Plural Realities

Plural Realities

Postmodernism and it’s impact on the fitness industry


Postmodernism is a philosophical school of thought and is notoriously hard to define. This is because the concept of postmodernism is applied to many different aspects of culture as well as being used to define an epoch in time. People affected by postmodernism usually have many different views and beliefs which make it a heuristic nightmare. Lecturer Daniel Palmer wrote, when asking a student to define what postmodernism meant; a student replied “it’s when you put everything in quotation marks.” I think this is simultaneously witty — and makes the point. Postmodernists believe words such as “truth” “facts” “reality” to be completely relative and without objectivity. Objective truth is a non starter in a postmodernist worldview which inevitably leads to an indulgence in cultural relativism. I am of the opinion that absolute truth is an illusion, however there is undoubtedly a hierarchical value system which can be placed on claims and we can be maximally certain about things.

Facts, for example, are at one end of the continuum in which we can be maximally certain, whilst at the other there is fabrication, of which we can be minimally certain. Truth — to the postmodernist — cannot be defined therefore there is no objective or moral system which is better than any other. Viewed through the lens of today’s culture postmodernism seems to disdain, more than anything else, hierarchical systems. Postmodernists see hierarchy as a power system which only erodes our culture and political systems. Of course, this translates perfectly to the notion of relative truth — all claims are on an equal playing field! A rejection of hierarchy is not only enervating but it also potentially poses some serious obstacles to how our society functions. You see, we cannot destroy hierarchical systems without too destroying value systems, as value systems are — by definition — hierarchies. We imbue everything we do with some sort of value ranking; this enables us to prioritize tasks, to favour one choice over anther, to distinguish between right and wrong, or to establish ethical certainty. To give you an example of how this school of thought goes beyond the pale ethically, we can look at the notion of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the notion held by many anthropologists, and inevitably postmodernists, which states that cultures can be viewed through their own lenses. This means that whether something is morally, ethically, or behaviourally right or wrong is dependent on the culture. For example, in extremist Islamic cultures woman are viewed as second class citizens and are subjugated by being poorly educated and by not being afforded the same rights as the males. A cultural relativist, and a postmodernist, would say that we cannot judge this as objectively wrong — that this is their culture. This notion, in my opinion, is morally reprehensible and I would invite the cultural relativist, if he really believes what he purports, to send his daughter off to one of these countries for a year foreign exchange; after all, there would be nothing wrong with the treatment she would receive during her visit. In fact, it may even be morally correct for the denizens to subjugate his daughter — on his own account.

Postmodernism and Fitness

So how does all this translate to the fitness industry and how the hell is it relevant to your progress and your gains. Well this school of thought, of course, spells disaster for methodological naturalism in which the scientific method is based. Science, being the main tool for which we get reliable knowledge in the fitness industry, is of course vital to the industry’s effective operation. Due to its focus on rigor, its commitment to the mitigation of human biases, and demonstrable effectiveness — we have placed science at the summit of the hierarchy of truth. Postmodernists seek to pull this hierarchy down so that all claims can share an equal space at the table. Now this is not pie in the sky rhetoric, with the global consumption of social media these ideas spread like intellectual contagions. This idea, in particular, is spreading at an astounding pace and we now have personalities such as David Wolfe and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are making health claims which require an esoteric knowledge, promulgating ideas which are being received by the public as if they have the same credibility as genuine, perspicacious, and evidence based experts. We have hard working, competent, and erudite people having their work discredited by people who believe, through a google search, that they — in fact — know better. Social media has acted like a force-multiplier for this ideology and one of the greatest impacts has been felt by the medical community with the anti-vaccination movement. With the inception of the vaccination we have, arguably, the greatest medical breakthrough in history which, is now being undermined by a large group of predominantly middle-class privileged mothers who have decided the entirety of the medical community are no better informed than anyone else. This movement has gained incredible traction and is a great example of how postmodernism can potentially threaten what is widely considered an immutable fact. The Netflix documentary The Magic Pill is an example of how we, in the fitness industry, could find ourselves exposed to the intellectual contagion. In the documentary the celebrity chef Pete Evans makes outlandish — and more importantly unsubstantiated — claims such as changing to the paleo diet can mitigate the symptoms of diseases such as Autism and cancer! Using arguments from authority, by having physicians bolster his claim, laypeople could easily find themselves fooled by his hyperbolic rhetoric. The President of the Australian Medical Association compared it to the documentary Vaxxed and said the two were competing “in the awards for the film least likely to contribute to public health.”

