Influence and Accountability

Do no harm.

While this statement summons thoughts of the medical field, I would like to consider a broader use of how it applies to the following questions: what does it mean to “do no harm” if you are a public figure and what does it mean to “do no harm” to yourself?

Let’s take the personage of the public figure. When a person transcends from having a small audience that keeps growing until like a supernova they become a public figure, do the rules of engagement change? They kind of have to, don’t they?  Where does personal choice intersect with responsibility on behalf of your audience? What is the role and responsibility of followers at that level? If someone famous says something on television, does that make what they say any more or less true? Does what they say bear more weight than someone else? Possibly.

And this is where I feel a bit of a rub.

As someone who finds joy in cooking and nourishing others at the table or here, through food poetry and stories, my intention is not one of advocating unhealthy recipes and then secretly eating a completely different way. Something about this feels disingenuous and dangerous. When my “content” takes priority over the people being affected by it directly, there’s a problem.

Recently a swarm of media was directed at a celebrity with an uncovered health diagnosis. It was uncovered because of the celebrity’s new role working with a pharmaceutical company. In the articles that circulated then, several months ago, and now, the celebrity claimed the fat-laden foods that have been a part of their brand would not be changing, in spite of the fact that the condition that the celebrity has, requires change. More recently, an article noted that the celebrity dropped two pant sizes through fitness and smaller portions. I have noticed that the recipes being tweeted on behalf of said celebrity are not some of the infamously decadent recipes and wonder if the marketing person behind the social persona has picked up on public perception. Many people have spoken out against or in favor of the celebrity and it seems everyone has a stance on the celebrity’s private life which has been made public.

We want people to be who they say they are. When that doesn’t happen, we feel duped.

What may have rankled me most about the unfolding stories with this celebrity was the position I found in one of the articles, something to the tune of “I can’t change, my mother taught me these…”  To that, I shake my head and think of another celebrity with a similar persuasion and the tremendous 360 and lifestyle change of his… with room for indulgence, letting them be treats and sharing this change of his with his ever-growing audience. He has inspired many with the flavor and talent that have brought him into the limelight and his agility to make such drastic and healthy changes.

Shifting gears, another example of influence can be found in the role that doctors play in our lives. Often, we find one doctor, naturopath, chiropractor or acupuncturist and trust what they tell us even when what they tell us is scary. If the prognosis happens to be bad, it’s not uncommon to get a second opinion. What happens then if a doctor whose responsibility to “do no harm” also collides with getting more ratings? I would be inclined to think that too can be a dangerous cocktail of ingredients. Yellow journalism proved the point that salacious headlines sell more papers and in this day of SEO, the formula for what will make people click through sometimes rules the head.

Influence and responsibility. Influence and accountability. Is it just me or should these two elements go hand in hand more directly?

What does responsibility look like for the influencers? What kind of accountability is there to hold them to their word? One doctor attacks another for not producing enough data to back up claims aired in a format and with an audience that doesn’t question him.

I wonder if the celebrity and the doctor don’t rememeber the power of their words. Perhaps they don’t weigh them before putting them into the ether of internet and TV.

Do no harm.

What is our role as the audience in deducing our personal choices from those of the people who influence us? We have our own responsibilities for our own choices and it is unjust to shirk the results of our actions and instead point the blame elsewhere.

Personally, I am still in the process of cleaning up our pantry and extol moderation as much as I am continuing to learn that this word looks different for many of us. Some days it is a much harder path than I would ever like. Some days, I want the doughnut over the apple with nut butter; I don’t want to go for a walk when I could watch a music video. The thing is I know what stands in front of me if I go down a certain path: diabetes, heart disease, cancer. There are no ghouls set to jump out at me on that road.

They are certainties as the sky was blue over San Francisco today. I watched a man I love eat his way into an early death and at the same time see now that he had 10 extra years of his life on loan to him. How do you convince someone  older than you that they too can change? Change is not something just for the young. He never fully believed it and lived thus. I could choose to see his life and say, “well, those choices are the only ones in front of me” because that’s how he lived, but I know there is another way. And the accountability of meeting and weighing in each week is helping me pave this new path. I want to live to be old and content with the quality of life I’m still able to enjoy later on because of choices made today.

I don’t know when people passed the bulk of thinking for themselves to others they deem to hold greater authority. If I could speak with the celebrity, I would strongly urge them to consider the ramifications of their brand on behalf of their audience. Making a 360 turn would not be foolhardy or destroy the brand, though it might feel unfamiliar at first. It would show resilience and a different choice: you too can change.

If food is naturally nutritious, then food can be nourishing and the stuff of sustenance. There is truth found in the power of learning to listen to your body and to hear what it is trying to tell you. Perhaps it’s telling you to turn off the television or computer and think for yourself. The mind is a terrible thing to waste.


  1. Excellent article Annelies,

    It’s also important to understand the human animal in these equations. At our core, we are herd animals and that means we are easily influenced by those around us (or, ‘our herd’). When Tiffany and I each dropped a little over 40 lbs in 6 months people ask me “how did you do it?” “Did you use this program or that?”

    I did use a program and monitored what I ate, but that was really secondary to the main difference. What really made the big difference is I stopped hanging out with people who ate at Mcdonalds between desk jobs and video games and started hanging out with triathletes & racquetteball players. Important to note that I did not do a single triathlon myself (any sport that has a product called “butt butter” is not for me). Triathletes do different things for fun than other people: they go hiking, they ride their bikes, to be fair they also have a beer after that but we found they did not get smashed (and therefore took in less liquid calories). Since my “pack” changed, my options changed. In other words, I as a consumer of influence, I choose different sources of influence for myself.

    Do sources of influence have a responsibility to use their power (and it is power) wisely? Yes. Do they often fail at this? Yes.

    But do their responsibilities negate our responsibility to ourselves to monitor and intake only that influence which makes us better? No, as you stated so well in the examples in your article. In the end, it is us who must make the choice of not only what we do, but who we allow to wield power over us.

    1. Greg- I think you are really right on about the power of influence in the people we choose to surround ourselves with. That example of “what triathletes do for fun” is very telling. I think there is something to be said for understanding that the people closest to you may in all probability have the greatest affect and the importance of choosing wisely as well as understanding that your choices are still yours to make. Choice of the mind and choice of action are not always the same and can wield a lot of power.

    1. And you dear Jillena, have such a story about this very topic which I look forward to sharing. Thanks!

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