I realize that this is totally nerdy of me, but I’m ok with that.
I like to learn and I like to read. In fact, I have a bit of a habit of trying to learn “everything” before I try new things. Sometimes it means that I keep having an excuse to avoid doing something that sounds hard or scary. Sometimes it means that I give myself the opportunity to find really good resources (evidence based blogs or books, friends and acquaintances that have a good grasp of credible information, or people who have very similar issues and experiences to mine).
I value good quality information. Credible and evidence based information has been integral in my attempts to navigate through the mire that is health and fitness information. There is *so* much garbage out there and so many old beliefs that are treated as facts even though they’ve never been proven or, worse, been proven to not be true.
Quality information, such as information from well designed studies, is a good thing. Of course, not all studies are well done and it can be hard to judge them if you don’t know what makes a good study.
Some of the key things to look for include:
- good and appropriate sample sizes and sample groups (studies done only on men may not translate to women; studies with just a dozen subjects only tell us what happens in a very small group; etc.)
- independently funded research (the cheese board is going to be biased towards promoting the benefits of eating cheese)
- things like double blind tests or systematic reviews (fancy words for “we tried looking at every possible factor” or “we reviewed every study ever done on this topic”)
- publication in reliable journals (ones that have a good reputation across the board, not just among a specific group of people – though even this is not a guarantee, it’s certainly better than relying on Cosmopolitan or a random blog … unless they happen to be the world’s leading expert on the subject matter, or course)
- promotion by credible scientists and researchers (bonus points if lots of credible people/organizations promote it)
- a lack of sensationalized words (seriously, if it sounds to good/bad to be true, it probably is – this includes all diets, pretty much, which only work while you are one them, if they work at all)
I also tend to take everything I read in a newspaper or see on the news, on talk shows, promoted by celebrities, etc. with a HUGE grain of salt. Some science journalists are great, but most are untrained in science and have no idea what the study is actually saying. Some celebrities are smart and do their research, but many are fed what looks like good information, but is actually wrong or very one sided. Also, anytime there’s even a small chance that someone is being paid to promote something should be met with suspicion.
The important thing to remember is to question things and see where the information is coming from (the originating source, the person reporting/interpreting it, etc.). And, of course, remember that science changes: what was fact yesterday may be shown to be wrong or even just not quite right tomorrow. That’s the nature of science. It looks for the truth and continues to re-assess old knowledge based on new findings.
Also, remember that some “facts” may be based on real science, but misinterpreted. For example, the BMI as an assessment tool for individuals doesn’t work. It’s meant to be used on whole populations. Also, the idea of eating less fat is based on science that actually said to eat less processed fats (trans fats and such).
If all else fails, find a nerdy friend or go to the library and ask a librarian to help you uncover the truth. They are information professionals, which means they are trained to know how to find good resources.