It was brought to my attention several days ago that a few doctors in my area were a bit perturbed by my latest article for the WV Observer, and that they had taken to Facebook to express their grievances. At first I was surprised--is advocating for fruits and vegetables that radical? Apparently so. Against my better judgement, I decided to read the posts.
I'm not sure what I had expected, but I guess I assumed that the conversation would be critical, albeit respectful. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I read comment after comment degrading me as a person, insulting me, rather than strictly criticizing the nutrition information I shared in the article. Granted, this happens to writers all the time. But over the past several years, even as I've tackled issues of sexism, environmentalism, and racism, I've never had it happen to me. Welcome to the club, I guess?
It was disappointing to witness, mostly because I expected more from professionals. And also because my article wasn't malicious, didn't attack these individuals or particular doctors, or anyone for that matter. My article merely questioned the efficacy of a particular diet dogma, and promoted one that I have personally witnessed change lives. In short, what my article did was offer another perspective.
Unfortunately, this group decided to vilify my perspective, as well as the perspective of the plant-based doctors and scientists I follow. One doctor preceded to call me a charlatan and call the doctors and scientists that disagree with him laughable, claiming their science is faulty, while the science he follows is not--essentially arguing that I, a journalist, can't have an opinion about nutrition because I'm not a medical doctor, but then citing Gary Taubes, a journalist himself, as an authority on nutrition. He acted as though I think the certificate I received from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies through Cornell University makes me a nutrition expert.
This is where integrity enters into the conversation. Because I never presume to be anything I am not. That's why I don't call myself a nutritionist or dietitian, even though my state would legally allow the first (which is absolutely a problem and another story entirely). I never pretend to be a medical doctor. I use the word educator, because I never want someone to think that my sharing nutrition information is a substitute for medical advice. I am always clear about my background, which means I never say I am "certified" in plant-based nutrition, because I'm not. I have a certificate--which, for the record, took about 36 hours to complete (more than the average amount most doctors receive in med school). My article was not published in the "Ask the Doc" section, but rather, the "Wellness" section--a clear indication that neither I nor the Observer were trying to dupe anyone.
If you've been following me here for the last several years, you know that honesty is important to me, as is helping others to the best of my abilities. My intention is never to mislead or hurt anyone. I am not a fraud, nor am I grossly misinformed (unless you consider a host of doctors and scientists also misinformed, as they responsibly and successfully practice what they preach). I wasn't advocating for something crazy or extreme--actually, the ADA has stated, "appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain disease." I am simply an investigative writer who enjoys researching and studying nutrition, and sharing what I find with others. These are not "alternative facts." I'm not the primary source for the information I share; the things I write don't come from my own understanding alone, but from the conclusions made by doctors and scientists, who have extensive backgrounds in biochemistry, knowledge of the intricacies of metabolic syndrome, and more.
Nutrition science is not infallible. It's easy to find studies that conclude Type 2 diabetes can be treated by giving up meat, dairy and eggs, and others that say sugar is the problem. There is a lot of conflicting evidence, a lot of it anecdotal, but from my perspective, the case for a plant-based diet looks more sound than the case for a low-carb diet (especially when you look at the bias, background, and industry ties of researchers) for those with serious chronic illness like diabetes and heart disease.
While the doctor's meals shared on the Facebook thread were mostly plants, anyway--bountiful leafy green salads topped with farm fresh eggs, cauliflower breadsticks (yum)--that's not reflective of many on the low-carb diet; although plant-based diets can indeed be keto, paleo or low-carb, those I know who follow the diet fill their plates with mostly meat and dairy, foods that are inherently devoid of fiber and phytonutrients. One only has to look at the Blue Zones to see what is ideal for longterm health. My article was there to say: be careful. If you're eating how this doctor eats, wonderful. But if low-carb means you're eating less plant foods . . . here's some information about another way of eating.
There is only so much you can include in a 500 word article. I wish I'd had the room to explain that I, too, believe every body is different, and that just as low-carb doesn't work for all, neither does WFPB. I wish I'd had space to explain that my personal convictions lie more closely with Michael Pollan's philosophy (to eat real food, mostly plants, not too much) and not with restrictive diets. I would have loved to share how I disagree with some of the opinions of the doctors I follow, and believe many of them overlook certain areas (like responsibly supplementing a completely plant-based diet, or avoiding hormonal imbalance and fat deficiencies). But I could only include the essentials, and I had to do so in a way that was clear and to the point.
The doctor who called me a charlatan knows nothing about me, besides what he scrounged up here on my website (yes, he felt strongly enough to do a Google search on me, as my website was not included in the article). And I don't doubt that my age and gender also have something to do with his opinion of me. But sadly, he knows nothing of the depth or scope of my opinions and beliefs on nutrition, and more importantly, nothing about my heart as a person.
Because if he did know me, if he knew my heart--if he met me on the street before all of this--I am pretty sure we would get along. He would see that we have more in common than not, that in fact, I am not a low-fat fear-mongering junk food lover (maybe it wasn't clear in my article, so let me reiterate: I don't think processed foods are safe or healthy in any amount, hence why I don't eat any sugar, flour, or processed oils). He would see that I believe fats are vital for hormone health, especially for women. He would see that I, too, am skeptical of any diet that claims to be perfect for all humans. And he would see that I am a kind and honest individual who wants the same thing he wants: a healthier, happier world.
What this doctor wrote about me on Facebook, and whatever he plans to write in his rebuttal article in August, says more about him as a person than it does about me. His words don't change what I know of myself--that I have good intentions and goodwill towards all. That I am open-minded and always seeking more knowledge.
Regardless of slightly differing opinions, I'm thankful that there are doctors who recognize the collusion of the food industry and health organizations. I'm thankful we have doctors who educate themselves on nutrition because their medical degrees didn't, and doctors who don't use drugs as an answer for all disease.
Let food be thy medicine.
For those who claimed the information I shared in my article had no factual evidence, here's a small sampling: