Good results are a balance of luck and effort; the distributions of which changes from person to person.
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
Some Background on Weight Gain
When a human body harvests more energy into fat storage rather than oxidation, is when we have obesity. The problem is not as simple as controlling energy intake and expenditure (calories). Sometimes the body diverts more energy into fat cells, no matter how little energy we take in. Our hormonal responses to food can trigger such an event. Responses to food type and quantity varies from person to person. Sometimes the only difference is the severity of reaction. Some will gain an insignificant amount of weight, while others will gain a considerable amount of weight.
Individuals and Bio-Individuals
Everyone has a different tolerance for food. Some people can consume more food in greater variety, and suffer little ill effects. The people who naturally have the highest tolerance are the ones the rest of us aspire to be — the thin and muscular. We eat to emulate them, not realizing the reason they can eat like that, and we cannot, is because that is how they were born. We see how they eat and work out and believe that is the secret to their health — when it is their health that allows them to work out and eat the way they please. Logic is not selective, it is equally applied to all things: Does basketball make people tall, or is it more likely that tall people do better at basketball? Did pilates, yoga, and barre make that person thin, or is it more likely that those activities attract thin people? Does playing classical music make you rich, or is training in classical music more accessible for the rich? The two biases that lead us to false conclusions are selection and survivorship. Rather than an activity leading to a result, it may only attract a certain group (selection bias), and only have a certain group sticking with it (survivorship bias).
We ignore all the overweight people drinking green smoothies and only remember the skinny ones that do. We think yoga and meditation makes one calm and selfless, ignoring all the selfish and neurotic people who also stretch and meditate. This is known as a "halo effect;" since we envy this person, everything they do must be better. When in reality, it is often correlation (tall people play basketball, shorter people wrestle), not direct cause and effect (basketball does not make you tall, wrestling does not make you short). We want to believe people are the way they are, because of how they live. This is sometimes true. However, what else is true is: some people are the way they are because that is just how they are. This is commonly referred to as evolution.
Seeing with Eyes Colored with Envy
It is easy to believe everything happens due to direct actions, every person we have envied pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. This confirms our bias that everything is within our control. Many millionaires have a vested interest in wanting us to believe they are self-made, when the vast majority of wealthy people started out already wealthy. (Wealth transference from one family member to another is the most common way new millionaires are created.) So was their business really a million dollar idea or were they a millionaire who had an idea? We see how long the Okinawans live and think their secret is having a glass of alcohol every day because that is an answer we like. Yet, what of the Asian tradition of parents moving in with their children as they get older? Would that not have more of a direct impact on longevity? That is an answer we do not like, so we ignore it. Perhaps there is a study that shows eating goji berries is the key to successful retirement, as opposed to the less sexy solution of planning ahead and saving early. Which answer would most of us prefer? We can differentiate the want to believe something with the actual belief of something, but not always.
This does not mean if you were not born with health or wealth, that you cannot be successful in those arenas — you can. The mistake is applying those methods that had no bearing on the success of others, just because those "others" happened to be successful. Find your own way that is practical for you, specific to you, and that works for you.
Be Willing to Self-Experiment
If a muscular body builder tells you to eat more carbs and drink shakes, does this advice work for a regular person who occasionally hits the gym, but gains weight whenever they look at cake? Should you take it on good faith? Probably not. If low-fat works for your friend but not for you, then change what you are doing. If moderation works for your sister but not for you, then learn from it and adapt. If you have medical conditions and the diet you follow is of someone who has no health conditions, and that diet fails you, what will you do? What if you have a diet that is identity based so you abstain from eating certain foods, but it's making you sick. What will you do? What makes us human is that we can choose to change and try something better.
For a time we believed processed foods, like energy bars, were healthier than real foods, like avocados, because they have fewer calories and less fat. Reductionism is the practice of simplifying a complex idea to the point of distortion: sugary cereal (processed food) is better than grass-fed meats (real food); a vitamin is better than a vegetable.
There are many benefits to real food that we will never comprehend, just as we will never fully understand the harmful effects of eating processed foods. To reduce everything down to a single calorie or a solitary "bad guy" makes it simpler, but not more accurate. After all, for a lie to work, it must be simple — which is why it is often more enticing than a complex and inconvenient truth. If all there is to know is whittled down to its simplest form, we think that is all there is to know, which makes everyone an expert. This form of fallacious thinking is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it is the opposite of expertise. It is where one believes: the less I know, the less there is to know, e.g., I know how to fix a flat tire, there's probably nothing more to know about a car, so I am an expert on cars; I got an A in high school English, I am a grammar master. But real experts are well aware of how little they know. Expertise is not in reducing but in understanding that there is a vastness to knowledge.
My Personal Starter Guide to Dietary Experimentation
I like to start with an empty canvas, only leaving the fundamental human foods: water, vegetables, fruit, meat, and nuts. It is a way of eating that we know the majority of the population can process. If you have an objection to something, leave it out and see how you feel. You must also consider, do you only feel better because your mind is trying to confirm what you already believe? That only works for a while before you start to feel worse. Try to be objective, leave dogmatism out of this. Experiment and slowly add certain foods back. See how your body reacts. Give things at least two weeks for your body to adapt. Be diligent and take notes. Eventually what will come out of this is a practical and sustainable way of eating that works specifically for you, that you can do for the rest of your life.
Do not look for shortcuts. Do not look to guys like me to tell you how we eat and try to copy it. Be you, do you. Personalize your nutrition. Go through your own process. If you do not want to go through the process, then change the destination. Change it to where you can be happy with who you are currently. Change your circumstances or change your attitude. Be happy being you.
The one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter, calorie counting, and exercise method works for some people. As the food industry has figured out how to make food more refined while dropping calories, this method no longer works for the general population. It is not an argument that calorie counting does not work; it is that it generally no longer works. The variables that created it have changed, people have changed, the world has changed, and food has changed. Once rules were set in place, big business went about gaming those rules. We, ourselves, gamed those rules, convincing ourselves of things that were too good to be true. Science is all about better truths and better methods. If a process stays the same as everything else is changing, it no longer remains science. Alchemy was once science until better chemistry came along.
Good results are a balance of luck and effort; the distributions of which changes from person to person. Avoid envy, it will blind all your thoughts and decisions. If you envy how another person looks, you may copy their habits — not realizing their practices may cause you more harm than good. Who they are is not something new, that is how they have always been. it is not a result, but a status quo. They have no way of knowing how to get there from scratch. It does not mean you cannot achieve something similar, you just have to do it your own way.
Useful Companions (Improve Your Education and This Site by Buying a Book):
- Fat Chance: Beating The Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, And Disease - Robert Lustig, MD
- You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself - David McRaney
- Death By Food Pyramid - Denise Minger
- The Art And Science Of Low Carbohydrate Living - Stephen D. Phinney, Jeff S. Volek
- The Big Fat Surprise - Nina Teicholz
- Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It - Gary Taubes
- Salt Sugar Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us - Michael Moss
- The Paleo Cure - Chris Kresser
- "Could Your Healthy Diet Make Me Fat?" - The New York Times