Be Your Own Guru: Avoiding the Fads, the Bestsellers, and the Magic Plans
June 8, 2009

fad-diets

Hey everyone!

Thanks again for the birthday wishes! You all made my day. My weekend, actually. I am so grateful.

So unless you were hiding under a rock last week, you probably heard that Newsweek magazine “took Oprah on” with a hard-hitting cover story that weighed in critically against her constant endorsement of alternative health figures, diet gurus, nutritional experts, anti-aging plans and various alternative remedies (the article used as its point of departure Oprah’s recent enthusiasm about Suzanne Somers, who advocates estrogen shots and admits to taking scores of daily supplements). Regardless of whether you revere Oprah or view her work with ambivalence, I urge you to read Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert’s gutsy, well-researched, and unflinching article. It’s a strong statement against the endorsement of alternative healing “miracles” in the media—a problem that extends far beyond Oprah’s sphere of influence.

It should come as no surprise to you all that I take issue with many tenets of mainstream nutritional advice. At the same time, I’m every bit as skeptical about the claims of various health gurus and self-proclaimed “healers” as I am of close-minded nutritionists and doctors. One runs across a lot of lousy information in the holistic community. Many holistic health gurus are motivated by money-making agendas, misinformed ideology, or personal experience ( an alternative treatment happened to work for them, so they now preach the gospel of their healing experience with the certainty that it will work for all people—an assumption that’s sometimes tragically false). And just as we all have to watch out for mainstream advice that’s wrong-headed, we also have to think wisely and carefully about alternative wisdom that’s misleading.

I cannot tell you how many emails I get that go something like this:

“Gena, I just purchased [insert name of popular raw diet book / raw weight loss plan / raw nutritional resource here], and for some reason it’s not helping me [lose weight  / feel good / heal health complaint]. I’m doing everything right—eating just the way it says to. I even went out and bought [insert name of expensive supplement / green powder / superfood here]. Why isn’t it working?”

My answer is always the same. No single diet plan, raw resource, or raw expert can prescribe exactly what will or will not work for you and your body. There is no magic bullet, guys. If there were—if one particular way of eating could help everyone achieve perfect health, reverse aging, and find an ideal body weight, I think it’s safe to say that we’d have figured it out by now. We’d all be walking, talking embodiments of superhealth, and our health struggles, weight loss battles, and insecurities would be a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Sure, we all believe in certain broad dietary principles. I believe that a plant-based, mostly raw diet can—if eaten with digestive health in mind—help most people to reach their ideal weight, feel better, and avoid chronic disease. If I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t be doing the work I do. That said, I don’t believe that the diet described above should take the same form for everyone. Some of us are athletes, training for triathalons, and have (legitimately) big appetites. Some of us have disordered eating in our past, and need to be mindful of our psychological triggers.  Some of us have complicated health conditions or histories. Some of us have depression, or other emotional factors that influence our eating habits. Some of us have complicated lifestyles that will invariably affect our capacity to prepare and eat food. On top of all of this, we all have different builds. We don’t look, think, or act the same, and we can’t all be able to eat the same way.

As you begin a raw diet—or any new eating plan, for that matter—it’s tremendously tempting to seek out a book, expert, or plan that will show you how to do it right. And you won’t be disappointed: there are countless raw nutrition resources and plans out there to sate your appetite for instruction. Unfortunately, not all of these are ideal, and many of them conflict. 80/10/10 isn’t going to tell you the same thing as Natalia Rose; Alissa Cohen may conflict with Gabriel Cousins, who won’t sound at all like David Wolfe. How’s an aspiring raw foodist to start out?

You should start out, quite simply, by thinking for yourself. Do not count on one person’s opinion to be your guide—even mine! Do your research, but much more importantly, consider your own body and lifestyle. Are you the sort of eater who is prone to a sweet tooth or emotional eating? Do you need more protein or carbohydrates than others for some reason? Do you have small children at home, and limited time to cook? Do you have a digestive condition or disease? The answers to these complicated questions will be crucial in helping you find a way of eating that works for you and helps you to feel your best.

