Come on guys, you’re smarter than this

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Just because a wording, written or spoken is simplified to better communicate the message at hand, it does not mean we should think simple thoughts.

When I tell my pupils that sugar makes us fat (the word fat can be replaced by sick with no consequences for the argument), they look at their bottle of coke, then down at their skinny teenager body and say, “Oh yeah! I drink a lot of soda, but I’m not fat”

I can excuse and understand the response because I know a 14 year old has too little experience in logic thought. They are on a constant pubertal high and struggles to imagine consequences beyond those of tomorrow. And they are always out to get you and prove you wrong.

Patiently, I can explain to the teenager that “…all that sugar is going to make you fat, but not instantly. Not now, but in time.” “Sugar make us fat,” does not mean “Taste sugar and expand immediately.”

I find it more difficult to excuse the adult population who has a longer track record in being exposed to logic and who are consistently being reminded of the complexities of life.

Life gets more complicated after puberty. Black and white turn into shades of grey. Not because life itself changes, but because we gradually see the complexities. Fortunately, life also gets less confusing with age, but that’s a different matter.

The Twinkie professor is losing weight while eating junk. Does this prove that junk food is not to blame for obesity and lifestyle disease? No, of course not. You are smarter than that.

– Sugar may cause diabetes.
– But many people eat high sugar diets, and do not get diabetic…
– So?

Sugar still causes diabetes. Stop thinking in absolutes. You can be smarter than that. Never mind the fact that I said “may”. We are complex organisms. Our genes differ in type and expression. We live in different environments and we feel different feelings. When too many factors coincide, sugar causes diabetes. I did not say always.

Eating a low carb diet will make most overweight people lose weight. The fact that your friend heard of a person not losing weight on a low carb diet, does not mean carbohydrate restriction is not an effective weight loss tool. Stop for a while and think. You should be smarter than that.

– Overweight may be caused by a too large intake of carbohydrates.
– But what about all those skinny Asians on a high rice diet?
– What about them?

Carbohydrates may still cause overweight and may still be the single most important factor in developing overweight. We are complex beings in a complex world. When too many factors coincide, carbohydrates will make you fat. An insufficient amount of factors have coincided in the people you are referring to. Stop thinking in absolutes. Be smarter than that.

– Grains make us sick.
– But most people here eat lots of grains and many are not sick.
– So?

Most people do not know how great they can feel, how good their heath can be. Just because you don’t consider yourself sick, does not mean your health couldn’t be much better.

Your recurring headaches, your stiff joints in the morning, your inability to concentrate, falling asleep on the couch when you get home from work, your mood swings and all the rest of those small symptoms you notice every day, but never consider to be anything but the normal state, are all signs of something being wrong. It is possible to feel great most of the time. You just haven’t experienced it yet or have forgotten Grains may be to blame for the fact that we no longer know how good we can feel as humans.

The black swan disproves the hypothesis claiming all swans to be white. Or so we are told. But the one fat person eating a low carb diet does not prove that carbohydrate restriction is not a very effective weight loss tool. It proves nothing. Stop thinking in absolutes. You need to be smarter than this.

Poppers swan example is perhaps not the best example for everyday use. If you knew there were no black swans yet encountered one during your walk by the water, you’d look for the punk with the spray can.

If most data indicate easily digestible carbohydrates as the primary cause of overweight and you see people that over time live on diets high in easily digestible carbs, yet remain lean, look for the punk with the spray can. Look for the confounding factors. There are many. The hypothesis remains.

The most horrible examples of a juvenile mind stuck in a body that has been pushed through a scientific education are found in the riders of the thermodynamic approach to weight management – those claiming overweight is caused by a too high energy intake. Those that tell you to count your calories and to calculate your energy expenditure despite the fact that they themselves have never bothered about energy in or out yet still stay perfectly thin.

In these people, the bell that should have gone off in the back of the mind is malfunctioning. Perhaps because of a lack of animal products in the diet. Perhaps because of the grains. No matter the cause, the result is an inability to see the gargantuan crack in their own wall of logic.

Stop thinking like a teenager. You have to be smarter than that.

The Twinkie professor has proven nothing and no headline has ever given you all the information you need to refute a theory.

