Inspiration from Meghan

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On Being an “Irresponsible Health Expert”


I get my fair share of hate mail. Mostly it's from Arbonne sellers, Soylent drinkers, Nutella fans, and professionals in the medical/science world who challenge my stance on Ensure, Artificial Sweeteners and the Birth Control Pill. When I signed up to share my opinions on controversial topics or popular paradigms, I knew the hate mail was part of the deal.

There is always room for contradiction, and discussion that is constructive, helpful and insightful. I appreciate this very much. It's always valuable to understand opinions and perspectives of those who come from a different understanding than us. This opens up the opportunity for a conversation and to learn.

And then there are the personal attacks, which usually involve quotes around my being a "nutritionist", "health expert", "cured" - things like that. These usually just cause me to have feelings of compassion. I imagine it would be tough to go through the day taking everything personally, wearing insult like a personality trait ("I'm insulted!") and feasting on offence as if the world is out to abuse your sensibilities. More over, I imagine it's also tough as an expert with extensive training in a specific area to see other experts express opinions that challenge the theories in which you were trained. Insult and offence is a choice - we can take it or leave it. For the first few years in this field, I would respond to these comments and emails, until eventually I realized this was a complete energy drain and a total waste of my time.

I was letting their darkness invade the light I work very hard to channel out in the world.

There is no point in defending oneself to someone who has already decided you are very wrong and taken your statements as a personal attack. These reactions are their stuff and has nothing to do with us. And so my team and I go by the mantra "forgive and delete", and move on with our day. The trolls don't need feeding.

With my new cookbook out in the world, I have embarked on a cross country media adventure and this invites new people into my world. It's awesome! (And if you are one, welcome and you may wish to start over here!). And of course, with that also comes those people who didn't actively choose to come into my world, but were maybe just driving in their car listening to the radio and there I was. A couple of weeks ago I had a syndication of interviews with CBC that were broadcast across the country here in Canada. I received amazing feedback and a very positive response, which was reflected both in notes of gratitude and a spike in book sales.

I also received this note from a doctor. I don't know what type of doctor he is, I just know he made a point of signing is name with Doctor. For the purposes of this post, I'll call him Doctor Steve.

I just heard your piece on CBC radio Saturday morning October 11, 2015.  I find it frustrating when "experts" like you present some of your views as facts when these views are really just your opinion or theories. You mentioned a number of nutritional approaches for which there is no definite evidence - you mentioned them as if they were facts. I feel that "experts" have a responsibility to be clear about  what is fact, what is opinion, what is theory....

We didn't respond to Doctor Steve directly through email. There wasn't much point. Instead, I thought I'd share my response with you. Because you matter to me. I am responding for the sole purpose that I am tired of people, you and me, being told our experience of life isn't enough validation for the choices we make about how we live and eat, because the way we choose to do so contradicts the most recent studies, or most often, just isn't the same as the person who is challenging us.

I would also like to state very clearly that I have never made a claim that one style of eating or one set of nutritional guidelines would absolutely heal, resolve, cure or treat anything. No one ever should.

In my radio interviews, I spoke about how conventional medicine couldn't offer me a solution to cure me of Crohn's Disease. I explained to the host that I took on a healing approach that included cutting out processed foods, gluten and dairy, and changing up my lifestyle habits. I went on to explain that I think the most impactful change I made was in my attitude. I shared my personal experience and the results: that I have remained 100% symptom free for nine years. That is fact. It's also a fact that I am not the only one. Most people who have taken natural approaches to their health, to aim to 'heal' rather than wait it out for a 'cure', just don't have a platform to share their story. There are millions of us.

A Changing Paradigm

As I see it, my opinion if you will, is that there is a huge challenge with our current medical paradigm. For something to be considered 'fact', it needs to be proven in a scientific study. We learned about the scientific method in grade school. You have a theory, a hypothesis, you create a method to test it, reducing or eliminating all variables except the one you are testing, and then you have the control group. You run your experiment and then assess the results. The gold standard in evidence based medicine is to have these studies show, beyond any doubt or error, that the variable being tested proved something beyond the control (or placebo).

The challenge with this method, however, is that not everything that works for our health can be distilled down and proven in this way. As well, as more and more chemicals enter our environment, the conditions we are dealing with are becoming increasingly complicated, common and unexplainable by peer-reviewed, double blind studies.  We can't control for everything when it comes to health and nutrition, especially as it relates to natural healing. See, healing isn't the same as popping a pill and having all of your symptoms seem to disappear. Healing isn't always measurable in the same way that medicine is. The cause and effect isn't as clear cut.

Healing unto itself is a variable approach, something that can't always be proven or replicated in a lab setting because what worked for you may not work for me. Most of all, a healing protocol is never going to pass that gold standard of double blind placebo studies because when we look at healing a whole person - not just eliminating the symptoms - each and every one of us will have varying results based on more than just the specific intervention itself. And likely, that protocol is going to shift and shimmy around as we continue tuning in.

Healing isn't a single prong approach, popping a pill, and carrying on with things. To fully heal, we need to take into account our diet, for sure, but also the quality of our sleep, how much we're moving, our interactions with nature, our interactions with each other, our means of processing stress, our levels of worry and anxiety, blood sugar levels, allergies and sensitivities, toxic load in the body, nutritional profile, genetics, and attitude about our health and about life. In short, we each need to design our own UnDiet approach to our health.

Real Food + Happiness Always Wins

I don't ever like to get into the game of defending myself, however Doctor Steve did state that I gave nutritional advice where there is no definite evidence. Now, this accusation, I can only attribute to his ignorance of the field of nutrition. The only strict nutritional advice I ever give is to eat real food, that has as few chemicals in it and has had minimal processing, meaning nutrients were neither removed, nor synthetic versions added.