What can we do to protect ourselves against this?

Ultimately, it is down to you to understand the difference between a good source of information and a bad one. You need to understand why some sources are good and why some are bad. You need to be sceptical of all claims and educate yourself in methods of differentiating between good information and bad. Remember that we all have biases, which we need to correct for, that make us view information through a distorted lens. We know that we are more likely to accept information which agrees with our pre-existing notions — this is called confirmation bias. Good quality sources usually have tell tail signs such as regulatory bodies, policies, or procedures which ensure that the information given is true and are held to account when it is not. There are resources out there such as Snopes, factcheck, politifact, and fullfact which you can use to filter claims on the go however, some claims will require deeper research. All the information on the internet is not equal however it is being presented to you as if it were. So where ever you get your information — especially if it’s fits into your worldview — make sure it has been objectively substantiated. Do not allow yourself to become complicit in the propagation of misinformation.

Written By

Aidan Doherty

The Sugar Crisis

the truth about sugar

The fitness industry, like any other, spits out trends at a phenomenal rate. Food Gurus, paradoxically, seem to find the ultimate diet to trump all others every few years. They make outlandish claims about what’s currently trending, nutritionally speaking, and when counter evidence is presented to them they seem completely resilient to the opprobrium. They move on, plant a flag somewhere else and, without compunction, make some more money spinning the same story. So then the question becomes; where do we get our information from? How can we tell the difference between a credible source and perfidious charlatan? The answer, unfortunately, is that the onus lies with you. Like it or not you are now part of an information age unlike any before it. The information bubble has popped and we are adrift in its entrails. As we float in this sea of information, we can use many devices to extract what we want yet the methods of filtering we normally use seem to be redundant. There are, however, methods out there which are both readily accessible and consistently reliable (tautology, so what?!). You now have a responsibility to implement these before promulgating information.

I have decided then to turn my, unforgiving, eye towards the current demonization of sugar. It’s important to note that demonization is often justified so it pays to look into these things — an informed decision is rarely regretted so, let’s get informed!

So firstly, what is sugar? Sugar is a form of carbohydrate which is broken down very quickly by the body. Sugar takes many forms however the ones we are most familiar with are sucrose (table sugar), fructose (sugar in fruit), lactose (sugar in milk), and glucose (what carbohydrates are broken down into). Glucose is the only fuel source which brain cells can use — so the notion that we don’t need carbohydrates can be dispelled immediately. Sugar is now facing the obloquy and it has become quite fashionable to finger it for the current obesity crisis facing the western world.

So let’s do away with some popular misapprehensions surrounding sugar and see if we can’t get our heads above water with what is true and what isn’t.


Claim – Sugar Makes You Hyper

We have all been there with our kids, they’ve returned home from a party jacked up on cake, chocolate, and aptly prepared to give you a mental breakdown! “Too much damn sugar at that party!” Tends to be our complaint! Unfortunately, as great as it would be to have an out like this, science has shown time and time again that the link between sugar and our kid’s hyper-activity simply does not exist. The brain uses glucose as an energy source and thus it seemed logical to link sugar intake with increased cognitive activity; there have been some studies which show that cognitive ability may be increased by consuming sugar however even these findings have not been demonstrated effectively. Take this quote from a review which looked at the literature regarding the link between sugar and children’s behaviour and cognitive abilities…

The meta-analytic synthesis of the studies to date found that sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children. The strong belief of parents may be due to expectancy and common association.”

