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I recently got a reader question in my inbox about a particular weight-loss supplement. While my gut reaction off the bat is almost always "that's probably bullshit", I wanted to put in the time and actually do some research.

I have a general system and a few trusted sources I go to when trying to get an honest review of something. It didn't take too long to confirm that the product in question was probably not worth the money.

(Fool-proof test: does the product have one of those videos with a guy drawing a bunch of cartoons with a marker and a cool voice-over? Does he tell you he's not sure how long the video will be up - presumably "The Man" doesn't want his super-secret info around for the public - so you must watch the whole thing now?)

You know what I'm talking about.

It's definitely the leptin, not the pizza in her hand.

But I was left wondering, what if I hadn't spent enough time researching stuff like this to know some strategies for spotting and filtering out crap? How would I, as a potential consumer, try to find reviews of a product?

Well, I'd probably Google it... Unfortunately, that can sometimes be more misleading than illuminating. Let's go through what happens when I Google "Leptiburn review":

The Results

LeptiburnReview

So I went through the entire first page of results here, and found what appeared to be a list of fake review sites. Why did I feel they were fake?

Well, the two sites circled in red to the left were the only sites on the first page that had any hint of criticism in their reviews.

Now, some of those sites in blue had "criticisms" but they were the kind of things you would say if someone asked you in an interview what your biggest weakness is:

"Ugh, Leptiburn is just SO ENERGIZING that I can't take it a few hours before bed because I'll be up all night."

"It doesn't replace diet and exercise! ...but I lost like 25 pounds in 2 weeks."

"Leptiburn took like, A WHOLE WEEK to ship, because I live outside of the US. So unreasonable." 

"Make sure that you don't lose too much weight too quickly with this product! Wouldn't that just be awful?" 

I dug around a bit more on the product review sites circled in blue. Almost every program or supplement reviewed gets a glowing recommendation, conveniently followed with links to where you can buy the product. This leads me to think these sites exist simply to be high on Google rankings when a potential consumer is trying to find an honest review.

Really, just dig around on the Real Vs. Scam site a bit. I haven't found even one product concluded to be a scam. And remember, all comments on the internet are not authentic. As is pointed out in the Bullshit Detector Guidebook, testimonials and even before & after pictures are very, very easy to fake.

Why This Matters

I often hear people say there's no excuse for ignorance about how to lose weight or get in shape since the internet has everything you could possibly want to know. That's partially true, but the internet also has heaps of unhelpful advice - and if you've never worked out a day in your life how are you to know the difference?

If someone comes to you for advice asking a question perhaps you've answered a thousand times, or something you feel they should obviously know is a scam fad diet or pill, try to reserve judgement. Answer empathetically and honestly - we can't all be experts in every subject, and some companies out there really do try to make it difficult for the layman to find good information.

So How do I Find Good Information?

Unfortunately, it can take some work.

When I'm feeling particularly lazy, these are usually the top three places I go to get solid information on supplement or nutrition-related topics (but bear in mind, I don't draw final conclusions from them):

  1. Examine
  2. Alan Aragon's Research Review
  3. Precision Nutrition

However, let's say you're looking to review a specific product, like Leptiburn. Your first stop would be to learn about leptin itself and its role in weight control. Then you would want to try and find studies on the effect of leptin supplementation on humans. (You'd probably then find that the quantity of leptin often isn't the problem for very overweight people, it's leptin sensitivity - then you'd have to look up if the ingredients in Leptiburn improve sensitivity.)

These steps take time, make no mistake...and there really is no shortcut for this kind of thing.

Moral

My advice, as always, is that if you do not have the time or inclination to research a subject, reserve judgement. You can have an opinion based on what you do know, but be open to the idea that you may be wrong. I recommend debating people in a respectful manner based on what you do know, and with an open mind. They may know something you don't, and you can change your opinion from there.

And definitely don't trust mass review sites that have no negative criticisms of any products.

There are an awful lot of popular diets out there. From general suggestions, such as "low-fat" or "low-carb," to named and branded diets like Atkins or Weight Watchers, there are tons of options out there if you want to lose weight.

As a disclaimer, I don't really recommend any of what I'm about to describe below. I really don't recommend "diets" at all - I recommend you find a way of eating that works for you that supports whatever goals you have. It may happen to be that one of these "diets" does it for you, or maybe you take a little bit from each of them and make something custom.

