READ TIME: 20-25 Minutes
Each day when I sit down to filter through my direct messages on Instagram I find that they are filled with a mixture of different subjects. People cooking TMPM recipes and tagging me in photos, questions about recipes, lecherous guys from the eastern hemisphere who think I am a girl, but most commonly, questions about specific topics in fitness and nutrition. It’s awesome that so many of you trust me enough to come to me to help answer your questions but I want all of you to know how you can answer some of these on your own, for your own sake. I’m more than happy to answer them but true knowledge only comes when you understand the topics yourself. While telling you my answer may meet your immediate needs, you’d almost always be better off researching the question for yourself.
But I know, that takes time and it’s boring and it’s not as easy. I get it. Who wants to read through novel-length journal articles about one tiny little pathway in human metabolism so that you can better understand how something works? Not me, yuck. Luckily we live in the era of social media where anyone can be an expert and the answers to all of your questions are only hidden behind a nice lass in a matching pair of yoga pants and sports bra. Move over science, mami has some green supplements to sell.
There is so much information out there. It is hard to know what or who to believe. I am in the same boat as many of you when it comes to seeing info on social media, everything is so tempting and flashy. Occasionally I’ll take a gander at the #mealprepmanual hashtag to see what people are people are posting. Much to my surprise there are thousands upon thousands of posts using the hashtag but as I was scrolling I began to notice a common theme among some of the images. It was a cartoonish style of infographic, such as this one:
Incredible. I couldn’t hit the follow button any faster after I saw this revolutionary piece of content. Had this account not posted this image it is entirely possible that I would have gone to my grave not knowing this tidbit of information. As I scrolled farther and more of these infographics began to pop up, one watermark seemed to be repeated on many of the posts. I had to check it out for myself. It was Holistic Ali. I would have no idea at this time that the great Holistic Ali, in all of his infinite wisdom, was about to become my savior for all things fitness and nutrition.
A Corpulent Conundrum
Thank God I found Holistic Ali. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. What a story he has and what an inspiration he is. Austrian immigrant. Businessman. 7-time Mr. Olympia. Governor of California. 1991 Oscars Best Actor snub for his leading role as Kimble in Kindergarten Cop. A hero he is and after finding Ali, I knew he was going to help me become more like Arnold.
Arnold at his peak was a strapping 6’3″, 235 pounds, and single digits in the body fat department. Unfortunately for me I was none of those things. In fact I had a long way to go. You see, Papa was a touch rubenesque.
If I wanted to be like Arnold I had to shed some LB’s. How was I supposed to do that though?
I thought, “I could get liposuction and have a doc suck the fat right out of me.”
But that seemed like it would be too expensive and involved. I could watch my food intake and consistently consume less energy than I burn through my daily living and activity.
“No.” I thought, “That’s too obviously the correct answer.”
I needed Ali. I was out of ideas but luckily Ali wasn’t so I went to his page and searched for guidance. That’s when I came across this image:
My whole life was a lie. I couldn’t believe it. All that I needed to lose weight was a night with a 40 of Milk of Magnesia and the toilet and I’d be in business. It felt great knowing that I wasn’t actually fat and I was only a couple of bowel movements away from being shredded. Thanks Ali!
A Pathetic Pectoralis
Now that I had taken a 20 pound brown it was time to tackle my next struggle. Everyone who is familiar with the mystique of Arnold knows that he was famous for his side chest pose. It was rumored that his pecs were so large that he could balance a can on top of them while doing the classic pose. This presented a huge problem for me. I didn’t have mountainous pecs. My pecs were not mountainous at all. Cavernous would have been a better adjective.
Building muscle isn’t easy. It took Arnold two decades to build his figure. I didn’t have that kind of time. I wanted my side chest pose to rival peak Arnold’s right now. But how? I could, you know, experiment with las drogas but that would be illegal and I don’t need to be arrested another time. Once again I was stuck, but thank the lord Ali had entered my life because I’m sure as you could have guessed, he had the answer. And that he did, check out this bad boy:
Wow! An olive oil breast massage! I’m going to need a lot of olive oil. Luckily for me I watched loads of Supermarket Sweep reruns in the late 90s/Early 2000s and I knew exactly where the giant jugs of Bertolli Olive Oil were in the store. Now, this is not exactly the same because Arnold’s pectoral greatness came from growing muscle and mine from an olive oil boob job but I didn’t care.