And here is evidence, a study that reviewed 400 studies:

The weight of evidence strongly supports a theme of healthful eating while allowing for variations on that theme. A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention and is consistent with the salient components of seemingly distinct dietary approaches.

Katz, David, and SL Meller. "Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?" - Annual Review of Public Health, 35(1):83. N.p., 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

(There is of course also evidence of improvement of IBD with removal of gluten here and here, as just two examples.)

But even still, let's for a minute pretend that there wasn't any scientific evidence at all for eating real food. Let's also pretend there are no scientific studies that have proven our thoughts, exercise routine, stress levels, relationships, cleanliness of our water, and exposure to toxins affect our health - wouldn't we know this anyway? Isn't it common sense that what we use to feed ourselves and how we live would either build health in the body or disease?

Is it really irresponsible of me as an "expert" to inspire you to tune in to how you feel on a daily basis, and make lifestyle choices that promote your own health?

What's the worst that can happen if we eat real food, support sustainable community initiatives, move more, smile more, sleep more (if we need it), take in less chemicals, and pay attention not just to our food but to our lives? The worst that can happen is that nothing changes. Nothing at all.

But what's the best that can happen from doing this?

The best is that we live a healthy and awesome life, enjoying the process as we dive deep into ourselves, become empowered with knowledge, and find fulfillment in the process of fuelling our lives.

What's the worst that can happen by eating real food? via @MeghanTelpner #UnDietLife

Photo: Documentographer for The UnDiet Cookbook

92 Responses to “On Being an “Irresponsible Health Expert””

  1. Erin said…
    I was given a Crohn's diagnosis about 6 years ago. The doctor recommended prednisone. I declined and cleaned up my diet instead. When I told him what I was doing, he was surprised and not convinced that it would help. I have not needed to see him since, because I have been symptom free ever since.
  2. Noel said…
    I'm also surprised to hear about all of the hate mail! I understand people have emotional attachments to their processed food and cheap, chemical-laden products, but is anyone really so defensive of something we all know isn't great for our health? There will always be trolls I suppose, but even if you are an "expert" rather than an Expert it seems silly to bash your message of healthy, happy living. You never promised anyone a miracle cure, but you have inspired healthier choices and changed lives for the better. I hope you continue to forgive and delete and spread your message. This blog has helped me manage my Ulcerative Colitis med-free for years and I will always be grateful to have found it. I'm sure my improved quality of life can't be measured in a lab, but I for one couldn't care less. Thank you for all that you do!
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Hi Noel and thank you for your comment. I am so thrilled and honored to know that what I share here has helped you too!
  3. jo said…
    Meghan thanks for being vulnerable enough to share with the world your joy. We all hold our own power to good health and living. I just love your work.
  4. Alisha said…
    I am a scientist, and I think there is an enormous misconception in the medical community that studies provide proof. Studies either show a correlation or show that a hypothesis was false. Scientists (dare I say good scientists) spend their entire working lives proving their theories are false and never finding "proof," never being "right." It is the only career I know of where your job is to actively look for your ideas to be wrong. Personal experience is absolutely valid. Thank you for continuing to share your message.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Thank YOU for sharing your insight and perspective. And for being so open-minded in what I am sure is a very challenging field.
  5. Ann said…
    Well said Meghan! I have been a member of your community for a few years now and have always found your passion for a healthy lifestyle and optimized nutrition to be spot on for my health challenges.......I no longer have IBS since going gluten free (and I did that before the study came out). There would be more clinical evidence on nutrition (and a much healthier population) if more studies were funded.....but most of the funding sadly goes to big pharma. Thank-you for all that you are and all that you do. xo
  6. Tara Miller said…
    Really wonderful post, thanks Meghan! :)
  7. Sabine said…
    I don't think what you propose is ground breaking but your approach and suggestions are fresh and much needed! Haters will always hate and I'm sure some experts (especially academia) must envy you for your charisma and ability to produce so much fun as well as rich material. We love you Meghan and Josh and to all the haters out there: we can think for ourselves, some of us even have degrees in health/related topics therefore we are not being manipulated ! xxx
  8. Elizabeth said…
    Hi Megan, I too am surprised you get hate mail. I guess I shouldn't be as no matter what you read on the internet that gives a comment space you are sure to find people spouting hate & disagreement. Your post is a good one & I agree that eating whole foods & moving your body as well as your attitude to life gives you the best fighting chance for a healthy life. I am still a work in progress as far as diet goes although I have eliminated most processed foods from my diet as well as gluten but still have to move more. I have Celiac Disease which depends on a healthy diet free from gluten & I am a senior so I really shouldn't waste too much time getting on the program should I?
  9. Juliette said…
    It is so unfortunate that clinical trials and double blind studies have taken the place of lived experience and a holistic approach to wellness. Criticizing someone's expertise because you don't happen to agree with the information they are sharing is small minded and petty. If practitioners started working together rather than getting caught up in their own "expertise" the world would be a lot healthier place. I think it is fabulous that you are sharing all of this helpful and incredibly valuable information with the world, and while it is unfortunate that haters gonna hate, the positive impact that you are helping people achieve in their lives is evidence of of its importance. Kudos to you for keeping going with joy and spirit in tact in the face of this ridiculous negativity!
  10. Laurie said…
    Just received your new book. Just as lovely and informative as your first (still trying to make the inside of my fridge look like yours...getting there). Your sparkle, compassion and ability to make nutrition understandable - and perhaps more importantly - non-judgmental is much appreciated. Keep doin' what you are doin'.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Thank you Laurie... And my fridge hasn't looked like that since! Always too much cooking going on to keep it perfect.

Before you post your comment, please note that I am unable to offer nutritional advice or recommendations via my blog.

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