The futility of out-educating fat

112 Comments- Get free updates of new posts here

38 71 0

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

Related:

Want to learn about how to use psychology to overcome fear and self-doubt, find your Dream Job, and live a rich life?

Join my FREE email list

38 71 0

Related Articles

I’m giving away a vacation cruise for 10 people

Things you can do on a cruise: Scuba dive, snorkel, and tour awesome places you’ve never been to Eat ...

Read More

How to stay laser-focused -- Noah Kagan interview

Yesterday, I shared Noah Kagan's insight about how some of our biggest periods of growth can come from the most ...

Read More

112 Comments

38 71 0
 
  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.

  11. Where to begin. There are so many parallels between finance and weight loss/maintenance.

    invest in low cost index funds and hold them…save money by cutting costs…don’t trade stocks or day trade (odds are, you will lose).

    invest in 30 minutes-1 hour of exercise every day or so…cut calories by eating less food……don’t do crash diets (odds are, you will eventually lose)

    Every book you ready by someone with a common sense approach to finance or losing weight will have these same messages in one way or the other. It isn’t rocket science…doing 80% of it will make you better than 99% of everyone else.

    We can automate our finances…I suppose there should be a way to automate our weight maintenance (no buffets ;D)

    It isn’t just discipline. I think a large barrier is that saving/investing equates to “work”. Once it stops becoming work and more ‘fun’, it is easier to commit to. It becomes easy when you automate it and have a system. Same thing with weight loss…it is ‘work’ at first. But, once you get into a system and find a way to enjoy it…it becomes a pleasure.

    • Eating right and exercising isn’t ‘sexy’, as a post said above. You ate fruits and vegetables, whole grain wheats, and lean proteins? You didn’t have third and fourths? You don’t have desert every meal? As opposed to the, “I am on the cookie/south beach/atkins/caveman/protein shake/vegetarian diet” Investing over the long term and not stressing about the days ups/down in the stock market isn’t ‘sexy’. Target Retirement lifecycle fund? Boooring. But, it’s better than what most can do….

      Gosh, I’m wondering if I could do a ctrl+f of a few key words of Ramit’s blogs and turn it into a weight loss website.

  12. Ain’t this the truth. My mom is fat, and complains all the time about it. She’s been on diet after diet and she KNOWS what to do. She just DOESN’T do it. She KNOWS how to count calories/count points/count carbs/exercise more. Yet she cannot follow through. Talk about annoying!

    • Your Mom doesn’t KNOW what to do. Counting calories is a myth. Exercising more is a myth. Read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories to get the truth about what a healthy diet and lifestyle looks like.

    • Greg: We get your point after 5+ comments saying the same thing — even though you are still insisting people “educate themselves.” Give it a rest.

  13. [...] Bwa ha: 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?” [...]

  14. Education and counseling to determine the emotional reasons for self-medicating with food need to be explored and solved before any food/diet/exercise based education can be beneficial. Obesity is almost always linked to an emotional deficit or crisis.

  15. Ramit – I was listenting to the radio, Tina Rosenberg came on and was talking about the power of peer presure for positive behavior change – I thought I would link to it.

    “The term “peer pressure” usually carries negative connotations of teens trying drugs and families going into debt to keep up with the Joneses. But Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tina Rosenberg argues there are also powerful and often overlooked benefits of peer pressure. ”

    http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2011-03-29/tina-rosenberg-join-club

    If educating for behavior change doesn’t work, what does? It seems like building a group that will keep you accountable and were like you but are now doing what you what to do or have done what you want to do is the best way. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have the cultural infrastructure for that, we are really good at getting masters to talk to novices in lectures, but not get middle of the road people to coach novices.

    • Peer pressure can be extraordinarily effective.

      Listen to the BJ Fogg interview above, where he and I outline several of the most persuasive techniques.

    • Speaking of peer pressure, I think we have become too politically correct and accepting with regards to obesity. I know many will say I am an insensitive jerk here. We’ve labeled obesity a ‘disease’ and implied that being obese is something not fully within an individual’s control. We tell people to love themselves and their body image no matter how morbidly fat they are. Fat people are essentially becoming a ‘protected class’ that can claim discrimination, etc. I’m not saying we should chastise the obese or go out and tell fat people they suck. But maybe if our attitude as a society was a little less forgiving, accomodating, and conciliatory towards obesity, there would be a little more ‘peer pressure’ to not let yourself get to 350 lbs.

  16. I think a large part of it IS education, but we’re not necessarily educating people in the right way. What we need to focus more on is teaching people the actual strategies that will help them, and frame them in an easy light. I recently read “Switch!” by Chip and Dan Heath (Ramit, I think you’d find it a really interesting and quick read), and they provided a really great example of how they were able to reduce obesity in a small (West Virginian?) town: by providing just ONE focus point. They encouraged everyone to switch to 1% milk, and extolled the benefits of just that one change. It was easy to do, it only required one real decision point (at the grocery store – once the milk is in your house, you’re going to drink it), and therefore it didn’t require a ton of extra effort on the part of the participants (let’s face it, most Americans are extremely lazy). I think an education-based campaign with small tactical changes like this would work wonders, instead of just the generic “being obese is bad for you” and encouragement of behavior that people think is too hard/unattainable.

    That said, I think a large part of the problem is really about the recent acceptance of obesity. I understand that there are still some stigmas about being overweight, but you have to admit it’s become much more acceptable in recent years, right down to the push for airlines to increase the size of their seats. I hate that stupid statistic that says the average American woman is a size 16 or something. Just because everyone else is obese doesn’t mean it’s the right way to go!

  17. “Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, when he has no heart for it?” Proverbs 17:16 or, if you prefer;
    “You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know”. The Grateful Dead from “Black-Throated Wind”,

  18. I stand by the fact that correct knowledge (education) is the most important thing. You can have all the motivation, strategies, leverage etc. in the world but if you are doing something wrong (not saving money, following government advise on food etc.) then you will get no where.

    I can point to several areas in my life (relationships, money, nutrition) where having the correct knowledge provided the motivation because progress was easy.

    You may all think that paleo / primal / low carb is a band-wagon or some kind of fad, but it explains the current obesity epidemic much better than ‘eating fat makes you fat’ paradigm that has existed in the US over the past 40 years. As with so many things in life, it is currently being ridiculed, then it will be fought, then it will be accepted as completely normal and people won’t even remember questioning it.

    Seriously read up on some of the books, especially ‘Good Calories Bad Calories’ which has tons of references to mainstream scientific study then check out all the blogs on http://www.paleohub.info with the hundreds of n=1 examples of people curing their diabetes, obesity, heart troubles, coeliac disease, lupus, skin problems etc.

    Also watch Sugar: The Bitter Truth on YouTube as well as Diet Wars: Is Anyone Winning At Losing (in which a vegetarian researcher is surprised to find that the low carb diet is best for losing weight, improving blood etc. )

    Educate yourself, the motivation and strategy will follow effortlessly.

    • You beat me to the punch…. :-) Go Paleo!

    • @NomadicNeill

      I think you may have missed something. No one mentioned that having eduction is not useful, or that people should not be educated. The point is that education alone does not solve the problem for most people. If you have a strategy, and no eduction, then most likely your strategy will suck anyways, so it goes without saying that it does take some correct information/education from the start. But it certainly does not take a masters in nutrition to lose a few pounds and keep them off. However, combining some good, relevant, basic information, with a solid strategy that is right for YOU, will get you to where you want to be.