My hope through this post is to show you HOW these popular diets tend to work, to dispel some of the magic surrounding them. It's pretty simple once it's laid out plain. I also am obviously not covering every diet under the sun here, but I think I've touched on the ones you're most likely to hear about.

Let's get started with:

Low-Carbohydrate Diets (low-carb)

What It Is

Low-carb is exactly what it sounds like. It's keeping your total grams of carbohydrates low relative to everything else. Exactly HOW low varies quite a bit, anything from <150g to as low as <20g.

How It Works

That's my kind of meal!

Most of the carbohydrate sources we eat are VERY low on the satiety scale (as in, they don't leave you feeling full and satisfied), so we tend get a ton of calories from them. Things like breads, cereals, candy, soda, etc.

So, if you go low carb, you have to restrict your intake of those kinds of items quite a bit. Soda is out, candy is out, anything with lots sugar is out... really all of your carbs are going to have to come from vegetables, a little bit of fruit, and none if ANY of the other refined stuff.

What happens when you do this? Your caloric intake goes down. Because vegetables, fruits, and meat are generally more filling than grains and breads, you'll naturally eat less. Cutting out a food group, especially one we eat so much of (grains), generally always leads to a reduction in total calories.

What happens when your calories go down? You lose weight!

Another reason low-carb seems to work so well is that when carbohydrates store as glycogen in the body, they tend to hold onto a lot of water. If you go on a very low-carb diet, glycogen levels tend to go down, and therefore you lose a fair amount of water weight as well. On top of that, many breads have some high levels of sodium, which can cause you to hold onto more water.

Summary

  • Low-carb tends to range from 150g - 20g or less per day of carbohydrates
  • Low-carb generally means higher protein and more satiating (filling) foods, decreasing calories
  • More protein is beneficial on a diet for retaining muscle mass
  • Low-carb can reduce water weight in short-term

Low-Fat Diets

What It Is220px-ShreddedWheat

Kind of the opposite of low-carb, low-fat diets try to reduce fat intake to levels ranging anywhere from 10% (on the low end) to 35%  (on the high end) of your daily calories from fat. (On a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this would be anywhere from 22g - 77g of fat)

How It Works

Fat is the most calorie-dense of all macronutrients:

  • 1g carb = 4 calories
  • 1g protein = 4 calories
  • 1g fat = 9 calories

So when your mom tells you that cheese is "fattening" it's kind of a dual-meaning; they're high in fat content, thus high in calories (relative to their volume), thus you'll get fat if you eat them! (Not necessarily on that last point, but that's what we often think)

Just like the low-carb diet, if you go on a low-fat diet, you're either eliminating or drastically limiting your intake of certain kinds of foods - cheese, red meat, full-fat dairy products, most desserts, etc. Once again, getting rid of an entire food group (especially one that is so calorie-dense) is an easy way to reduce calories without counting them.

Unlike low-carb, however, low-fat doesn't seem to lead to increased protein intake as "naturally," since many of our favorite kinds of meat tend to be a bit fatty. Plain skinless chicken breasts and tilapia get stale after a while.

However, many traditional diets are low-fat, high-carb diets with staples such as beans, rice, yams, fruits and vegetables. So low-fat definitely can work well as long as you don't confuse "low-fat" with "high-Snackwell cookie."

Summary

  • Low-fat tends to range between 10% - 35% of daily calories.
  • Low-fat reduces intake of the most calorie-dense macronutrient, leading to reduction in calorie intake.
  • If not replaced entirely with Snackwell cookies and bread, can lead to increased intake of fruits and vegetables.

Weight Watchers

What It Is

Weight Watchers is a program where foods are assigned a certain number of "points" depending on their content. This can be either through Weight Watchers products, or you could look up the number of points of a given item, or calculate it with their PointsPlus calculator.

Each day you are allotted a certain number of points (plus some bonus weekly points) and you can choose to spend them however you like.

How It Works

You can think of "points" as "calories." Basically Weight Watchers has made it easier for people to eat at a deficit. They'll tell you how many 'points' you get to eat per day based on things like height, weight, gender, activity, goals, etc. - then you just have to eat that many points.

Part of the effectiveness of this program is in its popularity. It's so easy to look up how many points are in any item you'd want to eat, because a million other people have eaten it and calculated the points for you. The program is so popular, many healthy recipe sites provide the number of points in their recipes for you as well!

