Archive for the “Random Musings” Category
I believe it was the historian Will Durant who said the bloodiest wars are often fought over the smallest differences. I think about that now and then when I see people trashing each other in blog posts and comments on blog posts – people who agree far more than they disagree, but get into heated and often personal arguments over relatively minor differences.
I made it a policy a long time ago not to get dragged into blogosphere battles. Now and then some well-meaning reader would send me a link to a hit piece on Fat Head or me personally and write “You’ve got to respond to this!” Uh, no, I don’t. To respond to a hit piece, I’d have to read it first. Then decide how to respond. Then write the response. Then respond to the inevitable response to the response. Get lathered, rinse, repeat. I have way better things to do with my limited time.
Much of the comments-section vitriol seems to result from believing there’s exactly one right way to eat. There isn’t. There may be one right way to eat for you and one right way to eat for me, but there’s no right way to eat for everyone. We all came from different genetic backgrounds and we’re all different.
I’ve heard from people who say their energy flagged on a very-low-carb diet, but they felt great when they added 100 grams or so of “safe starches” back into their diets as prescribed in Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet. I believe them. I’ve heard from people who say if they try adding potatoes or other starches back into their diets, they start craving carbohydrates like crazy and gain weight. I believe them too. (I’m drifting towards a Perfect Health Diet these days myself. I’ll get into that in a future post or two.)
Some people feel awesome if they get into ketosis and stay there. Some don’t. After Jimmy Moore’s ketosis experiment, I bought a keto-meter and tried upping the fat and lowering the protein in my diet to get into ketosis-land. I could do it, but I didn’t like it. I feel stronger and more energetic with a higher protein intake, which kicks me out of ketosis. So I listened to my body. But going with a ketogenic diet has done wonders for Jimmy in the past couple of years. He and I are different. (He’s taller, and I’m better at disc golf, to name a couple of obvious examples … sorry, Jimmy.)
Take a look at real-food diets falling under various labels – Paleo, Primal, Weston A. Price, the Atkins Diet (as it’s designed now), the Perfect Health Diet – and there’s a helluva lot of commonality: Eat whole foods, not processed food-like substances. Most of your energy should come from fat, not glucose. The Lipid Hypothesis is hogwash, cholesterol is not your enemy, and high cholesterol isn’t a disease that requires medicating. Natural fats, including saturated fats, are good for you. Enjoy your meats and eggs; they won’t kill you. Butter is awesome. Eat a variety of vegetables and low-sugar fruits. If you consume dairy products, go for the full-fat varieties and try to get them as raw and unprocessed as possible. Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, soy products, processed vegetable oils and modern mutant wheat will screw up your health, so avoid them.
Lots of agreement on what makes for a good diet. People following any one of those diets will end up eating most of the same foods and avoiding most of the same foods. So it’s a little silly to go into attack mode because some people consume potatoes or gluten-free bread and (gasp!) insist they feel better as a result, while others prefer to go ketogenic.
That isn’t to say there’s no battle over diet worth fighting, but please, let’s focus on the real enemy — the supposed nutrition authorities who are actually screwing up the nation’s health. Several readers sent me a link to an article that featured photos of school lunches taken by students. Take a look:
Don’t those meals look both yummy and nutritious?
Sara called me from school yesterday and told me she’d forgotten the class t-shirt she needed for a school picture. So I drove it over and then had lunch with her and Alana in the cafeteria. We make their lunches at home, but of course I had to sneak a peek at what the other kids were eating. The USDA-approved school lunch that day was a slice of cheese pizza on a wheat crust, applesauce or peaches in syrup and a drink – chocolate skim milk for most of the kids, orange juice for the others. A wee bit of fat and protein, but most of the meal was wheat, sugar and sugar. Any adherent of an Atkins, paleo, primal or Perfect Health diet would have been horrified – as I was.
The people who push “healthy” lunches like that on schoolkids are the enemy, not other bloggers and readers who have different opinions (probably based on different experiences) on the health effects of rice, tubers, insulin or ketones in the context of a real-food diet.
So let’s label the USDA, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the other members of The Anointed as The Roman Empire. Here’s how I view people in the real-food community who waste time trashing each other instead of The Rulers of the Roman Empire:
56 Comments »
Well, this is what happens when I get busy: I forget anniversaries. A couple of years ago, I went through a pile of mail I’d plopped on my desk and found a nice Happy Anniversary card from my mom, which included a check and instructions to use the money to take that lovely wife of mine out for a fancy anniversary dinner.
Gulp … the card had arrived exactly on time, meaning I was opening it late in the afternoon on the day of our anniversary. I hadn’t so much as picked up a card for Chareva, much less ordered flowers or bought a present. I stood there with a growing sense of dread, expecting her to walk into my home office any second and spring a card on me, perhaps while wearing something revealing. Announcing that I needed to run a quick errand at that point would be a dead giveaway. Thank goodness we established a no-divorce rule before walking down the aisle all those years ago.
After hiding the card and the check in a desk drawer, I ambled into Chareva’s office, acting all casual and such, and said, “So, Honey … I was thinking maybe we’d go out for a nice dinner for our anniversary. Do you have any place special in mind?”
“Oh my god, it’s our anniversary? Today? I totally forgot.”