Whatever you do, do not be seduced by gurus, health evangelists, weight-loss experts, superfood peddlers, or spiritualists. Many public figures in the raw community are well informed, admirable, and entirely worthy of your attention. But—as with popular figures in the nutrition community at large—many are motivated by personal gain, product endorsement, or ego. They may have useful things to say to some of us, but there’s no guaranteeing that they can help you.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find mentors and teachers who will help give you some pointers in a healthy direction. If you’re really lucky, these teachers will change your life for the better. But no one—not even a mentor—can prescribe a plan or methodology that will guarantee success for you.

When I begin work with a new client, so much of our process will involve trial, error, and experiment: finding techniques, meal plans, and emotional strategies that work on an individual basis. My clients come from all different backgrounds—some have very mainstream diets and are simply looking to boost their raw intake or lose a few pounds; some are vegans who want to go completely raw; some have health conditions. Each needs me to help construct a plan that is mindful of his or her body and needs. And my advice is never the same for two clients—what works for one won’t work for another, just as what works for me won’t always work for a friend.

If you’re new to raw, I can’t urge you strongly enough to resist the siren song of magical “cleanses,” pre-programmed fasts or diet plans, charismatic gurus, and bestselling books. Instead, devote your energy, time, and money to finding specialized guidance. No, this isn’t a plug for my counseling—though if you’re interested, I encourage you to contact me! 🙂 But I do believe that you’re better off talking to someone about an individualized approach than buying a diet book. There’s a time and a place for great raw resources: my raw journey has been enriched by a bunch of cookbooks and perspectives. But don’t let a single resource become your gospel.

It would be easy if a cool book could solve all of our problems, wouldn’t it? One click on Amazon, and the clouds would all lift. But—as with all things in life—it’s just not that easy. This isn’t just true of a raw lifestyle—it’s true of any diet! We all want someone to tell us exactly what to do and how to eat: it takes so much of the pressure off of us to work hard at finding a method that suits our needs. But the price of thinking independently for life usually beats the short-lived success of buying into a diet plan and finding that it’s not permanently realistic.

So, find your own magic bullet. Get inspired by the knowledge that’s out there, and enjoy working with various approaches. But never stop thinking for yourself: you are the most intuitive judge of what does and doesn’t suit your body. Don’t fall into another person’s orthodoxy. Obey your best instincts, push yourself to do what you know will make you feel your best, and be proud of knowing who you are!

And have a great Tuesday.

xo

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    81 Comments
  1. Currently it seems like WordPress is the top
    blogging platform out there right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

  2. Good post Gena, however I’m not so sure I agree with Newsweek’s portrayal of Suzanne Somers. Newsweek has attacked bioidentical hormones for some time now, they’ve gone after Somers and TS Wiley, another advocate for this approach, for not having medical credentials. There’s actually been many doctor’s who’ve endorsed Somers’ and Wiley’s approach, Newsweek however chose not to give their readers the whole story.

    TS Wiley is an author of “Lights Out”, her book primarily deals with how our modern lifestyle deviated from our ancestors. She encourages readers to emulate the dietary and sleep habits of hunter gatherers for optimal well being. It’s an excellent read for anyone who’s into paleolithic type diets.

  3. well said. If one more person says eating fruit will make me fat I’m going to scream. I eat more fruit than anything else but I eat very little fat and I eat grains sparingly. I feel my best eating this wish and I have the best weight and stability of that weight this way. If someone else finds that eating more nuts and veggies but no grains and less fruits works for them – great.

    so much is trial and error. our bodies change with age and with our activities.

  4. Hi Gena!
    I just discovered your blog and I cannot say thank you enough, it is great! I am a seventeen yeard old raw vegan and I know from personal experience thats it is really hard begin vegan, let alone raw in social situations. Your blog gives me hope and inspiration. I also love your super simple recipes!! I am planning on trying your summertime pesto soon. I look forward to your new entries.

    Michal : )

  5. I’m new to your blog and just want to say thanks for the great advice! I’m a vegan but not raw (though I am getting more and more interested in it after I ate at Pure Food and Wine in January!!)

