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On Diet Gurus and Fad Diets


Here’s an easy way to gurufy (I know, not a real word) the author of a diet book. You read a book (or blog) on a specific diet that seems to make so much sense; everything you read seems to relate to you, all the studies and anecdotes seem to be telling you – ‘try this diet, eat this way and your problems will be solved’. Without hesitation you start the diet, you follow it to the letter, it consumes you, in your waking thoughts you wonder if each food choice and portion size fits the diet. It excites you – you are full of hope that this plan will solve your health woes and melt off fat as promised. Amazingly this time – you’ve hit the jackpot – the diet works!!!. The fat melts off, the health niggles disappear, the doctor is pleased with your improved cholesterol, you are pleased with the resolution of health issues and how good you feel. And, even more pleased when you turn up at a party in a new dress you weren’t able to squeeze in before, and your friends all say “Wow, you look amazing – what have you been doing?!” You rave about the book you read, the theory, your excitement at having found “the answer”.
Every health issue is now seen through the filter / paradigm of this newly discovered diet. The reason others have xyz disease is because they are not on the … diet. “If only you would try this diet you might be cured” you think, and try to say this in a way so as not to offend. And in this process you have now elevated the author of the diet book to a guru in your eyes. Every health question you have, you go online and ask this new guru – and hang on his words, his answer you know will be 100% correct. (You forget that he / she is also operating out of a paradigm where he / she sees his / her research and answers and success to date as backup for his / her point of view)

My point? I’ve been in this place. It can be a dangerous place. It stops critical thought and independent thinking. It has us believe there is one answer, or one truth out there, and that this one answer is ‘the one’. We become dependent on receiving and believing advice from just one source (or group) and disregard input from anyone from another paradigm that does not agree with our own. (True, they may not be right – but we don’t ever give their point of view a chance, because they come from a viewpoint that disagrees with our own)

As time goes on, perhaps you read more, you hear new ideas, you listen to further theory. You experiment with your diet with this new information, it too works. In fact you feel even better, further health improvements more weight loss.

You decide this new diet is even better than the last and ta daa.. you have a new guru. (And to be honest you are just a little bit annoyed that the last one wasn’t so perfect after all and he let you down, because he got some things wrong in your view*)

But the new paradigm – ah – now everything is viewed through this new lens. And you know you’ve gurufied it because you ask questions like “Is this a …diet food?” “Would ….. eaten this?”

Okay let me be honest here, – I’ve asked – “Is this a ‘paleo’ food or not?” Yes – paleo / pre-agricultural / hunter gather diet is my new paradigm. Has my first encounter with the blogger / writer / professor who introduced me to their version now become my diet guru?

A paradigm is the way we view things. We cannot help but have a paradigm / viewpoint or filter through which we interpret the world. There is value in recognising our own paradigm and it’s limitations (if that is possible). Ones paradigm is not merely a theory but the truth for us. Like ones language or culture – it just is. Check the blog or twitter list you follow, or books you read, what does this say about your current viewpoint?

The value in owning ones filter is that it allows you to be open to other viewpoints. For example, rather than coming from the point of view that hunter gatherer or ancestral diets or one professor’s version of the paleo diet (or … diet, fill in the blank) is the very best for humans, I / we need to recognise that every diet on the planet arose out of the environment that each human group was thrown into. That in itself limits the food options eaten. The question “Is this paleo or not” is a nonsensical question. There is no such thing as one paleo diet, and even if there was / is, this does not mean it is the ideal diet to you, or the human race.

There are many diets that humans eat that gave extra-ordinary health, and they are not all “Paleo”. Okinawan and Sardinian diets / lifestyles for example, are rarely spoken of in paleo circles. (When did you last ask “Would I eat this if I lived in Sardinia?”)

The question we should be asking is “What is the diet / lifestyle that will give me / us optimal health?” “What is the evidence to back this up?” And then like Okinawans or Cavemen do – just live life.

Note: I started this blog-post some months ago. (Must get round to finishing the other 30 or so in my draft queue!) Anyhow recently I’ve read a bunch of far more eloquent posts than mine from others kind of along these lines:

Some Thoughts and Some Tchaikovsky, Emily Deans
Resonance and Dissonance, Jamie Scott
Kurt Harris, the messiah, the hype and the throwing of scales, Pål Jåbekk
Therapy versus Life, Kurt Harris
Guest Post – Professor Gumby – essay 001, Kurt Harris

And this post from Kevin Gianni “The Renegrade Health Show” Yes Kevin is a raw foodist, who has become open to changes for the sake of his health. I enjoyed his perspective on diet gurus:   True or False: My Health Guru Looks Better Than Yours, That’s Why You Should Eat Like Me! : Renegade Health Mythbusting 101

*My debate with Barry Sears PhD “Increased Satiety, the reals secret to weight loss”. See comments section.


  1. I like this post and all the links at the end. I have been mulling over these ideas too. I started visiting paleo forums via my low carbing experiments, so I was always on the edge of them, not fully on board. Unfortunately sometimes the followers are more ‘religious’ than the gurus! Seems to be an ever growing list of things you can’t eat or can’t do, or should eat and should do. Even if these small tweaks achieve the desired goal, I can’t see how hunter gatherers were able to achieve some gold standard of optimimum health in the ever changing environment over millions of years. I think studying different epochs and culturals is great for giving us ideas, but they don’t necessarily provide answers. For a start, in my family my grandparents seemed to be healthier than my cousins and me are today. It would be good to work out why as a starting point (I suspect processed food and excess fructose myself).

    Also, does geography play a part? Is an optimal diet in Africa the same as an optimal diet in China? I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere (point in the right direction if it has been).

    Interesting stuff, but, as you say, we have to keep our minds open to new ideas, and approach these new ideas with critical faculties.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. As someone who goes for the paleo/primal approach, I have a lot of respect for what the ‘gurus’ e.g Robb Wolfe, Mark Sisson etc have to say, but I do get annoyed with people whose explanation about why/how things work or what we should do seems to boil down to ‘because x said so’. Just because these people seem to have it right doesn’t mean that we should take everything they say at face value.

  3. Nice post. Another problem when people elevate diet authors to guru status in their minds is they start thinking that the author knows everything about anything. They think that the diet author knows the truth about religion, politics, economics, and etc. One other problem is that the diet authors begin to think the same thing and they start giving advice on any and every subject.

  4. Thanks for all your comments.

    Bodhi and Elaine: too true!

    Jo: Every paleo person ended up making the most of whatever environment they found themselves in. I really like the book Food and Western Disease by Lindeberg, because he analyses all types of modern day hunter gatherers, what they eat and what diseases they have, or don’t have, and how this relates to their diet. He also provides modern day studies which show why these diets are effective.
    So yes, any healthy group of people, when we look at what makes them so, gives us a theory / hypothesis for further research.

  5. This is an awesome post!

    “The question we should be asking is “What is the diet / lifestyle that will give me / us optimal health?” “What is the evidence to back this up?” And then like Okinawans or Cavemen do – just live life.”

    And this is all it comes down to! I’m sharing this post. Thank you.

    • Thanks. Sometimes I need to take my own advice, I tend to spend too much time gathering info, which in itself is fun – but what is remembered about life is deeds done, not knowledge gathered and not acted on!

  6. I, too have been on many diets and got ‘sucked in’ I guess for lack of a better term. You seem to eat, drink and breathe the current diet and it becomes the answer to all your problems (and you see everyone else’s problems in light of the diet as well).

    It is a dangerous place and thank you for the reminder that we need to stop and think about our decisions and the decisions of others before passing judgment solely based on the diet of the moment.

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