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The futility of out-educating fat

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Superb:

“Years ago, Tufts University invited me to lecture during a symposium on obesity…

Lecturer after lecturer offered solutions for America’s obesity problem, all of which revolved around education. Americans would be thinner if only they knew about good nutrition and the benefits of exercise, they told us. Slimming down the entire country was possible through an aggressive public awareness campaign…

When it was my turn to speak, I couldn’t help beginning with an observation. “I think it is fascinating that the other speakers today have suggested that education is the answer to our country’s obesity problem,” I said. I slowly gestured around the room. “If education is the answer, then why hasn’t it helped more of you?”

There were audible gasps in the auditorium when I said this, quite a few snickers, and five times as many sneers. Unsurprisingly, Tufts never invited me to lecture again.'”

–Clotaire Rapaille
The Culture Code

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160 Comments

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  1. That’s because they’ve been taught and are teaching the wrong thing.

    The mainstream used to think that eating fat was the cause of the obesity crisis. Now everyone realizes that it’s actually carbs and sugar.

    Read up about the paleo / primal way of eating.

    Blogs:

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com
    http://www.paleohub.com
    http://freetheanimal.com/

    Books:

    The Primal Blueprint
    The Paleo Diet
    New Evolution Diet
    Good Calories, Bad Calories
    Why We Get Fat
    The Vegetarian Myth

    • @NomadicNeill – from one paleo eater to another, I totally agree – with the solution, but not the approach.

      You’re preaching education, bro, same as the speakers in the story.

      What if, in addition to teaching the right stuff, it was more about the ‘how’ than just the ‘what’?

    • Craig Rodrigues Link to this comment

      You’ve already made the same mistake they did. Paleo is just another bandwagon.

    • I disagree that he’s making the same mistake. It’s true that education is not the only answer – how about we quit subsidizing grains and abolish the food guide pyramid? But another way to read the point is that all those people ‘know’ what’s good and bad for them and they’re overweight – because what they ‘know’ is wrong.

      Also, when everyone in society ‘knows’ this same thing – eat less & exercise mroe to lose weight – you have social pressure in that direction. Look at the progression of smoking from something almost everyone did to something that is reaching the point of socially unacceptable.

    • Read Gary Taubes Good Calories, Bad Calories for some education. Eating less does NOT make you lose weight! Your carb intake (and your genetics and any insulin resistance you’ve developed) determines whether you lose weight or not. Eating less ultimately makes you gain MORE weight – studies prove it again and again as does the anecdotal experience of virtually every dieter who’s lost weight and gained it back again and then some.

      There is also evidence to suggest that exercising does NOT make you lose weight – that it makes you hungrier so that the calories you burn are offset by the calories you take in – your body is excellent at achieving homeostasis (until you flood it with carbs, which it doesn’t know what to do with because carb-rich diets are relatively new in our evolution). Again, read Gary Taubes book and be convinced yourself.

  2. If education is not a solution, what would be? Using taxation to create incentives for people to eat less junk food and sweets?

    • I cringe when I hear suggestions that the way to control the population toward a desired end – whether it is good for them or not- is to enforce taxation. This is the art of control via collectivism that is so rampant in our society.

      The premise is that we would vote on an eating tax of some sort, and those that didn’t vote for it would be ruled by force by those who did, or else face the IRS, is insane. We are talking about the personal relationship between you and your food here.

      This is not the realm of government. Why we look to government to be our nanny and make us act in ways that is for our best interest is beside me. When did this become the role of government? What about being accountable for your choices and for your life?

      Besides, how much good has government involvement in our food done us thus far? I could write at length about this, and how messed up our food system and ideas about food are because of government involvement.

      Didn’t we fight for freedom in the late 1700s because taxation was being used to psychologically subjugate us to a ruling power?

      Nothing, and I mean this, is a substitute for an individual’s desire and commitment to rule thyself. Throughout all of written history in every culture, the roots of the good life (however one defines this) are planted in self-rule. You must rule how successful you become. You must rule how harmonious you’ll be in relation to others. You must rule your emotional response to circumstances. You also must rule what goes into your mouth.

