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« The Thin Rainbow-Colored Line The RantsHow to Prevent SkyNet from Taking Over the World (Just Sue It) »

Breaking Diet News: Someone, Alert the Media!
2009.03.02 (Mon) 21:25

In a shocking surprise that shocked and surprised nobody (except people who really, truly believe that fad diets work), the results of a surprisingly shocking research study published in the New England Journal of Medicine came to this shockingly surprising conclusion:

Conclusions Reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize. ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00072995 [ClinicalTrials.gov].)

Wait, what does that mean? Maybe this excerpt from an AP article will spell it out a little more clearly:

Low-fat, low-carb or high-protein? The kind of diet doesn't matter, scientists say. All that really counts is cutting calories and sticking with it, according to a federal study that followed people for two years. However, participants had trouble staying with a single approach that long and the weight loss was modest for most.

As the world grapples with rising obesity, millions have turned to popular diets like Atkins, Zone and Ornish that tout the benefits of one nutrient over another.

Some previous studies have found that low carbohydrate diets like Atkins work better than a traditional low-fat diet. But the new research found that the key to losing weight boiled down to a basic rule — calories in, calories out.

"The hidden secret is it doesn't matter if you focus on low-fat or low-carb," said Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which funded the research.

Limiting the calories you consume and burning off more calories with exercise is key, she said.

Sweet, tangy Jesus with a small side of corn bread, who would have ever foreseen this outcome? Oh, wait — we would have. And did, years ago. Our brief entry on fad diets in the Score says the following:

Fad diets come and go. Right now, the Atkins Low Carbohydrate diet is all the rage. However, the simple truth is that in order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. Period. Nothing else will work in the long run. This means that you either must exercise more, or eat fewer calories, or both. Many fad diets work for the short term, but will fail in the long run, either due to the dieter's inability to stick with the program, or the fact that the short term weight loss is based on water weight dropping, or some other short-lived impact.

And the fact that we unraveled this "hidden secret" years ago doesn't make us unique, special snowflakes — this is a basic and obvious concept that fucking fad diets simply ignore, in favor, of course, of encouraging people to waste their money on "secret" weight-loss techniques, equipment, supplies, or other fatuous and vacuous assistance. Losing weight is about consuming less calories and/or burning more, period. Everything else is just window dressing. Quite expensive window dressing, in many (if not all) cases, but window dressing nonetheless.

What else did the study find? That restricting only calories instead of entire classes of food (like carbs, or fats) leaves more leeway to design a diet that will satisfy a person's individual preferences in the long run. In other words, someone is more likely to stick to (and therefore derive useful results from) a low calorie diet that allows them to eat smaller amounts of their favorite foods than a diet that doesn't allow them to eat one or more of those favorites at all. Again, this information hardly boggles the mind. This can be extended culturally as well. If you're hazy on what we're talking about there, go discuss it with an Italian-American who has tried to stick to the Atkins diet despite the fact that Italian-Americans are, practically from birth, force-fed pasta on a daily basis. It's like saying, "You know, you should really cut down on the smurfberries, Handy Smurf."

The article also takes a jab at a certain crappy fad diet that will remain nameless (though not linkless):

The study compared high quality, heart healthy diets and "not the gimmicky popular versions," said Katz, who had no role in the study. Some popular low-carb diets tend to be low in fiber and have a relatively high intake of saturated fat, he said.

But let's get real. In defense of crappy fad diets, if the people pushing these diets admitted the truth (that their silly little schemes and plans and bullshit rules are really totally useless and beside the point), then there would be nothing at all to differentiate their bullshit diets from the scores of other bullshit diets. As such, no one would buy their foods, supplements, books, DVDs, clothing, and skin care products, and no one would enroll in classes teachings their useless methods. So we feel their pain. Really.

In fact, we'd like to offer our own secret weight loss formula. If we weren't semi-anonymous, we would post some before and after pictures of Jeff who, in six months during 2007 (after some unfortunate medication-and-lifestyle-induced ballooning), lost about 80 pounds. What was his trick? Scratching Ass.

That's right, every day (more or less) for those entire six-plus months, Jeff had, at least once a day, scratched his ass, and the result was that he lost a whopping 80 pounds (and has kept it off). What could be more scientific than that?