      Some one mentioned above, and i know Ramit has said before. You must understand how you continue to fail, and built your strategy to specifically counter those failure points (paraphrased). Each person has weakness’s and pitfalls they continue to run into over and over. I know personally if i have a goal, i spend 10% of the time and effort with the general planning and educating myself, and 90% of the time thinking of how i can avoid being defeated by my own weakness’s before they prevent me from getting to my goal. The education comes easy (most of the time).

    • I would agree with Ramit and Anthony and others that education alone does not solve the problem in most cases. However, with nutrition/health, I think education solves the problem far more frequently than with something like finances. This is because 1) 90% of people don’t KNOW what a healthy diet and lifestyle looks like and 2) there is little sacrifice to eating a healthy diet – food tastes good and you’re not as hungry any more – it’s only problematic if you’ve become addicted to sugar and carbs and because our society is so clueless about healthy food that sometimes it can be hard to find a good meal you don’t prepare on your own and 3) people are way more motivated (and get more immediate feedback) to be healthy.

      While there is some lack of knowledge in finance, even those that know, find it hard to do the right thing – this is why defaults/nudges are so powerful. Immediate feedback is also much more difficult in finance than in diet – spending and savings changes can take months or years before they make an impact. Finding a higher paying job or doing something on the side often requires significant motivation. With diet, the people that KNOW what a healthy diet is have very little problem following it and staying trim/losing weight/maintaining good health. The problem is that so few people actually know. Read Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories and you will be 80% of the way to losing weight. The remaining 20% is behavioral change. I just think motivation to be physically healthy is different than motivation to be financially healthy because our society is so misinformed. Getting “educated” on nutrition usually means being misinformed.

    • @Greg Connor

      Greg, i see your point and agree that education is more or less important depending on the subject matter at hand, that is a good point.

      However there is also an element that you seem to be missing, and that is being open minded, and learning from history. What i mean by that is that what humans “KNOW” to be “TRUE”, is only true today, and only to those that believe it. You have mentioned many times on here about “Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories”, almost like it is your bible or something, but you know other people KNOW other facts as well.

      The only facts i truth i accept, is that i dont know any. What i know today is only true today, and through reading, or good discussion such as this thread, i may change what know tomorrow. Now i have never read that book, nor do i practice any diet plan other than “Eat what i want when i want”. But i am also not saying you or that book is wrong either. However, right or wrong, it is foolish to believe you are right, with out constantly questioning, challenging, and refining your belief. I don’t know how much of Ramit’s emails you read, but the one from today has a good quote, which i personally choose to interpret as open mindedness – “So I’m on a quest to find nuggets that shake my worldview.”.

      And remember, you must challenge it yourself, if it is only others, its just called an argument and defending your point of view. But listening and accepting that everyones opinion MIGHT be true, and trying to prove your own ideas false yourself, that can lead to even more truths that you KNOW.

    • @Greg Connor

      Thank you for your comment, is it interesting.

      I am a proponent of healthy living, although i myself do not live very healthy, it is not for the lack of understanding, but rather weakness for fantastic food, primarily Italian. So while i understand pasta is bad for me, it is like “The Blacc SocialKenny” commented below, i simply choose to ignore what is best, and do what i want instead.

      I am curious about the book, and will grab it on my reader later.

      Just a quick observation, “The Blacc SocialKenny” also mentions that people rebel when pushed. It is kind of the “backed into the corner thing”. Even with very good intentions, and with true and accurate information, will be refused vigorously by a lot of people if pushed to hard. I know, as i often do the same things with things i believe strongly about.

      Thanks for the chat, take care.

  19. I find it funny that people say “I *know* what to do, I just don’t do it.”

    Common wisdom = eat lots of whole grains + eat low fat + not too much protein/red meat (or even vegetarian??)

    But *all* of the components above are dead wrong. I agree with the paleo posts above. If you haven’t looked up the paleo/primal diet, you need to. The basic premise is that humans evolved to eat a hunter-gatherer diet, and while agriculture was great for humanity in terms of civilization and cultural achievement, it wreaks havoc on our bodies in terms of morbidity/mortality. If you eat as “common wisdom” suggests, you may not get fat (we all know people who are “skinny fat”), but you’ll almost inevitably end up with an insulin problem and type II diabetes.

    What we need is a nutritional paradigm shift. And more people than ever are paying attention to this one.

  20. I can’t agree enough with NomadicNeill. I have never read a better book than Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It is not a diet book, per se, with recipes and exercise routines – it is a history and analysis of nutritional science over the past 60 years in this country. This is the education we need (and by the way, the same kind that Ramit gives us) – the kind that factually and persuasively debunks the conventional wisdom around nutrition, exercise and disease that has misled our entire country (and to a large extent, the world). If it were just a matter of willpower or motivation, more fat people would get skinny – they are highly motivated! KNOWING how to modify your diet, exercise and lifestyle to get skinny makes it EASY (or at least WAY easier) to shed weight. The truths that were revealed to me in reading Taubes’ book (and later reading Primal Blueprint – a kind of Paleo-esque diet) have changed my and my family’s life. I have shed weight effortlessly with a nutritious, low-carb diet.

    So education IS important, particularly when it comes to overcoming decades of misinformation. What if you knew:
    - Insulin regulates fat storage and increasing insulin makes you store more of the food you eat as fat (and prevents you from burning fat when you run out of blood glucose – instead you just get hungry again)
    - Carbs stimulate insulin release. Or, put another way, carbs make you fat.
    - People are have predispositions to getting fat (just like some people are hairy and others not so much). This predisposition is genetic, but can be suppressed (or triggered) by your diet and lifestyle.
    - Eliminating all grains (whole grains, pasta, rice, bread, legumes, corn, etc), sugars and processed foods would significantly reduce your risk of most disease (heart, cancer, diabetes, and others). Whole grain fiber is not the health plus that it’s made out to be.
    - Limiting your carbs to 50-100g of veggie and and low-glycemic fruit (which would mean having lots of veggies each meal and some fruit every day) would help you lose 1-2 pounds a week while getting the nutrients and minerals your body needs
    - Eating a moderate protein and high fat diet (the majority of your calories coming from animal meat and eggs (nuts and seeds, good oils also, a small amount of dairy) would lower your insulin levels, make you hungry less often and provide you with more of the nutrients your bodies need.

    The majority of our population does not KNOW this. Worse, our government and the AMA is not TELLING us this, even though what they are telling us (low-fat diets are good) has NEVER been supported by science. It is bordering on criminal. I swear to you I am not making this up. You have every reason to doubt me – I encourage your skepticism. Keep that skepticism in mind when you read Taubes’ book and he will convince you otherwise far better than I ever could. It is a life-changer. You will get mad and then you will get on track to a healthy lifestyle.

    Peace. Love you Ramit.

    • Hey Paleo lovers!

      Way to hijack the thread! As a CrossFit owner, I couldn’t agree with you more. Yes,the information nutritionally is bad,and I constantly work with people who tell me they know what to do and then tell me they ate a grapefruit for breakfast. Fail!