As well, the program doesn't necessarily "limit" your food choices. There aren't forbidden foods, just higher-calorie stuff is going to have more points. This is exactly how counting calories works, just made a bit simpler.

They do tend to give people very steep deficits, however.

Summary

  • A simpler way of counting calories, does the thinking for you
  • Limiting points = limiting calories = weight loss
  • Also puts an emphasis on group support, which is a huge component of weight loss most diet plans don't address

The Paleo Diet

What It Is

The idea behind the Paleo diet is that it tries to mimic what our ancestors ate (hence reference to paleolithic era), because they theorize that is the way our bodies evolved to eat, thus being "healthier" than our modern diets.

This usually (though Paleo has so many off-shoots now it's hard to keep up) means eliminating:

  • Bread / grains
  • Dairy
  • Most "processed" foods

The most popular Paleo food being, of course, bacon.

They also emphasize eating lots of meat, including red meats.

The idea that all of our ancestors ate any particular way has been thoroughly de-bunked, but while the "philosophy" behind Paleo doesn't mean much, many people still follow this diet.

 

How It Works 

So if you remember how we mentioned that anytime you eliminate a food group, you decrease your calories, you'll know how this diet works.

Getting rid of breads, grains and processed foods will drastically lower your carbohydrate intake. This is why many people confuse low-carb with Paleo. With low-carb, you still theoretically could eat bread (just very small amounts), but you can't eat ANY on Paleo.

No worries though, just hop through some loopholes and gorge on Paleo-approved slices of bread or muffins!

However, gorging on those kinds of foods is akin to eating only Snackwell cookies and claiming to be eating a "low-fat" diet. Technically, yes, you are falling within the parameters, but you've lost the spirit of the diet...usually because it's too restrictive in the first place, so you feel the need to find ways around it!

Summary

  • The Paleo Diet eliminates breads, grains, dairy, and most processed foods
  • Eliminating food groups leads to reduced caloric intake, resulting in weight loss
  • Tends to increase protein intake and decrease carbohydrate intake, in very similar fashion to low-carb diets
  • Increase in satiety and decrease in water weight tends to lead to more weight loss

Intermittent Fasting (IF)

What Is It 

There are quite a variety of fasting diets out there - alternate-day fasting, 5/2 fasting, religious fasting, etc. Intermittent fasting is one of the more popular options for weight loss. It typically involves abstaining from eating for 16 hours out of the day, leaving an 8 hour window where you can eat your daily amount of calories.

How It Works

Believe it or not, it can be tough to over-eat when you only give yourself 8 hours to do so, especially if you primarily fill it with satiating foods like vegetables and meats.

One big reason that we've all put on so much weight in the past few decades has been snacking, and IF puts a stop to that by simply abstaining from ALL food for a period of time, typically during the daytime with a big evening meal.

There aren't really any other rules - you simply end up eating less because you don't give yourself as much time to pack in the calories.

There are some drawbacks. For some people, IF can lead to binge-eating problems (it certainly did with me), a pressure to abstain from food for longer than 16 hours, and for women especially it seems to lead to some negative consequences. However it is highly variable between individuals and I've known many people who found IF to be their preferred method of eating.

Summary

  • Fast for 16 hours a day, feast during an 8-hour window
  • Cuts calories by reducing the amount of time you are eating per day
  • Be mindful of the effect regular IF has on your eating habits, mood and energy levels

Conclusion

Did you figure out the magic trick to every single one of these diets?

They reduce your caloric intake without requiring you to count calories.

Mindlessly eating less seems to be something people see a lot of initial success with - unfortunately the restrictive nature of these diets tends to make them short-lived.

If you'll note, I didn't mention much of anything about the health claims of many of these diets. That's because as long as you're not eating chicken mcnuggets and potato chips for every meal of everday, chances are you're not going to see drastic health consequences from eating grains, enjoying some full-fat dairy, eating a meal after 8PM, or having the occasional processed candy bar.

Yes, you personally may feel bloated after you have some dairy or whole-wheat toast, but that's on you. That's why if low-carb makes you feel like crap, you shouldn't be scared to go off of it because someone somewhere told you sugar will make you fat and stupid.