Oh, a few disclaimers. Our statements haven't been evaluated by the FDA, and Jeff's results were not typical so your weight loss may vary. In addition, his approach was effective when coupled with a decrease in caloric intake (while still eating the same crap he loves — "sweet tooth" doesn't begin to describe the bastard), and an increase in caloric expenditure (that would be exercise, folks — quite a good amount of it). But we're pretty sure that last bit — lowering caloric intake and burning more calories — is totally incidental. Really. Totally. So if we designed some "Ass Scratching Diet" T-shirts and bottle cozies, how much would you pay for them?

Listen, we know that the fad diet companies are selling something — everything from those weird-ass giant rubber bands in 1950s newsreel footage that shake your belly fat away to the African weed that kept hunter-gatherers' minds off their hunger during tough times (but was not used for fucking weight-loss, you lazy-ass New Romans — and when hunger isn't the only reason you eat, a hunger suppressant is not going to help you lose weight). And, though we're not big fans of the practice, they naturally mislead folks in order to make their money, while "staying inside" the very hazy lines of Truth In Advertising.

All we're after is an educated public. Will that put asshats like the fad diet folks out of business? Sure, if we're successful, but that's peripheral. More importantly, it will make for a population that, even if they're still obese, won't be placing false hope in false methods. They'll know that if they're still fat, it's because they're eating more than they should, and exercising less than they should. And maybe, just maybe, they'll start taking responsibility for their own goddamn problems.

But then, that's our fad: personal accountability. And we've been fanboys of that franchise for quite a while. Just don't ask to read our slash fic.

— • —
[  Filed under: % Bullshit  % Science & Technology  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/471

Comments (9)

stavros, 2009.03.04 (Wed) 09:02 [Link] »

True, the key to losing weight is burning more than getting.

I have never even looked at any of those fad diets as I have always maintained that they are useless at most. All you need is some basic knowledge and some common sense -distributing your meals throughout the day; knowing which foods contain what; keeping a reasonable ratio of proteins-carbs-fat (as the authors also acknowledge) etc.

That said, depending on your goals, you might have to adjust some parts of your diet. For instance, knowing what to eat before and after a heavy workout will make a lot of difference if you are trying to build your muscles.

But of course here, the target audience is overweight people who don't really care about such specifics! They merely want to lose some weight -in which case everything you say applies fully.

PoolGuy, 2009.03.04 (Wed) 18:16 [Link] »

I think it's interesting that, aside from the nutrient-specific diets (high-fat/low-fat, high-carb/low-carb, high-protein/low-protein, etc.), these fad diets seem to break into two classes: the "Eat as much as you want and the pounds will still melt away" diet and the "you don't have to move a muscle, our pill/device will melt the pounds away for you" diet. At the risk of going out an a very tenuous cause/effect limb here, I will propose a potential explanation that also explains how we got in the economic mess we're in now.

For the last 50 years (yes, it's arbitrary), we, as a nation, have made a fundamental shift in the ethic of who we are as a people. We have gone from looking to the future as a goal, as a good thing (case in point: The Apollo project) to finding it impossible to see beyond the end of the fiscal quarter. These last two or three months it seems like we're having a hard time seeing past the end of the week. I attribute this to two major changes in the body politic.

One, we have become a nation that is incapable of keeping score by anything other than dollars. And, beyond that, it doesn't matter whether the dollars are come by honestly or by legally raping the unsuspecting public (e.g. - Enron, Bernie Madof). Yes, money has always been important and a kind of measuring stick, but we used to have others. The greatness one has achieved in their field of endeavour (aside from money) used to be important. It seems that that is not so any more. It's more of a "He/She is not obscenely wealthy, so he/she can't be very good at what they do".

Two, we have become a nation that seems to believe that there really is such a thing as a free lunch. We are a nation of presumed entitilement. We want something for nothing. Anybody anywhere in the world can lose weight if they eat less and exercise more, but WE'RE AMERICANS, DAMMIT!! and we can lose weight without eating less and without exercising more because good old American ingenuity invented this pill/device that will do that for us.

So, along with guiding us down the garden path to the current economic crisis we're now in (which has dragged the entire globe with us, because we are the 800-pound gorilla in the room), it has made easy pickings for the get something for nothing diet hucksters out there.