I was tempted to feign being hurt and bank that for some future thoughtless-husband emergency, but a near-total lack of gamesmanship is one of the reasons we’re happily married. Plus I was afraid she might ask to see the card I bought her. So I confessed. We were both busy and we’d both forgotten.
I’ve been swamped lately trying to finish up a big programming project in addition to working full-time, which is why I’ve gone a week between posts now and then. It’s also why I forgot my fifth blogiversary last week.
Yup, my first Fat Head post was on March 20, 2009 – five years ago. Hard to believe, but if I’m tempted to dismiss the calendar and convince myself it’s only been a couple of years, all I have to do is compare then-and-now pictures of my kids – because I haven’t aged a bit, of course.
Here’s a picture of Sara from a recent post about our overabundance of eggs:
And here she is five years ago, posing for a mock magazine cover Chareva whipped up in Photoshop to accompany a post about Parents Magazine and their lousy dietary advice:
Good grief. Better not blink, or I’ll open my eyes and find her heading off to college … or suing me for uncompensated modeling work.
Anyway, it’s been quite a ride. I had no intention of starting a blog at first. When I put Fat Head in the can after two years of working on it while also working as a contractor at Disney, I was burnt out. Writing, researching, rewriting, rewriting again, flying around to conduct interviews, watching footage over and over, more rewriting, editing well into the wee hours for weeks on end, then finding out I had to buy a Mac and edit the whole thing together all over again in Final Cut Pro because the post-production houses in Los Angeles couldn’t read my Premiere Pro files. That led to stint of working three days around the clock with no sleep and two quick showers. I lost count of how many times I had to sit through the whole film during audio and video post. I would wake up in the middle of the night and realize I’d been dreaming about the film – often about something going very, very wrong with the film.
But hey, what’s a little emotional strain when you can toss financial strain on top of it?
Shooting and editing didn’t cost all that much – my biggest expense had been paying our animator – but I started dealing with major sticker shock once we signed with a distributor and I found myself scrambling to meet all of their technical and legal requirements. Producer’s liability insurance alone cost more than $7,000 to cover a worldwide market. Post-production fees ran several times that. Master tapes were hundreds of dollars each, and the distributor wanted a whole slew of them in different formats. When I went through my financial records later, I realized I’d ended up investing nearly $100,000 from start to finish. I wondered if it would turn out to be the biggest financial mistake of my life.
It nearly was. As I’ve recounted before, our first two distributors turned out to be incompetent or just plain crooked. The U.S. DVD distributor told me Fat Head was their biggest seller – hooray! – then went bankrupt owing me two years’ worth of DVD royalties. They’d been using the proceeds from their biggest seller! to float their operation before giving up and declaring bankruptcy. The foreign distributor sold Fat Head to several TV markets around the world, then claimed they’d lost money in the process. They sent me quarterly reports showing large and mysterious losses piling up, with no explanation of how exactly they were losing all that money on a film they were no longer attempting to sell.
It was a strange, strange time for me emotionally. Once I decided to start blogging (with a push from Jimmy Moore), I started hearing from fans around the world. I received lots of emails and comments from people thanking me for making the film, telling me how it changed their lives, etc. (And I learned the meaning of words like “gobsmacked” from fans in New Zealand.) The blog readership grew quickly. There was quite a bit of buzz about Fat Head in cyberspace. I started getting requests for media interviews.
So I’d be lying in bed at night – probably after writing a check to pay interest on the part of the post-production costs I’d financed by borrowing – and thinking, “What the @#$%!! I’m hearing from people all over the world, there’s all this chatter about Fat Head on blogs and in internet forums, and I haven’t seen a dime. How the @#$% is that even possible?”
I was royally pissed off about not being paid for the film I’d spent so much time and effort and money producing, but the subject matter had become near and dear to my heart – especially as I saw my own health improve – so I figured if this turned out to be a non-paying but passionate hobby, so be it. I kept blogging.
After moving to Tennessee and eventually accepting that we’d never receive anything but excuses from our supposed distributors, we decided to start selling the DVD ourselves through the blog. I added a DVD purchase page, then took Chareva and the girls to Kentucky for a two-day vacation touring some caves. I came home to find I had $400 worth of orders to process – the first time Fat Head had actually put money in my bank account instead of draining it.
The big turnaround, of course, was because of Netflix. While still trying to figure out how the hell my supposed distributors were losing money with an apparently popular film, I sent a DVD to Gravitas, a digital distributor. The president of the company sent me a polite email telling he doesn’t take on first-time filmmakers with no track record. Nonetheless, I occasionally sent him links to positive reviews and media interviews that were available online. A year or so after I’d first sent him the DVD, he called and said I’d finally persuaded him to watch Fat Head, and he happened to like it. So he was willing to break his rule about first-time filmmakers, but only by putting Fat Head on Hulu to test the waters.
He called again a few weeks later.
“Are you aware that Fat Head is currently ranked number one in the documentary category on Hulu?”
“No, I don’t have any idea how to check Hulu rankings. Wow.”
“So I guess you’re also not aware it’s currently the third-most watched film in any category?”
“Uh … no.”
“I’m glad I broke my rule.”
He told me he was moving on to Netflix, which, based on the Hulu rankings, was offering a pretty good license fee for a two-year run. I figured our DVD sales would taper off once people could watch Fat Head for free on Netflix, but what the heck, the Netflix royalties would more than make up for the lost DVD sales.
So Fat Head started showing on Netflix and our DVD sales quintupled the next week. We still receive orders almost every day. Heh-heh-heh … turn out people see a film they like on Netflix or Amazon Instant Play or iTunes and then decide to go buy a copy. Go figure. I don’t know how many people watched Fat Head on Netflix, but more than 225,000 of them took the time to rate it.
I eventually got away from the crooked foreign distributor – who refused to relinquish the rights despite those mysterious losses – by creating the Director’s Cut version and signing the foreign distribution over to Gravitas – honest people who send a nice royalty check every quarter. (As the president of the company told me, film distributors are like trial lawyers – it’s that darned 90% who give the rest a bad name.) Mere years after throwing a combination premiere party / 50th birthday party in Burbank to celebrate putting Fat Head in the can, I finally knew it wasn’t going to be a financial loser.
The film itself took me on a financial and emotional roller-coaster ride for a few years. But the blog has never been anything but a positive for me – even when I hear from angry vegetrollians in the comments section. (Heck, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel.) I enjoy writing posts, but it’s the ongoing conversations in comments that make it fun. We have some very intelligent and well-informed participants here and in the Fat Head group on Facebook, and I learn more from them than they learn from me.
So five years (and one week) after my first blog post, I just want to say thanks. Sorry I forgot our anniversary, and I don’t have time to run out and buy a card, but I know you won’t hold it against me.
49 Comments »
I expect to walk into the kitchen any day now and find Chareva walking aimlessly in a circle, staring off into space, reciting her own version of a scene from Forrest Gump: “Fried eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs, deviled eggs, egg stew, egg salad …”
I had scrambled eggs for breakfast yesterday. I had deviled eggs for dinner. I don’t remember if I ate lunch or not, but if I did, it was some kind of egg dish.
Our chickens have become relentless producers, and yeah, we’re getting a little overloaded. A couple of my co-workers are happy, since I shared the largesse with them last week, but I’m starting to feel like we’re living in a reverse Easter egg hunt. Colored eggs keep finding us. Yesterday I opened the fridge to pull out the cream for my coffee, and when I went to put it back, another dozen eggs had appeared on the bottom shelf. Startled, I slammed the door shut, then opened it a crack and peeked in. Four more eggs had already appeared.
So naturally, Chareva and the girls decided we need more chickens.
Sara will soon be taking delivery of 25 chicks as part of a 4-H project. When I responded to this news by bulging my eyes to size of baseballs and losing hair from my head in small clumps, Chareva assured me that Sara is required to auction off some of the chickens at a 4-H event after they’re grown.
“How many does she have to auction off?”
“Oh, okay. That’s not so –”
“But Alana is feeling left out, so I told her she can get her own chicks.”
Alana’s chicks have already arrived and are living under a heat lamp in the basement.
Chareva’s solution to what’s shaping up to be a massive egg overload is to open a roadside egg stand. So she spent part of this weekend doing construction.
The architect/construction foreperson assures me this is just the skeleton of what will soon be a fine roadside egg stand. She built it to fit inside a wagon that we inherited with the property. The tires are flat, so it’s not much of a wagon at this point, but the plan is to get new tires and then roll the egg stand to the road after construction is completed.
Five new chicks already, 25 more on the way … yeesh. Let’s get that egg stand done. We need to start selling.
On the bright side, I’m pretty sure the rooster population will soon be reduced by one. The big, obnoxious rooster I refer to as the Rapper Rooster flew at Chareva yesterday and tried to spur her in the chest. She responded by chasing him around the chicken yard for the next five minutes and basically kicking the @#$% out of him. He didn’t want to be anywhere near her after that, but he seems to have a short memory for these things.
I originally agreed with Sara’s assessment that we should keep him because he’d protect the flock and make lots of baby chickens. But now that the girls are afraid to go collect eggs because of him, we’ve all re-evaluated his usefulness. The consensus is that he’ll be chicken stew soon.
And I suspect Chareva might even enjoy wringing his neck.
36 Comments »
Someone mentioned in comments that he read The Vision of the Anointed after I talked about it in my most recent speech and it “blew my mind” … but it’s also depressing to see The Anointed following the same pattern over and over.
Yeah, I suppose. It’s like watching the same bad plot play out in dozens of movies. But I still think it’s better to recognize the pattern.
In case you didn’t see that speech, here’s a quick recap of how Thomas Sowell describes The Vision of The Anointed at work:
- The Anointed identify a problem in society
- The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem
- Because they are so supremely confident in their ideas, The Anointed don’t bother with proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work
- If possible, The Anointed will impose the Grand Plan on other people (for their own good, of course)
- The Anointed assume anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is either evil or stupid
- If the Grand Plan fails, The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit the Grand Plan was wrong
I wrote six posts recently explaining why I believe losing weight (or not getting fat in the first place) is mostly about chemistry, not character. That’s why the current Grand Plans designed by The Anointed to battle obesity are going to fail: they’re based on the belief that losing weight is a matter of character. Stop being a lazy glutton, get off the couch, go move around more, stop eating so much, and all will be well. (And don’t forget your whole grains.)
One of those Grand Plans is, of course, the Let’s Move! campaign. Just tell those kids to move more. Get some pro jocks to encourage them to move more. After all, we The Anointed know kids are getting fat from sitting around too much.
Except that’s not what the evidence shows. Kids don’t get fat after they start sitting around. They sit around after they start getting fat. Here’s what one study concluded:
Decreased physical activity may have little to do with the recent spike in obesity rates among U.S. adolescents, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Prompted by growing concern that the increase was due to decreased physical activity associated with increased TV viewing time and other sedentary behaviors, researchers examined the patterns and time trends in physical activity and sedentary behaviors among U.S. adolescents based on nationally representative data collected since 1991. The review found signs indicating that the physical activity among adolescents increased while TV viewing decreased in recent years.
And here’s what another study concluded:
Physical inactivity appears to be the result of fatness rather than its cause. This reverse causality may explain why attempts to tackle childhood obesity by promoting physical activity have been largely unsuccessful.
So telling kids “Let’s Move!” to battle obesity isn’t supported by the actual evidence. But once again, The Anointed don’t believe they should be bothered with little annoyances like evidence that a Grand Plan will work before instituting it. If their intentions are good, then by gosh, the results will be good too. So we have a national Let’s Move! campaign, and organizations like the NFL have been recruited to promote it. That’s why you see those Play 60 ads during football games now.
I respect NFL players who donate their time to what they consider a good cause. But … does anyone really believe these guys are so athletic and full of energy because they were active kids? I’d say it’s more likely they were active kids because they were athletic and full of energy.
Chareva’s not a sports fan at all — perhaps the biggest flaw in her otherwise fine character — but once in awhile she’ll plop down next to me when I’m watching football and ask how many home runs the Titans have scored. (Since she doesn’t know diddly about the game, I’ve explained some terminology to her: when a player runs the ball into the end zone, it’s called a home run. When a player catches the ball in the end zone, it’s called a fly ball. When a player kicks the ball through the uprights, it called a three-point shot or a triple – take your pick.)
Anyway, after a dramatic home run, some Titans players were running around and fist-pumping and leaping into the air to chest-thump each other in the end zone, and Chareva turned to me and said, “I bet when these guys were in grade school, they were the little boys who couldn’t sit still and drove their parents and teachers crazy.”
Yup. And I’ll bet you a year’s pay nobody had to encourage them to go play outside. Then I’ll bet you another year’s pay nobody involved with Let’s Move! or Play 60 stopped and asked themselves: Hey, if exercise is the key to battling obesity, why are so many NFL linemen fat? Does any sane person think those guys don’t exercise enough?
That being said, Let’s Move! doesn’t annoy me all that much. I don’t think it will accomplish anything, which makes it a waste of taxpayer money, but at least it’s not a case of The Anointed imposing a Grand Plan on us. But school lunches are another matter. The USDA’s “healthy” choices are being imposed on kids.
As I explained in my speech, The Anointed are so inexplicably confident that the Grand Plan will bring about The Good, they view anyone who resists having the Grand Plan imposed on them to be opposing good itself. That’s why anyone who resists the Grand Plan must be either evil or stupid. (As in: you only thought that inexpensive, high-deductible insurance plan we took away was a better choice than what we’re ordering you to buy now because you’re stupid and can’t spot bad insurance.)
It couldn’t be that people who oppose the Grand Plan are convinced by evidence that it’s a bad idea – The Anointed don’t come up with bad ideas. And of course, it couldn’t simply be that people who oppose the Grand Plan believe in that silly “it’s a free country” concept and don’t want other people’s ideas imposed on them, good or bad. Nope. Evil or stupid are the only explanations.
I didn’t want to give actual examples in that part of my speech, so I used a generic and silly version of The Anointed imposing a Grand Plan: mandatory bleeding in schools to release the bad humors that experts say are making kids lethargic. Here are two of the slides:
Now let’s take the actual example of the USDA’s new “healthy” school lunches, which were mandated by the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. Kids are rebelling because they’re hungry. Understandably, they don’t like the low-fat foods. Look at how this article describes the result:
More than one million U.S. schoolchildren stopped buying school lunches during the 2012-2013 academic year, after new nutrition standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama took effect.
The stunning drop in cafeteria meals came despite annual increases in the number of children who receive free, taxpayer-subsidized lunches every weekday, the GAO report concluded.
They almost can’t give the stuff away, and parents are complaining about their kids going hungry. So what should we conclude? That the new lunch rules were a bad idea? Of course not. The Anointed don’t come up with bad ideas. Take another look at part of the newspaper editorial I quoted in my previous post:
Yet here we are in 2014, grappling with a troubling childhood obesity epidemic but allowing children to reject nutritionally balanced fruit-and-vegetable laden lunches that are designed to be filling and healthy. Not only are children rejecting the food outright, parents and schools are actually complaining to elected officials about the guidelines.
The conclusion from The Anointed: those parents must be evil or stupid. Let’s update my slides.
Like I said, it’s all very predictable. Same old pattern, over and over. That’s what makes books like The Vision of the Anointed so useful. If nothing else, you learn to quickly spot The Anointed at work and can predict their next move.
The next move, as I explained in my speech, will be to blame anyone but themselves when the Grand Plan fails – which it will. According to The Anointed, when the Grand Plan fails, it can only mean that:
- The plan was good, but people didn’t implement it correctly because they’re stupid.
- The plan was undermined by people who are evil.
- The plan didn’t go far enough … in other words, we need to do the same thing again, only bigger.
So stay tuned.
30 Comments »
Many moons ago I got into an online debate with a bodybuilder I nicknamed “Cliffy” because his know-it-all attitude reminded me of the mailman from Cheers. As someone who’d never been fat, Cliffy was convinced fat people are simply weak-willed — unlike, say, Cliffy. In other words, they’re fat because of a character flaw.
I pointed out that there’s been a sharp rise in the number of kids and even babies who are obese and asked Cliffy if it’s because kids these days lack the discipline of kids from previous generations.
Blame the kids? Gosh no, Cliffy wouldn’t do that. After explaining that I’m a fat, lazy old man, Cliffy insisted that kids these days are obese because their parents are feeding them too much. It’s the parents who have the character flaw.
I pointed out that my girls are both lean and healthy, thus proving that my wife and I are good parents of fine character. We obviously don’t feed the girls too much, and that’s why they’re lean. So how do we accomplish this feat of parental responsibility? Do we calculate how many calories they burn per day and feed them accordingly? Nope. I have no idea how many calories they burn in a day. I have no idea how many calories they consume in a day. We keep our girls lean and healthy by feeding them as much as they want to eat every time they tell us they’re hungry. Every. Single. Time.
When Alana was having growth spurts, she’d sometimes get out of bed after midnight and tell me (because I’m the family night owl) that she was hungry. So I’d feed her. If she was still hungry, I’d feed her more. But most of the time, the girls don’t eat all that much. They usually walk away from the dinner table with food still on their plates.
While out grocery shopping a couple of years ago, Chareva and I ran into a mom whose son was in Sara’s class. The mom, who struck me as a nice lady, told us she was going to push her son to play more outdoors during summer vacation because he was getting fat. So of course I sneaked a peek in her grocery cart. You can guess what I saw: skim milk, jugs of apple and orange juice, bread, noodles, Cheerios, fat-free yogurt cups and plenty of other food-like products with “LOW-FAT!” stamped on the label.
This wasn’t a careless mom. This was a mom trying to do the right thing, buying products she’d been told were good for her son’s weight and health. But he was getting fat. That’s chemistry, not character. The boy was living on foods that made him hungrier than he needed to be.
Our girls were (and are) living on meats, eggs, seafood, fruits, green vegetables, nuts, olives, full-fat dairy foods, eggplant, sweet potatoes, squash and some rice now and then. Their appetites are naturally controlled by a diet rich in nutrients and low in refined carbohydrates. They’re only as hungry as they need to be. Once again, it’s a matter of chemistry, not character. There’s no discipline involved. They don’t restrict their calories to stay lean, and we don’t have to push them to play outside. Sara decided to talk a walk today and carry fresh water to the chickens even though it was only 20 degrees outside and school was canceled because of an ice storm. When I asked why she volunteered for the duty, she replied, “I just felt like it.”
(The same ice storm knocked out our internet service, which is why this post is late.)
When I started this series in January, I wrote that most of the weight-loss plans we impose on ourselves and others try to impose on us are doomed to fail because they’re based on the notion that losing weight is a matter of character. By impose on us, I’m of course talking about the brilliant ideas that come from various governments. Setting aside my libertarian belief that (as libertarian writer Jacob Sullum puts it) the size of your butt is none of the government’s business, would those brilliant ideas work?
I hardly think so. Let’s look at a few of them.
This official from the U.K. health system floated the idea that doctors need to stop pussyfooting around with the language and just tell fat patients that they’re too fat. A professor of ethics in the U.S. stepped it up a notch and insisted we need to start shaming fat people.
Riiiiiiiight. Because fat people don’t know they’re fat and aren’t properly ashamed of themselves. If we just shame them enough, they’ll develop some character and stop eating too much. It’s not as if appetite and energy balance at the cellular level figure into this or anything.
I’ve got news for both of these dunces: fat people know they’re fat, and most of them hate it. Most of them have tried over and over to lose weight, but failed because they were given bad advice on how to do it. To put it in terms of my last post, they expended plenty of effort, but the effort wasn’t effective.
If we start shaming them, we won’t end up with fewer fat people … but we will end up with more fat people who are depressed or neurotic. Fewer of them will visit doctors for checkups or to find out what that funny-looking lump is. They’ll avoid doctors to avoid the lectures and the shaming. That already happens, in fact. And by the way, raising their cortisol levels by shaming them won’t help the weight-loss efforts one bit.
Okay, so let’s skip outright shaming in favor of the kinder, gentler form of government meddling favored by CSPI and plenty of other do-gooders: calorie-count menu boards and can’t-miss calorie labels on food packages. In that case, we’re not assuming fat people are remorseless gluttons who need to feel ashamed. Nope, now we’re just assuming they’re stupid.
