When I was in my early twenties, I took a catechism class to learn the Catholic doctrine. One of things that stood out to me at that time was when the priest said that the Pope had the ultimate say in all theology. He said, “If the Pope says an apple is an orange, then the apple is an orange.” Meaning, you don’t question the Pope.
At the time, I had not yet learned that being a chronic people-pleaser would not be beneficial to my mental health so I didn’t question anything the priest said. Learning about the Catholic church was interesting to me at the time and I was still in the mindset that didn’t question people I viewed who were in authority. I remember thinking that the Pope must be some kind of super human.
This kind of blind faith does not only happens in a religious context. It happens in politics, healthcare, nutrition, and many other places in our culture.
In his book, Lies My Doctor Told Me, Dr. Ken Berry writes about how doctors sometimes become lazy in their thinking. This is partly because they are so mentally spent from all their years in education and residency and because they are not encouraged to question those in authority.
When any test is discovered and marketed as the new gold standard, it tends to dull the critical thinking of doctors. When all the advertising and the doctors with the longest white coats say the test works, regular doctors begin to blindly accept the advertising as unquestionable truth and stop thinking for themselves. This sort of error has often happened in medicine—so often that you would think doctors would be wary of blindly trusting a patient’s health to new tests.D. Berry, MD, Ken . Lies My Doctor Told Me Second Edition: Medical Myths That Can Harm Your Health (p. 213). Victory Belt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Dr. Berry explains how there’s this whole thing with their white coats. The doctors with the longest coats have the most experience, therefore the most authority. And apparently some let that power go to their head when they believe that not having the answer to everything makes them look incompetent.
Wisdom does not equal all-knowing.
While much wisdom does come with experience, at the same time, experts are not exempt from all mistakes, misunderstandings, or in the very least, missing something that could add to the conversation.
For example: there are a couple of engineers (complex problem solvers for a living), Dave Feldman, from the US, and Ivor Cummins, from Ireland, who have had similar experiences with not getting good answers from their medical doctors in regards to their cholesterol on a ketogenic diet. It didn’t make sense to them that the doctors could not explain the mechanics of cholesterol and why it was so bad.
Dave and Ivor had a problem that needed to be solved. So what did they do? They (independently) did their own research. They learned so much about cholesterol (and coincidentally came to similar conclusions) that they now speak at health conferences, among other places, teaching doctors what they learned about how cholesterol works in our body.
They are not medical or even health professionals, but because engineers are very good at asking questions (even encouraged to do so by their more experienced teachers) as well as reading scientific papers, they are now part of the experts on cholesterol.
Dave and Ivor are making a positive impact in the health and wellness space. Sometimes, others criticize Dave and Ivor, even when research supports their claims. But guess what? Questioning is to be expected. They even encourage questions and admit when they are wrong about something. Dave is so good at recognizing his own bias that he was asked to be a mediator in a debate among a couple of other nutritionists/doctors who had a lot of polarity in nutrition.
If those of us who tend to our health and wellness remain stuck in our own thinking and merely seek to confirm our biases, then we will likely continue to be caught up in a world of polarity. This serves no one.
So how can we navigate through the spectrum and make the best decision for our own bodies?
Think like an Scientist
There are many people who seem to do well on a vegan diet. At the other end of the spectrum are people thriving on the carnivore diet. If you are looking for where you fit in this spectrum, why not try an experiment?
Adam Grant’s book, Think Again, has so many helpful ideas for being open to questioning our own thinking, especially when we encounter opposing views. It’s one thing to question another person and quite another to question ourselves.
Adam writes that much of the time we are either in preacher, prosecutor, or politician mode. Adam explains:
We go into preacher mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy: we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals. We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning: we marshal arguments to prove them wrong and win our case. We shift into politician mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience: we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents. The risk is that we become so wrapped up in preaching that we’re right, prosecuting others who are wrong, and politicking for support that we don’t bother to rethink our own views.Grant, Adam. Think Again (pp. 18-19). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
There is a time and a place for prosecutor, politician, and preacher mode. However, politicking, preaching, and convicting is in excess as of late. If we are going to make progress in becoming a healthy People as a whole, we need to spend more time in empathy, questioning, and experimenting for ourselves.
If you want to dive deeper into thinking about your thinking, I highly recommend Adam’s book. The more we can be aware of what’s going on behind the curtain of our consciousness, the easier it will be to stick to dietary changes.
And if you are not sure which diet to stick to, the best thing to do is to eat as much unprocessed food (not necessarily raw, but the stuff with ingredient lists a mile long) as possible, avoiding seed (vegetable) oils like the plague. Then, whether you go plant-based or animal-based, be open minded and begin experimenting like a scientist.
Do you remember learning the scientific method in school?
In the scientific method, you first find a problem to solve and put it in the form of a question. Then, there is the hypothesis, or educated guess at the answer to that question. Next, you set up experiments to test your theory. You collect data, do some more research and testing until finally you arrive at some kind of result.
Now it’s time to reflect by looking back at your hypothesis and seeing if the results match what you previously thought. This is where it gets tricky if you are not practicing this method regularly. Sometimes, those results can be hard to believe if you were looking for evidence to support your bias. Not to mention, the complexity and nuance of our individual bodies, but that is a topic for another time.
If you are truly thinking like a scientist, then even when the results are not confirming your hypothesis (or bias), you keep asking questions, looking for data, and test again and again.
It isn’t until an experiment can be repeated continually with the same results, that you can even come close to saying one thing “proves” another thing.
What will you experiment with? Why not try experimenting with prioritizing meat?
I hope the perspective of thinking like a scientist is helpful in your quest to a most vivacious life.
To life with brio!