Social Media Beef & Removing Confirmation Bias

Anyone that's in the know with social media fitness can attest to the obscene amount of butthurt that goes down in the comment section. This is even more prevalent if you follow high-profile fitness people, whom may have posts with 100+ likes and comments. 

Whether it's to agree, disagree or just post a funny meme, people love to comment and make their presence known. 

So what's the deal with the title? Why don't I argue on social media? 

REASON #1 - THERE'S NO HOPE

People don't post a Facebook status or comment on a YouTube video to have a discussion, they do it give their stance. Regardless of how much science, anecdotal evidence, logic and reason you throw at them, 99 percent of social media debates are nothing but bickering.

It may start off with hope, but posters quickly abandon their ship of reason and hop aboard ad hominem attacks and call upon their soldiers by tagging their friends in the status. If personal attacks aren't enough, each side either intentionally or unintentionally misrepresents or exaggerates the opposing opinion to make themselves seem less extreme and more agreeable to others. This is a common logical fallacy called "straw man." 

Definition from "You're Not So Smart by David McRaney" - "It works like this: When you get into an argument about something personal or something more public and abstract, you sometimes resort to constructing a character who you find easier to refute, argue and disagree with, or you create a position the other person isn't even suggesting or defending."

The classic example of a straw man comes into play with flexible dieting vs. clean eating. Flexible dieting is simply the idea that foods are not inherently good or bad, energy balance is the main contributor to weight gain/loss and that allowing yourself to eat enjoyable foods will make diet adherence easier over the long-haul - ultimately leading to better health and performance. 

Although it is partially flexible dieters' fault by only posting pics of pop tarts & ice cream - many people get the wrong idea about flexible dieting.

I've read a lot of ignorant posts regarding flexible dieting. Something like - "So there's this new diet that says you can eat pop tarts and ice cream all day and get shredded. What kind of bullshit is that? These people make me sick. Ever heard of PROTEIN? Ever heard of sugar CRASH? Good luck with your heart running out of battery power when you're 40. These kids these days just don't know what hard work and sacrifice is." - Mid 30's Clean Eater Self-proclaimed Bodybuilder Dude.

Misrepresenting your idea to make it sound extreme and dumb, because it's easier for them to seem correct. This fallacy further illustrates that regardless of the points being made, the goal of the two parties is to teach the other and show the world they're right, regardless of how they do it. Two teachers, no students. 

Don't forget. Most people on social media are experts. There is only one way to do things - and that's their way, which is a great transition into reason 2.   

*Of course there are exceptions. Although difficult to find, educational, rationale discussions on social media are alive. Two names that come up quickly are Alan Aragon and Eric Helms - both who I've seen engage with others in a productive manner. 

REASON #2 - CONFIRMATION BIAS

Go to Facebook. Scroll down your feed and see how many posts that actually disagree with your beliefs about fitness (this can be applied to religion, politics, etc.) Odds are, you're going to see a lot of what you already believe. 

Aside from endless yoga pant pictures, your social media feeds play into confirmation bias. 

*Wiki definition - Confirmation bias, also called myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, or remember information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses.

Through likes, follows, shares and double-taps we choose our online reality. Those who believe that the paleo diet "works" will "like" Facebook pages supporting that belief. They'll also add the Paleo big boys like Robb Wolfe and like all of his comments. Maybe even go so far to Pinterest bulletproof coffee recipes. Likewise, they won't follow individuals like Alan Aragon and others who disagree with their previous beliefs. 

All of this giving the illusion and reinforcement that you're correct. Confirmation bias. 

It's not that you're looking at all the evidence and forming an opinion. You've decided - and it's easy to keep that belief when it's all you see. 

I've recently noticed this affect myself. 

First, with flexible dieting. My Instagram is filled with macro friendly recipes, YouTube with pre-contest bodybuilder vlogs eating pop tarts and endless Facebook posts that go something like "You don't have to eat chicken and broccoli to get shredded. Clean eating is the devil. Eat some ice cream and stop having an eating disorder. Blah, blah, blah. I'm better than you and your beliefs."

I've been flexible dieting for 3+ years, teaching it to others for 2 and all I see around me (online at least) is others who do the same. So I'm truly baffled whenever I even hear the term clean eating. I think "Wow. People actually still believe that?" This was one of the reasons I wrote my flexible dieting book (I think 20 people have written one now), because I found out how small of a concept it still was. It was only obvious to me because of my inner online circle. My confirmation bias. 

As a practitioner, I began only working with those willing to track their food intake. If they weren't willing to count, I tagged them as lazy. I was a one trick pony because that's all I knew. Now, after much reflection, my mindset has changed.

Secondly, I've come to realize how warped my idea of leanness and muscle size is. I think 98% of the six pack abs I've seen have been online. Until I close my laptop, I forget we have an obesity epidemic in the United States. Looking at my Facebook feed you'd think veiny bodies and 500 lb squats were the norm. 

HOW TO ARGUE BETTER

When you see something online that disagrees with your current beliefs don't immediately try to find holes in their logic - instead look for holes in your logic.  This will help you remove previous bias and actually learn from the conversation. This is easier said than done, as we all bring unique experiences and bias to the table, but the key to learning is removing as much bias as possible - in order to understand the other point of view. 

This past week I was having a discussion with some fellow nutrition grad students about the popularity of meal-replacement weight loss strategies such as Advocare and Herbalife. Normally when I hear about such strategies I quickly dismiss them, because it's not in line with that I've done in the past or currently do. 

Taking a step back to look objectively I can see why some people enjoy and even thrive under these conditions. 

Things we found:

  1. No guess work. Some people don't like diet flexibility. All they want is to be told what to eat and when. 
  2. Calorie control. With a meal-replacement shake there's no need to track if you're consistent. I drink this shake with water and that's my breakfast. 
  3. Convenience. It's America. People are busy. A shake that takes 1 minute to prepare anyone can do. 

Simplicity, convenience and a calorie-deficit. 

Now, I'm not advocating anyone do the newest 21-day cleanse challenge - but what I have learned is that simplicity & convenience are obviously keys to why people love these diets. Since I opened up the mind and removed my bias, I'm better able to apply those principles from Advocare and Herbalife to flexible dieting and improve my practice. Who would have thought?

Our understanding of physiology, psychology and performance doesn't grow with groupthink. It grows by healthy scepticism, discussion and an open minded exposure to ideas.

Listen to a Paleo podcast if you're a flexible dieter. Incorporate some bodybuilding training into a powerlifting routine. You may learn a thing or two. 

It's possible - even highly likely, that you don't fully understand nutrition and training as much as you think you do.

Thinking you've found the answer inhibits you from asking the right questions. 

Links/Resources

1. You're Not So Smart by David McRaney (Buy here)

2. The Book I Wish I Had Flexible Dieting (Buy here

3. Logical fallacy - Groupthink (Learn here

4. Powercast Podcast with Robb Wolf (Watch here

5. Better Powerlifting by Bodybuilding by Brandon Lilly (Read here)


MyoBrain.com articles are 100 percent free, but we do appreciate donations if you truly find the site helpful. Thank you for support. 

Donate