Self-styled “health coach” and “raw food educator” Olivia Budgen went down in flames recently after an inflammatory Instagram post she made (which has since been deleted) drew fire from the public and media:
“Cancer and disease is your body trying to save you. What if these conditions were not actually bad at all?”
Hmm, yeah, what if…
Pretty bold words. Does this offend you?
It should because Olivia Budgen is not a one-off isolated case, and her words and online influence have the potential to cause harm.
Notorious wellness fraudster Belle Gibson was recently fined $410,000 for faking brain cancer and profiting from it, so Olivia’s cancer blunder could not have come at a worse time. As of this writing, she is still being brutally savaged online by people who lost loved ones to cancer.
Her story highlights what is an already out of control (and growing) problem in social media: pseudo “experts” using all their entrepreneurial might jockeying to be the next Instagram sensation. Just don’t let science, truth, or rational thought get in the way.
Who is Olivia Budgen anyway?
Olivia Budgen is one of those multi-titled wellness warriors pushing her own brand of unscientific new-age woo and punching way above her weight in the health claims department.
She packages herself as a Social Entrepreneur, Health Coach, Blogger, Beauty Therapist and Raw Food Enthusiast/Educator who is “obsessed with juicing and eating sugar (the natural kind).”
On her website, she spins a tale about how she went off the rails as a young, lost, and directionless party girl drinking, doing drugs, and eating rubbish food. She eventually crashed and fell chronically ill, going “from specialist to specialist, but no one was able to help.”
But then, “after endless hours of research,” Olivia discovered that the body has an innate healing ability (ever wondered how cuts heal all by themselves?). She got on the low-fat raw vegan, fasting, meditation bandwagon and the rest is history.
It’s commendable that Olivia cleaned up her act, but all she did was trade one obsession for another. Her penchant for extremes pushed the pendulum a little too far the other way.
Olivia obtained an online health coaching certificate through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which has drawn its own criticism for being of questionable repute. She does not appear to have any university training in the hard sciences (anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, or exercise physiology etc), but that doesn’t stop her from making all kinds of outlandish claims.
Olivia’s numerous false and misleading claims
Olivia makes numerous false and questionable claims on her website and social media accounts. There are far too many for me to list, but here are a few examples which demonstrate her lack of basic scientific understanding:
The cause of cellulite is an accumulation of toxins and acidic waste
She claims the lymphatic system becomes “backed up,” the “liver gets sluggish,” and the “circulatory system cannot work efficiently to get rid of stored up toxins.”
This is false. Cellulite is not caused by toxins and acidic waste. Olivia, please name these toxins and acidic waste products you speak of? Be specific.
Cellulite is merely the dimpled, cottage cheese appearance of fat deposits which push through the connective tissue under the skin surface. Key factors which explain its appearance include connective tissue architecture, variations in local blood flow, and genetic and hormonal factors.
Eliminate cellulite with dry brushing, massage, and colonics and enemas
Olivia advises that, aside from exercise and eating fruits and veggies (which I agree with), you should also use dry brushing of the skin to help “exfoliate” and “remove toxins.”
Massage, she claims, “stimulates the tissues around the cellulite and helps by breaking down fat and dispersing it.”
Olivia states that “most people already have compromised elimination channels” so it’s hard to “get the waste effectively out of your body.” She claims that getting a series of six to nine colonics will “cleanse the bowel and release the lymphatic pressure so it can drain and the toxins will be removed.”
In short, all three of these treatment options are unproven. While cosmetic treatments may temporarily enhance localised skin appearance, they are not permanent “cures.” You cannot just brush away cellulite, break down fat with massage, or flush it away with colonics.
Nowhere in her article does she cite any legitimate scientific references to support her claims. She does, however, included multiple affiliate links for body brushes and enemas.
God crafted plants to make them look like the organ they were designed to help heal
In another blog post, Olivia cites the Doctrine of Signatures which holds that foods that resemble specific organs are designed to treat that organ.
For example, a tomato is red like the heart so therefore it must be good for the heart. A walnut looks like a brain, so therefore must be good for the brain.
Her rationale is right up there with astrology and palm reading. Certainly there is no doubt that vegetables and nuts are good for the heart and brain, but not for the reasons Olivia believes.
There is only one disease
In one of her Instagram posts, Olivia contends that there is only one disease, despite the 30,000+ labels assigned to different diseases.
“The countless names of illnesses do not really matter. What does matter is that they all come from the same root cause… too much tissue acid waste in the body,” she adds.
As in the above example, many of Olivia Budgen’s health claims appear to centre about the “toxins” and “acidic waste” theories of disease, but while it appears her intentions are genuine in wanting to help people, she is quite misguided and is publishing ideas which have no scientific underpinnings.
In a number of cases, her writing reminds me of a student writing a report for a book she hasn’t fully read or comprehended. It’s as if she’s just making things up off the top of her head that intuitively seem true to her, and/or she’s trying to parrot back something she read on the internet or in a fad diet book.
Case in point, while the so-called “alkaline diet” is popular, the ideas behind it are faulty and have no physiological basis. Yes, it is true that if someone eats lots of fruits and veggies, their health will improve, but not for the reasons people like Olivia think.