      HOWEVER, the point is that, EVEN with superior,correct information,you still land on behavior change. And that is a deal breaker for most people. Habits and life inertia are incredibly powerful.

      Ramit’s point (and a theme of the blog) is that we need to have systems, barriers, and positive peer pressure to help make those changes until our habits and inertia work for us to help us achieve our goals, whether they be financial, physical, career, or otherwise.

      But I just can’t get Ramit to drop his personal trainer and join a CrossFit gym in NYC to get all that AND save money. Baah!

  21. I know I just wrote a long post, but thought I’d add something that addresses Ramit’s point more directly. It’s my assumption that KNOWING how to change your diet, exercise and lifestyle would solve the problem for many people (at least half?). I know that was all I needed – my motivation is high due to various factors – I had low energy, I’m overweight after being athletic and fit most of my life, my father was diagnosed with Diabetes a couple of years ago, and my father has gone off all medicine/treatment simply by changing his diet.

    But the problems of starting (OK, so how do I prepare these foods I’m supposed to eat) and continuing (our society makes it very hard to eat healthy) are significant. I think KNOWING makes it easier to START. But your first step should be an assessment of your current state – get a body-fat composition assessment, do blood tests (metabolic profile, lipid test, micronutrient test) if you can. Take your before pictures from a couple of choice angles and keep the pictures where you can see them. This will help you understand exactly where you are now and track your progress later. Get a recipe book and do some experimenting. Understand the philosophy behind the diet to help make decisions more easily. Find a lunch spot with a meal or two that can meet your dietary needs. Get used to replacing mashed potatoes and fries with a second serving of veggies or a salad. Keep it simple by eating the same few things for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then start branching out after a month or two. This will help you get started.

    The benefit of the nutritious (fruits and veggies, animal meat, eggs) low-carb diet is you usually see benefits within a few days or a week. You lose weight, you have more energy, you sleep better. After a couple of weeks, people start to notice and make flattering comments. All of this makes it relatively easy to CONTINUE to stay on track with these results. I also find it helpful to think of it as a lifestyle, not a diet. This is not a temporary adjustment in food intake, it’s a permanent change to the way you eat. You will not feel hungry eating low-carb (protein and fat sates you, eating carbs actually makes you progressively hungrier and hungrier over the years as you build up insulin resistance).

  22. I applaud the chutzpah of the person denouncing education as the be all and end all of the obesity solution.

    We need specific, actionable steps. We need ideas like:
    1)Transform your desk into a treadmill desk and walk slowly 2+hrs/day while you work at your computer.
    2)Never watch TV without stepping in place in front of it.
    3)Never shop at a grocery where 7/8 of the food is junk (Super Target, etc.)
    4)Limit yourself to one small junk food purchase at each grocery run.
    5)Shop at places that don’t tempt you to buy crappy food.

  23. My question is, what are the systems and barriers that people put in place to lose the weight? What specific actions (NOT education) do people use to lose and maintain their weight? I get that education isn’t the answer but what specifically IS?

    • Good question. Are you looking for specific tips from readers? People have a lot of different reasons for being overweight, so the solution is going to depend on the individual. Is the problem that you’re a stay-at-home-mom, or that you’re a workaholic who eats out for every meal? So, first observe your own habits and figure out what you’re doing that isn’t working.

  24. Ha! That is truly classic. In general we take easy solutions over the obvious ones. The solution to just about anything – from obesity to poor financial habits – is discipline. I suppose it’s a lost art, and much harder than “education.” The irony is that most people already know what is healthy and what is not. Most just have no will power (I admit, including me!)

  25. This is both true, and untrue. Rapaille makes an valuable point – however – he said the lecture was “Years ago.” I’m guessing that particular audience grew up a generation ago, when not so much attention/research was given to obesity issues, childhood health education, etc., especially during the important early years.

    But now that we’re all paying attention, we’re learning what works and what doesn’t. The *right* kind of education is effective at preventing obesity – but there’s plenty of ineffective education out there as well. We also know that as “socioeconomic status” (which comes partly from education) increases, health increases.

    But the point I think Rapaiile was trying to make – that as long as the unhealthy foods are more rewarding in terms of time, energy, access, knowledge, interest, and gratification, then, of course, the bottom line is that those foods are still going to be more rewarding.

    We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking we have the simple answer to a simple problem. Especially when it’s our own health at stake.

  26. Diets that concentrate on conspicuous intake of specific food types, when useful at all, are advanced. Overwhelmingly, the largest dietary issue resulting in obesity is that people eat more calories than they burn on a daily basis.

    After reversing that imbalance, essentially anyone who has weight to lose will lose it.

  27. I think the most difficult part of motivating people to eat healthier, is that is not a habit that they can just quit like cigarettes or drinking or even poor financial habits.

    Eating is a necessity. Food is there literally everyday to test your resolve. You have to continue making the right choice again and again and again. Whereas in personal finance, for example, you can automate per Ramit’s advice and rarely have to think of it on a daily basis.

  28. I’ve been finding this website actually useful for weight loss. You can use it for other goals, too. Placing stakes towards an anti-charity is remarkably motivating.

    http://www.stickk.com

  29. This is a great little article! I have to “second” what some of the people here have said. I agree that there are no “magic bullets”, that motivation is important, that education is not -as- important as it’s trumped up to be.

    But as someone who has successfully lost a lot of weight recently after years of trying a variety of approaches I have to say the following:

    a) While there are no “magic bullets” per say, that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t invest time in experimenting with and educating oneself about different strategies. There may not be any magic bullets — but some strategies are probably better for others. And that applies to the general population and it also applies to the individual. (I.e. there’s good reason to investigate paleo, low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian and whatever, until you determine a strategy which is optimal for you – for me that was definitely paleo)
    b) I agree that our current nutritional advice is probably just bad in a number of ways. Bad advice would mean bad results regardless of how motivated someone is to follow it.
    c) Though education is probably not sufficient, it’s probably a necessary ingredient. If you simply don’t have good information you’re facing an uphill battle.

    Great topic here! I just feel that one should be careful not to blame “lack of motivation”. Better strategies (which also means educating oneself) can’t hurt.

  30. The answer to obesity is quite simple: Do Something. But we as a nation don’t do, we watch, we sit, we live vicariously thorugh the few people who do (mostly on Facebook and reality TV, from the comfort of our overstuffed chairs). Educating a complacent, watcher-mentality populous isn’t going to get us anywhere while walking is still seen as something you only do when you’re old. All the learning in the world can’t make someone who isn’t in to someone who is.

  31. The Blacc SocialKenny Link to this comment

    Guys,could it be that ppl generally just go with what they want to do?
    How many of governmental programs,lectures,awareness classes,gyms,etc.time after time teaching and dvising the same thing:yet no one listens.
    People rebel against what they’re told not to do,not to eat,etc.
    We dont like to be dictated to;be it in our own best interest.
    So there must be a new approach to this than education.

  32. Education helps to a certain extent. It helps us make better food choices…if we really want to! Without an education you wouldn’t know whats good…even if you wanted to make better choices.

    But i agree with the basic premise that education wont make you slimmer.

    Thanks to Mr B. J. Fogg i now build sucess on sucess ;-)
    This is ironic…cause it was education…and it helped me

    Hey if education does not help then maybe I shouldn’t even be reading this…and hope by chance I will get rich! Lol!