It was time for me to lather my chest in olive oil because Ali said so. What mechanism this works by to grow one’s breast is beyond me and the betting odds on finding a scientist who could explain it to you are 10000 to 1 but that didn’t matter. I was going to try it and guess what? It worked as you can see from these pictures here:
A Bodacious Burning
I had almost reached my final form, I was becoming Arnold. At this point the suits at NBC might as well just name me the new host of the Celebrity Apprentice because Arnold and I are indistinguishable. With the help of Ali I had lost 20 pounds overnight, grown my chest through olive oil massage, and was just one step away from taking my own Mr. Olympia title. I had worked for this moment for all of my last week and a half of my life.
It was so close I could taste it. My laxative induced 20 pound weight loss was great but I was still a bit soft. If I was going to truly be like Arnold I would need to lose a little bit more weight. Unfortunately that weight wasn’t going to come from my now barren colon. I needed something more. My new mentor Ali would have the answer to my prayers. And here was that answer:
Huzzah! You can imagine my surprise when I learned just how easy it would be to lose fat. What was I doing thinking that I would have to watch what I ate? It wasn’t about maintaining a calorie deficit at all. I only needed to melt the fat away with hot water in the AM to go from zero to hero. Ali deserves to win the Nobel Prize in Physics for disproving the Laws of Thermodynamics for his work in this post. Truly revolutionary.
I had done it. Thanks to the advice and guidance from Ali I had reached my goal and it wasn’t even hard. Prime Arnold Schwarzenegger had absolutely nothing on me and what a chump he is for putting in all of that time and effort only to have me embarrass all of his hard work with the help of Ali. I’m filming the remake of Kindergarten Cop next week.
Okay But For Real Now
Now that the satirical nonsense is out of the way let’s get down to business. Actually navigating the waters of fitness and nutrition social media isn’t an easy thing to do if you have never had any formal education in the subjects. I am surprised everyday by what people fall victim to believing. How to know who to trust and what to believe is not an easy thing to do. There are smart people out there who hold advanced degrees and can be very convincing in their arguments but they have pigeonholed themselves into a corner of the science that isn’t in agreement with the preponderance of the evidence. Here are some ways to help you vet individuals on social media for their credibility:
1. Do they speak about topics in fitness and nutrition in absolutes?
“You have to count macros if you want to be healthy.”
“Nobody should be doing deadlifts because they are bad for your back.”
If you see a person making statements like these, be skeptical. Everyone is unique and no two people will have the same exact roadmap to success. You must allow for room to have nuance.
2. Do they site their information from peer reviewed sources?
Bold claims need to be backed up by real evidence. Anecdotes are great but they are not real science. If a person or a social media page is going to make claims (like the ones in the images I included above) they need to be supported by science. This means evidence from peer reviewed sources that have ideally been replicated to enhance their credibility.
3. Do their peers respect them? Are respected people in the same area of science in agreement with what they are saying?
Do other people who work in the same field respect the individual making the claim? Every so often you’ll se an M.D. (Dr. Oz is an easy one to pick on) come out and say something crazy and other doctors will distance themselves from that individual. This is an easy way for you to measure credibility.
4. Do they fraternize with other known quacks?
Often times people who fall into pseudoscience get lost into echo chambers and group up with others with similar beliefs. If a person that is consistently making bold claims becomes friendly with a person who has shown their cards as a known snake oil salesman, it’s a dead giveaway that they probably aren’t a good person to take information from.
5. Are they selling some kind of obscure “medicine” or supplement?
This one is pretty obvious. I’m sure many of you see these people on instagram all of the time. The people that convince you that you have a problem so they can sell you a product to fix it.
“Are you bloated after you eat? Try my proprietary digestive enzyme.”
“This supplement has _________(insert big sciency sounding word here) added, which has been proven to help you shred fat”
Things like that.
6. What are their beliefs on topics in health and nutrition that are not controversial and widely accepted to be true?
People who argue against eating a balanced diet. Anti-vaxxers. People who discount the principles of energy balance. These are all red flags for an untrustworthy figure.