The belief here is that fat people go to fast-food restaurants and order a double cheeseburger, large fries and large soda because it’s never occurred to them that the calorie count might be too high for one meal. So let’s pass a law mandating a calorie count right there on the menu board where they can’t miss it. The menu board will then serve as a nagging parent, almost yelling “Hey, dummy! Look at all the calories in that meal! Order the chicken salad instead!”
During a talking-head-show debate about the calorie-count menu boards I saw awhile back, a skinny news anchor opined, “Well, if I see that the double cheeseburger meal is 1,000 calories and the chicken salad is 300 calories, I’m going for the chicken salad.” Yes, of course you would, Miss Skinniness. That would be a satisfying meal for you because that’s how your body chemistry works. But if an obese person ordered that meal because the menu board shamed him into it, the end result would be that he’d eat more later to make up the difference. That’s what the research shows.
Real-world studies have already demonstrated that confronting people with calorie counts doesn’t work, and it’s a wonder anyone believes otherwise. Jacob Sullum (who appeared in Fat Head) once angered Yale professor Kelly Brownell during a debate by pointing out that Brownell is very fat. Sullum’s a nice guy, and as he told me off-camera when I interviewed him, he wouldn’t normally make a point of someone’s girth. But Brownell (a CSPI board member) is all in favor of mandatory calorie counts on menus, which means he thinks people are fat because they don’t have enough information to make smart choices.
And yet Brownell is morbidly obese. Are we supposed to believe that a Yale professor doesn’t have enough information to make smart choices? Are we supposed to believe that a guy who wants to use the power of government to (ahem) help obese people lose weight doesn’t care that he’s obese himself? Are we supposed to believe that a Yale professor who wrote a book about obesity isn’t aware that even people who go out of their way to count calories rarely lose weight and keep it off as a result? If calorie-counting doesn’t work for them, why the hell would it work for people who are merely confronted with calorie counts? I’m not sure which bugs me more: the hypocrisy or the ridiculousness of believing in a theory that clearly hasn’t worked for Brownell himself.
When standardized food labels were mandated by the FDA in the 1990s, the media were full of rah-rah articles about how Americans would make smarter food choices as a result. That was millions of new cases of obesity and type 2 diabetes ago. So now the FDA is doing exactly what Thomas Sowell described in The Vision of the Anointed: holding up failure as evidence that we need to do the same thing again, only bigger. Look at these quotes from an article about the FDA’s newest labels:
The Food and Drug Administration for the first time in two decades will propose major changes to nutrition labels on food packages, putting calorie counts in large type and adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat.
Millions of Americans pay attention to food labels, and the changes are meant to make them easier to understand — a critical step in an era when more than one-third of adults are obese, public health experts say. The epidemic has caused rates of diabetes to soar, and has increased risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.
On Thursday, the Obama administration promoted the proposed labeling changes at an event at the White House. At an anniversary ceremony for her “Let’s Move” campaign aimed at reducing obesity, Michelle Obama talked about how hard it is to understand what is in packaged food, and how the changes were a way to demystify that.
Well, there you have it: people are stupid. They’re confused by the serving sizes, so they willy-nilly eat too much. Oh, and they have bad eyesight, too — that’s why we need to put the calorie counts IN LARGER TYPE. Appetite and biochemistry have nothing to do with it. Clear up the confusion over serving sizes and list those calorie counts IN LARGER TYPE, and the dummies will finally eat less and lose weight, thanks to better information – the kind of information that helped Kelly Brownell look good in a swimsuit.
Offering de-confusing information AND LARGER TYPE is about all the government can do (for now) in the case of adults who are fat because they’re stupid and have poor eyesight. But if we’re talking about kids … hey, now we’ve got a captive audience, at least for school lunches. We can by-gosh impose some discipline on the little tykes by forcing them to put the magical fruits-and-vegetables-and-whole-grains on their plates and limiting their fat and calorie intake.
If you don’t believe the new-and-improved school lunches are an attempt by do-gooders to impose discipline on parents and kids who lack character, take a gander at some quotes from an editorial in the Springfield, Illinois newspaper my mom clipped and sent me:
We hope this is not the first step in an effort to significantly weaken or do away with existing school lunch nutritional guidelines – something some Republicans are hoping for on the grounds that the rules amount to government “overreach.”
Goodness, no. Let’s not weaken guidelines that have done such wonders for kids’ waistlines and overall health in the past 30 years.
The healthy school lunch rules stem from the Obama administration’s 2012 initiative to reduce childhood obesity throughout the country.
And as we know, government programs always achieve their stated goals. The Dietary Goals for Americans, to name just one example.
Adults who grew up in the ’70s, ‘60s and earlier most likely were subjected by their parents to such homemade dinnertime delights as liver and onions, tuna casserole, beef stroganoff, meat loaf, lima beans, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. And what happened if children declined the dinner put before them? Usually they remained at the table until they ate it, cold or not, under their parents’ careful watch. No way were parents allowing finicky children to leave without eating what they considered a reasonable and nutritious meal.
Yet here we are in 2014, grappling with a troubling childhood obesity epidemic but allowing children to reject nutritionally balanced fruit-and-vegetable laden lunches that are designed to be filling and healthy. No only are children rejecting the food outright, parents and schools are actually complaining to elected officials about the guidelines.
