Diet is a subject that everyone is interested in, but no one really knows about. I keep seeing questions like "will X cause me to gain or lose weight" and answers like "no, it's calories in calories out". Followed by the response "it's more complicated than that". The truth is that science does not know yet. There is no clinically validated diet that has shown significant long term weight loss. Answers are based on anecdotes and what people believe from what they have heard, or what "makes sense" to them, usually without any scientific backing. The very best answers are based on hypotheses that still require validation in the clinic. Voting is done for the same reason.

The point of stackexchange is to provide a location where people can go for expert opinion, to get real, accurate information. I don't think the field of nutrition is up to the task yet. The quality and accuracy of the answers regarding diet just don't hold up to the standards of the other stackexchange forums because the unambiguous information does not exist. I propose that weight-loss and weight-gain related questions be disallowed.

  • @michael - I would suggest adding comments under answers to these types of questions that don't provide references or research links. Downvotes are also another great tool in this area. Right or wrong, subjective answers without references should not be rewarded with upvotes, IMHO.
    – jmort253
    May 9, 2011 at 1:27
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    I agree @michael that without having any nutritionists around, at best we're rehashing first hand experiences, not actual knowledge from the field. I simply refrain from answering any nutrition specific questions, because I know I don't know the answer. Sadly not everyone has the same mentality.
    – Ivo Flipse
    May 9, 2011 at 7:28
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    Once science does "know" about diet in your opinion, are you going to wholeheartedly embrace their "knowledge"? 100 years ago, science "knew" that bloodletting cured all sorts of diseases. 20 years ago, science "knew" that eggs were bad for your cholesterol. The best that anyone can do is provide the most current scientific information available as an answer. Disallowing diet related questions isn't any more feasible than disallowing strength training questions. What works for one person, whether scientifically founded or not, has an equal chance of working or not working for another person. May 9, 2011 at 18:57
  • Bloodletting was never tested in a randomized prospective study. This is how science proves things now. I would absolutely embrace a proven diet. Here's the results of a paleo diet with a small sample that looks really promising controlling blood sugar for type II diabetics: cardiab.com/content/pdf/1475-2840-8-35.pdf
    – michael
    May 9, 2011 at 19:09
  • On the other hand, many of the statements on this site have been tested and shown to be inconclusive or damaging. I have referenced several studies which show that 500kcal/day deficits will not make you lose a pound a week, but I see that statement everywhere.
    – michael
    May 9, 2011 at 19:11
  • Once again though, "this is how science proves things now". In another hundred years they'll be looking back saying, "wow, they used to just randomly test stuff on people to prove whether or not it worked, and just accepted the results of that as scientific proof?!" Most of the "inconclusive" information on this site is due to lack of available technologies to adequately monitor conditions needed for such an experiment, but is widely held as factual be the scientific community as a whole. And here's a 3500 calorie/pound of fat source: nature.com/ijo/journal/v32/n3/abs/0803720a.html May 9, 2011 at 20:09
  • There is no dispute that a pound of fat in a closed system takes 3500kcal to burn up. However, studies have shown over and over that restricting calories by 3500 will not cause a human to lose 1 lbs in body weight. I certainly disagree that the scientific community would regard the speculation on this site as fact. Maybe hypothesis in some cases. Regarding randomized prospective trials, I can only assume by your comment that you are being contrary or you don't know what the phrase means.
    – michael
    May 9, 2011 at 20:30

3 Answers 3


Well, we do have some dynamic answer help for new users (100 rep or below), explaining that answers should be backed up with more than opinion.

Try it yourself by going to a question in incognito or anonymous mode, then clicking on the answer box.

Thanks for contributing an answer to $SiteName!

This is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum, so please make sure you answer the question.

Provide details and share your research. Avoid statements based solely on opinion; only make statements you can back up with an appropriate reference, or personal experiences.

Another option, I like what you wrote here

The point of stackexchange is to provide a location where people can go for expert opinion, to get real, accurate information. I don't think the field of nutrition is up to the task yet. The quality and accuracy of the answers regarding diet just don't hold up to the standards of the other stackexchange forums because the unambiguous information does not exist. I propose that weight-loss and weight-gain related questions be disallowed.

Perhaps this question and answer pair could become the canonical "we don't know, and nobody else does either" question that all others of its type could be closed as a duplicate of?


