How To Stay Skeptical Online Part 1

It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re perusing the internet for nutrition information. You come across an article written by a well-known individual in the nutrition space in which they cite several studies to support the use of a specific diet for fat loss. You nod your head in agreement as you clearly see they have the research to back it up. Plus, you opened a Healthline article in another tab, and it totally said the exact same thing. This guy must be right! You keep scrolling when something catches your eye. You click on a PubMed link to an article written by several PhD scientists from some research institution. It says the report is a “systematic review”, but you have no idea what that even is. The article completely contradicts the conclusions of the write-up you just read! You scrunch your eyebrows together in confusion as thoughts race through your mind. Who is right? Who should you believe? It’s just all so confusing!

Here’s what we need to understand. Just because someone references a journal article (or two or three) or gives their well-argued and very convincing opinion on a specific topic, doesn’t mean they are correct. 

Similarly, just because someone on YouTube or Instagram says their specific training program or diet works, doesn’t mean it is the best approach for you or that it works for everyone. In this case in particular, you need to ask if yourself the following questions:

  • Are they trying to sell you something?
  • Are they making a bigger deal out of a “problem” so they can sell you their answer (which is often portrayed as the only answer)? 
  • Will what they’re selling actually work for you, your goals, your lifestyle, and your capabilities?
  • Do they have any actual experience in the area they’re talking about?

And yes, even you doing your own “research” by typing your question into an online search engine has issues. Most people have the tendency to seek out and find things to match their opinion. That is called confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall new evidence and information that confirms or supports your existing beliefs, theories, or values. It is important to read research or studies that both support and refute what you believe to be true.

Now all that being said, we need to keep in mind that scientific research has limitations. Sometimes, research does not work in real life and is not applicable to human beings outside of a lab setting. Experience (rather than research-based evidence) can be particularly important when we look at human behavior. The most effective nutrition intervention for fat loss in the world will soon become the worst diet ever if no one can actually adhere to it.

Additionally, lack of research in a specific area does not mean a causative relationship is absent. It simply means that more research needs to be performed. There are many new and emerging fields right now in the health space that we need to explore further before we can draw conclusions about them.

So, how can you begin to wade through the inundation of research articles and experience that’s out there? 

That comes in Part II so stay tuned!

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