  6. I’m a little late commenting, but I just want to say this is an absolutely fabulous post. I’m not a raw vegan. I was a vegan and vegetarian for almost a decade and it did not work for me. I felt awful. Now that I’m eating meat again, my body feels whole again. I think taking an all or nothing attitiude is very detrimental. I think it’s about finding the best, most nutritious foods that make you feel your very best. For you, that’s a raw vegan diet, for me, it’s a piece of chicken sometimes 🙂 I always appreciate your thoughts on the raw diet, always informative and help me find the best foods for me 🙂

  7. this is so true. one has to build his own innter truth regarding health food and what is good for ones self. you have to learn what your body loves and does not love. and follow it ( changes with age and have to be attentive to it)

    thanks

  8. AMEN.
    so very true- i’ve always said that the “formula” that best works for me is NOTHING like what’s been suggested by others. you have to take the time to get to know your own body and how it reacts to certain eating patterns. it’s taken me FOREVER to learn that the greatest results have come from using my own intuition and experience, not from a book i’ve read or from an outside recommendation.
    thank you once again for such an eloquent and informative post.
    the blog world is blessed to have you in it 😉
    xoxo

  9. Wow. GREAT post.
    i loved the sentence when you said, “But the price of thinking independently for life usually beats the short-lived success of buying into a diet plan and finding that it’s not permanently realistic.” if there was a diet book outlining the exact foods to eat and to avoid, i wouldn’t want to follow it! how boring if we all ate the same and weren’t constantly learning about food, health and what works for our bodies and minds.
    oh, and another point that goes along well with this post is the fact that different cultures eat in different ways but many of them live long healthy lives with their distinct culinary habits.
    I’m linking to this beautiful essay on my last post, it’s that good. (cause you know i only put the best writing on my blog, right? *shameless plug for myself* bwahaha)

    • So happy you visited Jane! And I am deeply honored to be linked! I’m excited to have found your site and can’t wait to start exploring it 🙂

  10. Great post!
    sooo true! everyone is different and we need to stop looking for that one “miracle” diet! I hate it when people assume that bloggers are trying to push their views onto everyone. I think it is important to share your story, but also to let people decide for themselves what is “right”
    love your blog!

  11. brilliant! i end up defaulting to this. i tried different combonations by some doctors out there and it just made me feel worse. i need my fat, i need my fruit, and i need my greens! that’s what i know works. thanks for your article.

  12. Love this post, love your blog, and I’m not going to say that and then dis you on another blog..haha!! I guess we have an “inside joke” now! 😉

    You are awesome, so inspiring, so motivating, so fabulous!

    I know I already told you all that, but seriously, you are my raw mentor!

  13. Another incredible post. The worst feeling in the world is feeling like I am being judged for my food choices, but no one knows what is right for me — even I don’t, so anything I try is worth a shot.

    I read that Oprah article last week and it really made me realize how Oprah just pushes fads. I never noticed it on my own but it is important to keep in mind when I watch her show going forward.

  14. Preaching to the choir honey and I love it!! I have often tried to tell people that yes I may eat a lot and frequently…but that’s because it works for me…yes I eat carbs…but again that’s why my body asks for!

    great great post!!

  15. Oh my goodness, this is a fabulous post, Gena. I always struggle with finding what’s right for me instead of copying someone else’s way of eating/exercising. I love how you are so open minded on the subject on everyone’s different needs.

    I especially thought this quote, “We don’t look, think, or act the same, and we can’t all be able to eat the same way.” and the example of the differences between you and Cassie were great.

    Thanks for the post, and you have a great Tuesday too!

  16. This is such a great point of view. I’m still learning to do what’s right for my body instead of listen to everyone’s dieting advice. It’s funny though because ever since I started doing that, my body has changed for the better!

  17. This is great Gena. Thanks 🙂 I totally agree that it is super important not to be a “follower” I think our bodies kind of tell us what is right….not a $14.00 book. It’s taken me a while to get “right” with myself and my eating, but I really think reading healthy and “normal” bloggers has helped put things in perspective for me. Thanks for posting these kinds of statements. I agree wholeheartedly 🙂

  18. This post is awesome! If only everyone were as level headed and calm as you are! The world would be a perfect place! 🙂 Thanks for the advice – VERY MUCH appreciated!