I guess our one hope is that the current situation is so bad that we have to learn from it, but I don't even have much faith in that, because it wasn't the average Joe that got us in this mess, it was the greedy, amoral bastards at the top running roughshod over everbody else to make one more dollar than the next greedy, amoral bastard.

Illigitimi non carborundum.

TimmyAnn, 2009.03.05 (Thu) 13:51 [Link] »

Poolguy has some really good points there. I never thought of it that way. I will add to that the simple fact that many American citizens have simply become lazy. I hardly ever see children playing outside anymore, they're too busy inside with their video games and TV's. I know people who get in their cars to go somewhere that is only two blocks away. It's no surprise that they want to lose weight while they sleep or while they lie on the couch eating Chips Ahoy and watching American Idol.

The Two Percent Company, 2009.03.05 (Thu) 14:28 [Link] »

stavros — it is absolutely valid to say that if your goal is something other than simple weight loss, then "eat less, exercise more" isn't necessarily the way to go. In fact, emphasizing certain types of foods to eat (along with when to eat them, as you pointed out) may be a pretty solid idea depending on one's specific goals — skilled nutritionists and physical trainers do get results. In fact, specifically tailoring a diet and exercise regimen can give you quite "specific" looks — Tom Hanks reportedly had a very specialized program during the year he took between filming the beginning of Cast Away and the end (while Zemeckis spent his time off getting the worst performances ever out of Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer), and the result was a guy who looked like he'd spent some time on a desert island, rather than a guy who spent time eating small portions and dropping by LA Fitness. (Hollywood hoards all the best personal trainers.) However, as you acknowledged, the scores of fad diets flitting about today are aimed at those who want to lose weight, and in that regard they fail miserably.

PoolGuy — you got it very much right, in that Americans have a bizarre "get [something desirable: rich, thin, cured, pretty, famous...] quick" sense of entitlement that seems to be a pop-culture-corrupted version of Manifest Destiny. Poor John O'Sullivan never saw Paris Hilton coming. TimmyAnn's image of cookie-crunching, Simon-Cowell-snarking couch potatoes waiting for pounds to just magically "melt away" without any effort required is, tragically, pretty spot on. (Imagine a giant jumpsuit you could wear that "sweats out" all your fat...and when you're done, you can hop your lean new body into your bio-diesel car, powered by your own weight loss, or your sense of self-satisfaction.)

What worries us, however, is the impression that this happened in "the last 50 years." We think it's been coming down the pike for a lot longer than that. No matter where you look — pop culture, alternative medicine, religion, and on and on — there has always been a human tendency towards "I want it, I want it now, and I deserve it despite not having earned it." The current American zeitgeist simply takes that to an extreme that may only have been seen before, to any degree, in official empires (as opposed to our unofficial one).

And certainly, that applies to the corporate mucky-mucks who own, well, the rest of us. However, we worry a bit about absolving the Average Joes, as you may be saying:

...it wasn't the average Joe that got us in this mess, it was the greedy, amoral bastards at the top...

This nightmarishly over-the-top sense of entitlement and the idea of "obviously" getting something for nothing aren't just the factors that drove the greedy millionaires to fuck us all over — they're also what drove the Average Joes to live beyond their means, and that was, without doubt, the uncontrollable elephant in the china shop that shattered our economy.

Don't get us wrong — the banks share in the blame for the mess we're in. If they hadn't forgotten all about risk management, perhaps they wouldn't have ended up in the crapper (taking us all with them). But they couldn't have done the damage they did if we had a more informed, less lazy, less greedy public — one that didn't assume "something for nothing" is a viable and expected way of life.

The bottom line is that people — lots of people — have been living well beyond their means for a long, long time. The fact that, well before this financial mess, the average household in the United States had some $8,000 in credit card debt, that some 43% of households spent more than they earned year after year, and that the average household spent $1.22 for every dollar of income they made pretty well illustrates that point. This same mentality is what led people to buy houses that they simply couldn't afford. And now, with the ARMs adjusting, people being put out of work, and salaries stagnating, the fact that they bought more home than they could afford (coupled with the other poor spending habits we outlined above) has become all too apparent. The chickens have come home to roost, and they've brought baseball bats and machetes. (Chicken gangs will soon be roaming the 'hood....)