  33. I love that you love these type of posts! Very amusing and confronting!

    In Melbourne today, we are having a debate over how to educate young males to make them aware of the dangers of driving too fast or under the influence, after 5 young men have ended up dead or very seriously injured from a very bad car crash.

    The obesity example may also be appplied here!

  34. Weight and education are not in direct proportion. I can say this from first hand experience. Or were you not aware of the fact that eating that third serving of pasta wasn’t going to make you lose weight?
    And motivation? What does it even mean? I may not know anything about psychology, but I do know that many fat people who absolutely hate being fat and have HUGE motivation to get thin still won’t do what it takes to lose those pounds.
    Personally, I’ve found out that trying to “force” myself to get a new eating habit is useless. I don’t know why, but the only times I am really able to lose weight and change my eating habits is when I travel to another place alone. Maybe it’s the change of environment, or maybe not. The fact is that when I do, I’m not thinking on losing weight, it comes off naturally, as my mind is way more engaged in other things (like visiting the city) than in food, and I also tend to be more relaxed. Whatever the reason may be, education does not seem to be part of the equation.

  35. I think the main thing for me is I do what is easiest, comfortable, or most desirable for me at any given moment. I’d be willing to bet most people are that way, even if what seems comfortable, easy, or desirable is going to cause pain in the future. Because I’m not going to feel that pain now, why not chug that 2-liter soda and eat that pizza? It tastes and feels good.

    One way I have been able to overcome that with regards to my weight, fitness, and eating is simply this: I put pictures of super fit people on my computer and messages around my house that say, “Drop and give me 20 push-ups.” and “Nothing tastes as good as being fit feels.”

    I also keep my workout bag in my passenger seat in my car, so when I get in, I have my bag ready to go workout. I just grab it and go.

    Lastly, I play audio files of people who share the benefits of eating healthy and exercising (tone body, better love life, feeling good, etc…) so my mind, both consciously and sub-consciously begin to take it in and the thought of eating an unhealthy meal is akin to getting zapped by a tazer.

    Simply put, I’ve brainwashed myself to believe that being fit and healthy is an absolute must or I will shrivel up, have no love life, puke all the time, and die.

    • Genius.

      I need to condition people to feel they will shrivel up, puke uncontrollably, and end up alone if they don’t read my blog every day.

    • LOL. You might end up with a stalker problem. Just imagine some random, unkempt person on your doorstep: Hey, I just need another hit of the good stuff, right from the source. Tell us about passive barriers again Ramit!

    • K00kyKelly, That made me laugh.

      Mind you, the brain washing and conditioning was necessary at the beginning. It’s only semi-necessary now as I’m so used to working out/eating healthy that not doing so just feels un-natural and icky.

    • I’ll have to agree with you Jeremy, you crave it once you are used to it…besides, nothing beats a Crossfit high.

  36. What about moderation? Eating healthy is not an all-or-nothing concept, neither is finance. Ramit says it all the time, buy your $8.00 lattes and $200 jeans, but do something to make up the monetary difference. Automate your finances so you’re saving money and you can still spend $200 on jeans that make your ass look good.

    Same concept to losing weight/being healthy…Just because I ate a piece of cake for breakfast doesn’t mean I need polish it off for lunch and dinner.
    If you’re starting from the negative maybe you should lose 5lbs first before you eat cake for breakfast or have some kind of an emergency fund before you spend $200 on jeans.

    On the other hand, some people are just greedy, gluttonous, fucks who don’t understand delayed gratification.

    (For the record, my greedy, gluttonous ass ate a Milky Way for dinner….and it was awesome!)

    • A very good thought. But take it to its logical extreme: Considering most of America is overweight, are they all “greedy, gluttonous fucks who don’t understand delayed gratification”?

      If so, how come Americans weren’t almost uniformly overweight before?

      You see?

      There are 2 good signs you’ve lost an argument on behavioral change:
      1. You start using the words “should” or “just need to,” as in “You should…” or “They just need to…”

      2. You blanket-label a huge percentage of the population as lazy, unmotivated, greedy, etc — which might be true, but doesn’t help to change behavior.

  37. I do blanket label them. There are too many excuses and too much whining. You don’t want your life to be a certain way…Change It! The concept is simple. We have so many resources available to us there is no excuse! Don’t gripe to me life is unfair and you didn’t have the “same chances” as someone else. Put on your big girl panties and do something about it.

    I have no pity for my friends who want to lose weight but drink 4 sodas at every meal. I also don’t feel bad for being able to do things my friends can’t. I have time and money because I’ve made certain choices. I have chosen not to have children yet. I can’t afford them, I recognize that and I refuse to force tax payers to support me and my kids. I want a new Coach purse but I have student loans to pay off. Sure, you may have a new purse but I make $40,000 a year more than you because I made the choice to go to school instead of spending that money on a purse. Other people have different priorities. I may not agree with them but I won’t judge them until they complain about their position in life. And yes, when I judge them, I judge them harshly. Everyone knows there are repercussions to their actions. If you don’t have the foresight to make good judgments and you come out worse for it…then we’re just culling the herd.

    • I guess I just feel there is no way to “help” people begin to change their behavior. Perhaps I can set an example and I will encourage and support them when they have started down a new path but I can’t start the change for someone. Motivation is a personal thing. We can only inspire it, we can’t make it.

    • Karisma, I COMPLETELY agree with this comment. People have to want to change. I have never understood the disconnect between someone wanting something and then whining to me about how they didn’t get it… and then I find out they didn’t really do much to earn it. I definitely believe that you can get (almost) anything you want if you put in the required effort. Will it be tough? Absolutely. But if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

  38. I think there’s a lot more to this problem. Most overweight people have developed some form of metabolic syndrome due to their previous eating habits. We know that exercise and calorie restriction don’t really have much effect on these people. I’ve witnessed this personally as I have friends who exercise more and eat less than I do (I’m not overweight), but they can’t manage to lose weight. So for these people, behavioral change hasn’t been much help either. If education intervenes before people become overweight, it may actually be effective.

    • I agree with you Eve. They should be educated before weight becomes and issue.

      This whole page is about out-educating fat but you can’t out educate when there isn’t even a basic education.

      I’m not an expert in any sense of the word but it’s frustrating to hear common misconceptions about saving money and losing weight. It’s not all about skipping expensive lattes and eating less. Our bodies are efficient; you give it less calories, it will run on less calories. Still, people are eating less working out more and confused about not losing weight.

      I guarantee if your friends up their calorie intake (in a healthy manner) they will lose weight.

      I’ll also note, just because you don’t spend $7 on your coffee doesn’t mean you will save a dime without knowing how to transfer money to savings.
      .

    • “If education intervenes before people become overweight, it may actually be effective.”
      What do you think that high school health class was trying to do? What do you think millions of magazines with their one liners are trying to do. Where do you think those comments – heart attack sandwich – came from? The problem is these are all untested societal myths. The problem is that people think they know how to loose weight, but when you look at who is saying this crap it’s the people who either have never had trouble loosing weight (lucky bastards) or people who clearly don’t have it figured out.

