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. Jill McLaughlin said…
    You go girlfriend Meghan! I think you are such a brave inspiration. You are awesome sauce?
  2. Lesley Hadrill said…
    This is so awesomely said Meghan! I love your argument against the double bind study challenge, we are so often confronted with in this field! Healing is often not scientifically measure able or "seen"and is sometimes subjective, just like falling in love. We all need reminders of this at times during own own health journeys that healing is a synergistic, complex, supercalafragalistic inner dance of everything you mentioned- sleep, movement, the quality of our relationships, stress level balance, diet and attitude towards it, quality of food, absence of toxins and lastly, openess to different healing modalities. What works for one, may not work for another. Thanks Meghan, and thank you to Doctor Steve for sharing your view too, and being the seed for this discussion!
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Thank you Lesley for being such a delightful and bright part of this community!
  3. Kelly Clark said…
    I always find it amazing some people think you can only be educated in lecture halls with textbooks other people have written; the learning we do within four walls is a foundation to build on through our own experiences and experiments. Expertise come with doing your 10 000 hours (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell) out there in the world fueled by your passion. Your work is incredible Meghan. The fact you are also able to package and share it through so many accessible and fun formats is next level. And then your optimism is a whole new level again. I had an eating disorder and am working on sharing the 10 things that got me over it. But I keep hearing a voice in the back of my mind say "but you're not a doctor" (maybe it's "Doctor Steve"?!) But for the 10 years I was sick I didn't want to talk to a doctor, I wanted to speak to someone who had been there and back. I wanted proof it could be done. What you've offered to people with Crohn's Disease and anyone who wants to experience all the positives of eating real food, etc. is not only a solution but hope through your shining example. And it is incredible what hope can achieve.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Thank you Kelly and you the best expert there is. Keep on doing your important work. Stories will always inspire people on, a human level, more than statistics and studies.
  4. Staci said…
    What's the worst that can happen if we eat processed food, move less, smile less, sleep less, take in more chemicals, and pay no attention to our food or to our lives? When faced with having to defend a healthy lifestyle, I often imagine an argument for the opposite. It's good for a laugh. :)
  5. Jaime R Tracy said…
    My niece, now in her late 40s, was diagnosed with crohn's at 16. After suffering for years, she devised her own eating plan in her early 20s. No wheat, rice, or other grains, no dairy except homemade yogurt made with goats milk, no sugar or processed foods of any kind. Only organic fruits and vegetables, lentils, honey, coconut milk, almond milk, free range eggs and organic no anabiotic meats. Her doctors were so impressed that they asked for a copy of her diet to help other patients. She has had some relapses as her Crohn's is severe has had to have some intestine removed and is on an immunosuppressant. But she's able to go years without a flareup as long as stress and other illnesses are controlled. I have hadIBS since I was a toddler and I find that if I stick to a variation of her diet I feel much better. Seems she was Paleo before Paleo was in style.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      That's amazing and so wonderful of her docs for helping her also empower other patients.
  6. Kelly said…
    I LOVE this article. As a student of nutrition, I even have close people to me question the whole concept. In a lot of cases, people are scared to look at the other side, or they trust the government/companies of world to not poison them. They will only accept this if they're willing to look at it from this perspective.
  7. Briana said…
    Well said :-) Keep up the great work!
  8. Martina said…
    I think that people get their feathers ruffled when people suggest something to be true that cannot be proven in a scientific study, because of the many charlatans out there that are only interested in helping themselves and not other people. I know the importance of evidence based practice and try to make my own decisions based on it. That's often how I end up questioning a paradigm! However, I know that there are some environments that are just near impossible to replicate in a study. That's what I try to remember in these types of situations. I know that you're a real person (I got to meet you!) and will keep enjoying your tasty recipes without ever thinking that your own experiences that you've shared with us aren't valid.
  9. Ali said…
    I love how you said the trolls don't need to be fed. So true since they feed themselves on negativity and fear. People fear what is different and what they don't understand. Perhaps Dr Steve is afraid of being alone. Because if we all (myself include, the desire is there, I'm just not motivated quite yet ?) embraced your approach, he would see a significant drop in his office visits. Just a thought ? Xoxoxo Ali
  10. Lisa Cantkier said…
    Celiac disease is one example (of many) where nutrition can be a matter of life or death. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is one that IS based on scientific research, and has been proven to be effective for those with celiac and Crohn's. Much of what you promote, Meghan ties in well with the SCD and although you don't need to prove anything, a great deal of what you recommend to people naturally touches on SCD. So if that doctor (or anyone else) needs "science" then they should know the science is there (plus there is a lot of science out there on the free radical theory of disease). More importantly, eating unprocessed foods from nature is the way eating is intended to be. Science strays from nature and that is frightening.

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

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