  19. YAY! I was talking about this with my friend last night. She’s taking a nutrition class, while I’m a fan of Brendan Brazier’s THRIVE approach. She was wondering aloud how anyone could endorse the Atkins diet. I think that when we look for quick fixes and gurus, we’re liable to fall off the bandwagon pretty hard. Everyone is different, we all hove our own food weaknesses/triggers and food needs. I first learned about raw over a year ago when I went vegan, and got scared off because some “gurus” talked about not eating until the afternoon, and then only eating a single piece of fruit. I’m extremely physically active, (and considerably younger than them), I was setting myself up to feel under-fuelled and like failure because I was SO HUNGRY and TOO WEAK to partake in my usual level of activity. Since then, I’ve come back with more knowledge and a better perspective: is that feeling in my stomach hunger? Then eat! (slowly, not too much). Is it indigestion? Then what did I just eat? (don’t do it again). Let the body educate you…

  20. Gena,
    What a wonderful post. You are so right – everyone is different, and we have to figure out what works best for each of us. This was so refreshing to read Gena as it seems there is a different perfect diet published everyday.

    I think a major problem with society today is that many people still believe there is a miracle diet out there, and they all want a quick fix. Few people seem to want to take the time to figure out what works best for them – I wish they could all read this post! 🙂

    Thanks again for your constant advice and wisdom – you are true gift to the blogging community.

    P.S. A quick story about a close minded nutritionist I saw a few years back at a well regarded hospital here in Nashville. I was eating vegetarian at the time and wanted to put on a little weight. She told me to drink smoothies made from…are you read for this?!? Grape juice, corn syrup, 7-Up and heavy cream. Can you believe that? I left her office and never went back.

  21. Another winner, Gena! I’m so glad you published these thoughts – it’s really important. The first thing I thought of was my mom, who responded to one of my first posts about “rawcuriosity” privately in an email to me, essentially saying (among other things) that she found it hard to accept that raw eating being is ideal for the body’s proper functioning, when her reflexologist had told her specifically to AVOID raw food at all costs (my mom suffers from chronic acid reflux). Now you know as well as anyone that I’m not trying to push ANYthing on my blog, so all I could respond was something like, well if that’s the way of eating that makes you really feel best (not just because the reflexologist says so), then that’s great, but I’m really benefitting from my own experiments. She still sounds weirded out and uncomfortable when I rave about whatever the latest thing I tried is (last night it was Bonobo’s coconut chai! OMG!), but all I can tell her is why I do it. Doesn’t mean she needs to do likewise!

    Ok that was long-winded, but oh well! As we can see in the comments above, this is a provocative subject! I had to give you major love in my last post – visual evidence of your guac recipe taking place chez moi. 🙂

  22. Happy birthday sweets! Sorry I am late I am just getting caught up on your posts! I hope you had a marvelous time. Thank you again for your awesome guest post! 🙂 Everyone loved it…especially my MOM!!!!

  23. Fabulous Post, Genna!!! I couldn’t have said it better myself…I agree with you completely that there is no majic bullet and I, as you, work with each individual client to focus on their needs—we are all different and unique and each of us needs different foods to make us feel good.
    Have a great day.
    Best,

    Amie

  24. Let me see, how many times have I said that I love this site? There are so many good points in this post that I don’t even know where to begin my praise. I agree with absolutely everything you have said and have often thought the exact same things. I have just been waiting and waiting for someone (thank you Gena) to actually say this stuff out loud. What works for me, may not work for you and vice versa. I have tried through years of trial and error to find exactly the regime that works for me and cannot count the number of times that I have been told, from one source or another, that what I am doing is wrong.

    I’ll give you an example: For years and years I was told that if I wanted to be healthy, I needed to eat whole grains, whole wheat, etc. I tried and tried. I mean, those things are supposed to be healthy, right? But all I did was get sicker and sicker, and more and more bloated. Guess what… it turns out that I have Celiac’s disease and all those “healthy” things were just making me sicker. In the same vein, it turns of that the lectins in beans caused inflammation in my body, and the soy that I was eating depressed my thyroid function. But but but…those things are supposed to be good for me, right?! I finally had to realize that I need to take all dietary and health suggestions with a grain of salt, weight all sides, and then find what works for me. Plenty of people can eat all those things I mentioned and be perfectly fine, but not me.