      When I first started working I decided I would loose 5 lbs preemptively now that I was sitting all day. I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. What a disaster! She convinced me to go on a low fat diet. I had always been wary of diets and my previous weight loss efforts had involved eating a bit less (unmeasured) and biking to school everyday instead of taking the bus. No longer being in the college environment I figured there was no way to translate that, so I did the gym thing. I was working out 3x or more a week and hungry all the time. I gave up on the diet / gym thing after having gained 10 lbs and being frustrated with feeling like crap. This is where the education kicked in. I read In Defense of Food (Michael Pollan), as well as Sugar Blues (William Dufty) and Protein Power (Michael R. Eades
      & Mary Dan Eades). I’m the kind of person who needs to cut carbs and make sure to get enough protein. Cutting carbs was super easy for me after the first two weeks and I love carbs! I used to eat whole pieces of bread as a snack and yet strangely I don’t miss the carbs. My overall calorie intake dropped without me feeling hungry. I had been tracking my food this whole time and what I discovered was that I always ate about the same amount of fat each day no matter what else I did. Trying to eat less fat left me hungry all the time and I don’t have enough willpower to deal with 10 hours of hunger a day.

      So I guess the question is… how do you get the right information to someone when they are ready to hear it? How do you balance action and education, so people are taking the right actions? Following conventional wisdom got me an extra 10 lbs before getting to my goal. Seems like conventional financial wisdom (cut lattes) gets you deprivation induced splurging.

  39. Love it. Probably the best laugh this year so far. Thanks.

  40. Obesity is not an education problem, I think it’s just the culture.

    Our culture makes it super easy to get fat. Thats all.

    If you look at it, we are called “consumers”, we consume things, the bigger, house, the better car, the love of SUVS. Huge malls, large buildings. Everything is big. Buying McDonalds and fastfood is so easy and convenient. Very low barriers to getting fat.

    Getting fit takes more money, gym memberships, nutrition, home cooked meals.

    No wonder we fat.

    So what’s the solution ?

    Maybe a slow shift in culture perspectives, and I think that is what is slowly happening. And different things work for different people.

    Kinda of like the financially industry. There’s not one way to get financially well off.

    Some do it by investing, others start a business, some earn more by freelancing, others day trade, some do FOREX, others open their own content based websites make revenue from ADsense, and products.

    Other people sell ebooks. Some write content for other websites. Some people just use google adwords and get commission from other people. Affiliates. Some people write books and have a blog (RAmit).

    Some people buy and fix up real estate, others buy and hold real estate.

  41. Awesome, it’s about time these people in the health industry got called out on their bullshit. We have an over-abundance of health information in this country, most of it is absolute bullshit perpetuated by food and drug companies that want you to believe that the crap they’re selling you will make you healthy.

    Stephen Covey likes to say “To know and not to do, is really not to know”. So appropriate here. How can fat out of shape people be in any place to dispense health information to other people when they themselves can’t apply it?

    Education clearly isn’t working. There has to be strong short-term financial incentive not to be fat, otherwise, people will get fat.

    People have proposed a “fat tax” but I don’t think it would work. Tax them only to go spend the money on subsidizing the giant agriculture companies that are selling us food packed full of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics? Come on. In my opinion instead of taxing things we don’t want, we should stop subsidizing things we don’t want.

    If we stop subsidizing corn which is used as feed for most of America’s livestock, the price of meat would go up and the free market would determine the price of a quarter pounder with cheese. No doubt it would be a lot more than 1 dollar. Suddenly fruits and vegetables look a little more appealing. But that’s just my snooty opinion.

  42. It’s interesting that many, if not all, of these comments, rest on three implicit premises:

    1) That overweight and moderate obesity are inherently unhealthy and lead to early mortality.
    2) That losing weight is strictly a matter of calories in, calories out.
    3) That we have identified effective ways for people who lose weight to keep it off long-term.

    Thirty years of hand-wringing about the rise in obesity with no effective “solutions” identified would indicate to me that it might be worth checking those premises to see if they are still correct. If your knee-jerk reaction so far is “but they are!”, then maybe you, too, should check your biases.

    The three statements that I list above, we are slowly but surely finding out in study after study, are FALSE. Overweight and moderate obesity are not, in and of themselves, unhealthy (morbid obesity, on the other hand, is). Overweight people, in fact, have slightly lower mortality rates than “normal” weight people, and underweight people are even worse off. Losing weight is not solely a matter of calories in, calories out. We are learning more and more about how hormonal imbalances, metabolic differences, and insulin sensitivity, not to mention neurological linkages to the above, affect appetite, satiety and energy expenditure. It’s just not as simple as we assume it is to lose weight. Finally, virtually all longitudinal studies of those who lose large quantities of weight show that 95% do not keep off that weight for long. Even if we can goad people into losing weight with a particular diet or by pushing enough cultural stigma onto overweight people, what’s the point? The vast majority will fail to keep it off and may even gain back more than they lose.

    For more information I’d recommend “Rethinking Thin” by Gina Kolata and “The Obesity Myth” by Paul Campos, among other places to start.

    Now then: if these premises are indeed faulty, where we we go from here? What about encouraging people to eat a healthy diet and exercise (which we know correlate with good long-term health) regardless of whether any weight loss results? That would seem to make sense, but as we’ve got a multi-billion-dollar industry devoted to weight loss, so as an observer, I won’t hold my breath.

    • One big comment here…. which person is considered overweight as medically defined and what popular opinion consider overweight are two very different things. Play around with a BMI calculator and you won’t be surprised that “overweight” people live longer.

  43. Awesome post. Sometimes the truth hurts, but that doesn’t make it less… true. :-)

  44. Dare I mention rationing? During the 2nd world war and for about 10 years afterwards in Britain, food supplies to the general population were strictly rationed and the population was extremely healthy, this is the generation that has lived a longer average life. Obesity is a national problem, not just a personal issue. It costs nations huge amounts in medical bills and lost productivity.

    Today, I live in SW France, peer pressure from my slim, fit and very healthy French neighbours makes me watch what I eat and take exercise. If you’re even a bit big here, people will ask you what your health problem is because it is simply socially unacceptable to be fat. The French govt have taken steps to ensure the children get good messages about food, especially concerning snacking between meals.

    • Kazza, the US government also takes steps (the Food Pyramid, for example) to ensure the public gets “good” messages about food (though in fact, they are completely in opposition to what’s actually healthy). Their health education program has motivated millions of people to consume a low-fat, rich-carbohydrate diet. It has motivated doctors and trainers to pass along this “knowledge” to their susceptible (and highly motivated) patients who have become obese and/or diseased. It has motivated enormous food companies to change their product lines to the detriment of the US population as well as countries all over the world that are increasingly succumbing to our diet.

      The question is – what does the French government message to the people? Is it anything like the USDA Food Pyramid? My guess is that a message of “eating less” or “eating more natural foods” ultimately reduces the carbohydrates in people’s diets, which thereby reduces obesity. Ultimately carbohydrates are the cause-effect link, and any advice beyond “reduce your carbs” generally works because the person has ultimately reduced their carbs.

  45. You know who’s fat, on a larger scale (no pun intended) than any other group? Poor people. Because the food they have available to them is completely nutritionally deficient. You CAN be fat, and actually be not getting enough nutrients. There are many poor children who are overweight, but actually do not get enough food every day (you’ve heard of “food insecurity”?).

