

“Low carb diets are the best way to lose fat.”

Instead of accepting the fact that we don’t have all the answers, especially in the unsteady world of health and fitness where research is constantly in flux, nutritional zealots claim to have a stronghold on the truth.

They claim to have the answers to your problems, the solution to the health issues, diet troubles, and fitness struggles that have haunted you for years. Worry no more, Program “X”, Diet “Y”, and Detox “Z” are here to save the day.

Unfounded, yet supremely confident claims to certainty are what separate the trustworthy expert from the unreliable “guru.”

The trustworthy experts, needless to say, display the polar opposite of the characteristics mentioned above.

They accept the uncomfortable and modest reality that they don’t have all of the answers, and they make this fact known. They encourage free-thinking, they encourage you to do your own research; they encourage you to ask questions and to come to your own conclusions based on your unique situation.

“What diet is best? That depends on your current situation, your goals, previous history of dieting, health issues, physical limitations, and personal preferences. There is no best diet. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying through their teeth (or their keyboard).”

“Sugar certainly can be a problem if eaten in excess and in the context of a poorly formulated diet. However, if you eat a few sugary treats per day while meeting your nutritional requirements in terms of overall calories, fiber, and micro-nutrition, sugar consumption will not be an issue.”

“Low carb diets can be extremely helpful for weight loss and overall health. However, they are not for everyone. All diets should be formulated to fit individual preferences rather than a rigid dietary ideology that is not grounded in evidence.”

Admitting doubt, expressing modesty, and offering caveats and hedges are certain to earn you a failing grade in intro-level marketing. They don’t pull the emotional trigger, the one that leads to knee-jerk emotions and impulse credit card swipes.

But these are the steps taken by those who can and should be trusted versus those who claim to have a stronghold on the truth.

Scare Tactics

Fear-induction is a well-established marketing ploy, one that often hits home well below our threshold of awareness.

And this tactic is not only prevalent in the diet industry. Politics, religion, medicine, and virtually all areas of discourse are riddled with subtle inclusions of provocative language, truth-stretching, and exaggeration.

Arguably the biggest problem with fear-based marketing is that it works. Sensational claims foster emotional attachment. Once this link is created, it is very difficult to break.

As Ben Goldacre points out in his excellent book Bad Science, “You cannot reason people out of a position they did not reason themselves into.”

People are afraid that their quality of life will suffer if they don’t buy into a certain idea or cash in on a certain product. They are afraid that their health will decline, their relationships will fail, and that their bodies will rot away; not based on logic and careful reasoning, but based on the claims of pseudo-experts.

It goes without saying that sugar is an easy target for this scare-mongering, and it is frequently aimed at by the modern-day hucksters. But don’t get it twisted: these tactics are nothing revolutionary.

The same techniques were used to demonize saturated fat and to exalt margarine as butter’s superior.

They are being used to condemn cardiovascular exercise, grains, beans, legumes.

It is easy to blame one factor as it provides simplicity and absolutism rather than complexity and uncertainty. The trustworthy expert embraces this uncertainty, the shady guru manipulates emotions in order to smuggle their untenable ideas through to the mainstream.

The Resistance to Criticism

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill

It has become taboo to criticize the dietary habits of others, particularly those who tout their methods of dieting as superior. In this way, dietary ideologies have become religious in nature.

The sensitivity of Paleo and low carb extremists is a perfect example. It is undeniable that these diets have helped many people lose weight and dramatically improve their overall health.

However, needless to say, these diets do not work for everyone. As a result, the Paleo and low carb communities receive backlash from those who crash and burn on their prescribed diets.

Strident members of these communities will attempt to explain away these less-than-glamorous reviews with erroneous cop-outs such as “you weren’t doing it right” or “you need to Paleo harder.” This lateral move is a sly attempt to avoid direct criticism of their cherished ideals.

And even the most constructive criticism is shunned. Visit any popular low carb or Paleo guru’s social media page or forum and begin asking  questions and challenging baseless claims, and more times than not, you will either be banned or swarmed by zealous groupies.

Those who disallow and shun criticism are severely limiting their own potential.

Criticism allows us to see the holes in our own viewpoints that we otherwise miss due to self-serving biases. It is important to encourage criticism for this very reason; it makes our own argument stronger by exposing its weaknesses.

If someone is resistant, nasty, or dismissive of all criticism, your bullshit detector should go bonkers. Conversely, those who openly ask for criticism and react to it positively are those who are seeking the truth rather than claiming to have found it.

Criticism, much like failure, is an opportunity for growth. If someone has a negative attitude toward criticism, it’s a sure sign that they are unwilling to leave their comfort zone of illogical beliefs; and as a result, they should not be trusted.

The Answer: Semi Self-Reliance (Free Thinking With a Bit of Help)

The journey towards self-reliance and rationality is a harsh one.

It is a journey that forces you to accept reality for what it is. It forces you to shed wishful thinking and false promises in favor of logic and evidence. In the context of weight loss, the facts are, as I explain in my free eBook, often unsettling.

The fact that weight loss is a difficult, long-term process that takes time, hard work, consistency, and the relentless pursuit of continuing education. And, arguably the most unsettling fact: failure is unavoidable.

You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to fall into “diet traps” and horrible eating habits. Accepting that this is normal and an essential part of the process will allow you to continue moving forward.

These realities are at best understated in the mainstream. So it is crucial to find experts and groups of  like-minded  individuals who will keep you on the right path. A few individuals who have had a profound impact on my own progress include Alan Aragon, Amber Rogers, and Anthony Colpo. Who has helped you the most in terms of nutrition, health, and fitness? Let me know in the comments.

The key is to “use” trustworthy experts as a guide and a filter. Never take anyone’s word as gospel. Never mindlessly accept an idea, regardless of who supports it. With this approach, the chances of you being misled are slim to none.

The Superheroes of Health Bundle

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“As technology becomes abundant, attention becomes impoverished.”

As I mentioned earlier in the post, the amount of information circulating throughout this industry is overwhelming. Resulting from this abundance of information is often mass confusion as to what are the best ways to lose fat, gain muscle, and live a healthier lifestyle.

The misfits of the health world, those who don’t claim certainty, those who implement reason and logic, those who encourage evidence-based thinking and action, those who don’t use  shady marketing schemes to push their ideas, those who don’t force your hand by claiming a monopoly on the truth, those who are humble enough to admit that they don’t have the answers to all of your most burning questions, those who use logic and reason rather than blind speculation and sensationalism, have created a bundle to help you think critically, debunk diet myths, and above all else, enjoy a healthier life.

 Check it out here if you’re interested.

Some feedback for the bundle so far:

“This is genuinely brilliant. The bundle represents the most cutting edge, yet grounded and bs free outlook on health and wellbeing I have come across in years. And its stoopidly good value.” – James Kahan

“Enjoying making my way through the bundle this week. It rocks.” – Gina Denholm

“I bought the bundle today. Amazing amount of quality information! I’m just not sure where to start : ).” – Karen Wetterman

Also, check out my free eBook down below if you haven’t already.

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