Hard Lessons Re-learned

Updated 10.11.2014; reformatted 9.19.2015
In which I explain how I relearned an old lesson: NEVER accept information at face value.

Check, check and recheck and yet...

Every source online about earning a living while blogging discusses the need to produce regular compelling content. This is only a blog in the sense that I write on whatever interests me on a given day, and while I would like to earn a living expounding here, the format is not that of a blog. There is a contact form by which readers can contact me, but I do not have a comment section, having long believed that comment sections overall generate more heat than light— a position becoming more common seemingly as many blogs now do not have comment sections, or moderate comments closely.

I've written about my tendency to procrastinate, but my paucity of output on my various sites (The fact that there are more than one of them might actually be part of the problem, but that's a topic for another day.) is also related the fact that I am often hamstrung by a fear of getting it wrong. I'm not an expert on many of the topics about which I write, so my writings here are based upon my reading and researching about the topic and my analysis using that information. I often suffer analysis paralysis; meaning I'm afraid to come a conclusion and publish it (even though very few are likely to ever read it) because I don't want to be wrong.

My fear of error means that I am always searching for one more source, for one more opinion to consider before writing my own conclusion. I'm fearful that I will have missed the one critical piece of data to ensure I've got it correct. Thus I have copious notes and endless pdfs of papers and reports on the various topics that interest me, but little to show for it all in published form. Annually I resolve to change this circumstance and publish with greater frequency. To date, I have not achieved this on any site, though at PBA, I have added the most content.

The cause for these thoughts was a recent piece I published discussing a presentation by Dr. David Katz. I've mentioned Katz previously, because I've noted various articles he's written in support of the fact that calorie intake matters in weight loss. The doctor is Team CICO, and as I am too, so I highlighted writings with which I agreed.

Seeing part of the picture

That he accepted the truth of the energy balance in human weight control was basically all that I knew about Katz, that and the fact that he was associated in some way Yale University. In the beginning September, Katz participated in an online seminar about the Evolution in Medicine. I signed up to listen because he was presenting, but wound up listening to most of the talks. In fact, I intended (as I have with Paleo Summits and presentations in the past) to write up my notes taken while listening. And for Katz's presentation, I did just that.

Katz presented on the second day of the week long summit. I'd listened to the first day's presentations, and had actually found them to be interesting. I enjoyed Katz's presentation too, took my notes, and started on the draft of what I thought would be a series of posts— and a fine way to finally begin to meet my resolution of publishing more regularly. Of course, it took longer than I anticipated to write up the post, and in the meantime I kept listening and taking notes. The first several presenters were medical doctors, in other words people who matriculated through medical school and graduated with an MD. But as the summit went along, the qualifications of the presenters shifted, and most didn't have an MD. That, in and of itself, doesn't make their information or take on health issues false, but I noticed that the claims were beginning to fall a tad further from the mainstream.

And then, Vani Hari, whose schtick is branded "the Food Babe" was given an hour to pontificate. I didn't listen to her entire hour, I tried, but just couldn't. I know Hari is an attention seeking opportunist with a poor understanding of chemistry and food science. I mentioned Hari in my post on Katz's presentation. What I didn't say in that piece, but will say now is that I turned the talk off just after the host, James Maskell, claimed to be envious that she'd been identified a quack by David Gorski, and that he, Maskell, wanted nothing so much as to be so anointed.

I felt foolish; I felt disappointed deflated; but I also felt invested in terms of the time already sunk into this summit. (My inability to "cut my loss" is likely worth a post or two of exploration, but it's a topic for another time) And so I listened to all of the summit, and took notes, though I've only published the Katz notes with provisos and disclaimers.

Still some of the information presented at the summit was excellent. Most of what Katz presented is sound and based on genuine science. But how on earth could he present along side someone like Hari? Was I missing something? I asked these questions in the piece that I published, but I'm asking again because after realizing that I'd spent a week being immersed in something about which I knew little, I did more research.

The other shoe drops.

Most of what interested me about the summit and Katz'a presentation was related to nutrition. I spend significant time reading and learning about nutrition, and over the past decade or so I have significantly altered my own diet and that of my immediate family. And we are all the healthier for it.

But the "evolution" of medicine involved more than merely nutrition, and were often described using terms with which I was unfamiliar. The first day of presenters were all actual MDs, and mostly they spoke of going beyond traditional treatment, AFTER that treatment had cured the immediate problem. Chronic conditions are not necessarily solved with conventional drugs and treatments, that's why diet and lifestyle changes are so important because they can mitigate or even help the body heal. But if you have a cancer or an artery blockage, that's not the time to try out a new diet and exercise regimen, that's the time to get the best that modern medicine can offer. Diet and lifestyle are important factors in prevention— either prevention of disease in the first place or prevention of recurrence of disease.

The first four or five guests focused mostly on how important a healthy diet was and how important it was to get patients to take ownership of their health. I don't think that any doctor anywhere would argue with that. I also don't think any doctor would argue that health is multifactorial and that life stresses affect health. Many cardiologists try to get their patients to understand that what they eat affects their heart health, for example. And I don't think there are many endocrinologists that ignore diet factors when treating diabetics. But after the first day and half of the summit, as noted earlier, the qualifications of the guests changed, and I started noticing recurring unfamiliar vocabulary in my notes.

Traditional or conventional medicine was called allopathic, a term I'd never heard. However, most presenters and the host used it continuously, and defined it routinely. Foolishly, rather than look it up promptly as I should have done, I just assumed it was a legitimate term. When I finally looked it up, and found (among others) the link above, I was horrified to learn that the term is not used by "conventional" medicine. The term was coined in 1842 by the inventor of homeopathy. Homeopathy was only occasionally mentioned during the summit, and only in passing. Homeopathy was another term I didn't understand, though I had a vague sense that it wasn't a mainstream treatment. Well, holy hell, homeopathy isn't just non-mainstream, it's full on quackery. Another terms new to me was reiki (which after reading about it sounds like faith healing, though with eastern mysticism rather than western Christianity). The 2003 article provides a critical overview of naturopathy. The overview is extensive, and includes a few topics of woo that weren't even mentioned during the Evolution of Medicine summit.

Katz, for his part, has written that he doesn't really think there's anything to homeopathy, but I agree with Kimball Atwood that his manner of communication seems designed to confuse, rather than clarify. In short, he seems to want to play both sides. His message of nutrition is sound, in that it's basically a combination of Michael Pollan's famous quote, "eat real food, not too much, mostly plants" and the diets of the "Blue Zones." So-called blue Zone are those areas of the globe where inhabitants have longer life spans. Generally these populations eat mostly plants, are not sedentary and lead non-stressful lives. Telling people to eat better and move more doesn't generate a ton of income (unless you get a lot of book advances), but selling them supplements or recurring treatments would. Katz didn't play up that in his presentation, to be fair, but plenty of the other practitioners did. That, however, is actually part of the problem with Katz. He is careful in most cases, not to allude to the quackier remedies encompassed in "integrative practice," but his clinics and programs off those options for a fee.

This is already too long, so I'm going to end here. I will continue to explore the topic, if only to further eliminate what was clearly a gap in my nutritional and medical knowledge. What to make of someone who offers sound advice in one aspect, but supports quackery as well? In this case, I am admitting that I let my Team CICO fervor get the best of me, and being correct on nutrition doesn't offset his other erroneous recommendations.

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One Mom in the Middle…
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