      I fear the day that the IRS has a say over what I put in my body. That is tyranny. I won’t stand for it.

      If only one thing gets through here it’s that the government isn’t meant to rule us. We rule ourselves. This is the philosophical foundation of our country, as well as our humanity.

    • @Celeste

      I completely agree with how you feel, and feel the same. However we are in this circumstance because as society we have ASKED the governments to do these things for us. A lot of people want to be taken care of, think welfare, universal healthcare, etc. People are so damned afraid of everything they want some one to tell them it will be ok, even when it means giving up their individuality. This is not new, it has been a slow progression of many many things for a long time, and happens in most cultures.

      As for being told what you can and can not eat or put in your body, we are already there. Mandated vaccines, banned herbs, etc.

      As with every society, it will progress farther and farther until enough people are tired of it and start shooting. From history this seems to be the only thing that effects drastic change. This can be applied all the way down to a personal level (which is more on topic for this post). Ones weight for example, will often progress farther and farther, until it reaches the breaking point which is very different for each person (some times its death) before they mentally wake up and get past their barriers to make the change.

      Personally i feel that most people lack the capacity/desire/whatever to ever reach these points and pass most barriers in their lives. People don’t like truth, they like comfort. They don’t like to much thinking or action, they like others thinking for them and telling them small specific actions they must take today. All in all, people are “Dumb panicky creatures” – Men in Black

    • We could just reform the exisity food subsidy system. Currently 73.8% of federal subsidies dollars go do meat and dairy production and 13.4% to grains. 0.4% goes towards fruits and vegtables. Humm, I wonder why fruits and vegtables are so expensive.

    • -Celeste
      A “fat tax” is not about personal freedom; it’s about picking up the tab at the Doctor’s office.

  3. Philip Johnson Link to this comment

    I think the point is this: no amount of education will make a difference if the person doesn’t have the motivation to change their circumstances.

    In weight gain, most people need only do two things: eat less and exercise more.

    In finances, things are more complicated (three things!): spend less, earn more, and invest.

    In both cases, the person who does something will be ahead of the person who does nothing but get “educated”.

    • Be very careful about using “motivation,” another term that’s very similar to “education.”

      You can hear why in my interview with Dr. BJ Fogg on persuasion and behavioral change.

    • @Philip – this is exactly why you (and everyone else) need to be educated. Read Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories. We all have been misled by bad science. The solution to losing weight is very simple, but it has nothing to do with eating less and exercising more. I kid you not (read my other comments on this blog). Read his book – it is a history and analysis of nutritional science in our country over the last 60 years. It will open your eyes and make you mad and in disbelief that we could allowed things to get the way they have.

  4. *I* have to decide to loose weight. I have to change my thinking on my own; no one can convert to me Islam, Atheism, or Catholicism just as no one can convert me to be thin. My feelings and emotions are always true, no matter what data you may bring to the table. Education and prohibition to “cure” obesity will fail. Rally my heart to change my actions, back me into a corner and watch me double down the fight.

  5. I LOVE this post!

    I was actually thinking about this this last weekend- you must’ve read my mind, Ramit.

    It’s like when overweight dieticians recommend something. I’m willing to listen to the gorgeous ones that are in shape, but not one that’s 220 pounds of flabbiness.

    Or when personal finance “experts” tell us how to invest, but they haven’t proven themselves to know what they’re talking about (the best way to know would be if we saw their personal portfolios!)

    I definitely don’t think education is the answer. Everyone knows smoking is bad and its taxed like crazy- yet they smoke. We all know our bodies hate junk food, yet we consume millions of cookies, cans of soda, pints of ice cream, etc. a year.

    Street smarts- learning from actually doing it- is probably what’s best. If you’ve been in shape, you know how good it feels and don’t want to lose that.