    Oh my gosh, Gena, I’m so sorry about writing such a big comment. It’s just something I feel really strongly about and you got me all excited! I’ll stop taking up all the space in the comment section now. 😉 Keep up all your great work. You are so on the money with this.

  25. Gena
    Thank you for such a great article… It’s hard enough to be out there figuring ourselves out when so many around us all (family, friends, co workers…whomever) look and judge and discourage all we set out to accomplish because they eihter don’t understand, have thier own prejudices and feelings…my reaw and vegan choices makes some of my closest freinds/family so uncomfortable. it’s so frustrating! other’s need so much protien…I don’t…other’s hate that I don’t like giving my toddler so much milk… on and on. it is a personal journey and should all be in the driver’s seat of our own lives.

    love love love your article!

  26. word.

    i read that article and wish that everyone were forced to read it to. ive never beena fan of oprah. i just find her annoying, but it wasntuntil i read this that i realized how dangerous her influence could be. her “advice” on the thyroid issue alone is a deadly recipe. seriously. i wish there were books that instead taught people how important it is to do their own research, not go with whatever a celeb is endorsing at the moment. its easy to get sucked into such things when irresponsible journalism and information is presented the way oprah does, so i hope she takes the article the way its intended, and opens her eyes to the influence she has. scary.

    • Elise,

      I was beyond horrified at the article, too. I’ve been deeply ambivalent about her influence from a publishing standpoint for a long time (we in the industry have views about her book club), but this was a truly upsetting article for more urgent reasons. Thanks for the shout!

      G.

  27. This is something that I’ve recently discovered for myself. When I first found out about my Crohn’s, I went nuts trying to discover all the things that had worked for other people and contemplated adopting those lifestyles for myself. I have since come to realize that I need to do what is best for me.

    Brilliant post.

    Hope you had an amazing birthday!

  28. Amen sister! I have tried to do HRAV since the middle of February. All of the great things that come from raw – increased energy, better digestion, a happy colon – came in the total opposite form for me. Every night my stomach was in knots trying to digest the raw veggies or nuts I had been eating, and I was so hard on myself b/c I thought I wasn’t following the “rules”. I have been food combining for probably the past 6 years, but even that wasn’t helping.

    So, I’ve drawn back and am learning to listen to my body more. Unfortunately a lot of the digestive troubles haven’t gone away, but I’m working on that and will be seeing a naturopath next week to help me.

    • Glad you’re seeing someone, Metta! That’s great. If you ever need some extra advice or are interested in semi-raw coaching, shoot me an email. And in the meantime, listen to your body!

  29. Thank you for this post!

    I try to remind people on my blog that different things work for different people – it’s like anything in life. Some people can’t handle certain foods while others can. That’s why it’s important to listen to your body and do what is best for YOU!

    Have a fabulous day~

  30. I agree with everyone that this is one of the best posts I’ve read. Your posts are always so enlightening and this one is a great reminder. I think it’s finally sunk in for me that we all need different things, but I’m still struggling with what it is for me. It’s definitely a process!

  31. Gena, it’s like you wrote this post just for me because it is exactly what I needed to read right now. Throughout my little journey of healthy living, I know there isn’t a fast fix because I’ve been down that route before (many years of Weight Watchers, diet pills, supplement shakes, gross gross stupid things I did) and now that I know there’s a better way to look & feel great, I still have an addiction to health&fitness books and magazines. I keep thinking that if I do every single thing these books/magazines/articles tell me to do, that I will achieve my goals. But I’m not taking into consideration my body, my system, what I can handle, etc. I’ve got to slow it down and essentially start from scratch. This post has inspired me to start journaling everything again so I can figure out exactly what works for me. Thanks so much! You’re the best. xo

    • Heidi,

      Just read this and great minds DO think alike! Amazing! I’m going to email you my coaching info so that you can add it to your list 🙂

      Gen

  32. Everything you’ve said is SO TRUE. I’ve fallen victim to the search for the “perfect diet” or the magic answer to my diet woes. But it just doesn’t exist! While I do find this frustrating, I suppose I should be grateful that I have all the answers already – inside myself – and I just have to learn how to listen 🙂

    Thanks for another inspiring, thought-provoking post. Wonderful as always!