Pick and choose from various dieting tips and strategies to find out what works best for you and your goals. Maybe you like the part about IF where you don't have to eat breakfast, and avoiding bread at lunch makes you feel more energetic for the end of your work day. Then at dinner you indulge in some dessert, but check to make sure it doesn't have a billion calories beforehand.

That's just one example. You'll probably be different, and there's no rigid diet plan out there that's going to know what will work best for you. Just look at the ONE THING every single diet out there has in common with each other - you eat less calories. If your goal is weight loss, that's really it. Promise.

2 Comments

We're going to start this post off by going on a shopping trip. I'm in the market for a new weight loss fitness product - maybe there's something out there that can motivate me to do some cardio?! (probably not) So, what are some of my top options here?

FitnessWeightLossPromises

Why lose 15 pounds in 30 days when I can lose 20 pounds in 30 days???? Clearly the bottom right product is superior.

Eh...on second thought I don't really want to commit to spending any money yet. Is there anywhere that will give me the secrets to washboard abs and fast weight loss for free?

FitnessDvdResults2

IS YOUR LUNCH KILLING YOU?!?!?!!! Find out at 11.

Buuuuttt then I have to go out and find the magazine. I'm really not looking to leave the house today. All right internet, what have you got for me?

FitnessWeightLossPromises3

I'm pretty sure a tummy tuck takes a little bit longer than 5 minutes, so I'm calling shenanigans on the bottom right one here.

Man, options really abound for how to lose weight and get toned (and/or firm and/or sculpted) fast without dieting! Diets have always been the hard part for me when it comes to weight loss, so I can just add in some more exercise to compensate, right? Sadly, exercise alone hasn't been found to be that effective for losing weight. (1, 2, 3)

...But I completely get how it can seem like that's the case. Every month both men and women are marketed quick exercise fixes to their physique woes. Any of these sound familiar?

  • Get bigger biceps with this one new curl variation! 
  • Get a flat belly fast with this killer core workout!
  • Drop 1 size by summer? Yes please! 
  • Pack on 10 pounds of solid muscle in 30 days - no bullshit, just hard work.

You hear all over the place that there are no short cuts to weight loss. That it requires hard work and a lifestyle change. Well, going from doing nothing to doing vigorous exercise with Jillian Michael's yelling in your face is hard work and a lifestyle change. Does that not count?

No fitness routine will get you drastic results without a change in diet.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear the critiques now: "Psh, everyone knows that Kat. You're beating a dead horse." And you're right, I am beating a dead horse. And I'm going to keep beating a dead horse until everyone understands that these kinds of headlines are inherently misleading.

But I also want to talk about something odd I've noticed with many potential clients who have sat across my desk over the years...

We'll go over a realistic timeline for results and what it really takes to get there. Some topics we cover often include:

  • Slow and steady changes win the sustainability game
  • It takes a lot of hard work to build enough muscle to be considered "bulky"
  • You must change your diet habits to see significant physique results
  • There is no such thing as spot reduction
  • Cleanses are basically bullshit

Almost always, my potential client will nod along and affirm they're familiar with these common myths.  Fast forward a few sessions, and my now current client will turn and ask about what we can do to get rid of their belly/saddlebags/arm flab/etc. Not even two weeks ago, we affirmed they knew spot reduction was not a thing.

What happened between then and now?

Most of my readers probably already know most of the above if you've been following my blog for any length of time. But have you ever found yourself doing any of the following:

  • Running despite your intense hate for it because of some vague notion you'll lose weight if you can run a 5k?
  • Tacking on 10 minutes of intervals at the end of your workout because you know you're going to be drinking this weekend?
  • Getting through a grueling workout and immediately following it up with a large pizza with a side of garlic knots to "refuel"?
  • Trying a yoga or dance class in hopes you'll get a "yogi's" or "dancer's" body?
  • Find yourself doing a lot more direct abdominal work as swimsuit season approaches...despite the fine layer of marbling above them?
  • Going on a cleanse after the holiday season?

I guess I'm just bringing this up so that maybe we won't judge others who regularly get mixed up about what works in fitness and weight loss so harshly. Most of us have been there at some point or another.

I mean, I'm guilty as charged on a couple of those myself.

I know that the 100 calories worth of intervals aren't about to make a dent in the 10 beers and 1:00 AM cheeseburgers I'll be indulging in over the weekend. Sometimes it just feels good to do something illogical. And hell, can be a good enough reason to do something.