Oh, no! You mean those stupid parents have the unmitigated gall to complain to their betters in government?! Heaven forbid.
The editorial goes on to wonder why kids and parents would complain about the fabulous fare being offered in the local schools. Here are some lunch items they offer as evidence: baked tater tots, chilled applesauce, whole-grain spaghetti, garlic bread, bananas, chilled pears, turkey corn dogs, soft-baked cookies.
And students can always get seconds on fruits and vegetables to help fill them up. Sounds good, right? Most adults would welcome such varied and nutritious lunches each day.
Fat adults who want to try yet another diet that won’t work no doubt would welcome those foods, yes.
As Dr. Mike Eades would put it, the dumbth is astounding. Painful as it will be, let’s examine just those brief bits of a long-winded editorial written by nutritional ignoramuses.
The lunches are designed to be filling and healthy. Yes, and a jackass is a racehorse designed by a government committee. Newsflash, ignoramuses: one of the biggest complaints kids have about those lunches is they’re still hungry after eating. It doesn’t matter that the lunches were designed to be filling. They’re not filling.
But we mustn’t let the kids decide if they’re satisfied … and we mustn’t let their parents (who have the gall to complain to elected officials) make that decision either, according to the ignoramuses who wrote the editorial. Parents in the 1970s and earlier were responsible, you see. They made their kids eat that nutritious food, broccoli and all, as the editorial writers reminded us. They didn’t complain to their elected officials, either. That’s why kids weren’t fat back then.
But today’s parents, unlike yesteryear’s parents, obviously can’t be trusted to decide what their kids should eat. We know that because too many kids are fat. So we need the wise folks at the USDA to step in and replace today’s parents as the responsible decision-maker. In other words, we need government to impose discipline because today’s kids and parents lack character.
Here’s what different about today’s parents vs. parents from the 1960s: parents in the 1960s hadn’t been told by government officials that fat and cholesterol are killers. Parents in the 1960s didn’t believe chocolate-flavored skim milk is a healthier choice than whole milk – and neither did school officials. More parents in the 1960s believed that sugar and refined starches make people fat, not dietary fat. No parents concerned that their daughters were screaming themselves silly over the Beatles were also trying to limit saturated fat in their kids’ diets to 7% of total calories.
In other words, the “good” parents who served liver and onions, tuna casserole, beef stroganoff, meat loaf, lima beans, broccoli and Brussels sprouts didn’t have the same dietary beliefs as government officials who order schools to serve baked tater tots, chilled applesauce, whole-grain spaghetti, garlic bread, bananas, chilled pears, turkey corn dogs and soft-baked cookies. (With unlimited seconds on fat-free vegetables!) Send a USDA official back to the family dinner table in 1960, and he’d chide the parents for serving too much beef and other high-fat food. How the editorial writers failed to notice the contradiction is beyond me.
If they did notice the contradiction – or better yet, if officials at the USDA noticed the contradiction – then perhaps we’d get somewhere. Perhaps the do-gooders would wonder why parents in the 1960s didn’t have to put their kids on calorie-restricted diets and push them to play outside to keep them from getting fat. Perhaps they’d ask themselves if the types of foods parents served to their kids back then had something to do with it. Perhaps they’d notice that in that old episode of The Andy Griffith Show I mentioned in my latest speech, Andy said he’d fill in the chinks with another bite of meatloaf while Barney told Aunt Bea he was being careful not to overdo the glucose and carbohydrates.
In other words, perhaps the idiots running the show would finally begin to realize that we have a problem with childhood obesity and diabetes because of chemistry, not character.
I think I’m done with this series. Here are links to the other posts for those who asked:
52 Comments »
Some years ago, Dr. Robert Lustig worked with a group of kids who had brain cancer. The cancer treatments were successful, but later the kids became obese. According to their parents, the kids had developed enormous appetites and become sedentary. They spent all day sleeping or sitting in front of the TV and eating.
Lustig didn’t inform the parents that those kids needed to just stop being so lazy and gluttonous. He didn’t urge the parents to tell their kids to just eat less and move more, for goodness sake. As an endocrinologist, Lustig knew the change in behavior was being driven by a change in biochemistry. He suspected that as a side-effect of the cancer treatments, the kids were over-producing insulin. Tests confirmed his suspicion.
So he gave the kids an insulin-suppressing drug. Here’s how he described the results:
“When we gave these kids this drug that blocked insulin secretion, they started losing weight. But more importantly, something that was even more amazing, these kids started exercising spontaneously. One kid became a competitive swimmer, two kids started lifting weights, one kid became the manager of his high school basketball team … Changing the kids’ insulin levels had an effect not just on their weight, not just on their appetites, but on their desire to engage in physical activity.”
These kids didn’t get fat because they sat around and ate more. They sat around and ate more because they were hormonally driven to get fat. Luckily for them, Lustig understood that and treated the root of the problem: chemistry, not character.
When I started writing this series of posts, I knew I’d receive (and did) a comment or two along the lines of “But telling people it’s about chemistry gives them an excuse to just give up.” Comments like that usually come, of course, from people who have never been fat and chalk it up to their superior character. I understand the appeal of that belief.
