These are the most common groups who want to influence your body (and your relationship with it)
There are quite a lot of different groups out there who take a keen interest in your body and your relationship with it. Some of them have your best interests at heart. Others not so much. And even the ones who are looking out for you can be tone deaf when it comes to your needs.
Here are some of those groups, along with my take on why they’re interested, starting with the people you are most likely to come into contact with personally. All opinions are entirely my own, of course. But I stand by them. Oh, and some of them might actually know what's best for your body.
Local health professionals
Now, I’ve only ever lived in countries that provide at least a basic level of publicly-funded healthcare (including the NHS in the UK). I don’t have personal experience of trying to navigate a system which charges separately for everything, so I’m not going to go into whether or not money might be a motivator for doctors.
No, on the whole medical professionals have gone through many years of training because they genuinely want to help people get healthy. But how much influence they have can depend on factors outside their control: how overworked they are, for example. What kind of training they have - it’s no surprise that they’re generally trained to help people get healthy from a place of ill health, rather than stay healthier in the first place. I’ve read enough to know that training on diet and nutrition may be lacking from a lot of medical training programmes.
If medical professionals want to influence how you treat your body as a whole it will usually be in the form of advice not to drink too much, not to eat too much, not to smoke, to lose weight and to get exercise.
These are the people in your life who know the most about how your body works. They’re the least likely to give you spectacularly bad advice: it’s likely that they’re also the people who are worst-placed to help you build a good relationship with yourself. Quite a lot of people have negative experiences of consultations with medical professionals which would have them argue that doctors don't know what's best for your body, because they don't have the time to get to know the background of your life.
Nutritionists and dieticians
This is really the catch-all category. Although around the world there are organisations that provide accreditation for nutritionalists, really it’s very much a mixed bag.
I’m going to include nutritional therapists (who tend to focus on alternative or complementary medicine) and diet experts (who are usually trying to sell you a diet plan) in this group.
Yes, many nutritionists do have your bests interests at heart and are in it to help you to wellness.
Others, however, have an axe to grind or a product to sell - or both - and are in it to persuade you to by their products and/or buy into their philosophy.
It really is buyer beware when it comes to nutritionists,
That said, you can always consult a….
Registered dietitians are active in all areas of health, from public health to private practice. They generally are interested in promoting good health both in individuals and in the general population.
How suitable the advice you get from a registered dietitian is going to depend on the individual dietitian, but it may well actually be that a dietitian does, in fact, know what's best for you body.
Whether these are organised around social behaviour (Weightwatchers), apps (MyFitnessPal) or diet programmes (Atkins), these are groups with a product to sell, usually weight loss.
I don’t support diet culture therefore I don’t support these organisations. They don’t want you to lose weight: they want you to continually want to lose weight and quite possibly put it back on again. The biggest influence they want to wield is over your wallet.
That said, there is a social aspect to them that can really help some people to improve their health, which is all well and good. But remember what they're really there for - and it isn't to know what's best for your body.
Tabloid and lifestyle journalists
This group that writes on the “latest trends” or “latest research” in health, nutrition and fitness.
Their main goal is to get you to click on their articles, get drawn into their conversation and consume their advertising (well, their employer’s advertising).
They might seize on a buzzword (weight loss, keto, carbs) or pick out a recently published academic article and pull out a headline from it.
This group runs the risk of completely misrepresenting the research they’re reporting on in the rush to get a juicy headline. They don't care what's best for you at all, they just want a hold on your body so that they can wind you up.
And by the way, if I’m at risk of falling into any group myself, as a blogger, it’s this one.
These are the people doing the research that the tabloids are or aren’t picking up, depending on how easy it is to make clickbait from.
They’re the ones who are really trying to get to the bottom of what’s good for us as a whole and what isn’t.
By the nature of what they do, they are less interested in what's best for your body as an individual.
Proper research into nutrition and diet seems to be pretty much in flux just now, and lots of old assumptions are being challenged.
That’s very refreshing.
Unfortunately, reliable research in this area takes a long time, can’t always be performed on humans for ethical reasons and needs a lot of funding. This funding comes more and more from corporations and institutions with vested interests.
And let’s not beat around the bush: academics don’t write scientific articles in a relatable way. That’s putting it mildly. “Dry” and “boring” spring to mind.
There are reasons for this. The research needs to be unambiguous, and as objective as possible. Feelings shouldn’t come into it. Another researcher should be able to understand clearly how the research was done and what data it gathered.
As I said earlier, they are concerned with populations as a whole, so they don't spend a lot of time trying to connect with individuals.
At the same time it leaves an open goal for a people with their own buck to make (journalists, nutritionists, diet creators) aren’t necessarily going to hang around and wait for proper results or work out where those results came from (Rats? All humans? Adult male humans?).
Besides, why would any busy person read something as long and impersonal as an article in a scientific journal when your favourite online newspaper can get right to your emotional centres by very, very loosely rephrasing all that science?
So by the time the research gets to us mere mortals, it’s often been rinsed through a few cycles of vested interests.
Public policy makers
This group includes governments and umbrella organisations such as the NHS in the UK.
These organisations want to organise our behaviour as a population in a certain way. By definition, they are not really interested in us as individuals. This isn't to say that many of the people who work in these organisations don't care what's best for your body.
In the 20th Century, this was definitely the route by which people in general got their health advice. It’s where we get the advice not to smoke (seems obvious now, wasn’t for a long time), what is a safe amount of alcohol to drink, how many steps to take a day and that fat is bad for us.
In the 21st Century, we are much more likely both as individuals and as a population to resist this advice. Which leads me to…..
This is a really interesting group. It’s made up of high achieving doctors who, in the course of their day to day practice have really though critically about public policy and whether the evidence they are seeing in their patients tells them that policy needs training. They have gone the extra mile to review policy and academic research and are drawing their own conclusions. Two well known examples are Robert Lustig (a pediatrician who has come to the conclusion that sugar, not fat is our biggest dietary problem) and Jason Fung (a renal specialist who is looking into how we can really reduce the risk of diabetes and insulin resistance.
Whether they are right or not, this group is really influencing the conversation and is proving to be the quickest route to holding public policy makers to account for the advice they give out.
I find I really want to believe that this group does know what's best for your body. Maybe that's just revealing my own prejudices, though.
That’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Over to you.
That’s an awful lot of groups that are interested in influencing what you do with your body and how you think about it. It really puts the onus on us to keep our eyes open and know what we’re getting into when we come across them.
I’ve given you my own views here. You might disagree, which is fine - and even healthy. Your body is your own and all any of these groups are trying to do is influence your relationship with it.
A lot of the choices you make will come down to whether you trust a particular group or individual and how well you know them, which is fine. However, if you should be consulting someone who has studied for a recognised qualification, make sure that whoever you choose does have the relevant up to date credentials.
Other than that, who am I to talk? When it comes down to it, I’m trying to do exactly the same thing. And I really hope that you know better than I do what's best for your body.