So yes, we can logically "know" that spot reduction isn't a thing, but we're still compelled to glorify planks and do a zillion Russian twists whenever we feel down about our stomachs. Because it feels good.

Because it feels like we're in control of how we want our body to change if we can, ever so briefly, believe spot reduction works. It's the same thing that draws us to ridiculous magazine headlines or over-the-top weight loss promises on Fitness products or DVDs. The lie feels good.

Eating less than you were before doesn't feel like you're doing something proactive. It's a passive action. But exercise? Exercise feels so much better than a diet. You're DOING something, which is what we're compelled to do when we want to change anything in life.

Unfortunately, for weight loss the best thing you can do is put the fork down and wait a few months.

...All right the above paragraphs are just me bullshitting, but those are my personal experiences. (Maybe they're yours too - I'm not sure, so you should let me know what your experiences are in the comments)

Equal attention and emphasis must be given to the diet and fitness portion of products

Criticism number two I'm predicting is: "But many DVDs come with diet plans. And articles often talk about the importance of diet." Sure, but they're throwaways, just a token "oh yeah, and diet" line to placate people like me:

  • "Of course, diet is also very important. So make sure you're eating healthy."
  • "It's important to eat a lot during this program as well. Gallon of milk a day should do it."
  • A 10-page booklet on diet telling you all the things you already know that is barely mentioned in the infomercial.

Not happening unless you start eating less.

Take this Insanity commercial for instance. (Don't even get me started on "Max Interval Training") Yeah, Insanity comes with a DietPlan, but it's not even mentioned in the commercial! The Diet Plan is absolutely, 100% necessary to get results on this program. One would think that would warrant at least a small mention, no?

The product is the workout. The result promised is weight loss. In real life, that's just not how these things work.

But fitness is sexier than something like, EAT 10 VEGETABLES IN 10 DAYS, or ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH TO COOK SALMON, or EXTREME 21-DAY FRUIT FIX. It's harder to make a real attention-grabbing infomercial with that, I guess?

These mindsets hold us back

Logically we know that exercise and diet changes are necessary for weight loss. But we tend to buy and act with our emotions - probably why cop-outs like Snackwell cookies or sugar-free gummy bears get more sales than canned vegetables.

Be honest, is a lack of a diet plan or workout regimen what's keeping you back from results? Come on, you could Google "fat loss meal plan" right now and get some decent diet plans that would get you results. There are more than enough free workouts online to last you a lifetime.

So what's stopping you from making those changes right now? Why does the prospect of doing it on your own for free seem unappealing, but you're motivated to get started now when you see a well-done infomercial?

Does that intense and schnazzy DVD infomercial compel you to buy because they seem to make it look so attainable? Because it's completely planned out for you? Does it feed into that small logical part of you that knows magic pills don't exist, but completely ignores the part where changing your diet is required, but fucking hard to do?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but you should ask them before you click "add to cart" next time you find yourself browsing for motivation on Amazon.

Moral:

You will NOT be losing 10 pounds in 2 weeks from a fitness DVD or workout program without some changes in your diet, no matter how convincing an infomercial is.

This shouldn't keep you from exercising or moving in general, especially if you want to lose weight for health reasons! Walking for 30 minutes a day is one of the easiest things you can do to drastically improve your health. ...You just won't lose 20 pounds in 30 days.

You are intelligent.

You are a scientist.

You, yeah you, the one reading this.

You, the one who failed the chemistry test everyone else easily got an "A" on. Or you, the one who got in way over your head taking Physics AP in high school for some god-forsaken reason. Or maybe you, who tried to major in Biology but couldn't pass Chem 102, coming to the conclusion that you are just shitty at all things science.

...Oh wait, those were all me. 

The fact that I would randomly and uncontrollably fall asleep in all of my classes probably didn't help.

The fact that I would randomly and uncontrollably fall asleep in all of my classes probably didn't help.

So maybe I'm not innately talented in passing Chemistry tests I never studied for. Maybe I needed to take a regular-level physics class before trying an AP level. And maybe it's not best to try and learn Chemistry beside 150+ other kids in a giant lecture hall, especially when it's not your strong suit.

In fact, I think that NOT being a natural scientific genius may be why I look for so many different ways to try and explain its principles. Because whatever way they tried in school didn't work for me.

And if you're like a lot of other people I know, it didn't work for you either.

