Belle Gibson (what have you done?)

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Belle Gibson was the founder of the well-known The Whole Pantry app.  She was a popular online celebrity with a mass following on Facebook and Instagram having claimed that she survived an aggressive form of Brain Cancer which had spread to other areas of her body using alternative therapies and wholefoods.  The Whole Pantry (TWP) app found it’s way to the Apple top 5 of 2013 and her much anticipated cookbook began hitting the stores early this year – Belle would not have been wrong to say she was sitting on top of the world.

Print media loved her too: she was recently front cover of Peppermint Magazine and had won Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Female award in 2014. Belle frequently became part of the in crowd around Sydney and Melbourne rubbing shoulders with other famous people. Her life, though crippled with cancer, seemed charmed. They loved her, and so did we. She had all the trimmings of our celebrity dreams: a pretty face, great smile, a cancer survivor, a mother, a tortured past, a few rad tattoos, sunglasses too big for her face, and a frequenter of Melbourne’s most chic alternative cafe’s …. Heck I wanted her life!

When TWP app was introduced to me I did some scratching around and was surprised to see that she had no qualifications other than her brush with cancer and the road she had traveled since. I didn’t judge her for that but I was interested in what made her so utterly popular and appealing to her massive audience.  I also realised that her app was the work of various health contributors and not just her brain child alone and having some faith in her recipes I even added her app to a list of resources in my Detox Program. Her face and her work had quickly become a brand in the industry, and all over the world. In light of the recent allegations, it makes me wonder if we are just as guilty about what and who we want to believe in? It seems to me that we are  entranced by these popular figures – by their beauty, their lifestyle and even their values. In a world that seems so driven by conformity TWP and Belle had the enchanting promise of youth, organic chic & natural beauty. The food looked good too (note deliberate sarcasm).

But Belle has since been found guilty of fabricating the details of her claims of having suffered multiple types of Cancer since 2009. The witch-hunters dug until they had enough dirt to bury her empire – which they did, unveiling a past littered with lies, deceit, gothic hairdo’s, black jeans, pints of beer, and shady online forums. They even surfaced past friends from her school (Wynnum State School in Brisbane) who revealed that Belle had a new illness every week back in the day. Past online forums of which Belle used to be involved with also claim the same.

Oh Belle! What have you done?

In the weeks since I have seen and read a host of blogs and articles about Ms Gibson. I chose to let the hype pass and patiently form an informed opinion when I had picked though some of the dirt. I have read blogs written by cancer sufferers who feel duped by her lies; I have read compassionate pleas from her fans; I have read newspaper articles by journalists who seem to have a thing for nastiness.  I am shocked by her rise to fame without any formal questioning by her sponsors and contributors, and rightly so because what it has done to genuine complementary medicine practitioners like myself, is drag us, our education, our degrees and livelihood through the mud with her.

Because Belle Gibson lied, we all lie. Because Belle Gibson is a fraud, we are all frauds. Catch my drift? If not, you might when reading this kind of comment by a Medical GP taken from The Herald  “Alternative medicine, is devoid of any scientific foundation”. Oh cripes, not that one again!? Alternative (Traditional) therapies are scientifically tested and if you care to look you will find an enormous amount of studies that have gone into the use of Nutrition (nutrient) therapies, and Phytotherapy reasearch also. As a Naturopath with a Bachelor of Science and a major in Nutrition and Naturopathy I can tell you that I do not prescribe Vitamin D because Vogue Magazine said so.

I do not wish to comment on the character of Belle Gibson primarily because I do not care for the trivial details of her life and past. I will leave that kind of juicy stuff to the rabid journo’s belonging to the Murdoch empire. Her aside, TWP remains a decent resource for wholefoods BUT not a bible for Cancer recovery. And perhaps that is the point I wish to make. If you have Cancer and you choose to use Alternative Therapies make sure you know your practitioner, make sure they have completed their qualifications and maybe ask (or confirm) if they have worked with Cancer patients before. A Naturopath willing to work alongside an Oncologist or GP is usually a pretty good sign that both your medical and holistic health needs will be met as a whole. Though this is up to the individual of course!

You see there are A LOT of celebrity endorsed nutrition courses out there that people can simply invest in and complete within a short time as a Health/Nutrition coach. They easily stick that title on their cards and shop-front windows but the public is not aware of the background and experience of that person or business. These short courses are a great way to pique your interest in nutrition and health, but to formally and therapeutically treat people with a terminal illness might be considered by some (with higher degrees) a bit f*cking risky.

Perhaps the lesson here is not to witch hunt a woman, or an industry but to educate the public about the acceptable medical and non-medical qualifications of practitioners. That is what I would like to see, and I think it would be a healthy solution to the mayhem that occurs between Orthodox and Complementary Medicine. Integrative medicine works – whole thriving centers have been dedicated to the practice of conventional treatments being supported by alternative therapies. It doesn’t have to be a burning at the stake, nor black or white. Just common sense.

A laughable share is an article I read about a woman who “burst into tears when her Naturopath told her to stop eating Kale because she had a Thyroid condition”. This woman had been through a hellish time pushing her body with exercise, fad diets and seeing a Naturopath. [Insert GP comment]. The article loosely mentioned Kale belonging to the Cruciferous family of vegetables which, if consumed in high amounts can impact Thyroid function. The wording of this particular article and the link to Belle Gibson’s story is completely insulting. A case of let’s burn Belle alive and take down a Naturopath or two as well…. A typical and unfounded perspective in the media we are becoming all too familiar with.

Melanie Robinson ND BHSc is a Naturopath and Traditional Healer from Gaia Health Clinic in Port Macquarie, NSW. Mumma to 2 boys, chic cafe frequenter, has no tattoo’s and may or may not have a past littered with lies, deceit, gothic hairdo’s, black jeans, pints of beer, and shady online forums…. She is a contributor to Nurture Magazine and presenter at this year’s IGNITE 2015 event presenting Food as Medicine. 

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