Context Is King

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If there’s one message I could tell people when they are embarking on “researching” into nutrition is to keep things in context- context is king! I actually find it amusing when I get trolls online telling me to “do my research properly”, and follow that comment up with a link to a YouTube clip as “evidence” to their argument. Note YouTube clips are not research.

 

I find one of the biggest issues people (trolls) have, and a reason why they get stuck on a miss-guided tangent is they don’t keep what they read in context. One of the key things I have learnt after reading thousands of studies, all the fad diet books, hundreds of expert and pseudo expert blogs and books, is to keep things in context. And by context I mean, acknowledge how the study/diet was done and applied in the environment it was measured. The methodology or environment (context) is not always reproducible and valid in every situation.

 

Here is a hypothetical situation as an example: You notice that when you do yoga on the weekends you feel more relaxed, so you assume that yoga is relaxing. However when you change your yoga day to Monday morning before you go to work, you don’t find yoga relaxing. Why? Because Monday mornings you have to wake up early and it’s a busy stressful morning at work. In the context of a Monday morning yoga feels more of a burden than relaxing. Yoga on Mondays doesn’t work. Now you may get people argue the point that yoga is relaxing always and how dare you say yoga is not relaxing, because yoga for me is always relaxing. But as I have said many time before, your experience isn’t everyones experience and well in the context of a busy monday morning, yoga is far from relaxing.

 

The same thing can be applied to a range of nutrition and diet related examples like creatine supplementation having no effect on those who eat a lot of meat. Protein powder not increasing muscle mass in endurance runners or iron supplementation will not elimination fatigue in those that don’t have an iron deficiency.

 

With fad diets or food trends often start because in context to a particular circumstance they work. You usually get one person who has improved their poor health dramatically by doing something out of the ordinary. Now they think they have found the miracle cure to all the worlds’ aliments. But really it has just worked because of the unique environment of their life.

 

The truth to the matter is there is probably a specific context in which this particular dietary regime worked. Take for example low carb dieters. I find that most of the time the loudest low carb dieters are the ones who have lost a tone of weight and improved their health. It’s great that they have done such amazing things, however is this the reason to push low carb for everyone?

 

I think drawing to the conclusion that carbs are bad, from this dietary change is invalid. The context of why it may have been due to; some one having a lot of weight to lose, or they are eating a diet very high in carbohydrate to start with or even worse a junk food diet. As soon as they improve eating behaviours to generally eating less energy, including lean protein for fullness and eating more veggies they lose weight and health improves.

 

Another example is in sports nutrition; recently I had some one comment “shame on you” for recommending sport drinks for athletes because of the sugar content. Let’s think about sports drinks and there use in context. Sports drinks are designed for endurance sports that last more than 2hrs, it helps to fuel the race. Studies have shown time and time again high GI carbohydrate consumption during sports increases performance. When people drink sports drinks they perform better in competition. This is an acute time in some ones life, they are not drinking sports drinks all the time. Sugar coming from sports drinks during a single competition is nothing in the grand scheme of over all health.

 

However drinking sports drinks whilst walking on the treadmill for better performance on the other hand is out of context. So not something I would recommend. This would be unhealthy an counterproductive to the workout and completely OUT OF CONTEXT.

 

Just like when scientists perform diet regimes in a lab over the course of a few weeks, to prove XYZ diet is the new cure to cancer, it’s hardly in context to the real world. In the real world people eat a variety of food, have social occasions and don’t have all meals cooked for them either. Food prep is a huge issue for some. Remember when you read things on the internet context is key, without it you may be lead astray.

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