So those of you who orbit in the instagram fitness/nutrition universe along with me may have noted the recent controversy surrounding ‘The Carnivore Diet’.
Yup, that’s right, a diet advocating essentially only eating meat (and possibly eggs).
Now you don’t need to be a genius to work out that ANY DIET advocating extremes of ONLY EATING ONE THING or cutting out other major food groups is problematic.
The Nerdy Nutrition Science Bit – why eating only meat is ridiculous
Why? Because we humans need a variety of not only the major building blocks for our bodies, macronutrients – protein, healthy fats and carbs, but we also need the smaller stuff in smaller amounts, micronutrients – all the little vitamins, minerals, things like iron or selenium or Vitamin A etc (see books The Food Medic by Hazel Wallace, Jr Doctor or ReNourish by Rhiannon Lambert, nutritionist).
A picture of optimum health involves a balanced plate, as advocated by Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert – which means eating a rainbow, the easiest way of achieving your micronutrient goals – focus on different coloured fruits and veggies! – and a balance of the macronutrients – palm size of protein, thumb of healthy fat, firstful of carbs (ideally things like wholegrains – brown rice, quinoa etc).
The carnivore diet cannot provide you with these micronutrients, which include antioxidants and phytochemicals, the stuff in certain fruits and veggies which helps influence your epigenome to avoid cancer and other serious health issues.
The carnivore diet is also not providing people with complex carbohydrates, the main nutrient our brains use for energy, not to mention key to the production of seratonin (tryptophan can’t synthesize to make seratonin without carbs people!), often known as the happy hormone, and often considered to be lacking in people with depression.
The carnivore diet is also missing fibre, key for the internal digestive system and weight management, and a critical part of a healthy diet.
The diet has been widely condemned by nutritionists and health experts. So please, please… don’t jump on this ridiculous bandwagon!!
What’s wrong with believing anecdotal evidence?
“Mrs X tried the carnivore diet and within weeks her cancer was cured!”
“I tried the carnivore diet and my psoriasis cleared right up – nothing worked for years before that!”
“I tried everything to lose weight but only the carnivore diet worked!”
So let’s look at anecdoctal evidence. Someone says something worked for them and people rush out and try it because we all want an easy mircale that provides perfect health – it’s too boring to acknowledge we have it well within our power to exercise, eat balanced meals and control lifestyle factors like stress and sleep!
Anecdotal evidence is an issue because:
- They cannot positively know what caused the change without having tested it logically and systematically against everything else: this would mean only having one variable, for an experimental period of time, and keeping everything else EXACTLY THE SAME. Then doing the same to test other factors. To establish ONE THING as a root cause / cure, you need to eliminate the confusion of other factors. So if their sleep, stress, diet, job, commute, anything changed within that period, it has the potential to skew results. How do you KNOW the diet changed things? You can’t reliably separate it from other variables. You also ideally need a control group, and a group which has variables tested to see how patterns emerge, and whether correlations exist at all.
- Even if you do test out variables as systematically as possible using the scientific method, you are a sample size of ONE. This is NOT ENOUGH to establish something as true for the rest of humanity. Sample size is key! 1,2,10, 20… they’re all pretty small groups when you think about it!
- Additionally, we’re emotionally and cognitively biased towards people we know, so if our best friend says ‘OMG I tried this and it worked for me!’ we’re much more likely to not be questioning and critical and just take things as true, which is an issue!
On a slightly separate note, I find it so frustrating when people say they’ve tried ‘everything’ but just can’t lose weight – this usually means every fad diet, and therefore it’s no wonder! They’re not healthy, they’re not sustainable, they encourage deprivation-binge cycles and disordered approaches to eating, and typically once they’re over people return to their ‘old’ ways without ever wondering if their ‘old’ ways were this issue in the first place! Their version of trying everything doesn’t usually include the unsexy but simple and EFFECTIVE balanced eating, movement, and moderation with treats.
The final thing I wanted to touch on in this post is trolling. Rhiannon Lambert is a highly educated, highly qualified professional, and she came out on social media to denounce this diet (quite rightly!) because it’s making dangerous false promises, not to mention encouraging unhealthy eating habits.
The trolling she received was not ‘healthy debate’ or ‘offering an alternative perspective’. It was personal. It was vindictive. It was unnacceptable. I know that ‘keyboard warriors’ are supposedly emboldened by being hidden behind a screen to say things they’d never say to someone’s face, I know technology ‘de-personalises’ things – but that’s no excuse, not in a million years, to troll, attack, bully and dissect an individual, full stop.
Further, in this case Rhiannon was RIGHT and putting forward a highly qualified professional opinion (although note even people who are WRONG deserve to be treated with respect and dignity!) backed up by PLENTYYYYY of scientific evidence.
If you want to debate in a healthy way, don’t shout, don’t troll, don’t attack. Harness legitimate evidence (so in this Carnivore Diet situation, studies – although there aren’t any credible ones that support it, so you’ll have a hard time), reason logically and calmly, and while being adversarial is okay in THEORETICAL terms – argue with VIEWPOINTS, attack VIEWPOINTS, not people.
Plenty of other nutritionists have come out with exactly the same view, but Rhiannon’s public profile makes her a target for abuse and it’s totally unacceptable.
Are we done now…?
I hope this cleared up a few points on the Carnivore Diet, and why I 100% believe you shouldn’t be following ANY fad diets – as ever, I’m not a qualified nutritionist, but I take my views and everything I’ve written above from my nutritionist who is INSANELY qualified, from other nutritionists, from my personal studies and from scientific journals.
I hope this also highlights why you need to be smart about ‘anecdotal evidence’ and recognise it’s actually just a story and doesn’t prove anything!
And finally, it shouldn’t need to be said, but it seems that it really does in today’s day & age – trolling, bullying and harassing people is just not on kids.
Sending tonnes of love to you all, and to Rhiannon, and here’s hoping that we can share and spread POSITIVITY and arm ourselves with facts and information! Positing new ideas, theories, hypotheses is TOTALLY OKAY but before citing anything as true we need to DO THE RESEARCH!