There was also a brilliant study analysing children and parents, in which the parents were told their children had been given either a placebo or actual sugar. In actuality neither groups had sugar and both were given a placebo. The mothers who believed their children had been given sugar actually reported that their children were significantly more hyperactive! This demonstrated that our biases are playing too much of a roll, we are expecting our children to be more hyper and therefore we perceive them to be such.

Claim – Sugar is toxic and addictive!

Facebook is notoriously good at proliferating absurdities and it — again — has a part to play in the propagation of the notion that sugar has addictive properties. Social media’s role in the alarmism that surrounds many of the topics today cannot be overstated. Articles which allude to sugar being addictive are everywhere these days and, to this end, it’s important for me to firstly make some distinctions. There is a spectrum here which, at one end, people use hyperbolic titles to get clicks and, at the other, flat out asserts that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. I am addressing the harmful end of this spectrum. This all comes from a study on lab rats which demonstrated sugar had addictive properties BUT this cannot be extrapolated to humans. There is a large body of evidence contravening this claim which has shown that — in humans — sugar is NOT addictive. The review concluded… 

“To conclude, the society as a whole should be aware of the differences between addiction in the context of substance use versus an addictive behavior. As we pointed out in this review, there is very little evidence to indicate that humans can develop a “Glucose/Sucrose/Fructose Use Disorder.”

Humans do however develop eating disorders and these people typically tend to have unhealthy relationships with high calorie, low nutrient foods. As for toxicity, anything can be toxic given that we consume enough of it and sugar is no different — studies have shown this again and again. Obscurantism like this can be extremely misleading to the general public. Take this quote from a study reviewing the literature…

“There is no evidence, however, that fructose is the sole, or even the main factor in the development of these diseases, nor that it is deleterious to everybody, and public health initiatives should therefore broadly focus on the promotion of healthy lifestyles generally.

Claim – High Fat Low Carb is best, sugar is the enemy! 

There is, indeed, the notion that there is one diet which surpasses all others! One which its proponents claim is how humans were meant to eat. There tends to be a lot of zealotry with in the low carb community and you will regularly here utterances such as “the ultimate diet” espoused by proponents of ketogenic and low carb diets, in fact, the topic has been the source of many of my posts. There is quite a bit of literature to support this claim too and that, I think, is one of the reasons this trend has taken off. The problem is that with literature we need to learn, not just to look at conclusions drawn, but also at the limitations with the research, and what you will find is that most of the literature which supports low carb diets don’t control for some very fundamental variants… calories and protein. You see, what we find when we compare diets in which calories and protein are equated is that there is no difference! Here a very recent review of the literature concludes…

“A wide range of dietary approaches (low-fat to low-carbohydrate/ketogenic, and all points between) can be similarly effective for improving body composition, and this allows flexibility with program design. To date, no controlled, inpatient isocaloric diet comparison where protein is matched between groups has reported a clinically meaningful fat loss or thermic advantage to the lower-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. “

Thus we know that —fundamentally — our calorie and protein intake are of the utmost importance. Excess calories, be it from sugar or fat, will lead to obesity.


Claim – Sugar Causes Diabetes 


Diabetes is a condition which causes a persons blood sugar to become too high. There are two kinds of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the cells which produce insulin. Type two diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing insulin. The root cause of type 2 diabetes is generally unknown however what we do know is that there are some major contributing factors, most notable is weight gain! This 2018 overview lists the risk factors as follows…

  • Being overweight and not getting enough exercise.
  • Smoking.
  • Low fibre, high fat, sugary diet.
  • Medication which affect the body sugar metabolism.
  • Genetic factors.

What is the common denominator when looking at these lifestyle factors? Overweight, Little exercise, low fibre, high fat, sugary foods. All these things lead to a negative energy balance i.e. you’re taking in more calories than you need! That said there are a number of factors which need to be addressed as stated in this consensus statement. It does however go on to say…

“Most patients with type 2 diabetes are obese, and the global epidemic of obesity largely explains the dramatic increase in the incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes over the past 20 years.”

