My favorite palindrome is: Doc note I dissent a fast never prevents a fatness I diet on cod

It is largely unchallenged conventional wisdom that the cause of the “obesity epidemic” is couch potato-ism and fast food, but there is almost no research to support this as a causal link.

I am a fat man, with two fat sisters, born of fat parents, and have been engaged in trying to control my weight most of my life. What I have noticed as the most significant, if ironic, cause of weight gain, is dieting.

A recent study at Yale, found that the perception alone that a milkshake was “reduced calorie” caused not only reports of reduced satiety, but also caused the of the hormone ghrelin to remain at high levels. Ghrelin is one of the hormones responsible for mediating our appetites, and it generally falls after eating and rises when we are hungry. In the study, subjects were given two milkshakes, a week apart, to avoid their memory of the taste affecting the results, after which their ghrelin levels were checked via bloodtests.

The two milkshakes were identical, but the subjects were told in one case that the milkshake was indulgent, and in the other that is was low calorie. Just the perception that they were drinking a low calorie milkshake caused their ghrelin level to remain elevated, where as when they thought the milkshake was high calorie, their ghrelin levels fell, and they reported satiety.

McDonalds opened in 1955, even before that, “meat and potatoes” was the dietary norm, and health food and health clubs were almost non-existence fringe phenomena. It was the industrial revolution over a century earlier that resulted in our sedentary lifestyles, not the prevalence of TV or fast food beginning in the fifties. In the first three quarters of the twentieth century, Americans led sedentary lives and ate high-fat, high-carb food, and yet were mostly normal-weighted.

So if these commonly cited changes in the lifestyles or diet had already taken place long before the 70’s when obesity rates began to rise steeply, what did happen in the early 70’s that could account for this?

In 1971 the results of one of the most comprehensive, long term and carefully designed studies on the state of Americans’ heath was released. It was the results from the first generation of the Framingham study. The results were so significant and clear, that there has been an ongoing rise in public heath programs urging increased exercise and low-fat diets to combat the high cardiovascular risk Americans face.

In fact, I suspect these obesity rates are probably an unintended consequence of the Framingham recommendations, and are best correlated with increased efforts to diet and restrict fat and calorie intake. It may be that the more you perceive yourself as deprived, and even more seriously, the m,ore deprived you actually are, the harder your body tries to store calories by putting on weight.

My own personal experience has been that every time I have gone through a period of dieting with high calorie restrictions, I have eventually ended up heavier after than before. I have heard the same story from numerous other fat folk as well as from many of the clinicians who treat them. The availability of low cal food and all manner of exercise clubs, machines and techniques are at an all time high and rising, exactly in step with the rising obesity rates. This may not bode well for a solution to this, since all the advice being given seems to be for people to deprive not only themselves, but their children.


banking on racism

People these days rarely bandy around racist remarks in public. Outside of white supremacist ranks, everyone denies racist feelings. But does anyone believe that some how those feelings and biases have vanished?

It was 1772 when slavery was effectively banned in England, and that powerful English abolitionist movement was an undoubtedly, though rarely discussed, antecedent of the American Revolution. Slave trading was made a felony in the British empire in 1811, suspiciously coincident with the War of 1812, and then of course there was the War Between the States.

The voting rights act was not passed until 1965, with the support of only 2 Republican Senators, and 33 Republicans in the House opposed its extension in 2006. Racism is alive and well in America, it’s just denied and hidden. I was stunned when a hip boomer acquaintance recently dropped the N bomb, and not all hip hop, but in its most traditional and derogatory meaning.

Republicans know that there is a very large percentage of Americans whose closeted racism will make any criticism of Obama stick, no matter how absurd or exaggerated, and they are running with it. The same goes for the immigration debate. I pray (and I am an a devout atheist) that these cynical and self-serving tactics blow up in their faces. Amen.

a little science

F**k post-modernism, let’s step up with a bit of post-post-modernism and get real. We are befuddled by complexly woven threads of common sense, misconceptions and outright deception. The active agitprop of the angels and demons on our shoulders, the media tycoons with the politicians in their pockets, the charlatans selling us their snake oil and the true believers who just want to lead us into the light, are a cacophony of he-said she-said that leaves most of us just not giving a flying f**k. But we can get defuddled. We can pick the wheat from the chaff, the pips from the fruit, the silk purses from the sows ears. We just need to to use a little science.

science schmience

As Michael Shermer points out in The Believing Brain, we are agents of agenicity. Common sense is a literal knee jerk adaptation to survive in a rapidly changing and potentially dangerous world. Random action is unpredictable, but the intent of agents is not. Assume agency and then decode the intent, usually something like: chase, catch and eat me, and you have a much better chance of not being eaten.

So our ancestors were all natural born animists, to whom it was perfectly obvious that the sun and moon raced – the planets wandered – across the sky because of the homunculi that inhabited them. I mean, duh!

But this is a game of odds. Belief, these leaps to conclusions, have a much better chance than just random motion to evade disaster, but once we start to look at long term outcomes, at subtler and more complex processes, these leaps can become lemming-like, where Manichaen madmen follow their faith onto buses strapped with C4 or into quagmires of unending war.

But all around us, at levels well below the reductio ad absurdum of unending war, our tendency to go with our guts and follow our hearts, while powerful connections to our amazing and unseen cognitive abilities, can lead us astray in as many small sad ways as they can allow us Blinks of wisdom and insight.

Science, and not the science of Einstein or Hawking, but just the simple process of methodical deliberation and testing, is the key to our humanity. Our brains are a long iteration of survival strategies, and in the epoch of glaciation in which we became modern humans, adaptation rather than knee jerk heart following, became the saving grace that allowed us to survive when many of our cousins did not. The science meme is what got us smoke alarms and airbags, and we need to embrace it.