Something that has become increasingly apparent recently is the condescending nature of some people in the nutrition and fitness world. As a newly qualified PhD of Exercise Physiology having undertaken 8 years of study, and as a bikini competitor currently prepping myself for my second show, I feel comfortable in presenting a relatively fair viewpoint on this topic *notes potential risk of sounding holier than thou*.
We’ve all seen it. Certain people mocking others for their choices, let’s say, eating ‘clean’ foods instead of taking a more flexible approach, when ‘scientifically’ IIFYM makes far more sense (at very least on paper). Or those people that have competed for years, mocking others for taking a more flexible approach and claiming their coaches would never allow it, implying they’re far superior by making life harder for themselves. Let’s just say, I’ve been known to have a few ‘foot in mouth’ moments, and sometimes when you’re particularly riled by something that you think is ridiculous, it’s hard to avoid sounding patronising to those who may not have as much knowledge surrounding nutrition as they should have (given their likely role in selling supplements / ‘nutrition’ products / coaching clients). But there’s a difference between using intelligent language to express your opinion and deliberately belittling the choices of others because you simply can’t empathise with them from behind that computer / lab bench / pipette. Just because you #phd and #science in no way means that you’re either wiser or better, than those who skipped the years of debt and tax dodging that some of us endured / enjoyed (delete as appropriate). On that note, #science on a selfie does not remove the fact that it is still a selfie. And you are still looking for external validation. Much like the girl in her mismatched bikini showing her recent fat loss on her juicing diet. And the guy pouting with his pants on showing his #gains in the bathroom mirror. And me when I upload my proudest progress shots.
Don’t get me wrong, those uneducated, unqualified and inexperienced ‘nutritionists’ and ‘prep coaches’ rile me just as much (ok a little more) and contribute an equal (if not greater) proportion of negativity to this industry. I fully encourage (and have been known to) questioning of these people, and if presenting evidence to argue with their statements appears condescending, then so be it. If those claiming to be ‘evidence-based’ coaches struggle to construct a social media update without spelling mistakes and irrelevant arguments, it’s only fair to question their ability to read and critically analyse scientific research. If they present YouTube videos as evidence for gluten free diets promoting fat loss (yes this happened to me only yesterday), or refer you to websites with no nutritional information regarding the magic pill they’re selling, then I fully condone bombarding them with scientific back-up. But this is far removed from making fun of the 19 year old bikini girl having a meltdown because she’s hungry, tired and missing her oats, suggesting that she doesn’t have what it takes.
Those ‘professionals’ that mock competitors for ranting about tiredness, food porn and hunger. I don’t care that you’ve read a book that says flexible dieting in a calorie deficit is achievable. I don’t care that you think that, because you’ve seen some world-class athlete in better shape than the bikini girl in the street, that means they’re doing it wrong or moaning unnecessarily. If you haven’t done it, you really don’t know and this voids any right you think you have to imply that someone doesn’t have what it takes. I have an awesome practitioner and academic friend, who has never stepped on stage, but because he preps clients, he got himself stage ready so he could fully empathise (and look pretty decent too). Unless you’ve done it, I struggle to accept the negative spins you put on others’ efforts.
Academics and researchers offer a vast level of knowledge that some of us are lucky enough to contribute to and be surrounded by on a daily basis. They provide evidence that is the foundation of what most practitioners and coaches do, or at least the practitioners and coaches that you can trust. But just because someone has read 50 papers surrounding the benefits (or lack of) (delete as you see fit) of fasted cardio for example, doesn’t mean they understand or empathise with the process. I recently shared a great paper documenting the competition prep of a physique athlete which suggested that diet and training doesn’t have to be taken to the extreme in order to achieve the desired outcome for stage. That doesn’t mean that, if I see a physique guy struggling in the gym performing excessive cardio on an empty stomach, I’ll tell him he’s not cut out for this because the science says it should be easy.
The link between academics, researchers, practitioners, coaches and ultimately athletes should be one that we are encouraging and improving upon. Adopting the patronising attitude that some do (and in my experience it tends to be those less well read and early in their careers, whereas field experts present the opposite attitude) only serves to distance you from those you are ultimately aiming to help.