Tom’s Thoughts On Food 1

All Diets Work

July 19, 2014

Well, probably not ALL. I’m sure there’s a crazy diet based on some fabricated indigenous african warrior tribe that involves you ingesting the sap of some remote plant in supplement form, miraculously re-created in the lab by our world renowned nutritionist Dr Ludovic Van Herzberg phD and only available through our slightly awkward to pronounce pyramid scheme…

But certainly, MOST diets work.

And I’m sure that’s not what you were expecting me to say!

It’s usually at this point in any kind of  ‘diet programme’ that they try to tell you why every other diet doesn’t work and why the reason that their new one actually does pass muster is because of some latest scientific understanding, backed up by incontrovertible scientific research study findings etc…

Well I’m not going to be saying that. I’m saying that pretty much all diets work. Sure, there will be some that you are better suited to than others but, in general, for most people, they will all work.

Some diets will focus on eating less of food A, and more of food B, adopting more of strategy X and less of strategy Y, but in general, diets help people to manage their weight.

And deep down, most of us know this already.

So, what do we do? In our search for the answer, we look for stuff to be a lot more complicated than it really is.

Diet proponents introduce such a range of complexity that we have no reason to possibly object to their impeccable logic. They talk about all the reasons why all the other approaches won’t work and go on to say how this new approach is finally the one that will consistently solve the eating conundrum of the western world.

Our search is a natural phenomenon, it’s a manifestation of a deep human desire to find meaning, to make sense of the world, often in places where it doesn’t exist…

Anyway, we now have such a plethora of approaches to eating that any alien observer could only reasonably conclude one thing: Humans are pretty weird.

Most of the favoured approaches classify as fads. They’re popular for a while because they’re new but they soon get replaced by the next one. A lot of them are totally contradictory and people become so overwhelmed with all the options that they plump for the newest, the most recent research because they are blinded by the fact that it’s not the diet that’s the problem.

The problem with diets is not the diet itself, it’s the willpower of the follower. The diets work if you stick to them.

We just don’t stick to them.

Well there are actually a few problems, it’s not quite as simple as that.

There are other factors that end up meaning some diets require less willpower than others for reasons that will soon become clear. But the willpower one is the biggest. The other massive one is awareness.

Despite being in many regards the most advanced form of life on the planet, we have the remarkable ability to completely discount the future effect of current actions.

It’s a well known psychological phenomenon and is called hyperbolic discounting.

All it means is that humans have perfected the art of making decisions that their future selves would have preferred them not to have made.

We are basically pretty bad at delaying the rewards in the present in order to achieve a greater reward in the future.

We are much better at the ‘live now, pay later’ approach to life.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment performed an interesting study into the whole concept and for those of you interested, here’s the wikipedia page: Stanford marshmallow experiment.

The 30 second summary is that the ability of children to resist immediate gratification in order to benefit from a greater future payoff, seemed to correlate strongly with the ability to succeed in later life.

As with all social science experiments, you should be wary of drawing firm conclusions from the results. Small sample sizes, and large numbers of potentially confounding variables mean that the findings should be reviewed with interest, rather than conclusion.

So, what am I saying here?

All diets are equally beneficial?

No, not at all.

ALL diets work for SOME people.
MOST diets don’t work for MOST people.