    IF the “calories in = calories out” algorithm actually worked, wouldn’t poor people, when surveyed on a large scale, on average be UNDERWEIGHT? Especially when hunger activists tell us that food insecurity is at it’s highest level in years? Except this is not true at all: poor people are slowly starving, and yet they’re the fattest group of all. How can that make sense?

    The truth is this: a calorie is NOT a calorie is NOT a calorie. Especially if that calorie is nutritionally poisonous (sugar, all starches, and trans fats — which is pretty much all poor people can afford to eat, partially because they’re federally subsidized).

    So, chew on that for a bit. And go look up the Paleo/Primal diet, Gary Taubes, Mark’s Daily Apple Blog, or any number of other resources that are out there and have been mentioned here.

    And one more thing: all this crap about a “fat tax” and “fat people just need to stop eating, man” is a bunch of bologna. At best, it’s ignorance and insensitivity; at worst, it’s bigotry.

  46. [...] but I don’t expect a perfect solution. As some really well educated folks have already pointed out, our national health crisis hasn’t been helped by [...]

  47. I’m going to comment before I read all the comments so that I’m not tainted:
    People are fat because they are lazy. They can be the smartest people on the planet, or the most ignorant, it does not matter. They are too lazy to shop for and prepare good foods; too lazy to get up and exercise; too lazy to place the blame on themselves and all to happy to blame the ‘disease’ of obesity.

    Since we are making up ‘diseases’ to explain why our lazyness is not OUR fault I’d like to have one for my shoe addiction. It was not MY fault I drove to teh store, picked up merchandise, stood in line and used credit cards to pay for it. I have ‘Shoe-isity’. Now give me my welfare/disability check!

  48. ..and PS repeating BIG IS BEAUTIFUL louder and louder does not make me believe it any more than yelling FIRE IS COLD. No, its not beautiful. Or healthy. Or, once again, beautiful.

  49. HA! THAT WAS EPIC!

    People seriously need to stop talking hypothetical solutions and just point out the truth.

    Great post!

  50. Onionlover,
    you’re right that the french govt message about healthy eating involves a lot less carbohydrate than the USA or UK. BUT french people tend to choose quality of food over quantity and the pride themselves on having their local produce available at local markets.
    For the kids message; my daughter’s school lunch will be a 3/4 course meal = salad/soup starter, fish/meat+vegetable main course, fruit and either a yoghourt or piece of cheese to finish. a small piece of baguette (bread) is available if they want it. Sandwiches are NEVER served. emphasis is on variety and freshness.

    • Kazza,

      I agree with you local, quality food is essential, but more so is the absence of a carbohydrate-rich diet. There are very few carbs in the French government-recommended salad/soup, fish/meat & veggie main course with fruit and yogurt/cheese. That sandwiches are never served and a small piece of bread is optional speaks to how much carbs seem culturally less accepted in France. And more to my original point that what the French (and their government) thinks is healthy, differs radically from what Americans (and our government) thinks is healthy. We both agree that local, quality food is essential (though I’m sure fewer Americans eat that way), and yet Americans still get fat, even ones that follow a “healthy” diet (as America defines it). I’d argue that this is because carbs represent a much higher percentage of our diet – “healthy” whole grains like whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, brown rice, etc.

      So, bringing it back around to Ramit’s original hypothesis – that there is futility in “out-educating fat”, I simply don’t buy it. Our nation’s trusted doctors and our government have chosen to define a “healthy” diet as one rich in carbohydrates (even locally grown, whole-grain ones). They have spent the last 40 years “educating” and “motivating” our country to eat this “healthy” diet. The problem is that a low-fat, high-carb diet has never been proven to be healthy. In fact, despite people following these diets and spawning a whole new industry (health clubs) over the past 40 years, obesity and disease has become epidemic. For the first 99.5% of mankind’s existence (prior to the advent of agriculture), we survived rather successfully and diet-related disease-free without all the carbs in our diet today.

      I find it hard to blame American’s futility on their lack of motivation. I blame it on massive misinformation and confusion about diet, personal character (fat people are lazy), genetics, exercise. It’s clear this is the case simply from reading the assortment of comments on this page.

      I would agree that if 100% of our population were properly educated, there would still be fat, unmotivated people, but it would be far less than the epidemic proportions we see today. (In fact, I’d be willing to bet it would probably be the same low numbers we saw prior to the 1950′s when America started promoting low-fat diets as the way to prevent heart disease).

      I’m with Ramit 99% of the time on his philosophies and actually agree that motivation can sometimes be the cause of obesity, but it’s clear that education is by far the biggest hurdle for Americans to overcome.

  51. We are educated out the ass about nutrition and healthy lifestyle. People are just lazy and then complain that they can’t seem to lose any weight.

    Same thing with finance. Everybody knows the basics of saving and earning more. But few people actually do anything about it and then wonder why they are poor as hell.

  52. I’m convinced that education is part of the solution here, but not all of it. We preach the same thing about personal money management. We believe that success with money management is less about accounting and more about psychology….yet every tool out there is simplified accounting. If we as human beings were rational, nutrition education would work great to fight obesity and accounting based apps and tools would work great to help you save more money for the things you really care about…but we’re not rational. Fast food companies know it and exploit it–that’s why we’re an obese society. Retailers and advertisers know it–that’s why we’re an in-debt society. Irrational human beings need tools that help them to deal with their irrationality. We’re working to do that with personal finance…would love to see someone do that with nutrition as well.

  53. @Tom, if you were educated about nutrition (or for that matter, manners), then you wouldn’t say what you said. My point above was that our very government “educates” us about nutrition, but tells us to do the very thing that makes us fat – eat carbohydrates. I just can’t see how getting fat has anything to do with motivation if you are trying really hard (the definition of motivated) to do what you think is right.

    @Troll Master, yes I went on a fat rant, but I also specifically addressed Ramit’s point (“So, bringing it back around to Ramit’s original hypothesis – that there is futility in “out-educating fat”, I simply don’t buy it.”) and went on to explain why I didn’t buy it. I’m not sure how you managed to interpret this as not getting the point of Ramit’s post. I got his point and I am disagreeing with it and providing my reasoning for doing so. That is called a healthy debate.

  54. @ Crystal for “..and PS repeating BIG IS BEAUTIFUL louder and louder does not make me believe it any more than yelling FIRE IS COLD. No, its not beautiful. Or healthy. Or, once again, beautiful.”

    AllI can say is- preach it sista!

  55. It isn’t an insult to describe the physical characteristics of another person. It’s just the truth.

    • @Kevin,

      I agree with you that in theory it’s certainly possible to describe a person as fat without meaning to insult them (examples: a doctor telling you, a close friend trying to help you). It’s hard to dispute being fat (particularly if you are, in fact, “fat”).

      The problem is that many (not all) people in society either include additional spoken judgment along with the factual statement (we’ve seen several judging comments on this thread – “fat fuck”, “lazy”, suggesting that it’s simply a matter of motivation, etc.) or imply it with their tone, facial expression or the context in which they are making the statement – in our case here, the other derogatory comments on the thread, or the very subject this article implies – that people can blame themselves for being fat because they are either un-educated and/or un-motivated – take your pick.

