There are a lot of “nutrition experts” out there. Everyone fancies themselves a nutrition guru. I see these folks all over the Internet, amateur nutritionologists- they give weight loss advice, they tell people what to include in their diets and what they should absolutely NEVER eat. But here’s the thing. They’re not really nutrition experts. I’m sure that many of them have read everything they possibly can on the Internet about nutrition, I’m sure that they are avid readers and self-experimenters (I won’t say researchers, researchers are in labs) many have taken classes on nutrition, or have a certification in health coaching from an online coaching school… and I’m sure that they truly believe that they are nutrition experts.
The truth is though, that the highest, highest level researchers in the field of nutrition, molecular biology and metabolism– I’m talking people with multiple PhDs and years of research– those people know that they are not nutrition experts either. This is because the fields of nutrition and metabolism are largely mysterious and untapped as of right now. The people with the highest degrees and research backgrounds are the ones who are most willing to admit how little they know about nutrition.
If you are dubious, let’s do a comparison. Here is a list of the classes needed to become a PhD in nutrition and metabolism at Boston University, and here is a list of the classes needed to get a degree from Health Coach Institute. Of note, the PhD in nutrition is a six year program and the coaching certification is a six month program. In looking at the curriculum of the coaching program, only one of those modules is dedicated to actually learning about nutrition, the other five months are coaching and business skills. I don’t necessarily think that health coaching is a bad thing; there are people who can certainly benefit from learning to eat healthy whole foods, how to shop for them, and how to look inside themselves with a support person to help them understand what foods will help them feel their most optimal. But nobody can actually tell you that. That’s because nutrition and metabolism are extremely complicated. For instance, there are some foods that are considered anti-inflammatory that will interact horrifically with one person’s constitution and will be great for another person’s constitution. Not even someone with a PhD in nutrition can tell you what foods are best for your body and how specific molecules will interact with different molecules given any particular time in your cycle, or given how much or little exercise or sleep you’ve gotten, where in the world you live, what genetic components your Grandmother was made of… etc. There are a billion different variables that make up how you will react to a certain food at a certain time. Don’t look outside yourself for nutritional advice, look within.
Here’s what inspired me to write this post.
My client (we’ll call her) Jenny. Jenny’s boyfriend is super into bulletproof coffee (hey we’re in the Bay Area, it’s a thing here..) anyway, her boyfriend swears by drinking his coffee with yak butter and coconut oil and raw cocoa every morning. He swears that it gives him mental clarity and that he can run 15 miles without eating anything other than his coffee drenched in high quality fats. He keeps on convincing Jenny to drink bulletproof coffee with him so that she too can lose weight and feel great. So Jenny keeps drinking bulletproof coffee… and she hates it. It makes her have diarrhea every.single.morning. But she continues to drink it because of what the “experts” on the bulletproof forums say. She feels that she is not doing the right thing by being miserable drinking it, she feels bad about herself. The experts on the forums keep tell her to push through this “break-in” phase where your body has to get used to the coffee and eventually it will habituate. You know what else does that? Laxatives. That’s why laxative dependent bulimia sufferers keep upping their dose of laxatives. Jenny’s body is telling her something pretty significant, yet she’s ignoring it and listening to the advice of “experts.” She doesn’t trust herself or her body, she trusts strangers who don’t live inside of her body.
My other client (we’ll call her) Debbie. Debbie was told by her health coach that if she gave up gluten, grains, sugar and dairy that she would feel amazing. So Debbie gave up all those things and she did in fact feel amazing. Wanna hear another thing about Debbie? She’s a recovering anorexic. So being restrictive in her eating complements her psychological schema of feeling amazing when being totally in control and deprived of food. Oh and the other thing about Debbie… after four years of recovery, she started bingeing and purging again. Her health coach keeps telling her that if she stays away from those four things that her system will heal and that her brain chemistry will even out and she won’t binge and purge anymore. The truth is, when Debbie’s not restricting, her eating disorder is fine. It was her depression that led her to look for nutritional alternatives to Prozac. She then started restricting again, which was of course helpful for her depression because she used her eating disorder to manage her depression symptoms. But now she’s bingeing and purging again. It makes sense… depression is super painful and distressing and anything we can do to make it go away quickly feels better than working with it directly. So the eating disorder comes back and we are distracted from the depression because we have to work on the ED symptomatology. See how that happened?
If you want to work with someone around nutrition, the best way to do it is to start to focus on what your body tells you that you need. Your body knows. YOUR BODY KNOWS!
When two of my girlfriends came back from being in the Peace Corps in Mali for two years, one came back super curvy and the other came back super skinny. They told me that they were both eating the same things (lots of rice) but one lost copious amounts of weight on a low protein high-carbohydrate while the other gained weight on the same diet. Two different ways of processing nutrients.
Sit with your food after you eat it and see how your body feels. Are you energetic? Does your belly hurt? Do your joints hurt? Do you have rashes? Are you sleepy? Are you anxious? Are you happy? Looking within and feeling your feelings both emotional and physical is the only way to know what foods are helping your body and what foods are hurting you. Your body wants you to take care of it, and when you listen carefully to it, it will give you the right messages. Let the wisdom of your body be your nutritional expert.