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The Curious Case of Belle Gibson

For the past couple of weeks, both the Australian and international media reported that Belle Gibson, founder of the best selling App The Whole Pantry, might have based her whole empire on fraud. Although no statements have been issued from Gibson as of yet, the world is finally starting to question the power of celebrity diets and wellness advocates. Finally.Slide1

Belle Gibson established her wellness guru status claiming to have “cured” her terminal brain cancer after ditching conventional treatment and resorting to nutrition and alternative practices.  Speaking to her social media followers and becoming a source of “hope” to many, Gibson continued to defy the incredible medical odds by sharing recipes, tips and advice on how to beat this aggressive illness. Then, the empire began to crumble…

Recent reports surfaced that Belle was being investigated over charity donations where her public claims about donating around $300,000 to various charities were never handed over. Furthermore, stories started to surface contradicting her cancer claims and raising doubt on whether she was ever diagnosed with cancer. Holes and gaps in her stories, supporters and followers have now expressed their anger, frustration, disappointment  and betrayal, demanding refunds and even, her prosecution. 

Now I have written multiple posts on how everyone nowadays seems to have an “authority” over nutrition and how spreading misinformation is not only misguiding and confusing but also dangerous. Gibson’s case has now become one of the biggest examples of how having a massive following over social media does NOT make you an expert. People suffering from chronic illnesses such as cancer, are an extremely vulnerable group and have been taken advantage of by advocates of pseudoscience. Having lived through a similar experience with a good friend who died of cancer after deciding to ditch chemo for alternative medicine, anyone claiming to have cured an aggressive illness through diet and unproven practices simply infuriates me. 

I absolutely believe in the power of wholesome living, however, not as a substitute to treatment for illnesses like cancer but to complement these treatments and offer extra defences. When the going gets tough, we start to question and undermine the power of medicine. But matter of fact is, science-based medicine helped us develop cures and treatments for hundreds of years so what changed? Why is the public equating celebrity to expertise? Why aren’t such “gurus” being checked for evidence before signing million-dollar publishing deals?  

As a clinical dietitian, I have a responsibility towards my readers, patients and clients to provide evidence-based practice. Furthermore, medical professionals and specialists should be your “go-to” people when deciding on the best course of treatment for your illness and not blogs and Instagram accounts claiming to have the answers. Nutritional therapy and management should also be treated with the same seriousness as celebrity chefs and wellness gurus (unless with an accredited background or degree in nutritional science and dietetics) are NOT qualified to provide advice based on “googled” research and personal experiences with food. 

And so the fight against fads and fadvocates continues…

For more thoughts on fads and misinformation, click here for my article on “When Fashion Bloggers Talk Health” 

 

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