How Do I Research Topics For Myself?
There is no way we can all be expected to know every piece of information related to our training and nutrition. That would be impossible. However, if this is something that you care about you should be working to continually expand your knowledge. When armed with the proper information you are the best person to take care of yourself after all. Having a background in the basic sciences certainly helps when trying to understand more complex topics in these fields. However, if you are committed to learning, you can certainly do it so don’t be alarmed.
Start with one idea. Don’t try to learn it all at once. Thankfully, nearly every idea in fitness and nutrition can be related to another and built upon. Creating a database of scientists and science aggregators you trust can be an easy way to assist you when it comes to finding information. Instead of reading all of the published science yourself, you can rely on your trusted database to help you. The experts are out there. Many of them are on social media now which wasn’t the case as little as 5 years ago. One way to find these people is to preform a search on Pubmed for your topic and find authors that have multiple publications in that area. Google their name and find their lab. Read about their research interests.
For example, when I want to learn about something regarding muscular hypertrophy, Dr. Brad Schoenfeld is my go to guy. If I have a question regarding hypertrophy, I trust that he will lead me to the answer. Say I want to learn about rest intervals for optimizing muscular growth. I’ll go to Pubmed, search for “muscle growth AND rest intervals Schoenfeld” and if there are any results, they will appear.
You can then read through those papers to help you develop an answer. I pay attention to the corresponding authors as well. The corresponding authors often times have different specialities and you can add them to your database to be referenced for future questions in other areas. Once your database becomes large enough, you’ll be able to google your questions, followed by your trusted adviser, and more often than not they will have some kind of information somewhere on the internet.
Follow these people on social media, many of them share their work and want to help spread good information. They also share the work of their colleagues which will help you expand that database. Many of these individuals are leaders in their respective fields and there is no better source to go to in order to find answers.
A Note on the Instagram Infographic
The infographic style of post is insanely popular in our health conscious space of social media. They tend to get more engagement than other types of posts which makes it more likely that creators will post them. Some of these posts have great information. Some of them, like the ones pictured above, are dog shit. In my observation, the cartoon style infographics with phrases like “Did you know?” or “What happens when” that look like clipart and come from pages with handles like CaloriesFix or HealthyToday almost always contain information that isn’t true.
Take a look at the page that is posting these images and see what else they share. If the page has a human behind it, see what you can learn about that person. Do they have any credibility? Who are they? What do they do? Are they qualified to make the claims they are making?
For whatever reason these terrible pages use the #mealprepmanual hashtag on a lot of their images so I have to look at them in my feed. I am blown away by how many people fall for the misinformation they put in their content. To finish up this post lets have a discussion about the pictures I included above.
This page has 882,000 followers. HOW? WHO IS FALLING FOR THIS? This post is so god awfully absurd. Just think about what it says for 4 seconds. “Most people aren’t fat but they can have between 10-20lbs of toxin sitting in their colon.” If you read that and your bullshit detector didn’t immediately go off then we have some work to do.
Try and think of all of the people you have heard of that lost 20 pounds by “cleansing their colon”. The answer is zero.
Captain Obvious must have made this one. Who is looking at this and saying to themselves “yeah, this is great content. I like this page.”??? Not wrong but come on.
This one made me laugh dude. The thought of people dousing themselves each night in olive oil like they are a Cornish hen on Christmas morning is hysterical. Sure, this might moisturize your skin but it isn’t making your breast tissue grow. That makes no sense.
The best of the bunch was definitely this one though. Implying that drinking hot water will melt the fat deposits in your body is an all time great. WHO HAS BEEN HIDING THIS INFORMATION FROM US FOR SO LONG?!?
By this logic taking a hot shower will also do the same thing. Think of how many people drink coffee every morning. Coffee is hot water. If it were true we’d have an enormous sample size to pull from.
Use your brains. Think about these things critically for a beat before you take them as bible. It should be pretty easy to pick out what is true and what isn’t. If you ask yourself, “by what mechanism would this work?” you can probably work through answering it fairly easily. And if you can’t, that is when you can rely on your database of trusted advisers to help you find the answer.
Godspeed my friends. It gets crazier out there every day.