health

"I became a Paleo Nutritionist online for $29."

Because, everyone’s doing it.

I was chastened. Criticising the pseudoscience of “healthy” diets has seen me rebuked for not having the qualifications necessary to offer an opinion. After all, how would I know anything about something unless I studied or experienced it myself? (For example, you can’t say that crushing up crystal methamphetamine and rubbing it into our eyes is bad for us unless you have first-hand experience of it.)

Thus, to silence my critics, I set out to become a Real Qualified Practitioner of Wellness (TM).

It was admittedly hard to choose from the myriad of courses available. The most popular option was the Health Coach Certification offered by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition – an unaccredited New York outfit who have trained up ALL the big names. I do mean all of them: Pete Evans (king of paleo and hypervitaminosis himself), Miranda Kerr, Pippa Middleton and Charlotte Carr (co-writer of Evans’s paleo cookbook and voice-over actress for the not-remotely-paleo KFC) are all graduates. Regrettably, I lacked the $5995 to earn the right to call myself a ‘Health Coach’. (I also have an anaphylactic allergy to Deepak Chopra, so this was definitely out.)

(Clockwise from top right) Carr, Middleton, Evans and Kerr.

Then, I received an email from a group-buying website, offering me the opportunity to earn a Paleo Nutritionist diploma for the competitive price of $29, which would allow me to “make Paleo living a career” and “become qualified to run a practice” in telling people to live like our paleolithic ancestors. (Not the ones with astronomically high infant mortality rates and a surfeit of land-based predators, obviously: the sexy ones who drink bulletproof coffee and eat meat and wear those creepy toe-shoes to go to Crossfit gyms modelled after the ones our ancestors worked out in during the Pleistocene.)

IntegrativeNutritionFeature2
Integrative Nutrition offers ‘Health Coaching.’ (Image: Integrative Nutrition)
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What a bargain! $29 for a 150-hour diploma? That’s like 19 cents per hour of quality learning in a course that can qualify me to offer health advice, both solicited and unsolicited! Beat that, IIN!

What the hell was I thinking all those years, hemorrhaging cash, becoming a teacher? All I have to my name is a purposeful vocation, a HECS debt that rivals Greece’s and a gnawing feeling every July when I look at my never-diminishing balance! What a wasted life – but it is never too late to turn it around and make something of myself.

(Image: Instagram @befitfoods)

I had to act fast, because 380 people had already purchased this offer, and the market might become saturated with Paleo Nutritionists.

The diploma itself is offered by a UK-based institution which has such an impressive-sounding name that I was shocked to not find much about it online.

This was surprising. I mean, this place advertised itself as a provider of excellence – not a provider of adequacy and mediocrity. Nevertheless, I was not dissuaded: I was sure that this was an august institution that would offer only the most rigorous and evidence-based of teachings. I wasn’t even put off by the fact I only needed to provide my name and email to enroll.

Breakfast for Charlotte Carr (Image: Facebook)

I briefly thought that perhaps this place isn’t very excellent if it has no entry standards, like a minimum ATAR or prerequisite study. But I silenced those thoughts: who has time for critical thinking when your career in Paleo Nutrition is only 150 hours away?

I downloaded my course pack – an introduction sheet, nine PDF documents ranging between 15-27 pages in length, and an ‘answer sheet’. I hunkered down with a cup of tea (no milk or sugar – exactly like how our Palaeolithic ancestors would have had their tea!) and a readiness to learn, and I opened the first module, ready to be blown away.

Well… something blew, anyway. And it wasn’t my mind.

Image: Instagram @nomnompaleo

The first thing I noticed was the absence of references. In fact, there were none. It took me until module 3 before I found the first reference to any kind of science whatsoever – a paraphrasing of six studies, all with fewer than 30 participants and no author details, about weight loss on different diets. Elsewhere, they vaguely alluded to some big-name paleo bloggers. I certainly wasn’t directed to do any further reading.

This was not going well. This was not Paleo-riffic. This was decidedly not excellent.

It also didn’t help that the course often contradicted itself. Module 1 claimed that dairy contained beneficial fats (at which point I hurled my disgusting, unhealthy black tea against the wall). However, in the next module, I learned that palaeolithic people didn’t have dairy, and that I would need to eschew it altogether. I mourned the loss of my phytonutrient-rich, detoxifying brew.

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Most worryingly, the assessment amounted to little more than a Q&A sheet where you had to regurgitate, a la Alicia Silverstone’s baby-feeding method, whatever was said in that particular module. Apparently, being a Paleo Nutritionist might not require me to master skills beyond hitting CTRL+C and CTRL+V.

A hundred and fifty hours of study? Try four and a half – because once I worked out that I could copy and paste my answers into the answer sheet, I didn’t bother reading past the third module.

become a nutritionist online.
(Image: Integrative Nutrition)

It was about as demanding as I thought it would be: slightly more demanding than writing erotic fan fiction about Pete Evans, and slightly less demanding than writing erotic fan fiction about Christopher Pyne.

This diploma didn’t fail because it was paleo, necessarily: it failed because it was poorly designed, demeaningly basic, and there were no safeguards to prevent cheating. And even though I am definitely doing this course to take the piss, not everyone would be. I would put down at least $50 that of the 380 who bought this course, at least half are doing it sincerely with the aim of one day being able to peddle their wares.

That should scare you, random person on the internet with a low level of scientific literacy who is looking for dietary advice or for a consulting nutritionist. It should scare you a lot.

For more on the ‘wellness’ industry:

A GP sheds some light on the deadly and emotional cost of the “wellness industry.”

Ashy Bines looks great in a bikini. But that doesn’t make her a nutritional expert.

The truth about feeding Paleo to babies.

The 5 reasons nutritionists and scientists hate Pete Evans.