      Moreover, most (maybe all) people that are fat (or not) and are called fat, will perceive it to be an insult because they assume that even if the judgment is not stated along with the factual statement, they will often assume it’s there either because there is some other indication that judgment is present (facial expression, tone, context) or because they’ve heard judgment accompany it so many times before, it’s always assumed to be there. You can always argue that some people can be “too sensitive”, but the fact is, whether a statement is insulting is determined by the target of that statement, not the speaker. The speaker has only his/her intention to fall back on, and might be able to convince the target that the insult was unintended and diffuse the pain associated with it, but it’s not in the speaker’s ability to determine if something was or was not insulting to the target.

  56. @Ramit,
    It’s been almost 3 days since you weighed in on anyone’s comments here. I’m wondering what you think overall about this thread, and if you’d be willing to respond to this post – what you’ll find here is my passionate attempt to change your mind and others’ about “the futility of out-educating fat”. Specifically, I’m hoping you will reward my time and thoughtfully-constructed reasoning by providing your reaction to what I have to say (content) as well as your feedback on how to say it better to motivate people to believe me, as well as anything I could do to effect behavioral change in other people. I have recently come across much of this information and am trying to convince family and friends that it could literally save their lives. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

    You simply posted a one-word judgment “superb” before a speech that highlighted a speaker’s question to her audience of obesity lecturers, “If education is the answer (to our country’s obesity problem), then why hasn’t it helped more of you.” That has resulted in a conversation unlike most of your others – attacks against the character of fat people, rants about what a healthy diet means, and a few scattered comments about behavioral strategies that could help fat people lose weight. I think this passionate back and forth hints that there is more that meets the eye when discussing nutrition/diet/exercise versus managing finances. Your other IWTYTBR material and your intermittent posts within this thread seem to suggest you agree that using education as the basis for fighting the obesity epidemic would not be as effective as figuring out more effective strategies to change people’s behaviors first.

    I would agree with you that 99% of the time, education as a precedent to behavioral change can be sub-optimally effective, particularly in finance, but also throughout one’s life. However, in the case of nutrition and exercise, I feel it is a necessary pre-cursor to positive behavioral change – the reason being that our obesity epidemic is not simply a matter of being un-educated, it’s a matter of being mis-educated. Put another way, it is impossible to cure the obesity problem with behavioral change without first understanding what behavior makes people fat. I would love to hear your thoughts given my argument for my position below.

    The medical profession and our government has been mis-educating us for 4 decades to do the very behaviors that have made us fat – “eat low-fat diets”, “eat less, exercise more”, “eat balanced diet”, “eat healthy whole grains”, etc. It is not a coincidence that obesity and disease rates have skyrocketed since the government developed and socialized the food pyramid and associated advice. An entire nation of highly-motivated individuals have gotten fat during this time period – despite the fact that a multi-billion dollar health club industry was born and has thrived during this obesity boom. Doctors, food companies, farmers – everyone has gotten on board with carbohydrate-rich diets.

    We now know (and really have known for 150+ years) that eating refined carbohydrates (but even “whole grain” carbohydrates) makes us fat. There are still many medical professionals who disagree with this, simply because it contradicts everything we’ve believed in American nutritional science for the past 40-60 years. The problem is we’ve never proven what we’ve believed – the data have never supported the link between low-fat diets and obesity and disease. The entire endocrinology profession has indisputably linked the cause and effect of dietary carbohydrate intake to insulin levels to body preference for fat storage. Why we get fat is the combination of our carbohydrate intake with biological predisposition for getting fat with insulin resistance (that increases as we eat more carbs over our lifetime). If you don’t believe me (and why would you?), read either of the Gary Taubes books mentioned in this thread – Good Calories, Bad Calories (more scientifically dense and compelling) or Why We Get Fat (shorter, easier to read) – for painstakingly detailed proof of these concepts and the tragic history of our misinformation.

    The government chooses not to convey this specific message (essentially “carbs make you fat”), but rather chooses to re-focus on ancillary messages that may lead to less refined (but not whole-grain) carbohydrate intake – eat lots of fruits and veggies, eat whole grains and fiber, etc. Eating this way may reduce carb intake, and help prevent/reduce obesity, but it’s not a guarantee. Furthermore, it ignores the many benefits of eating meat and eggs, which have been scientifically shown to reduce obesity and disease risk (when not eaten with too many carbs) – you are probably aware of Stanford’s A to Z weight loss study. Wouldn’t education be far more effective if it were accurate?

    So, assuming we all become properly educated with the (correct) information about why people get fat, then we can start debating what strategies are useful to make people lose weight. Personally, I do believe proper education would solve the problem for millions (if only those with a health club membership) – not only would these already motivated people simply change their behavior, but many surrounding barriers would start to dissolve. We would be able to go to any restaurant or supermarket and easily find healthy foods to eat – now those foods might be expensive (and increasingly so if demand surged), but they would be there (though we could get into a philosophical debate as to whether there would be enough of this “healthy” food on earth to feed the human population). And rather than subsidizing wheat, corn, soy, our government could subsidize meat, veggies and fruits, particularly those that are grown sustainably. Then, it wouldn’t be quite so hard to change one’s behavior.

    Before people think it’s crazy that the entire food industry could change like that, think back to the 1950’s before we had so much processed food. Margarine, low-fat cookies/ice cream/everything, high-fructose corn syrup, etc were invented purely in response to what our medical community and government were saying about fat causing obesity and disease. If we now know that to be false, and the government started educating people to eat more fat and less carbs, wouldn’t it seem logical that a capitalistic food industry would take notice and change THEIR behavior (just like they did 50 years ago)? Isn’t money the ultimate incentive for a corporation?

    Additionally, I think it’s important to consider that carbohydrates, particularly refined ones, are most likely a physical (and possibly mental and emotional, in some cases) addiction, particularly in the obese. You can’t say this about many of your standard spending/saving/earning financial management behaviors (except gambling). I am not an expert in treating addiction, but I suspect it would involve some of the same behavioral change strategies, but would also require different techniques as well. The fact is, our acknowledgement that carbohydrates cause obesity is still so relatively new that there haven’t been any studies to look at the optimal ways for people to cut carbohydrates from their diet – how many are OK to eat, what kinds, how do we prevent the cravings for people, is it too late for some people whose insulin resistance has grown too much? We need this information, but it will be years to get it.

    One of the scariest findings from obesity research is that our children, and even our babies, are fatter than ever before. There is strong evidence to suggest that parents with a certain biological predisposition to become fat, who do in fact become fat, will pass along a higher predisposition to become fat to their children. This can explain the migration and renaming of “adult-onset” diabetes to simply diabetes 2 as it’s started to occur in children. It also helps explain how we’ve reached epidemic proportions for “diabesity” (not to mention other diseases like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc., many of which have been linked to the western diet).

    On a final note, one of the most important results of proper education would be the resulting compassion and humanity for people who are currently fat (btw, 2/3 of our population is overweight!) and subsequent societal pressures for people to get lean and stay lean. You can see from this thread that there are still many people who blame fat people for their obesity – that fat people must be either un-educated or lazy or both. While fat people may in fact be un-educated and lazy, there are also many fat people who are very “educated” (on nutrition) and highly motivated to lose weight. One could argue that the only reason obesity has become more “acceptable” is that it’s happening to so many of us for seemingly no reason (at least for those of us following the best known advice from our government and the medical profession). The fact that these people often can’t lose weight (I think 95%+ of low-fat and restricted calorie diets fail over time) following expert advice should raise strong suspicion that the experts may be wrong and that we have been misinformed.

