074: How Do We Combat Ignorance in the Fitness Industry?

critical thinking evidence-based logic Mar 30, 2023

We live in an age where our smartphone screens are filled with sinewy figures and the promise of a transformative regimen. In light of scandals such as the exposure of Brian Johnson - aka "Liver King" - and his prolific consumption of steroids, one might wonder if the supposed experts of our time possess any proper health and fitness expertise. Unfortunately, the answer might be far more disheartening than you ever dared imagine. The health and fitness industry, much like a particularly virulent strain of bacteria, has been corrupted by the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological phenomenon that acts as a pestilence upon the minds of its hosts. If you weren't aware, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias - a "computing error" in the thinking part of the brain - in which individuals of low ability in a given domain mistakenly assess their competence as far more significant than it is, whilst experts in the field often greatly underestimate their own prowess. Much like a blind man attempting to navigate a room filled with glass figures, these people are blissfully unaware of the trail of destruction they leave in their wake.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is not uncommon, and you may well have seen it in action many times - especially if you work in politics or education. But nowhere is this effect more prevalent, or indeed more dangerous, than in the health and fitness industry. After all, poor advice about who to vote for or which book to read pose far less risk to one's physical wellbeing than being told to have a coffee enema (here's looking at you, Goop). The cacophony of self-proclaimed experts clamouring for attention in this industry is rivalled only by the deafening noise of their baseless claims. They flood social media platforms with enticing before-and-after images and promises of rapid, miraculous results that would make even the most cunning snake oil salesman blush. Perhaps most perniciously, those who fall under the spell of the Dunning-Kruger effect in the fitness industry may be woefully unqualified to offer advice. Like a leech that feasts on the blood of its host, these individuals siphon attention and adulation from the masses without providing any true benefit. The self-assuredness with which they spout their nonsensical theories is a testament to the power of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Sadly, their ill-advised counsel may result in injury or long-term harm to their unsuspecting followers.

The proliferation of inept fitness gurus has birthed a culture that prizes aesthetics over health. These charlatans perpetuate a skewed and potentially damaging notion of what it means to be "fit." They ingest copious amounts of anabolic steroids in their quest for ever more impressive physiques and, ultimately, greater revenue. It's sad that in an industry possessing a tremendous potential for positive change, it has become routine to see people claiming their results are due to eating raw liver or some other such nonsense while, in private, they guzzle human growth hormones at a rate that would put world champion hot dog eaters to shame. True fitness is a multi-faceted concept that encompasses physical strength, flexibility, endurance, mental resilience, and more. However, there is a greater focus on superficial markers of success, such as chiselled abs or bulging biceps. Moreover, by preying on the insecurities of their audience, these misguided fitness personalities perpetuate a cycle of bodily dissatisfaction and self-loathing.

The industry's credibility has been eroded by the presence of these ill-informed fitness "experts." For example, in biomechanics - which requires at least a bachelor's degree for entry, at least in legitimate positions of employment - it seems that every man and his dog calls themselves a "biomechanist" in their Instagram bio. For every genuine expert striving to share their knowledge and expertise, there are ten phonies peddling falsehoods and misinformation. Consequently, the unsuspecting public may become disillusioned with the entire enterprise and dismiss the notion of fitness as a mere fad when faced with a deluge of conflicting advice. It's a tragedy of the highest order when this happens, and it happens all the time, unfortunately.

How can we effectively address this malignance presence plaguing the fitness profession? The solution is not confined to any single individual; it necessitates the combined discernment of our entire society. Initially, we have to cultivate a more critical mindset, prepared to scrutinise the credibility of those who attempt to guide us towards fallacy and delusion. We should distinguish a charlatan's superficial promises from a genuine authority's substantiated insights. We must resist being swayed by dazzling promotional tactics or captivating charm; instead, we pursue those who authentically comprehend the intricate subtleties of physical fitness. This begins by embracing a judicious scepticism when confronted with fitness guidance. Acquaint yourself with exercise physiology and nutrition fundamentals, and subject potential mentors to stringent evidence-based criteria - this is something I not only recommend but demand from my own students. Suppose an "expert" fails to articulate a cogent justification for their suggestions or reference credible sources that validate their assertions. In that case, the probability is high that they are merely sharing empty - and useless - advice.

Seek the insights of those who have devoted their lives to the exploration of physical activity and nutrition. Numerous distinguished experts populate the field – exercise physiologists, accredited dietitians, and certified strength and conditioning specialists, among others. These professionals have endured exacting education and possess profound comprehension of human anatomy and its countless complexities. Moreover, the counsel they provide is significantly more anchored in reality compared to the incoherent discourse of a self-proclaimed fitness guru devoid of any formal instruction in the field. Avoid succumbing to the misconception that fitness constitutes a universal pursuit for all. We are each distinct, possessing our individual strengths, frailties, and physiological idiosyncrasies. Remain open to experimentation and discovering the optimal approach tailored to you while consistently seeking the expertise of an informed professional. The voyage toward physical and psychological well-being resembles a marathon rather than a sprint, a path potentially laden with obstacles and adversities. Yet, equipped with accurate knowledge and an unwavering resolve to persist, we hold the capacity to vanquish the pernicious shadow of the Dunning-Kruger effect, thereby cultivating a fitness industry that genuinely embodies the lofty objectives it professes.

The Dunning-Kruger effect has insidiously pervaded the fitness industry, functioning as a parasitic entity that exploits the susceptible while disseminating confusion and despondency. However, by equipping ourselves with knowledge and critical discernment, we possess the capacity to counteract this affliction and restore our communal well-being. We must remain resolute in our quest for veracity and unwavering in our resistance to the deceptive allure of those poised to misguide us. Only through such tenacity can we actualise the physical and mental wellness innately ours and relegate the Dunning-Kruger effect to the historical archives, where it duly belongs. As a concluding thought, I leave you with a timeless adage from Marcus Aurelius, an eminent figure whose wisdom continues to embolden countless individuals millennia after his passing, inspiring them to resist the siren call of self-ignorance.

"If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's own self-deception and ignorance."

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