Monday, June 14, 2010

Adventures of a loudmouth (why I do what I do)

This past Friday I was given the honour of delivering a keynote dinner talk at the 2010 Canadian Obesity Network's Student Meeting.

The meeting brought together the future of Canadian obesity research and the bright eyed enthusiasm there was a joy to see.

Unlike much of my blogging, the talk I gave wasn't particularly inflammatory. I called it, "Adventures of a Loudmouth" and by means of examples from my life I encouraged the students to be vocal advocates for those things they believe in.

Ultimately that's what drives me to write this blog.

Some folks have said I write it to encourage patients to come to my office, but in the 5 years I've been blogging, and of the thousands of folks I've met in my office, I can only remember one who said the blog brought them there.

Other folks have said that I write it to be "popular"or for "fame", yet I have zero doubt that my writing this blog has closed more doors to me than it's opened.

The answer's much simpler. I write it because I believe that it's incredibly important to speak up about those things that matter to you. I write it because I believe it's one of my responsibilities as a physician to advocate for better health. I write it because I believe that shining a spotlight on programs, policies and attitudes that either willfully or inadvertently make it more difficult for consumers to make healthier choices for their families is something that I must do given that many of those who might want to speak up, are silenced by their institutional and professional ties which preclude them from biting the hands that feed them.

Ultimately I write it because I love to, and just as I did during the early days of the blog, I'd write it even if virtually nobody read it.

After the talk was over Diane Finegood asked me a very fair and relevant question. She asked me if I ever consider the unintended consequences of my blogging.

The answer's yes.

I don't doubt my blog has hurt some good people, and I'm genuinely sorry about that. I don't doubt that from time to time some of my posts have been over the top and more angry or personal than they needed to be and I'm sorry about that too. But what I can't be sorry for is speaking up about what I believe in and it's something you shouldn't ever be sorry for either.

To save you the time of watching the talk, the recipe for leveraging your PhD or MD into loudmouth advocacy is:

1 short set of initials that help lend credibility and open doors
1 small soapbox
1 tsp soundbites
100s of tablespoons of broken records
1 large swimming pool full of luck

Of course if you're just planning on cooking advocacy at home the recipe's much shorter:

Live the life you want your family to live, and relish every minute of it.

[If you are interested in watching me speak, I've uploaded my talk to Vimeo (unlike Youtube, Vimeo doesn't impose a ridiculous 10 minute maximum on their clips) and embedded it below. It might not be me at my fieriest or my most eloquent but it's certainly me being sincere and speaking from the heart.]

(Kudos to Angela and Zach for organizing such a great conference and thanks for letting me be a part of it)

Adventures of a Loudmouth: Leveraging your initials into advocacy from Yoni Freedhoff on Vimeo.

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  1. Anonymous1:51 pm


    The question I have is: with so many people specializing in obesity studies/nutrition and with so many diet and health advocates, why do we have such an obesity epidemic?

    Ken Leebow

  2. Theresa2:12 pm

    I'll admit that sometimes I've read your blog and rolled my eyes like a teenager..... but usually when it is something I don't really want to hear (but should listen to anyhow). Being right isn't always popular. You have inspired me to make better choices and see through some of the snake oil offerings out there.
    Thank you for all that you do.

  3. Ken, it's because the solution isn't one people want to hear.

    The solution is to spend time cooking at home, to account for calories, to exercise regularly (but not expect that to affect weight dramatically), to eat out infrequently and to be thoughtful with indulgences.

    Unfortunately not only are most people unhappy to hear that, they're faced with messages coming at them left right and centre that steer them to believe that there are quick, easy or magical options for cures.

    Theresa - thanks for the kind words.

  4. Anonymous5:01 pm



    Paraphrasing a John Lennon phrase (Give Peace a Chance)...If people gave Healthy Eating a Chance, they might realize that those foods taste every bit as good as the junk that makes people fat. And of course, the health outcomes will be very positive.


    Ken Leebow

  5. Impressive speech, Yoni. Very articulate and well-reasoned.

    I didn't hear a single "um.." or "uh..." That's one of my pet peeves, even though I'm as guilty as most.


  6. Anonymous12:19 am

    Thank you for posting this! I have recently come up against "censorship" issues in my field (dietetics) for speaking up against issues in the industry. It is frustrating and scary to speak up when no one else will, and when there is fear of losing your livelihood. Your talk is encouraging.

  7. Dr. Yoni,
    It's not easy being an advocate, but I appreciate your focus on this issue. Obesity is a cultural, emotional, and incredibly complex part of all our lives. Industry has built massive enterprise on the issue: diet, exercise, pharmaceutical, medicine.
    Charlatans have extracted huge fortunes on promises of a quick 'cure'. So thanks, loudmouth! The sanity you bring is refreshing, honest, and needed.