    Anyway, Ramit, I look forward to your response.

  57. I know of book by a French woman. I guess it works since the book focuses on lifestyle and eating habits. The author even explicitly states it needs at least 3 months to work and then a lifetime to work [shout-out to instant diets out there].

    Why French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

    [She schooled in America -> gained weight -> returned to France -> was retaught the French ways of eating by her doctor and mother.]

  58. [...] recent post by Ramit Sethi suggests that is just the case, specifically about obesity and our efforts to lose weight. I have [...]

  59. A lot of responses suggest other eating methods or books, but I that misses the original point.

    The original point can be summed up by the Bill Phillips quote “There is a world of difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it.”

    • @Tim,

      This is a classic argument that applies in so many situations…except for this one, at least not at the level we are dealing with today in society. To rephrase the Bill Phillips quote and apply it to this situation – (when it comes to diet), there is a world of difference between following expert advice and actually knowing what to do. The expert advice we’ve received for decades has been 100% wrong. Following it has gotten millions of people killed and diseased, and it’s getting increasingly worse. How many aspects of life can you point to where there is so much confusion about what behavior is actually required to succeed? Where someone can be so motivated and so strictly adhere to expert advice, and yet still not succeed? I can’t think of any. This thread is a microcosm of the situation – 100 relatively educated people have widespread, differing opinions about what eating healthy means – many of them in conflict with others. We can’t all be right. Why not blame the content in this case, and not the effort to educate? Why question someone’s motivation or devise behavioral strategies for success when the strived-for behavior is destined to fail? If we could manage to get the education right to begin with, I would agree with the Bill Phillips quote, but until then, only the behavioral strategies that are predicated on the correct information will be successful. And this is the point that 1/2 the people on this board are missing.

  60. so, if we know that education is only part of the battle, what is the rest of it? Generally, in order to change behaviors, there have to be some carrot and some stick. The stick, dying miserably, is well known, but again, just like education, has not helped much.

    Would it make sense to perhaps not charge sales tax on whole foods? subsidize them? excise taxes that are highest on the least healthy foods?

    Perhaps we do not sufficiently stigmatize unhealthy living?

    My experience is that someone will only switch from fat to healthy living after they have hit some kind of “phoenix moment” where suddenly the emotional price of being fat/unhealthy is too great to bear. This can’t be educated per se, although it is a painful lesson.

    So, what do we offer alongside the education, that will help/make people move in the desired direction?

  61. I was “normal” physique with some fitness, trained for a marathon, then stopped exercising afterwards and put on 10 kg / 22 lb, for a period of about 4 years. By making say 2 willful decisions to have a tea instead of a coffee, and two rather than three serves of dinner, I lost slightly less than a kg / 2 lb per month, for the last 7 or so months. No added exercise beyond a couple of sessions a week.

    That took some will power to do, and I had prior experience being lighter and healthier, was losing the “easy to lose” visceral fat, had a good record of willpower to achieve things, am male and am under 30, with reasonably good genetics. Everything in my favour, and it was still somewhat hard (without overly complaining). I can claim I’ll keep the weight off but this requires several assumptions to hold true in the future.

    I do have one specific recommendation: a glass of wine before a second or third serving of dinner works very well, assuming you don’t gulp it, slows you down just enough to usually reconsider going back for more food.

  62. I have been rather skinny, perhaps even under weight, 6′ 3″ never exceeding 150 pounds in my life.
    Sometimes with my world view, it annoys me that I will see a fat person and I see them eating like there is no tomorrow. Some of it, I think stems that they were born like that, and many of their family members have the same type of body condition and it just reinforces that they don’t have to do anything, since their family members aren’t exercising and don’t give a shit about how they look, why would they need to. They don’t have a reason or system in place for exercising, or eating less, or whatever the case might be.
    For my own life, I usually walk 2 miles a day, but that kind of statement is pointless for other people that don’t have that type of system already set in place.

  63. Christopher Jones Link to this comment

    The comparison of information intake to food intake has another similarity in that the value of the intake is dependent on what you DO with it.
    Eat –> Do Nothing –> Get Fatter
    Eat –> Exercise –> Build muscle, get stronger
    Read –> Do nothing –> Make it harder to take action next time
    Read –> Do something appropriate –> Build capacity and get results.

    Speaking of which, I have to get back to work on Ramit’s 48 hour challenge.. .Bye, break’s over.

    • Christopher Jones Link to this comment

      I should have said perhaps, Read –> Do nothing –> Reinforce fat headedness.

  64. Education to prevent or fight obesity is still valid…but education needs to start with the parents raising their children. Health and activity are learned behaviors from a young age, like many other things, think financial fitness!

  65. Tax the heck out of gas and cars.

    Put that money towards public transit and bike lanes and sidewalks.

    Don’t fund public school busses.

    Do not air any television between 10am and 7pm.

    Done.

  66. Wow, there sure are a lot of naive people fooled into believing the Paleo diet, the Four Hour Body diet, etc., are anything more than calories in vs. calories out…

    If carbs are so darn bad for you and make you fat in and of themselves, how is it that the rest of the world, INCLUDING places like Asia where carbs are a huge part of the diet, are so much thinner than Americans? Why is it that Americans keep getting fatter by the minute if they’ve eaten carbs for as long as they can remember? If carbs, and not calories, were what makes one fat, then the entire world would be just as fat and they would have been fat for the whole time carbs have been a part of our diet.

    The only thing that has really changed is the number of calories people eat and the decline of exercise in people’s lives. Those two things, more than anything else, are what’s responsible for the weight problems.

    Paleo followers are not doing much more than simply limiting their calories because it’s HARD to overeat when you’re filling up on vegetables and meat alone. If there wasn’t a need for people to feel full and stuff their mouths all the damn time, there wouldn’t be this obsession with having to eat low-calorie bulky foods.

    Learn to live with being a little hungry once in a while and stop the bad habit of reaching for the chips every time you sit on the couch and you will drop tons of weight.

    There have been no reliable studies that show you can drop more weight on one diet than another (if calories in/out are equal). Any differences are insignificant.

    As for how to get people to lose weight, you’re right. Education obviously isn’t the answer.

    The answer, as unpopular as it may be, is to stop the false self-esteem fad that’s taken hold. It’s perfectly OK to say, “blonde? No thanks. My type is brunettes,” but it’s completely unacceptable to say, “fat? No thanks. My type is healthy and fit. That’s what gives me wood.” When it stops being politically incorrect to be honest with ourselves is when we’ll see change.

    It’s like people are almost proud to be fat now (at least they don’t want to show any shame in public) but then they turn around and try (and fail) every diet known to man, EXCEPT EATING PROPERLY AND EXERCISING. Sure it’s a pain. So is showering every day and brushing your teeth and having to work for a living. And yet we do it because we don’t want to stink, have rotten teeth or be broke ass poor. It takes effort to achieve the things we want. That’s life. Get over it. And if your lover if fat, don’t go trying to make them feel better about it. A good healthy dose of shame just might get them to think about that next donut.