By Pieter De Wit
We live in a crazy world. I went to university for a master’s degree in movement science to eventually become a personal trainer. Later I started a bachelor’s in nutrition and did a handful of extra training to expand my knowledge and coaching skills. Yet, I find it difficult to call myself an expert because there is still so much to learn.
Then I see celebs on social media, blessed with good genes and an appealing body but often without profound knowledge or training, daring to call themselves experts! And they gather millions of followers who mindlessly follow their advice.
I think everybody has the right to express themselves and help others, but if incorrect information is spread and people are misguided, it can be dangerous. So should we restrict these “experts” impact to protect society, or should we be more open-minded and listen to what they say?
The Celebrity Pitfall
Ella Mills, for example, is the face of the famous blog Deliciously Ella and has about two million followers on Instagram. In her first book, she promoted a healthy lifestyle, inspiring many people to start cooking and try her recipes. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sharing recipes, but Mills credited this diet for helping her to overcome a condition called Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, as well as Ehlers-Danlos and Mast Cell Activation Disorder. I don’t live in the UK, but in many countries, it is forbidden to make treatment claims about a diet if you’re not a registered doctor or dietician. I wonder what claims she makes on her podcasts!
Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow turned herself into a health “guru”. On the Netflix series “the goop lab” Paltrow reaches out to alternative health practitioners to investigate practices ranging from “energy treatments” to the use of psychedelic drugs. Their own spokeswoman admitted that they cover topics that may be unsupported by science or in the early stages of review. It’s an interesting show, but the information can be very confusing, misleading and maybe even dangerous. Who are they to claim they can treat mental-health disorders?
Who Are The Real Experts?
The modern medicine we are familiar with originates from Hippocrates, a Greek doctor in the first century BC. Since then, we have turned to science to help us with health issues. Now, our medical knowledge is backed up by gigantic scientific studies and is taught to students at medical schools. While we should be grateful we have scientifically qualified people to help us with health issues, it is worth remembering that often those scientific studies are sponsored by big pharma companies, trying to influence our perception of health to sell more drugs.
High-quality nutrition studies require an immense amount of time, money and people to make one simple claim. Therefore, it is not in their interest to investigate claims that don’t return a profit. Don’t get me wrong, science has helped us a lot, but we must also be aware of its limitations.
A Holistic Answer
These limitations do not mean we should turn to self-proclaimed experts who can’t back up their knowledge. If you have a health issue, don’t just turn to a local “nutrition coach” for a cure. Many of these “experts” don’t know what they’re talking about. This can be very frustrating for educated and licensed practitioners and may be dangerous if you are trying to solve a serious health issue!
However, western medicine hasn’t yet found all the answers to modern health challenges. We tend to focus on the cure when it’s almost too late, turning all too often to pills instead of natural, healthy lifestyle solutions. We know that lifestyle can have an immense impact on certain health conditions. Big pharma and our own doctors rarely suggest alternative solutions and a holistic approach.
So some celebrity health guru’s are right to try to open our eyes and help us to explore ways to optimise our health and wellbeing. Some of their ideas inspire scientists to research, and if the claims are proven, it could be a big win for everybody.
I believe that we need to accept that we can’t regulate everything. Celebrity “experts” won’t disappear anytime soon. It is useless to fight the phenomenon so we should learn to embrace the possible benefits they might bring. I follow many “fake” experts on social media that inspire me to try new recipes or explore interesting training exercises. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Licensed practitioners do not know everything, and celebrity “experts” can sometimes give us new insights. I believe, in a world where anybody can post almost anything on any platform, the solution lies in our capabilities to think critically and differentiate between quality information sources and fake news.