Smoking causes lung cancer. The observation that your grandmother smoked all her life without getting cancer and dying of old age at 100 years, is not refutation material.

Jumping out of a plane without a parachute will kill you. There might have been people who have survived even this, but jumping out of a plane without a parachute will kill you. Just as grains make you sick and smoking gives you lung cancer.

The troublesome issue at hand is largely rhetoric in nature. Our constant efforts at trying to be skeptic, open minded and to prove others wrong result in alarmingly silly discussions. If each and every utterance should consider all related and relevant factors, our language will no longer be suited for communication.

“Carbohydrates may make you fat” is a better wording than, “carbohydrates may, in time, if ingested in high insulin raising form, and if ingested in the face of full glycogen stores, especially if ingested in a low nutritious form such as corns or in combination with a high omega 6 diet, and if ingested in periods of stress and in an individual whose genes make him or her susceptible to endoplasmatic reticulum stress and insulin resistance, make you fat.”

The first wording is no less correct because of its inferior word count and the sentence does not mean carbohydrates will always and under any circumstance inflate you beyond recognition upon touching your tongue. The second wording elaborates and describes very normal circumstances.

The first wording is not an absolute and if you consider it so, it is because you think in absolutes. Stop doing that. It only makes things worse.

Remember, media wants you to think in absolutes. A story considering all the factors will only appeal to the scientist and will not appear in your newspaper. This will confuse you, as the media will through using absolutes constantly contradict itself. One day carbs are good, the next day they will kill you. Stop and think. For the sake of sound minds everywhere, you must be smarter than this.

10 kommentarer

  1. Hi, I just love this post, I don't have any scientific background and often get confused by different nutrition articles. This will help so much in deciphering the things I need to pay attention to and things I can safely ignore. Thinking logically doesn't seem to come naturally to us, but with articles like this we can get better at it. Thanks, Jayne


  2. I agree with the message Pål, the only thing is that many teenagers are smarter than for instance conventional adult doctors. So keep also focusing on explaining the whole story to your pupils. They are the future.


  3. Can’t quite see if this is meant as sarcasm or not, but the title is certainly not directed at you. Thank you, Emily. Your blog is one of the best ones out there. I am not much of a commenter these days, but I still read all your posts. Big fan!

    H.fam, I have a scientific background (although not much) and I still get confused. I think science is a state of constant confusion. When the confusion ends and absolute certainties emerge, so ends science.

    Leon, this post was just a small outburst from reading yesterdays news on diet and health. My point was how we respond to information and how we think. It is not very thought through so don’t put too much into it.

    Actually, «…or, it may not» would be a far more intelligent reply than my examples and would at least indicate a decent thought process and lay down the premises for a discussion of the underlying reasons.

    The question is not «may» or «may not» as the word “may” automatically imply the existence of a «may not.» Thus being on the “may” side is also being on the “may not” side.
    I am sure I am on both.

    Hans, the whole story always comes after and that’s the good part. Always good to see small lights of understanding in kids eyes when they manage to connect dots they intuitively knew were there.


  4. Hey Pal – Up most respect man! A much needed message that hits at the core, if you aren't thinking critically for yourself each day then everything you read/hear/watch just did the «thinking» for you and 99% of the time the source of that info is media whose interests are usually never in your favor.


  5. Hi Pal,

    My comment is directed towards the receiver of the information.

    Each of us needs to understand why the particular study applies to him/herself.

    AM I among the MAYS

    or AM I among the MAY NOTS?


    I myself apply an Occam's Razor to this kind of study – the use of Claude Bernard's «Poison Principle».

    Does it provide any information towards elucidating a safe or unsafe dose – level – of the factor being investigated?


  6. Ah, I think we agree Leon.
    Although I believe all data are interesting data there is always a matter of necessity. Occams razor is to often missing in nutritional debates. It makes a great deal of sense to ask which of two actual and competing theories fits the facts better.


  7. Hi Daniel

    I'm awaiting an interview with Chris Voigt on Whole Health Source supposed to come early December. Potatoes are relatively nutritious, but the diet is definitely not for those with carbohydrate intolerance. I thought Voigt did his one man experiment to promote Washington state potatoes and not as a protest.


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