I also understand wanting to believe it’s all about character because darnit, that just feels like cosmic justice. Effort ought to yield results, period. Most of us would like the world to work like that. As kids, we were told that if you work hard and put your mind to it, you can do almost anything. So in our little pea-picking brains, the formula for success looks like this:
Effort = Success
But as we grow older, we realize everyone inherits different talents and abilities. I admired Bart Starr and wanted his job someday, but I certainly knew by middle school that no matter how hard I worked, I’d never become a star quarterback in the NFL. Or in college. Or in high school. Or in the Pop Warner leagues. I just didn’t have the physical gifts. So after swallowing the knowledge that genetics matters, we update the success formula in our minds to look more like this:
Ability x Effort = Success
That’s where we’d like the equation to stay. That “ability” part still seems a bit unfair, but we can live with it.
Well, like it or not, there’s still more to it.
Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL, the last Super Bowl notwithstanding. Sure, he inherited the ability to become great from his father, also an NFL quarterback in his day, but Manning’s dedication to his profession is legendary. He spends hours and hours studying videotape of opposing defenses so he can predict their moves and spot their weaknesses. It’s Ability x Effort at work, for sure.
But wait … what if Manning prepared for games by spending hours and hours studying and memorizing the birthdays, middle names, favorite desserts and horoscopes of the defensive players he’ll be facing? Would he still shred defenses like he did in the 2013 NFL season? Of course not, because that knowledge wouldn’t be useful in guessing how to pick apart a defense. The time and effort spent acquiring that knowledge would be wasted.
Let’s suppose I want to look better in shorts. Running for 10 hours a week might put some muscle on my thighs, but not as much as one set of leg presses per week with heavy weights. Resistance training is more effective for growing muscles, period. It doesn’t matter that running 10 hours per week takes more effort and dedication than spending three minutes on a leg-press machine.
So we have to update our formula for success one more time. Now it looks something like this:
Ability x Effort x Effectiveness = Success
Effort matters, absolutely, but only yields good results if it’s applied effectively.
Let me offer another example: suppose twin brothers both decide to take second jobs and invest most of the additional income to make for a more prosperous middle age. One twin works extra hard, spends less, and invests $500 per month in bank CDs that pay 1.05% interest. The second twin doesn’t work quite as much and treats himself to nicer clothes and other goodies, and thus only saves $250 per month, which he invests in mutual funds that earn the S&P 500 historical average of 11.69%.
After 20 years, the twin who invested $500 per month would have just over $134,000 in his account. Meanwhile, the twin who only invested $250 per month would be sitting on nearly $233,000.
It doesn’t seem fair, does it? I think we’d all agree the first twin demonstrated more character. He worked harder, he sacrificed more. And yet it’s the brother who worked less and sacrificed less who has nearly $100,000 more in his account. That’s because while his efforts were smaller, they were applied much more effectively. Working and saving was a matter of character. The return on investment was, in a manner of speaking, a matter of financial chemistry.
And of course if the twin who worked harder and saved more invested it all in the next Enron, he’d get nothing in return. He would no doubt feel royally screwed by an unfair universe, but that would be the result. I hate to break it to anyone who doesn’t already know, but the universe doesn’t reward you based on how much effort you expend or how many sacrifices you make, no matter what all the touchy-feely self-help books say. The universe rewards effort that’s applied effectively.
If we sat down and explained to the ambitious young twins that their financial success would depend heavily on the effectiveness of their investments, I doubt either of them would say, “Well, that’s it, then. If it’s about return on investment, I don’t see the point in making the effort. I give up.”
I’d expect the opposite, in fact: I’d expect them to be motivated to find effective investments so their efforts wouldn’t go to waste.
Turning this back around to losing weight, yes, there has to be some effort and some sacrifice involved. If you’re obese, whatever you’ve been doing isn’t working. Your diet will have to change. But it has to be an effective change. Switching to a diet that works with your body’s chemistry so you feel satisfied even while eating less is effective. Switching to a diet that works against your body’s chemistry and leaves you ravenous and lethargic isn’t. That’s the dietary equivalent of investing in Enron.
Making the effort to find the diet that works with your chemistry and then sticking with it – even if means giving up the donuts and bread you love – requires some character. But if you’re willing to do that, you can be like the twin who saved and sacrificed less but ended with more money. Getting results won’t require as much sacrifice, and perhaps eventually it won’t feel like a sacrifice at all. I certainly didn’t feel deprived when I went back to bacon and eggs for breakfast. I used to love pasta, but now I don’t miss it.
So let’s look at that success equation one more time:
Ability x Effort x Effectiveness = Success
We all know that thanks to genetics, some people are naturally lean and others tend to get fat, so let’s swap genetics for ability. The effectiveness of a diet is largely a matter of chemistry. So now here’s our equation if we define weight loss as success:
Genetics x Effort x Chemistry = Weight Loss
But wait … genetics is also a matter of biochemistry. So we’re looking at Chemistry x Effort x Chemistry.
That’s why I say weight loss is mostly about chemistry, not character. Knowing that is hardly an excuse to give up. If anything causes people to give up, it’s effort and sacrifice that isn’t rewarded. That’s why the gyms become less and less crowded the farther we get from New Year’s and all those resolutions. Understanding that chemistry is a big part of the equation and choosing accordingly is what enables our efforts to finally succeed.
81 Comments »