Dudes On Diets, Ctd

A reader brings a personal touch to this topic:

This subject is near-and-dear to my heart. I was a college athlete who never had to even think about what I ate to maintain low bodyfat. Then my workouts dropped to, say, 20% of what I had been doing when I stopped playing college bball and started working a full-time job. Typical story, I guess. The pounds crept on slowly, 5-10 a year, until, at 29, I was 50 pounds overweight. The weight came slowly but the realization came suddenly. I remember the first time I went to the beach and felt hesitation about taking my shirt off. Within a month, I was cringing every time I looked at myself shirtless in the mirror. I wasn’t obese, but I was fat, and I just didn’t like it, at all.

So I started doing actual research into what makes people fat, and it turns out, it’s not actually lack of exercise.

A sedentary lifestyle makes you very unhealthy, but it doesn’t really make you fat. The composition of your body is ~80% diet, ~10% exercise, and ~10% genetics. Upon realizing this, I started getting my diet under control. As a part of that, I started counting calories, and which macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) I was getting those calories from.

Two years later, I am down 60 lbs, ~11% body fat, and I will count calories every single day for the rest of my life. Far from a marker of female vanity, knowing what you are putting in your body should be one of the basic life skills that every single person possesses. The idea that people are shoving food into their mouths without even thinking about what’s in it or how much they’re eating is, when you think about it, insane.

Would people do that with their cars? Would they just start throwing into the tank different kinds of gas and oil and anything that looks like gas or someone told them was gas, without even keeping track of what they were putting in or how much? Of course not! That would be a crazy way to treat a valuable thing like a car. And it’s even crazier to treat your body that way. I’m not judging people who do; I did for a long time. But, when you think about it, it’s wild that people do that so blithely.

We have a food problem in this country. It’s destroying our health. It’s making people depressed. It’s going to cost us billions in health care over the coming decades. In order to solve this problem, we’re going to have to confront some basic realities that are currently being ignored. Such as: 1) The fast food joints and related businesses that litter out neighborhoods are actually selling poison. It seems strange, because they’re everywhere and advertise on TV, but that’s literally true. It’s a slow-acting poison, but if you keep putting it in your body, it makes you fat, unhappy, sick, and eventually dead.  2) Regular soda is the worst offender of all.  And 3) It is crazy to go through life without tracking the fuel that you’re putting in your body.

Thanks as always for airing frank discussion.

Update from a reader:

I’d like to echo from a different perspective the former college athlete on the junk we put in our bodies. Eight years ago, when I was 54, I was told at my annual physical that I was diabetic. I didn’t fit the typical criteria for Type 2; in fact, I had just mysteriously dropped about 12 pounds. I went home from that appointment thinking, “What the hell do I eat now?”

Fewer carbs, of course, and just less. I put less on my plate to begin with, and found that I’d be fine without going back for seconds. No more “finishing off the last bits so there are no leftovers”. No desserts. (This from someone who definitely had a sweet tooth.) It sounds grim, but it wasn’t. We’re good cooks, and we make most things from scratch anyway. It gradually dawned on me that most carbs are just filler, and knowing that I was poisoning my body by eating them reduced their appeal significantly. (Potatoes and New Haven-style pizza excepted.)

It turned out I was Type 1, with my insulin production gradually declining. By the time I finally had to start taking insulin, four years later, I had lost another 25 pounds. Everyone thought I was too thin. I gained back about 15 pounds once I started on insulin, and it’s been steady for the last three years.

I believe everyone should eat like a diabetic.

Will Vaccination Become Partisan?

According to a recently released survey from the Pew Research Center, the public opinion on vaccine requirements, for example, divides much more by age than by political affiliation. This may be a function of the fact that younger people are less likely to have seen the diseases the vaccines are designed to protect against. (In other words, vaccines are victims of their own success.) However, the poll was worrying in one political respect: In 2009, there was no partisan difference in attitudes toward these requirements. The latest study did find some small differences along party lines. According to Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth political science professor who has done research on effective communication around vaccines, injecting partisan politics into individual decisions about whether to vaccinate could have unintended consequences. He argued in the New York Times recently that making the decision to vaccinate one of partisan allegiance could potentially push some individuals who might otherwise have vaccinated their children to forgo the process.

Seth Masket warns that “if enough Republican leaders or conservative cultural figures publicly question the importance of immunizations, and if such messages go unchallenged or even embraced by commentators on Fox and other conservative media outlets, that message could soon be adopted by conservative parents with only modest attachments to politics”:

And in some ways, this argument meshes very well with the American conservative world view. The idea that I can make better judgments about my kids than the government can, that I should be concerned about me and my own rather than the larger social network, that I shouldn’t have to make sacrifices or face risks on behalf of strangers — it wouldn’t take much to fold that into the definition of modern conservatism. Resistance to vaccinations doesn’t have to mean embracing organic food or breastfeeding toddlers; that’s simply a liberal interpretation of it.