Olivia Budgen’s “apology” was just brand damage control
In the backlash from the cancer-is-your-mate post, Olivia took to her YouTube channel to issue a response. But what was supposed to be an “apology” video appeared to be nothing more than a rehearsed and tightly-edited damage control clip.
First, Olivia tries to apologise for her offensive post, but then goes straight into a justification for her views by parroting a passage from known cancer quack and author Andreas Moritz.
In the video she states:
“I drew my information from Andreas Moritz’s book, Cancer is not a Disease: It’s a Survival Mechanism. In this book, Andreas Moritz proves the point that cancer is a physical symptom that reflects our body’s final attempt to deal with life threatening cell congestion and toxins. He claims that removing the underlying conditions that force the body to produce cancerous cells sets the pre-conditions for complete healing of the mind body and emotions. Many of the statements made in his book by doctors I really resonated with and was inspired to share them.”
Ok, let’s be clear about one thing: Andreas did not “prove” anything, let alone this made up nonsense about “cell congestion and toxins.”
It’s nice Olivia was inspired to share Andreas’ views with her audience, but when she becomes a mouthpiece for pseudoscience and cancer quackery, she will be met with the same public fury each and every time.
Second, in her attempt at apologising, it came off as if she was blaming her critics for the misunderstanding.
“I am confused and disappointed that my message came across as me saying that cancer was a good thing. I do not believe this and I’m sorry if my post appeared to suggest otherwise. Having direct family members experience cancer, I understand how horrific the circumstances can be. It kills me to think that my message came across as insensitive because that is the furtherest [sic] thing from my intentions.”
Confused and disappointed in whom exactly? Please clarify. Are you confused and disappointed in yourself or others?
Third, you can see below that unrepentant Olivia still stands by her original comments. A commenter named Sydney tells Olivia she “had no reason to apologise.” Olivia completely agrees. Apology invalidated.
The only thing she appears sorry for is getting called out.
Fourth, Olivia doubles down and goes on to leverage the backlash for further profit. You can see below in the video’s byline that she’s included links to buy her salad book, get her “cleansing” tips, and subscribe to her YouTube channel.
“Hey guys, I’m like, really sorry. Here, buy my book.” Epic fail. Again.
The bottom line: despite her words, Olivia Budgen’s actions suggest she doesn’t understand the gravity of her comments, nor the responsibility she wields in making online health claims. Might be a good time for Olivia to reevaluate her values and moral compass.
You can be sincere…. and still wrong
Olivia appears to be passionate about health and believes that what she is doing is right. Yes, it’s a noble cause, I get it. But she is a misguided messenger and, instead of helping people, she is only contributing to the plague of health misinformation that is confusing people.
Is Olivia Budgen a liar?
I don’t think Olivia Budgen is in the same league as Belle Gibson, but she does appear to believe the nonsense she promotes on her website and social media accounts. And if she believes it herself, then she’s not lying, despite the fact her information is false or misleading. Sometimes they’re the worst offenders because they’re so darn believable.
Dunning Kruger Effect
Olivia appears to be a classic example of the Dunning Kruger Effect (as discussed by Dan Jolley, MSc in his personal trainers’ knowledge article). It holds that the less someone ACTUALLY knows, the more they THINK they know. There is a tendency to overestimate their knowledge and skills. In other words, a little bit of knowledge is dangerous, particularly when that information is wrong and fuelled by ego and false bravado. I can only hope that this episode will be a wake-up call to Olivia.
The health guru business is booming
In the make-believe fantasy land of social media, self-proclaimed social media health “gurus” carefully craft their online brands, orchestrate their posts, and appeal to readers’ intuitive base human instincts to further their sales agendas.
Let’s leave this in no uncertain terms: the business is money and the storefront is health.
Anyone can be an “expert” just by typing the word expert all over their website and social media accounts.
- I eat food. Therefore I’m a nutrition expert.
- I read fitness magazines and exercise down at my local gym. Therefore I’m an exercise expert.
- I once had a bout of depression after my dog died. Therefore I’m a psychology expert.
- I had an upset tummy when I was a child. Therefore I’m an oncologist.
- I went through a difficult break up one time. Therefore I’m a relationship expert.
Tack on some products and you’re in business, despite not really knowing much about anything.
Science training? University degrees? Don’t need ’em. If you’re young, have a pretty face, a tight bum, pillowy pecs, and a six-pack, that’s all the credibility you need in the social media fantasy land. It’s just sad that so many people can’t see through the smoke, mirrors, and photoshop.
Olivia Budgen is not unique. There are countless Olivias out there on the internet and across social media packaging themselves as “health experts.” But if you want to play in the big leagues, you have to be prepared to handle the heat.
To Olivia and the rest of the health gurus, if you’re making health claims, then you are responsible for the consequences of those health claims.
If you convince someone to forego legitimate medical treatment for an easily treatable cancer and that person dies, then that death is on your head.
If you make outlandish claims and come under fire as you did for your recent cancer comments, then you need to accept direct responsibility and not deflect blame back on to those who were offended.
If you perforate someone’s colon while giving them a colonic, you will be held legally liable no matter how many disclaimers you’ve plastered all over your website and Instagram posts.
To all the Insta-gurus out there, why don’t you just stick to telling people to eat more fruits and veggies and taking cute pictures of food? Leave the health science talk to qualified health professionals who actually know what they’re doing.