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Reflections on fitness, wellness, health and more

The dangers of celebrity health and fitness advice

Celebrity chef Pete Evans is never far from controversy. Not satisfied with calling sunscreen poisonous and suggesting mothers should feed their babies camel milk, his advice to a woman with osteoporosis on social media was slammed by doctors, causing even more trouble for the My Kitchen Rules judge.

Evans has been on a one-man mission to take Australia back to the stone age, nutritionally speaking at least, evangelising the health benefits of the paleo diet to all who will listen.

With four books published on the paleo diet and a recently published book on gut health, the line between chef (someone who cooks and prepares food) and nutritionist (a person who studies or is an expert in nutrition) is becoming increasingly blurred, particularly for the public who equate being on television as having authority and expert status.

No degree needed...
If you wanted to publish nutritional advice 20 years ago, you needed to go to university, complete your nutrition coach qualifications, produce scientific research, write articles for peer-reviewed medical journals, complete a PhD and become a recognised expert in your field of study before newspapers and magazines would print your work.

With the rise of social media and blogging platforms, however, it’s now possible for almost anyone to publish their thoughts, advice or opinions on nutrition and have it read by potentially millions of people, and today the term ‘expert’ usually translates to simply being good at marketing your personal brand online.

But should we listen to this celebrity advice, and are these fancy qualifications from big universities really important anyway? There’s overwhelming evidence to suggest that they might be.

From ineffective to just plain dangerous
There’s plenty of health and fitness advice out there online, and not only can a lot of it be ineffective or a complete waste of time and money – it can be downright dangerous. Who could forget the story of conwoman Belle Gibson? She gained international fame for her health blog and app, but was later outed as a liar for falsely claiming she had brain cancer, which she had cured with healthy eating. Or what about the Banana Girl, who advocates eating 51 bananas per day? Or the downright ridiculous mushroom diet plan which did the rounds a few years ago, and was promoted by the likes of Katy Perry?

The truth is that there’ll always be someone out there looking to make a quick buck by claiming to have all the answers when it comes to healthy eating. Yet we believe these celebs and bloggers should be more responsible when dishing out advice to potentially impressionable followers.

Solid advice and common sense
Admittedly, the fitness industry in particular is one that has been known to be occasionally ahead of the scientific research. Bodybuilders were consuming large amounts of protein long before the scientists were able to catch up and explain exactly why and how a high protein diet helped with building muscle - but with new technologies allowing our knowledge of the human body to progress faster than ever before, our advice would be to always take any advice that’s not backed by science with a grain of salt.

Stick with principles that are known to work for a broad spectrum of people, and have been proven over time. Ensure you check the qualifications of any personal trainer or nutritionist you work with. And as always, listen to your own body and use common sense when it comes to your nutrition.
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