How tuned in are you to your needs? Do you know what your best eating style is? Chances are good that you have been confused and discouraged, trying to keep up with the latest nutrition research in hopes of nailing that perfect diet that will allow you to maintain an ideal weight for life, never get dementia (my personal biggest fear) or heart disease or cancer or . . . Your mood would even be perfect and you would sleep like a baby, if only you could keep up with the latest and greatest nutrition headlines and discoveries.
I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s just not that simple. And yet, it’s really not that complicated either, so take heart! You can find a style of eating that suits your body, mind, and spirit well enough to maximize your personal health and happiness for a lifetime.
A recent New York Times editorial, “More Evidence That Nutrition Studies Don’t Always Add Up” tells of how well-known nutrition researcher Brian Wansink has lost credibility due to many retracted scientific articles in major medical journals. His reported results and methodology have been called into serious question. The article goes on to point out why many studies are suspect, and how bias and statistical manipulation of data helps explain why many of us are left scratching our heads in confusion about what to believe. One day saturated fat is fine; the next it’s not. What the heck?!
Here’s what you need to know when you read the next headline about nutrition “news”:
- Statistical evaluations that look at dietary habits of large populations of people and their health profiles as a group can show associations, but that does not mean there is a “cause and effect” relationship between the variables. Data can be manipulated to “prove” all kinds of associations, and personal bias by researchers can easily cause “results” to lean a certain way. Remember . . . association is not the same as cause and effect.
- Eating is a highly human and personal activity. Getting people to recall accurately what they ate even a week ago is not always possible.
- People are very different, biologically and behaviorally. A study may sound convincing, but does it apply to you? That is a good question to ask.
- Variables in life that affect health can interfere with study results. Exercise, stress levels, smoking, etc. can get in the way of seeing clearly what effect nutrition alone is having.
- Studying human beings in a controlled environment is costly, so most controlled studies are on shockingly small groups of people. A big question might be “Are the results of this study on this small group of people applicable to my body?”
It’s no wonder we feel like we are watching ping pong balls hit back and forth when we read the latest nutrition study results or hear the current TV “nutrition scoop.” I think it is interesting, and sometimes it is helpful, to read about the latest supposed breakthrough in nutrition science, but we should always keep in mind the limitations of these studies. There is still no study that should cause us to ignore the valuable messages we get when we listen to our own body messages and trust that maybe in some cases we know best. With time, you will begin to find your personal style and feel confident that you are doing the “right” thing for you.