In the social-media age, everyone has a platform to voice their opinions. In the past, one had to earn a platform to voice their opinion on their topic of interest, but today social media has provided that to each and every person automatically. This leads to a massive quantity of opinions, personal biases, and potential misinformation. In the age of information, people tend to migrate toward what they most commonly hear and their personal opinions and beliefs can be influenced as a result. The most susceptible to this form of “learning” is the youth and the young professional looking to gain an advantage. In this article I hope to offer some perspective on how to navigate through today’s environment of information overload and help each of you decide how to best pursue your individual goals in your areas of interest.
The target audience of social media is likely teenage to young adult, a susceptible age to believe the message being delivered by those they look up to. Although many attempt to offer quality advice, well-intentioned bad advice is still bad advice. It is important to realize what is unbiased advice and those who have identify with the advice or approach they have adopted. Like many things in life, people respond to different stimulus in differently. Everyone has a unique history, experiences, and outlook. It is important to keep this in mind while dissecting the advice given by any individual. A highly respected and well known therapist simplified this by stating “N=1”. In the research world, “N” refers to number of subjects in a study. Stating that “N=1” implies that each individual is unique and should be assessed and cared for with that in mind. The first step while looking for quality advice is to be aware that people are unique in their specific needs to reach even the same goal. This includes nutritionally, physically, and mentally. This neither disregards or accepts the information, rather it brings awareness to a reality. It allows you to look with a broader lens and assess the big picture of the message being delivered and how it applies to your life circumstances. Often the application of the intervention is being overlooked. The best advice on paper doesn’t necessarily equal the best advice in life due to countless other unique factors.
If we are all unique, how could a specific program, diet, or protocol work for everyone? Quite simply, it probably cannot. Keep in mind, the goal is likely still the same, it is the methods of achieving it that may need to be adjusted. In the past, I use to feel that personal experience trumped all and until you’ve had personal experience with something you didn’t fully understand it. Although I still feel that way to a certain extent, I now feel that experience is just one necessary component to fully understanding a topic. Without it, you are certainly limited. However, there are multiple additional areas that supplement your experience. Taking a step back and integrating your personal experience with applicable, quality information is likely the best approach. But what about the individual who has no personal experience or prior history? How does one navigate through the massive quantity of information? Deciding who is credible, who is invested for financial reasons, who may be biased, or many other factors is a daunting task to tackle. Here is a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to getting started:
Search for absolutes: One thing you will notice when talking with someone who has spent years in the academic world is that they will use works like “probable,” “likely” or “it depends." This is because they know there aren’t any absolutes. There are multiple factors that are taken into account when conducting sound, quality research. Quality research and findings open the door to further expansion and exploration, it is not necessarily an endpoint.
Trust lack of experience: Success in one, two or even a handful of people does not mean it is applicable or correct for the general population. Take into consideration your specific needs, and it may be even less likely. It is important to make sure the information you receive has substantial “power” meaning it’s passed the quantity test. In the real world, you can think of this as simply being something that has worked for a large number of people. If it has worked for a large number of people, it likely by default has accounted for variability among individuals. Sufficient sample size, clientele or years of experience all strengthen the foundation you can expand from.
Identifies With Their Beliefs: A reality of having a monetary incentive combined with limited knowledge is the need to go “all in”. Promotion and learning via confirmation bias both contribute to individual putting the blinders on and only accepting what they are reinforcing to themselves. Over time they identify with their message or product and take personal offense to anyone who disagrees. You do not want this, an individual who is unable to admit their limits in knowledge or mistakes.
Practice What You Preach: Few are willing to take advice from someone who has no skin in the game. One example in research regarding athletic performance shows sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) positive effects on time to exhaustion. What it doesn’t highlight is that same amount also causing rather unpleasant “bathroom visits." This is an easy to understand example of what is possible within many areas of health and wellness. The “no days off” approach likely isn’t being said by someone who’s applied that over a sustained period of time. Strict diet fads aren't being promoted by someone who has a job, family, and other commitments. All aspects of life need to be considered when implementing any variable of health and wellness.
Has Applied It To Others: Has this individual made this philosophy, lifestyle, or approach work with a large variety of individuals all trying to achieve similar goals. If it fails with an overwhelming large population group, how sound is the advice. Steer away from specifics and exacts. At best they work in the short term. At worst, they don’t work and negatively other aspects of life. By seeing a certain practice work with a large number of people, you can feel more comfortable that it is likely a worthwhile approach due to their variability within each individual yet still showing success.
