Thursday, August 15

Cutting Through the Clutter

Over the past year, I've had several conversations with folks about exercise and diet. Friends, family and acquaintances alike all tend to ask me for health-related advice. I take it as a huge compliment; it's flattering to have someone specifically seek you out for your opinion. But why me? I suppose there's a wide variety of reasons we have certain go-to people on different subjects in life.

For one, it's natural to seek information from someone you consider to be a subject matter expert (SME). Whether that person actually is a SME is another issue in itself! I, for one, am continually seeking input and thoughts from others. I'll ask particular colleagues for their take on work-related projects, my mom for feedback on my tennis back-hand and my closest friends for advice on an array of life topics. I try to surround myself with a team of SME's. I have a triathlon coach, a therapist, a mentor and a small group through Church. In my book, the more SME's, the better.

But just because someone knows a lot about a subject doesn't mean you'll always seek their advice. There's an underlying theme that all of the aforementioned SME's have in common: I trust them. No matter how much of an expert someone or some entity is, it's always going to come back to trust. My triathlon coach, Mike, certainly knows a hell of a lot about endurance sports. I know he knows a lot, that's a given. But when Mike told me back in mid-May of this year that I was physically ready to qualify for Boston, despite my longest run having been a mere 11 miles, the knowledge he had only went so far. I had to trust him.

The realm of health and nutrition is daunting, although it shouldn't be. We've torn foods apart resorting to what Michael Pollan refers to as "scientific reductionism," whereby we reduce foods down to their component parts. We look at the individual vitamins, minerals and macronutrients as opposed to the food itself. An orange isn't a fruit, it's the sum total of: sugar, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Unless you're well-versed in organic chemistry, some of the terminology and scientific jargon is downright confusing.

And that's just the beginning. Add on top of that the fact that there are countless health outlets and businesses attempting to make money, trying their hardest to sway your purchase behavior. Food and health marketing is exploding, right in our faces. The research community isn't on the same page either. Some studies claim one thing, while other studies claim another. One doctor says this, another says that. One Registered Dietician thinks this diet is best, another thinks the opposite.

The amount of clutter someone has to cut through to find truth is absolutely ridiculous. Some people just don't even know where to start with health and nutrition. It can certainly be overwhelming. Less than a year ago I was in that exact same boat, and although I'm no where near where I'd like to be in my journey of understanding, I've certainly come a long way. It's at this point I'd like to reiterate something I've said before:
This goes without saying, but I am not a doctor. I am not a biologist, research scientist, physician or nutritionist. Far from it, actually… I work in a commercial function at an airline. Which is why I’ll encourage you to not take my word for it.  Do your own research, and arguably more important, conduct your own self-experiments.
I'm not an expert on nutrition and health, but I do believe I have a firm grasp on my go-to people in this space. It took me a while, but I've found my SME's, and more importantly, I trust them. That trust has been grounded and strengthened in my own experiences. 

There's a hell of a lot of clutter out there, no matter the facet of life: triathlon, religion, tennis, diet, you name it. I don't suspect it will ever go away. It could well undoubtedly get worse. And that is exactly why the goal is to cut straight through it... because by doing so, we can live better forever.

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