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Nutrition and Bad Science

May 10, 2017

Yesterday I listened to Sam Harris’s podcast with Gary Taubes. It stirred something in me. I mean, it lit a fire. Early on, Sam pointed out we’re getting to the point of considering colonizing Mars, yet we don’t have a clear idea of the best food to feed those potential colonists. Not even close, really.

What the hell should we eat? Why do doctors and researchers have such wildly different answers to that question?

Gary Taubes, a physics and engineering student turned journalist, has an answer. Basically: crappy science. Researchers defending the status quo, overinterpreting results, confirmation biases all over the place, the inertia of “scientific consensus,” incorrect government endorsements, and so on. There are lots of reasons, but the fact is that most of the dietary recommendations everyone supposedly knows are supported by very questionable evidence.

This isn’t groundbreaking information, but it struck me in a new way. That a smart and resourceful non-doctor could be just the person to skeptically interrogate the obviously inadequate status quo–that could be me in the right circumstances.

My particular interests and questions are related to Taubes’s, but a little different. I’m frustrated by how we seem to know basically nothing about why losing a great deal of weight is exponentially harder than losing a little, or why losing weight is so much harder the next time you try than it was the last.

I mean, I guarantee I’ve worked harder at getting in shape than the vast majority of people who are actually in shape. I’ve lost 50+ pounds three times. Yet I’ve got a long way to go to be fit, or even “average.” I’ve got family members and friends with similar histories. And what I’ve learned is that the rules change when the volume increases. They fucking change.

And what I’m saying with this blog post is, I feel driven to take Taubes’s work as an inspiration and get to the bottom of my own nutrition questions. More than an inspiration, even–a strong drive in a way I haven’t felt in quite some time. Like something big could come from this in terms of my future projects.

I’ll be working on this in my mind. And devouring Taubes’s work in the meantime.

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