But we’re not quite there yet. The main cultural elites advocating avoiding or at least questioning vaccinations, from doctors with celebrity pretensions to celebrities with medical pretensions, are mostly on the left right now. Chris Christie has limited appeal, and Rand Paul has not quite yet demonstrated an ability to reach those outside his libertarian circles. But if we’re going to see the anti-vaxxer belief system mutate and spread to the right, this will be how it happens.

Should Even Heroin Be Legal? Ctd

A reader writes:

I am enjoying Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream very much. For the most part I find that the chasing-screamauthor backs up his views with solid evidence and logic.

However, the suggestion in Chapter 13 that a chaotic, abusive home and the parents’ failure to bond (attach) with the child is what causes addiction proves too much. Recent NIMH studies by Bridget Grant show that personality disorders persistently and robustly predict the persistence of substance abuse disorders. Grant’s work shows that roughly 50% of substance abusers meet the criteria for borderline personality disorder.  There is good reason to believe that these individuals are quite resistant to treatment as usual.

It is fair to say that people with personality disorders feel isolated and alone. So, to that extent, Hari’s thesis has validity. And while early literature connected personality disorders to a chaotic home, abuse and a failure of attachment, the more current view is that these individuals may be so sensitive that they perceive chaos and abuse where others would not. And the failure to attach may be due to something inherent in the child rather the parent.

The point is that it is unfair, as Hari does in his book, to assume that because an addict feels isolated and reports an abusive or chaotic home, that this report is accurate. Sometimes, it is just the way the disordered person has misperceived the world.

Another reader:

I’ve gotten a little more than halfway through Hari‘s book, looking forward to actually being able to take part in the coming Book Club discussion, now never to happen. But the reading itself is worthwhile: What a marvelous book so far.

That it is. And don’t miss Johann on Real Time tomorrow night.

The Genetics Of Fucking Around

The Economist unpacks new research suggesting that humans are not born equally promiscuous:

As with many biological phenomena—height, for example—propensity for promiscuity in either sex might be expected to be normally distributed; that is, to follow what are known colloquially as “bell curves”. The peaks of these curves would have different values between the sexes, just as they do in the case of height. But the curves’ shapes would be similar.

Rafael Wlodarski of Oxford University wondered whether things are a little more complicated than that. Perhaps, he and his colleagues posit in a study just published in Biology Letters, rather than cads, dads and their female equivalents simply being at the extremes of a continuous distribution, individual people are specialised for these roles. If so, the curve for each sex would look less like the cross-section of a bell, and more like that of a Bactrian camel, with two humps instead of one.

They found some evidence to back that theory up:

These results suggest that—probably for men and possibly for women—caddishness, daddishness and so on are indeed discrete behavioural strategies, perhaps underpinned by genetic differences, rather than being extremes of a continuum in the way that tall and short people are. Although there is some overlap between the two strategies, they are, if Dr Wlodarski and his colleagues are correct, what biologists call phenotypes. These are outward manifestations of underlying genes that give natural selection something to get hold of and adapt down the generations.

Intriguingly, the difference in phenotypic mix between the sexes is not huge. Dr Wlodarski and his colleagues calculate that cads outnumber dads by a ratio of 57:43. Loose women, by contrast, are outnumbered by their more constant sisters, but by only 53:47. Each of these ratios tends in the direction of received wisdom. Both, though, are close enough to 50:50 for that fact to need an explanation.

So much more to find out about us as a species. And now, finally, some time …

The Fight For Independent Journalism

A CBC camera crew led by the wonderful Michelle Gagnon visited the Dish “offices” recently:

The CBC’s Neil Macdonald takes on native advertizing sponsored content branded content ads disguised as journalism. Money quote:

Sullivan’s case against native advertisement is powerful and succinct. “It is advertising that is portraying itself as journalism, simple as that,” he told me recently. “It is an act of deception of the readers and consumers of media who believe they’re reading the work of an independent journalist.”

Advertisers, he says, want to buy the integrity built up over decades by journalists and which, in the past, was kept at arm’s length. Now they will happily pay to imitate it: “The whole goal is you not being able to tell the difference.” Sullivan’s argument is so doctrinaire, so principled, that it makes bourgeois practitioners of the craft, like me, squirm.

Well, we never compromised on this. Of that I am deeply proud.