    • Definitely trust yourself Ms. Katherine! It’s harder — we all want a magic fix — but in the end, it works better.

  33. This is exactly why I LOVE your blog! I don’t have words to describe how great this article is – well done Gena!!! Love ya!!

    Just a question though, do you work with international clients?

    Thanks!

  34. Gena! Thank you for the wonderful post! I definitely agree with you and that people should NOT get influenced just by one book or diet or whatever. we all need to focus on what makes us truly happy inside and outside!

    I was wondering, are you going to have email subscriptions on your blog? i would love to get your posts through email as well!!! 😉

  35. gena!

    you.must.write a book.
    seriously.
    your knowledge, passion and just sheer compassion for every human being is truly inspiring!

    we are all striving for optimal health but “that” is DIFFERENT for everyone, and we are all so unique – special- and beautiful and we all need different things.

    you respect this and i thank you!

    i don’t have a food blog ( fashion blog;) ) but i LOVE your writing, knowledge & passion.

    keep on shining.

    L
    xoxo

  36. Nice blog. I just spent the weekend at the Raw Spirit Fest in Santa Barbara and I totally get what you are saying. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and dare I say, hype. I saw one speaker who was my favorite: Dr. Sam Mielcarski. Have you heard of him? He emphasized keeping it simple and common sense. It can be so easy to get confused with all the different approaches to the raw food lifestyle. But Samuel emphasizes 8 essentials to optimal health: food, water, air, light, activity, rest, cleanliness, & love. It sounds so simple, but it’s easy to overlook these basics. It’s not enough to just to eat raw! Check out his website: http://www.drsampt.com

  37. Gena,

    I am not even kidding that this is probably the best post I have ever read in the food blog community. I think that everyone who has a food blog, reads food blogs or eats food should read it 😉

    I think sometimes if other people don’t eat like we do we either are afraid that they will judge us for NOT being like them OR we write them off as not having legitimate reasons for making the choices that they do.

    However with you, there has always been a level of respect and understanding as to why people make the choices that they do, and this post just goes to prove it.

    I am so proud to “know you.” I only wish everyone, inside and outside of the blogging community, had an open enough mind and heart to show the kind of understanding and compassion you have for others!

    • Sarah!

      I am so proud to “know” you, too — and continually touched and thrilled that my writing resonates with you. Thank you for the shout out, for reading so closely, and for sharing your own experiences in finding a way of eating that works for you. I love hearing your story — to say nothing of watching your girls grow!

      Gena

  38. This is a great post! I am really enjoying your blog. I am veggie right now and trying to eat more raw as well as reduce my dairy and soy intake. Your blog is already inspiring me to eat less processed foods. Thanks!

  39. Excellent post Gena! One of the things – many things – I love about you and your blog is your adamance that everyone is unique and should treat their diet as such. I think it’s so important to eat the way that’s right for you as an individual – not the way Oprah or some nutritional guru or your friends eat. It’s your body – own it!

  40. This is excellent! And really well-timed, too, given that rawness is spreading like craza! 🙂 It’s so easy and romantic to think that one person or plan is the answer for everyone – especially when the experts in the field tout values of spirituality, healing, community, etc. Romantic ideals!
    Thanks Gena!

  41. Thanks so much for bringing this to light Gena! It’s so true that nutrition is very individual. I think it’s really important to experiment and see what works for your body. I like to eat everything, so an all raw diet would be restrictive for me. But for others clearly it works wonders! It’s so true that each of us are unique and have different dietary needs!!

    I’m so glad you posted this. Thank you!

  42. THANK YOU x1000!!!!!!!! This is why I get so angry when people attack me on my blog for the way I eat – I NEVER, EVER push my views on others or say that the way I eat would work for them (which is why I don’t understand all the negativity, since I’m not telling them to do anything). Here’s to doing what’s right for YOU, and not doing what someone else is doing.

    Seriously, I cannot thank you enough for this.

    • YAY!!!! VG, I thought of you while I was writing this. I am with you 100% on all counts.

      <3 xoxo

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