And then follows with…

“However, the precise mechanisms linking the two conditions remain unclear, as does our understanding of interindividual differences. Improved understanding will help advance identification and development of effective treatment options.”

This shows that whilst there is a prevalent link between lifestyle and type two diabetes we simply do not know the specifics of that link as of yet and to attribute it to sugar would be specious. The best advise to give someone is to get their weight under control and exercise as often as possible.

So in conclusion. There is nothing inherently bad with sugar, problems arise when we eat beyond what we need — when we are in a surplus of calories. There is a hierarchy of importance which we should appeal to when addressing these things and at the top of this hierarchy is total number of macronutrients by the end of the day. Fundamentally, if we manage our calories correctly, eat enough protein and plenty of fibre, most of the hard work is done. Sugars only really become a concern when we go into a surplus of calories. Peace!

Written by Aidan Doherty

GMO, Yes or No?

GMO, Yes or No?

GMO’s… should you be worried? (5min read approx)

GMO is an acronym which means Genetically Modified Organism. It is a term used to describe an organism whose genetic material has been altered using any technique attributable to genetic engineering (GE).  Now, while this sounds pretty scary, it is important to realise that we have been genetically engineering foods for as long as agriculture has existed simply by selecting and breeding foods for specific reasons such as size, colour, taste, yield etc. As technologies have progressed we have been able to subsume a wide variety of more specific techniques, which are much more efficient than the torpid artificial selection approach and enable us to mitigate many of the short comings which were previously inherent in agriculture.

So what is the problem here? Well a quick google search will turn up some — seemingly — terrifying results…

A growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage, and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights. More than 60 countries around the world – including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union – require GMOs to be labelled. Globally, there are also 300 regions with outright bans on growing GMOs. lists a number of dangers such as…

By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes a host of unpredictable side effects. Moreover, irrespective of the type of genes that are inserted, the very process of creating a GM plant can result in massive collateral damage that produces new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and nutritional deficiencies.

The problem here is that none of these sources seem to want to back their claims up with genuine research citations and they use logical fallacies which are easily refuted. For example, the claim that we should be worried about GMO’s due to the fact that “more than 60 countries worldwide” stipulate that GMO’s must be labelled and some have banned them. However, when we think this through this line of argumentation means absolutely nothing. Earth also has 72 countries which still currently outlaw homosexuality, using their logic we should be extremely worried about gays! This is called an argument from popularity and it assumes that a claim cannot be wrong simply based on the fact that a large number of people believe it. These kinds of claims are preposterous, rather than using facts, figures, and research they depend on buzz words like “toxins” and “chemicals” to give their assertions weight.

When we look at the scientific literature there is an overwhelming agreement that GMO’s are at least as safe as their conventional counterparts…

Here is an overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research, which incorporated nearly 1,800 studies into its analysis. The authors concluded the following:

“We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.”

After looking at the facts The Royal Society of Medicine concluded that

Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.

The World Health Organisation stated …

GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.

All this is but a snippet of the information out there which is widely available and should be convincing to any rational actors that GMO’s are completely safe to eat and use. They also provide poor countries a lifeline with which to produce crops when it would not have otherwise been possible. They ensure that crop yields are at a maximum by protecting the crops from damage from countless environmental dangers giving farmers around the world the opportunity to make a living.

The takeaway point here is that you have absolutely nothing to fear from GMO’s, there is currently no evidence — which is taken seriously — to show that there are health risks associated with ingesting them. Rather, the problem we are facing is a distrust in expertise. We have been thrust into the information age without the necessary filter to sift the good information from the bad. This has led to a phantasmagorical situation in which we, as a lay population, have decided we are better informed than the experts in the field. This is ultimately a path to disaster.

Written by Aidan Doherty