pregnancy

Sorry Freelee the Banana Girl, you're not an expert.

Freelee the Banana Girl, or Leanne Ratcliffe, is a Youtube sensation with over half a million subscribers. The vlogger from Adelaide is a strict vegan, and most of her videos involve critiquing “bulls**t diet programs” and giving advice to her followers about how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

For Freelee this involves her ‘raw til 4’ diet plan, and sticking to low-processed, low-fat, and high-carbohydrate foods. One of her videos showcases her eating 50 bananas in one day.

5-0. 50. 50 bananas.

While I don’t follow Freelee on any social media platforms, I’ve known about her for quite a while. Some of the people I follow on social media have attempted her ‘trip to banana island’, and she’s come under fire several times for her highly irresponsible, non-evidence-based claims . In 2014, she said “chemo is killing us.” She’s also suggested that “menstruation is toxicity leaving the body”. Most recently, she’s been accused of suffering from orthorexia, a condition which involves an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.

It was when she posted an 8-minute, expletive-laden rant last week defending her lifestyle, that she garnered considerable public attention.

All this brings us to yesterday, when she appeared on Today Extra to debate a dietitian. She’s since made a video about her appearance, which you can watch here:

While an overwhelming number of all her arguments could easily be refuted once placed under any level of scrutiny, I’m going to choose to focus solely on her comments about health professionals, and her blatant dismissal of their authority. She began by expressing her frustration with people who question her lack of qualifications. “It’s always people who are out of shape who seem to be saying that to me,” she said.

“I’ve had obese nutritionists try and tell me that my diet is wrong, and I’m like ‘hey – just because you’ve got a bit of paper, doesn’t mean I’m going to take your advice.’ I want to see the results – where are your blood tests?”

She then proceeded to ask the dietitian on the show where her blood tests results were.

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Freelee, dietitians don’t have to have their blood tests handy to show you or anyone else. You know why? Because they have something else – a science degree. A science degree that equips them with not only a thorough knowledge of the current body of literature around food, nutrition, health and diet-related medical conditions, but also a way of thinking. A rigorous, systematic way of thinking that prevents them from believing that just because something works for them, it must work for everyone. They know that ethically, and logically, they can only offer advice that is evidence-based. It doesn’t matter whether a particular diet worked for them, or their friend, or their cousin’s cat. It only matters what has worked in controlled studies, that have to the best of their ability, attempted to gain objective results.

On Today Extra, Freelee went on to say “I have conventional certification in nutrition,” although she seemed very uncomfortable when she was ultimately asked to name where it was from. “But I don’t use that training at all anymore because it’s so heavily funded by the meat and dairy industry that the information is just incorrect.”  

Just to be clear, that’s not true.

I’d also like to pause for a moment, and challenge the very cynical assumption that people who become health professionals do so in order to manipulate people and spread false information. Generally, people who become doctors, or nurses, or dietitians, or psychologists, or occupational therapists, are not entering a caring profession in order to feed into a huge conspiracy. They’re doing it because they want to help people. And to truly help people in any meaningful way, it’s necessary to look beyond oneself as a ‘guru’, and towards the greater good, which involves objective measures of what works and what doesn’t.

In her final moments of airtime on Today Extra, she said, “I use the results I get for thousands and thousands of girls over the past decade. For me, anyone can get a certificate. But can anyone get sustained results for people?”

Best exercise in the world is ???????????????????? A photo posted by #Rawtill4 Vegan #RT4 #BGC30 (@freeleethebananagirl) on

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She then reiterated, “Anybody can memorise and parrot misinformation.”

Before finally going for it: “Having a degree doesn’t mean s**t.”

Her point is so invalid that it seems condescending to even argue against it. Yes, degrees do mean s**t. Especially when it comes to administering health advice in a public forum.

Having a relevant health qualification means you have the adequate breadth and depth of knowledge to offer advice. It means you’re able to interpret new research, and evaluate claims. It also means you’re willing to scrutinise your assumptions, and ultimately, to be proven wrong.

The fact is that it’s incredibly scary to imagine what life would look like if we started rejecting evidence-based medicine in favour of anecdotal evidence, as Freelee would have us do. We only have vaccinations, cures for diseases, antibiotics, the Pill, rehabilitation from injuries, and a myriad of other crucial developments because people have been willing to make predictions and test them, rather than rely on personal experience.

So while I hope it goes without saying, seek advice from a health professional rather than a health guru. And remember that there’s a difference between what might work for a particular individual, and what has been shown to work at a population level.

When it comes down to it, the rise of social media means that a public platform is granted for those who seek it, even if they don’t deserve it. So it’s up to us to take the advice of unqualified health guru’s with a grain of salt – or sugar – or quinoa – or whatever the new fad is.

Tags: celebrity , entertainment-3 , health
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