Adopt An “Always Learning” Unbiased Approach: Admitting when you’re wrong, what you have yet to learn and when you’re unsure are all signs of someone who is unbiased and continuing to learn. Because there are no absolutes, information can change and it's in your best interest to adopt sources of information who continue to expand their knowledge.
A debate should be among individuals working toward the same goal who may have different approaches. Questioning information, requesting a more detailed breakdown to help you fully understand, and checking multiple sources are all effective ways to broaden your understanding. The more you understand the “why” behind what you’re doing, the more likely you are to adhere to it. In the social media age there are no healthy debates, no contradictions, and little to know additional information. This poses a problem to those who have an audience who believes in that individual. Simply stating your beliefs or opinions, without contradictions, can be an irresponsible attempt to help others.
Many times someone's success in a particular area branches off into other areas. I believe there are two primary reasons this appears more often in the health industry. First, physical and mental health is something everyone strives for. Regardless of your current condition, most people are always looking to be healthier, happier, and enjoy life more. The avenue of choice is dependent on personal factors but the end goal is typically the same. If someone feels they are attaining this goal, they want to voice how they did that. What easier way than to snap a photo and write a quick blog entry saying how you went from A to B and promote those strategies. The problem arises when you believe that your path is the only path and everyone will have similar results if they do as you say. We can become easily influenced whether we are aware of it or not.
Secondly, everyone does some form of exercise or activity and everybody eats. If you’re not a banker, you don’t bank. If you’re not a lawyer, you don’t practice law in your free time. If you’re not a health and wellness coach, you still participate in physical activity and eat, which leads to your own personal opinions on why you are in the current condition you are. How many people do you know that lost a drastic amount of weight and contribute it to one thing. The ketogenic diet comes to mind right now. Many will tell you they lost all this weight because sugar or carbohydrates make you fat and by eliminating those, they lost weight. This is incorrect. Many will not just say how much weight they lost but also say how amazing they feel (which may be a psychological byproduct of taking control of their health) and promote it for everyone. Associating your personal results with a certain factor leads people to falsely promote the benefits of certain interventions, no more popular than in the nutrition world. The same is true with social media and exercise. The reality is that the 99% of the things you don’t see are what lead to the results, but again that’s not sexy and doesn’t capture the attention of others.
This can create an “this is the only way” mindset. Best case scenario, you do it and it works even though you don’t actually understand why. However, this can lead to unnecessary sacrifice and lack of enjoyment ultimately leading to an unsustainable lifestyle approach. At worst, it seems too difficult a change to make and you never even start. This can be seen with “yo-yo” dieting, overly excessive exercise habits, and many other approaches to enhance one’s quality of life. The initial success temporarily allows one to sacrifice to reach their goal, ultimately ending in burn out or justification for discontinuing. Unfortunately, they may have been misinformed on the reality of how they can reach those goals in a unique, sustainable fashion.
So how does someone know what is true, what is hype, and what is simply self-promotion? This can be difficult because often time those who do have a platform on social media is due to other forms of media spotlight. Actors, comedians, professional athletes, etc. I can think of many individuals who I respect and enjoy listening to who are not accurate in their thinking when it comes to nutrition and exercise. Does that mean the opposite of what they are saying it true? Does that mean they are only after self-promoting, self-profiting means? Not at all. I know more today than I did 5 years ago, and hope to know more in the next 5 then I do today. As mentioned earlier, the main demographic of social media is young adults. You know who are not experts in anything regardless of much time they have invested…young people. Quality sources have been studying their craft longer than most 20-somethings have been alive.
My hope is to help you gain some insight, perspective and confidence when navigating through all the information today. The truth is, you likely know what’s best for you, you could benefit from learning more, and there is always room for improvement. Lets not forget the overall goal behind the message… to enhance one’s life. Is it really that necessary to dissect things if they still lead someone to a better quality life? Separating your ego from the topic is a difficult thing to do, and most aren’t fully aware of the impact their ego has on their opinion. It’s human nature to want to identify with a team, a side, a way of doing things. And when it’s questioned, more often then not it’s the person who feels attacked. This leads to people digging their heals in the ground and defending themselves as much as they are thinking they are defending their methods.
