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Spotting Nutribollocks Online

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Few things grind my gears more than people spreading nutrition misinformation—or nutribollocks—online. In this article, I’ll discuss nutribollocks and give you tips to spot it so that you can avoid it.


It was Monday morning and I was feeling good. I had just gotten out of bed and was ready to head downstairs for breakfast, when I checked my phone and noticed that my friend Bhupi had messaged me on Twitter. I clicked in and saw that he linked a new paper, titled: “The Liver King Lie: Misrepresentation, justification, and public health implications”, just published in the International Journal of Drug Policy (1).


It took me all of two seconds to decide that I wanted to cover the Liver King grift in this week’s blog, because as much as I despise these charlatans, uncovering their nonsense is a guilty pleasure of mine. So, let’s first discuss how these snake oil salesmen mislead their audiences before I give you tips to spot nutrition misinformation online.


Me deciding to expose Liver King this week


The Charlatan’s Playbook

Charlatans generally represent a figure who is going against the system, guided by a deep knowledge of what’s really going on. They represent a figure who’s there to help you—in fact, they’re the only one who can help you—understand their deeper knowledge on a given topic. But what guides charlatans is not selflessness or altruism, it’s a dark desire for money and clout.


Liver King

Liver King is a perfect example: a middle-aged, barefoot-and-bare-chested dude, here to tell you that if you understand his special ancestral knowledge and follow his advice, you too can be a Primal like him. On the surface it seems innocent enough: “he’s just trying to make people healthier, bro!”. However, following his advice could be dangerous.


To give an example, his trademark diet that includes one pound of raw liver per day is likely to cause vitamin A toxicity. One pound of beef liver contains just under 43,000 micrograms of vitamin A—which is way more than the threshold for chronic vitamin A toxicity of about 7,500 micrograms per day (2). In addition, literally any other unprocessed food group is preferable than red meat—which he prescribes in abundance—for reducing the risk of heart disease and death from any cause (3).


The Grift

Charlatans like Liver King who spread nutribollocks online also tend to be grifters, that is, they spread mis- and disinformation because it makes them money. Don’t be fooled by Liver King; he sells this message of being all natural, doing what our ancestors did, and so on and so forth. But he is a liar and is anything but natural. In fact, he spends about 11,000 dollars per month on steroids, which he can do because he makes 100 million dollars per year selling supplements (4)… yeah, soooo natural, dude.


Liver King (Source: Mold)


How Charlatans Cultivate a Following

In the paper I mentioned at the beginning (1), the authors analysed Liver King through the lens of social identity, which states that a large part of self-concept is found through the membership of groups and categories. This is intuitive and is the same idea as supporting a football team—being part of a group makes you feel part of something greater than yourself. Indeed, Liver King’s brand is based on a Primal identity, which you achieve through following his Ancestral Tenets (5).


This is true of most charlatans, who create an "Us" vs. "Them" scenario. In the case of Liver King, the "Us" category reflects Primals who have seen the light, and the "Them" category reflects Subprimals who have not. Paired with his exploitation of young men’s insecurities around body image and masculinity, it's no wonder why Liver King (and others like him) get so popular on social media. But popularity says nothing about merit: his entire brand is built on a house of cards and there is nothing masculine or strong about lying to people for your own gain.


Spotting Nutribollocks Online

Now that you have an understanding of how charlatans get popular on social media, spotting their misinformation becomes a lot easier. My top three tips to do so would be the following:

  1. Be very cautious of anyone who claims to have special knowledge in a subject area that others in that field do not, e.g., “They told you fruits and vegetables were good for you, but they’re really toxic!”

  2. Be wary of anyone who makes black-and-white and exaggerated claims, e.g., “you need to eat this to be healthy!”

  3. Be cautious of anyone who states that just because something is natural, it is therefore good. Toothpaste is unnatural, but it’s a whole lot better for your teeth than brushing with water!


Examples of evidence-based practice (Source: Just Health)


Summary

Charlatans commit numerous errors in logic and reasoning when they spread nutribollocks online. Use these tips to help navigate social media a bit better, and seek out nutrition information from those actually in the field, those who share information in a responsible and non-clickbait fashion, and those who cite relevant sources and explain the pros and cons to the evidence in a particular area of research.


If you want to improve your football knowledge, too, email [email protected] to get in touch with our team of expert coaches.


I hope this article will help to bulletproof you from nutribollocks online. Until next week…


Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH

Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121

Founder of Just Health — Instagram: @just.health.info


Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.


References

(1) Gibbs N, Piatkowski T. The Liver King Lie: Misrepresentation, justification, and public health implications [published online ahead of print, 2023 Feb 23]. Int J Drug Policy. 2023;114:103979. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955395923000282


(2) Penniston KL, Tanumihardjo SA. The acute and chronic toxic effects of vitamin A. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(2):191-201. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/83/2/191/4649798


(3) Hidayat K, Chen JS, Wang HP, Wang TC, Liu YJ, Zhang XY, Rao CP, Zhang JW, Qin LQ. Is replacing red meat with other protein sources associated with lower risks of coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality? A meta-analysis of prospective studies. Nutr Rev. 2022 Aug 8;80(9):1959-73. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35380734/


(4) Small J. From Liver King to Liar King: An Organ-Eating Fitness Guru Exposes His Steroid Use in a Shocking YouTube Apology. Entrepreneur. 2022. Available at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/business-news/i-lied-the-100-million-liver-king-admits-to-taking/440439


(5) Liver King. Ancestral Tenets. Available at: https://www.liverking.com/tenets


Technical Terms

Charlatan: A person falsely claiming to have special knowledge or skills.


Misinformation: Inaccurate information that is borne of misconception, that is, the spreader of said misinformation may not know that the information is inaccurate or incorrect.


Vitamin A Toxicity: This is a dangerous condition that develops either acutely, in response to large doses of vitamin A, or chronically, in response to large doses of vitamin A that accumulates in the body over time. The problems associated with vitamin A toxicity include blurry vision, bone loss, bone pain, dry skin, sensitivity to sunlight, and nausea/vomiting.


Grifter: A charlatan who espouses quackery, not necessarily because they believe it to be true, but rather for some ulterior motive such as money or clout (definition from this great article by Nick Hiebert).


Disinformation: Inaccurate information that is not borne of misconception, that is, the spreader of said disinformation knows that the information is inaccurate or incorrect but spreads it anyway.


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