Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where everyone is going to the movies to see Checkmate, only they end up seeing Rochelle Rochelle? George was assigned the task of getting the tickets and gets in what he thinks is the ticket buyers line, only to eventually discover its the ticket holders line? Individually, we’ve all been in that situation and while its a little embarrassing, its no big deal. What are the consequences when all of society is standing in the wrong line however?
There is mounting evidence that scientific consensus and conventional wisdom has us all standing in the wrong line regarding what our proper dietary requirements are, particularly in regards to low fat diets.
Standing in the wrong line can result from what is known as. An information cascade is a situation in which every subsequent actor, based on the observations of others, makes the same choice independent of the other information presented to him. George got in line because he saw other people there. He confirmed his initial impression that he should be in line by asking the person in front of him if he was in line for the movie. When his friends arrived, they didn’t question whether George was in the right line. They assumed that George had done his own diligence and so none was required on their part.
Now, I don’t want to create my own information cascade regarding Gary Taubes book “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” I’ve only read the above linked NY Times review. The Times author asserts that Taubes is pointing to Ancel Keys as society’s George Constanza. I don’t know anything about Mr. Keys, but if his Wikipedia entry is correct and he is one of the original proponents of the Mediterranean Diet”, then there has to be some sort of disconnect between what the book is actually saying and Tierney’s review of it. The Mediterranean Diet is not a low fat diet. The Mediterranean diet is a high monounsaturated fat diet that contains a more balanced ratio of Omega-6 fats to Omega-3 fats than does the contemporary American diet. So, take Tierney’s review with a grain of salt.
While I was in law school, the Atkins fad had not yet peaked in popularity. Note, when I refer to the “Atkins fad” I am not referring to the idea that the amount of carbs and sugars consumed by the average American is responsible for the fact that America has an obesity problem. The Atkins fad was that period, peaking a few years ago where everyone knew someone who had just tried Atkins and had lost weight. It was the peak of the use of Atkins as a means to lose weight.
Even as Atkins’ popularity has waned however, its effects are long lasting. The success of Atkins as weight loss remedy has imprinted upon the minds of a large portion of the populace the effect that refined carbohydrates and sugar have upon the human body. Atkins was not where we want people to end up however. Atkins was just a step in the process in changing the American diet.
The Atkins Diet confuses us. Take the hamburger, which is primarily comprised of grain parts and cow parts. Our intuition, reinforced by what we’ve been taught, leads us to believe that the beef would be the component responsible for weight gain and diabetes. What we are learning is that it is just the opposite. That carbohydrates and sugars that are responsible for weight gain. I remember when the Atkins diet was first making headlines. Everybody thought that it was a crazy idea. Carbohydrates and sugars make up such a phenomenally large portion of our diet that it was lunacy to not eat them.
Not that I went to class much in law school, but in the one semester where I regularly attended class I was able to observe the eating habits of an good number of people. Georgetown is a fairly large law school and so every freshman class is broken up into four divisions. The 100 or so people in your division were the people that I had all of my first year law school classes with. I would see these same 100 people four to five hours a day five days a week. I saw them in class. I saw them in the library. I saw them in the cafeteria. All 100 of our schedules revolved around the same two buildings at the same time, all day, everyday. This environment allowed you to observe over long periods of time how people live their lives if they are confined to one location, given limited food options, and very busy. During every class there would be a not insignificant percentage of people who would have food in front of them. I was able to see what the hundred or so people were eating everyday.
Now first of all, let me emphasize that this is all anecdotal facts remembered 10 years later. I was not actually sitting there in class watching and analyzing what people ate. I am merely doing my best to remember what I observed.
I’ve talked in other posts about what my eating habits used to be like. Some of my classmates did try to eat healthy, especially the girls. If college has the freshman fifteen, law school has the first year twenty. Girls in law school are right at that age where everything can start to fall apart and so in general girls in the class were fairly cognizant of what they ate. More cognizant than I was at least.
This been the late 90s though, watching what you ate meant that you had a bagel and cream cheese whenever possible. A bagel with cream cheese was the single dietary staple of a significant number of women (and some men) in my class. Now, I don’t know if this was a fad or if this was something that they had been doing for a long time. Regardless, these people were following the consensus opinion on what it took to maintain weight. Everyone did it because everyone thought that it was healthy and would help maintain a person’s weight. Everyone was wrong.
Scientific consensus on diet is constantly changing. Today’s fad is tomorrows discredited joke. In order to avoid these problems just use your head and include the following things in your life:
- Eat a wide variety of food
- Eat smaller portions of meat
- Eat a wide variety of vegetables
- Eat nuts and beans
- Get a healthy balance of Omega-3 fats in your diet (olive oil, flax, fish, fortified eggs).
- Replace sauces and dressings with powdered spices
- Eat fermented foods and foods that conain healthful bacteria (yogurt, sauerkraut)
- Consume less processed and manufactured foods
- Treat yourself, from time to time, to just about anything you want. It won’t kill you.
Of the things I just listed, the only thing that could possibly be called a fad is the Omega-3 requirement. Other than that, all I’m really saying is, “In moderate amounts, eat a wide variety of natural food. And get off the couch once in a while.”