I get asked questions about health, fitness and nutrition all the time. My answers usually start off with “it depends,” a caveat that seems to be terribly annoying to a lot of people. The truth is that the human body is complicated, and medical science is a work in progress. What follows are snippets from three real conversations that perfectly illustrate why “it depends” probably should be used more often, and broad generalizations and the latest pop science should be used far less.
The arch support fallacy
I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was interested in purchasing some Tom’s shoes for summer. He immediately recoiled and told me that they would be the worst possible shoes for me because of my hip issues. “They have no support!” His reaction was vehement and sincere, but let's take a look at my shoe wearing habits: I wear minimalist sneakers to work. They have a thin(ish) sole and no drop (the heel of the sole is the same thickness as the toe). When I am not at work, I wear flip flops in the summer and uggs in the winter. And pretty much nothing else in between. I have no back pain, no knee pain and my hip dysplasia is a developmental deformation. To tell me to avoid shoes with no support would be like telling me to completely revamp my shoe collection based on overly broad generalizations and not my own personal medical information or physical traits.
Fear-mongering from strangers in the shoe department
I was at Nordstrom Rack on the hunt for buying said Tom’s. I commented on a heel that a lady was trying on. “Those are really cute!” “Oh, but they hurt! It’s so hard to find heels that are comfortable!” I then disclosed my odd predicament, which is the reason my feet usually only don flip flops or uggs: for me, that heels are usually more comfortable than fashion flats. “Well, flats are really bad for your feet!” (Here we go again.) “They have no support!” the lady exclaimed. She then regaled me with her tale of plantar fasciitis and endless PT, and how her shoes were to blame (the fact that she was training for a marathon and ramping up her miles considerably had apparently nothing to do with it). I turned off at this point. Don’t engage. This is a stranger and she won’t hear you anyway.
Which macronutrient do you need to fear today?
I was having a conversation with a confidant of mine and mentioned that my taste buds had shifted their cravings to things that are less sweet and more savory and pungent, such as olives and blue cheese. “Well, if you’re after cheese, you’re craving fats” she said, to which I agreed, and suggested that this is probably a good thing since I haven’t been exercising with as much fervor because of my dysplasia. “I’ve found that for me, it’s better to have a more keto-style diet when I'm not that active” I explained. Her response? (Brace yourselves.) “Well, you have to be careful, because fat can cause heart disease and … yada yada.” I had to go before I could inform her that recent studies have found no link between fat and the undesirable health effects that were once attributed to it. She was giving me advice on outdated information.
The Take Away?
My point in sharing all of this is to urge caution when dispensing or receiving advice in the form of sweeping generalizations. All it takes is for one article that sensationalizes marginal data to go viral, and suddenly the information is used in ways the researchers never intended.
There is still a lot we don't know about the human body, and broad generalizations sometimes do not match individual needs. Keep that in mind next time you ask me a question and my answer starts with “it depends.” I'm really not trying to side step your question.