The point is, it wasn't just the greedy, amoral bastards at the top — we also have to point the finger at the greedy, uninformed bastards at the bottom, who decided that living in really big houses and driving really nice cars was more important than being able to pay their bills. Some of us have been ridiculously fucking careful about this shit — we prudently conserve in order to be able to afford what we need (or even just would really like to have) later — but because of the vast majority, it's coming to bite us in the ass. So we're getting something we didn't earn, too: a recession. Thanks a bunch, uninformed, greedy assholes.

The sad thing is, we share your lack of faith: we're not sure if any of the people who made these mistakes — at the top, the bottom, or in between — have even remotely learned their lessons. And when the economy recovers (which it will), we wouldn't be at all surprised to see the same people sticking their necks out — and, by extension, ours — all over again.

PoolGuy, 2009.03.05 (Thu) 18:01 [Link] »

Well, this is not a defense but, rather, an explanation.

I picked 50 years (I did say it was arbitrary) because that pretty much encompasses my span as a self-aware individual. I didn't mean in any sense to imply that there have not always been amoral greedy bastards at high levels in this country. One need only look to the robber barons of the gilded age or the manipulators of the roaring 20's to see that. I certainly get the sense that from the Reagan era onward they have been more oblivious to any sense of public shame than in the past (witness John Thien handing out billions in bonuses (to management, not the rank and file) as his company goes into bankruptcy and he orders the super-duper commode on stilts). Still, it might be a bit of rationaliazation on my part to think things are worse now.

Also, I can't disagree with your comments on how the average Joe wasn't forced at the point of a gun to go into debt up to his eyeballs, but I think that there was more than a little coercion from those who stood to profit from that debt. I'm thinking of credit card companies that structure their contracts so that they can impose usurious rates on a whim, or the stories of mortgage brokers that steered customers into riskier balloon-payment deals even when the customer could afford more prudent deals, because the salesmen would gain better commissions from the riskier products. It seems as though the idea of providing an honest effort for your paying customers is seen as a way to go out business these days.

Don't get me wrong. I have little empathy for those who don't plan ahead. I haven't had a credit card for over 10 years, and I don't buy anything unless I can pay cash. But that's just me. And, as TimmyAnn alludes to, I didn't even touch on what the American marketing machine adds to this process.

Jason Spicer, 2009.03.06 (Fri) 00:50 [Link] »

Not discounting anything said so far, there are some other angles to consider. Keeping up with the Joneses is a lot harder to do prudently when the Joneses are freaking billionaires. The disparity of wealth in this economy pushes people at the bottom to take greater risks in order to avoid feeling poor by comparison. It's not a brilliant idea, but it's understandable.

On top of that, during a bubble (dot com or housing), people feel increasingly stupid for not being in on the action. When idiots in your vicinity are making loads of cash by flipping houses or buying into IPOs, and have been doing so for a while, it's easy to think that you're just leaving money on the table if you're not doing the same thing. Of course, nobody ever expects to be the one out of a chair when the music stops.

But the most insidious thing about the housing bubble was that in order to afford a house at all, you pretty much had to go along with the insanity. And even a lot of the banks were in the unenviable position of watching their business walk down the street to a company handing out liar loans, so they felt like they had to do the same just to keep lending. And again, with cheap credit and skyrocketing prices, there's a powerful motivation to get in now or get poorer than your neighbors.

Deregulation poured gasoline on the fire. When there's a firestorm, you get sucked in.

The Two Percent Company, 2009.03.06 (Fri) 13:44 [Link] »

You know, this seems pretty tangential on a post about fad diets, but it's an interesting conversation nonetheless, so we'll go with it!

Also, I can't disagree with your comments on how the average Joe wasn't forced at the point of a gun to go into debt up to his eyeballs, but I think that there was more than a little coercion from those who stood to profit from that debt. I'm thinking of credit card companies that structure their contracts so that they can impose usurious rates on a whim, or the stories of mortgage brokers that steered customers into riskier balloon-payment deals even when the customer could afford more prudent deals, because the salesmen would gain better commissions from the riskier products. It seems as though the idea of providing an honest effort for your paying customers is seen as a way to go out business these days.


But the most insidious thing about the housing bubble was that in order to afford a house at all, you pretty much had to go along with the insanity. And even a lot of the banks were in the unenviable position of watching their business walk down the street to a company handing out liar loans, so they felt like they had to do the same just to keep lending. And again, with cheap credit and skyrocketing prices, there's a powerful motivation to get in now or get poorer than your neighbors.