  • 2
    I think that yellow information box should show for higher reputation users or users who are asking questions for the first time on other SE sites. I myself haven't seen that yellow box in months and even forgot it was there. I find what you've posted to be useful as a PMSE moderator as it makes me agree more on your statement about not being afraid to downvote new users. Now that I've been reminded of the bounty of resources that are at new user's disposal to guide them, it's clear that those who are asking off-topic or poor questions are failing to pay attention to detail.
    – jmort253
    May 9, 2011 at 1:24
  • I think the problem is deeper than just new users giving shallow answers. We don't have any dietitians on this site, so everyone is just giving advice based on their own experience. While I simply don't answer things I don't know the answer to, doesn't mean it stops others from trying anyway.
    – Ivo Flipse
    May 9, 2011 at 7:29
  • I think the canonical answer suggestion is a very good one. We just need someone to write a good one.
    – michael
    May 9, 2011 at 13:12

If it can be accepted that some answers are worthwhile and others are plain wrong then it really comes down to people on this site needing to vote a hell of a lot more. We get 40 votes per day so go out there and use them.

This can't be said enough. Even if there are only one good answer a day, it should be voted up like mad. This site is trying to build momentum and by voting up you are providing an example of what is good and accepted.

Voting encourages people to stay on this site.

If there are fewer people it is important that the few people vote more than a site with a larger population.

Stop reading this, go and find some good examples of nutrition / diet answers and vote them up!

  • Yes! That's why SE has a voting system. Programmers answering questions on StackOverflow aren't always right either (far from it!)
    – G__
    May 10, 2011 at 4:22

All right, fine. I will no longer answer any more questions related to diet. Assuming all people do the same, there will be an entire class of questions that will be asked (considering the title Fitness and Nutrition) and won't be answered--or won't be answered to the way @michael likes.

Bottom line, there are things that we can practically do to deal with dietary problems. However, because nothing has been "officially proven" and the study of the week seems to disprove or reprove older notions of diet, how do you practically answer questions that belong here but cover nutrition?

rant mode(on)

For that matter, do we have any personal trainers or sports medicine people on this site? If not, should we answer any question dealing with exercise, since nutrition is off the table? If that's the case, what's this site for?

rant mode(off)

I'm no dietition, that's true. However, if the principles that helped you lose weight can also help someone else do the same, wouldn't you want to share them? The reward for that of course is getting your hand slapped. My frustration isn't so much about requiring links, that's easy. The frustration is the "don't do that" with no framework of how to make things better.

Oh, and following a moderator's advice got me my first downvotes on this site. I'm not blaming Ivo for that, but no-one is trying to be devious, intentionally spread misinformation, or anything like that. I'm sure we all want this site to succeed. To be certain it's a bit frustrating.

  • First, I am just one person with an opinion. My proposal above only matters as much as other people agree with it. Second, I think we can find a compromise. "Cutting 500kcal/day will make you lose 1 lbs/week" has been refuted in studies. "I lost 50lbs on the Ideal Protein diet and I feel great. Here are the principles of the diet." I think that is fine with me. It is similar to saying "I get better range with the dlink wireless router". Broad statements of why something is going to work for someone else need to be backed up. Statements about what you have experienced seem OK to me.
    – michael
    May 9, 2011 at 18:55
  • I also think it is OK for me to post that no study has proven that a diet succeeds in the long term. So far, I have not gotten many votes for these statements, while you have gotten up votes for your descriptions of the Ideal Protein diet. I think that is OK too.
    – michael
    May 9, 2011 at 18:58
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    Finally, I don't think you have to be a nutritionist or have a degree in sports medicine to read, evaluate, and refer to research. But I think you will agree that a lot of the common knowledge that has been distributed by the media regarding diet has been proven to be wrong. Your diet would have been considered crazy by the American Heart Association, yet it worked for you. The AHA made the mistake of giving advice based on speculation rather than science. Hopefully, we'll get some real results before too long.
    – michael
    May 9, 2011 at 19:05
  • I think a lot has to do with the branch of medicine you specialize in. For example, for diabetics, the recommended diet isn't too far from what I describe. Considering it's based off of pancreatic function, doctors who specialize in diabetes will likely support that approach. The part that I think causes AHA problems has to do with uncontrolled fat/protein intake--particularly large portions of saturated fats which is common with Atkins. The diet I was on also severely limited fats (only allowing mono-unsaturated fats) during weight loss. Protein was also metered and controlled. May 9, 2011 at 19:15
  • To be fair it was designed by a french doctor, and passed the American FDA approval process (necessary because of the claims). That said, most people are on it for relatively short periods of time (less than 4 months). I'm not too sure about that doctor's specialization. This is the guy's bio page if you are interested: idealprotein.com/ipcl_caen.asp?no=144. My progress was monitored locally by nurses, and as well as my general practitioner. All I know is it worked. May 9, 2011 at 19:19

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