    Just like with personal finance- you know how good it feels knowing that 15% of your paycheck goes into retirement accounts every month. But just reading about it will never give you that same kind of satisfaction or motivation to keep doing it.

    • Totally agree with you.

      I was just talking to my husband about this – the fact that eating healthy isn’t sexy or appealing…a loyal reader of this blog, he pointed me to this post.

      We’ve recently “accidentally lost weight” by changing our diet to help our daughter with her food sensitivities – we had some major motivation to help her. Experience has shown us that it’s better for our health too.

      Personal experience or seeing someone close to you succeed is usually the most inspiring. But sadly, I think, pain or becoming uncomfortable with yourself can be the biggest motivator to change.

  6. Well Said. Behavior change first before attitude change. Thanks for voicing this insight. I managed to lose a total of 30 pounds last year from exercising/proper nutrition ever since you have posted “Education is not the solution to all personal-finance problems”. I managed to put systems in place (and came up with the equivalent “baby steps” approach on my own!) when setting this goal.

    This time, after the success of improving my physical health (and looks xp) I set a goal to learn Chinese (Mandarin) using the same psychological techniques and practices BJ Fogg and you recommended. As I am doing it right now and am progressing much further than ever before, I learned that it really is about understanding yourself and simply adapting to your inevitable weaknesses as a human being.

    Thanks for this insight. You have no idea how this really helped me when it comes to achieving personal goals.

    • Glad to help, Barry. This idea of behavior FIRST is frequently overlooked. Most “experts” still exist with the idea that “attitude –> behavior” or “education –> behavior,” despite evidence of those frameworks not working for decades. (Not in every area, but many.)

  7. If more people were like this dude, calling people on their bullshit, we’d all be a lot better off.

    The truth shall set you free.

  8. I think obesity suffers the same way that investing does. Both processes are not immediate, people do not get fat overnight, and most people do not get rich by investing overnight.

    Motivation is an option and using an immediate incentive would be most effective. Don’t expect people to eat right and exercise today and promise a pay-off in a month..or worse in a year… they have to have a reason/incentive to change their habits today.

    At Timberland they have implemented a similar idea with respect to employee health benefits and walking. Employees can get a pedometer and if they reach a target number of steps per month, their health care benefit costs are reduced. It isn’t perfect and I am sure someone will try to game the program, but at least they are taking action. If employees do not take advantage of the program, they still keep their health benefits just at a higher total cost.

    In the end money can be a great incentive (think gas prices and Prius sales), so can we pay people to lose weight?

  9. Blah blah blah “Eat Paleo Educate Yourself Our Nutrition Pyramid is Messed Up FDA’s Recommendations are Terrible” blah blah blah.

    I was 6’3″/280lbs at one point. I was a fat fuck. I got rejected by too many girls because I was a fat fuck.

    I stopped eating shit, started exercising, lost 40 pounds BEFORE finding Body For Life or any type of real education. BFL helped me lose 50 more. I’m 6’3″ and 190lbs now.

    “Change will come when the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of change”

    Same with personal finance.

    I say : if you want to succeed, find some rejection. Find some pain. Get your ass kicked by someone who will kick your ass.

    Maybe we’re a culture of dietary & financial pussies because our educational systems often cater & pander to pussies.

    Just a thought.

    • It’s a great story, and I’m thrilled for you, but n=1 (or the idea of ‘just suck it up!’) doesn’t really help other people.

    • “Change will come when the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of change”

      I totally agree with you Jim. Too bad when people hit what could be considered their rock bottom they don’t recognize it as such. Instead of helping themselves they wait for someone else to take care of them. Enabling someone will never give them cause to change.

  10. A couple years ago I attended a seminar with celebrity fitness trainer Valerie Waters and she said:

    “Strategy trumps willpower.”

    She said you could have all the education and willpower in place, but if you still have junk food in your house, have difficulty packing your gym bag, etc., you don’t need to change your motivation, you need to change your strategy echoing the advice found in BJ Fogg’s interview.

*