Oh, we know. We watched people fall prey to this. But — as you both acknowledge — no one was holding a gun to anyone's head. With a little less greed, and a little more knowledge (we can't stress that enough), these folks could have avoided the pitfalls that would come later.

Hell, Tom was house hunting between 2003-2005, when things were hot and heavy. He and his wife were pre-approved for a mortgage on a home up to about $800,000 (we're talking about northern New Jersey here, folks, where small houses in nice areas are still upwards of $500K). As soon as they saw that number, they knew it was horseshit — that was way more house than they could safely afford, and nothing the bank representatives or the realtors said to them could negate that simple fact. As such, they looked for (and eventually bought) a house that was significantly less expensive than $800K. That was in 2005 — right at the height of the madness.

In addition to the ego-stroking $800K pre-approval, they were offered lots of creative mortgages — ARMs, balloons, interest-onlys — even one that they never fully understood that was supposedly tied to a rate coming out of the UK (according to the mortgage consultant, anyway). In the end, they went with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. The rate on that loan was low enough — why crank up the risk to knock a few tenths of a percent off, when a later adjustment could knock them on their asses? They also went with a reputable lender even though some smaller, riskier places were offering what seemed like less expensive loans. Finally, they went through their mortgage paperwork with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that there were no hidden clauses, and in the end, they got what they set out to get — a house they could afford, for a reasonable rate, which was locked low for the life of the loan.

In short: yes, there were lots of predators out there trying to make a buck by lying to consumers to try to get them to spend more, but with a little less greed and a little more research, it wasn't at all hard to steer through those shark-infested waters.

And we're not saying that Tom was or is a real estate or financial prodigy. Far from it. We're saying that anyone with a little intelligence (which, we admit, is sorely lacking in many people) who could temper their greed with reason and logic was capable of coming out of this whole thing intact. It doesn't even take much intelligence — just a bit of forethought, some careful research, and a healthy resistance to the "get [anything] quick" epidemic. But in a society where households average $8,000 in credit card debt and spend $1.22 for every dollar they bring in, there probably couldn't have been any other outcome than the one that actually happened.

Too many Americans — be they CEOs or consumers — are enraptured by the promise of something for nothing, and this corrupted and corruptible Manifest Destiny Lite makes them think that they deserve success without effort, and that nothing could ever come back to bite them in the ass. We just don't like it when people (politicians come to mind here — this isn't what we think Jason and PoolGuy are doing) blame the CEOs and absolve the consumers. Both are to blame, and neither could have brought the economy down without the help — and the greed — of the other.

Jurjen S., 2009.03.12 (Thu) 16:23 [Link] »

Returning to the topic of diets directed at weight loss for a moment, there was actually some research done in 2006 that indicated why low-carb--or, more precisely, high-protein--diets actually do seem to work. Basically, dietary protein is more effective at stimulating the release of peptide YY (which regulates hunger) than dietary carbohydrates. The upshot of this is that on a high-protein diet, you feel sated sooner; that is, after consuming fewer calories. And if you reduce your caloric intake, you will, all other things being equal, lose weight.

That said, there's a lot of bollocks associated with low-carb diets. Atkins himself was completely wrong as to why his diet showed effect, and when you hear someone describing eating only meat and eggs for a week as a "fast," you want to stick them in an oubliette to show them what fasting actually means. But we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

TimmyAnn wrote:

I hardly ever see children playing outside anymore, they're too busy inside with their video games and TV's.
And 200-odd years ago, people were saying exactly the same thing about those new-fangled novels. Personally, I see kids in my neighborhood playing outside quite often. Of course, my current neighborhood actually has sidewalks, plus there's no through traffic, and there's a nice wooded area at the end of the street (which shows evidence of bicycling activity). Insofar as kids are playing less in public (if they are; when I was a kid, I tended to play out of sight of grown-ups) it's arguably more a safety issue than a laziness issue.

TimmyAnn, 2009.03.12 (Thu) 18:23 [Link] »

I am talking about when I visit my home town (8,000 people, approx.) Nice picket fenced yards in front of the houses, swing sets and kiddie pools on the lawns and not a kid in sight. I am not all that surprised not to see kids playing outside here in downtown Minneapolis.

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