Information Overload = Ignore It All
If you’ve been interested in a topic or particular field, you've probably seen it's popularity rise and fall. Something gains interest, shows initial promise, possibly gets further exploration and potentially even studied and then loses it’s initial lust. Fad diets are a recurring example. At times, even the opposite becomes the new craze (low fat of old, ketogenic more recently). Many people simply throw their metaphorical hands in the air and say “I don’t know what to believe!” and just disregard it all. All to common, a person who puts in the initial effort toward their physical, mental, and emotional health end up feeling overwhelmed and wind up back at square one. This can develop a negative outlook toward information. Differentiating between quality sources of information is key, or finding someone who has taken on that responsibility who can relay the information to you in an easy to apply fashion to your particular interests, needs, and lifestyle. It is not your fault if you have failed to manage your health correctly. It is your responsibility to take control. Multiple paths will take you to the same destination, but if you try to take them all at once you will get nowhere.
It's also unrealistic to think that everyone should get a degree in health and wellness or pursue higher education. Today most people will turn to the internet as a resource, or perhaps trainers and coaches. Misunderstood, unsustainable and applicable to a small population is the foundation for a majority of the fads today. Fads come and go and are short term by nature. Scientifically supported findings enable longevity and/or lifestyle changes where the overall impact on health is much greater. We have access to any piece of information we want at our fingertips. A lot of personal investigation online is rooted in confirmation bias or finding evidence to support your beliefs. The quantity of positive stories and links will flood your search. This causes a potential issue. The quantity of online opinions drastically overshadows the quality of data supported research. What was person A doing before adopting this new strategy? What other factors were changed? Research in the lab setting isolates for these variables, the outside world often does not.
A Natural Progression, Where Are You?
Where to draw the line? If you’re getting results why does it matter how it is happening, especially considering that scientific research is always retracting previous claims and new findings may oppose previous findings? As with anything, I believe it’s first imperative to define your goals. One of my personal favorite quotes is, “If you know not which way you sail, no wind is favorable.” Be honest with yourself, what are really your personal goals. Define that goal and work backwards. Why get in better shape? Why eat healthier? It’s not to temporarily punish yourself and then be done. It’s to enhance your quality of life. This is extremely important to remember and is all to often lost along the way. There is zero purpose in extending one’s life expectancy if you’re just extending bad days. Don’t choose an exercise program or diet that cannot be sustained or you don’t enjoy regardless of the the results. With your goal in mind, you can begin to include variables into your life that will help you attain those goals. This happens through knowledge, trial and error, and personal preference.
Along the way, you’re priorities will change and certain values become more important. Being introspective and assessing your current position in your pursuit to overall quality of life and health is perhaps the most important aspect to reaching your goals. What is your relationships with exercise? How about your relationship with food? The feeling of being punished in order to reach your destination creates an entirely different dynamic and internal environment, one that at worst is unsustainable and at best unenjoyable. What stressor do you have in life? How do you deal with those stressors? Take a look around, people are searching for comfort in every possible way… food, exercise, drugs (legal/illegal), alcohol, caffeine, the list goes on. It is unrealistic to think we can simply eliminate stress, nor should you want to. It is also unrealistic to think we will only have good days and always be positive. It is your responsibility to be aware and choose healthy outlets. Sometimes a healthy outlet is one that is a mental, other times a physical, at times both. Nutritionists and health and wellness coaches will tell you a key component to any health and wellness intervention is to first be aware of your relationship with food and exercise. The emotional and psychological aspects of nutrition and exercise are important to assess prior and throughout your journey. A simple perspective change can radically change your habits, outlook, and purpose.
Find someone willing to help you learn the information you desire, adopt the best nutrition plan for you, and execute the proper physical activity routine. You should be holding your health and wellness coaches, personal trainers, and nutrition coaches to the highest standard. Good health is true wealth. Good health includes physical, mental and emotional health and is unique to each of us. The return on investment is much greater than the initial cost when addressing your overall health. Below I’ve outlined a 6 step approach for one looking to enhance their quality of life.
Research Articles: PubMed / Journal of Applied Physiology / WebMD
Resources for easy to adopt advice to improve quality of life: Alan Aragon / Layne Norton / Meg Mangano
Resources for those looking for a scientific understanding: Dr. Andy Galpin / Dr. Rhonda Patrick
Resources to dive head first into specific scientific research: Satchidananda Panda / Salk Institute (monthly news letter available).