Our brains tend to grasp things easier if we put a human spin on them - if we add a social element to it. My goal today is to explain how many scientific studies are formatted in an interesting and understandable way. I think it will help to shed some light onto some of their more subtle points:

  1. Why the context the study was conducted in is very important
  2. Why, a good deal of the time, if you're not already in the field the study is looking at, you won't understand it 100%
  3. How to work around #1 and #2

So, here's our fake scenario:

You have a fussy 4 year-old who hates going to bed at bedtime. If you want to retain your sanity, you need to figure out a way to get him to go to sleep consistently and reliably.

Never thought I'd find a reason to post this video on my blog...

Efficacy of Bed-Time Stories on Sleep-Induction in 4-year-old Male

Abstract

Objective: To determine the efficacy of reading stories at bed-time on the time it takes to fall asleep (TTS) in our 4-year-old male subject.

Methods: The subject was exposed to 3 different treatments:

  1. Bed-Time Story: Goodnight Moon 
  2. Bed-Time Story: Where the Wild Things Are 
  3. Control (No story)

Each treatment was done for 2 weeks, followed by a 2-week wash-out period between each treatment where no books were read.

TTS was recorded each night and averaged using the mode.

Results: TTS results varied from 4 to 97 minutes.  The treatment with the lowest average TTS was treatment #2 with an average of 13 minutes.  

Conclusion: Treatment #2 was significantly more effective than treatments 1 and 3 on TTS. However, one of the TTS values for treatment #2 was 97 minutes - the highest value of any treatments.  This suggests that factors outside of the story read and the bedtime may be affecting TTS values.

It is clear that further study must be done on this subject to arrive at the optimal treatment outcome.  

So that all seems pretty succinct, right?  Well let's move onto the FULL study and see if we're missing any crucial context...

Full Study

Background: Having children fall asleep in a timely fashion is of paramount importance for the child's development.  Well-rested caregivers have been shown in previous studies to have higher levels of patience, are better able to work to provide for their children, and are more apt to be involved with their children when they are at home.

Better sleep benefits the child by making them more attentive; performing better at tasks required intellect or motor coordination.  As well, they are better able to express their wants and emotions to their caregivers.  

Some previous treatments have been tried on the subject with negligible improvement. Such treatments included a warm bath before bedtime, use of a nightlight, and turning off the television at 8:00 PM. 

However, other treatment options were promising.  Pushing bed-time back from 8:30 PM to 9:00 decreased time till sleep (TTS) by an average of 19 minutes.  However, benefits reversed after 10:00 PM.  

The treatment with the highest success rate was allowing the subject to sleep with his caregivers.  However, this treatment has dangerous side-effects for the caregivers and thus is not a suitable long-term treatment.  More options must be made available. 

In this study, we hope to combine the proven-successful treatment of a 9:00 PM bed-time with 2 other options in search for the best treatment option for the subject. 

So we've learned two important things from the background of this study:

  1. This study is being done to improve the overall well-being of the child.
  2. Previous treatments have been attempted, some less and some more successful.  The successful treatments affected what was done in this study.

Why is this important?  Well, it's not hard to imagine someone reading the abstract and completely dismissing the study by saying 9:00 is a horrible time to put a child to sleep, 8:30 is a much better time.  Except by reading the background, you discover that's already been attempted and found not to work.  Whoops!

Can't you imagine this study being posted on Facebook, and someone commenting "Everyone knows a warm bath works best to relax you and put you to sleep. What a stupid study. I can't believe we're wasting taxpayer money on this. Thanks Obama!!" ...except that was also attempted, and found not to work, if you had read the background.

Let me be clear...this research it's...it's about our children. It's about...the future of our great country. Which is America, just to be clear.

As well, the background gave the "big picture" idea of why this study is being done. If the purpose of the study was to find out what would benefit the caregivers most, you could arguably propose the best treatment would be putting the child up for adoption! But now that you have the context of the study, you know that's not a viable option.

Methods: The subject was exposed to 2 different treatments and 1 control over the course of 16 weeks.  

Potential variables that were controlled for included:

  • Time when reading began (9:00 PM)
  • Pre-bedtime ritual for up to an hour before bedtime
  • Sugar and caffeine intake after 2:00 PM 
  • Bedroom temperature
  • Bed-sheet color
  • Level of lighting in bedroom during readings 
  • Caregiver doing the reading 

Each treatment was attempted for 2 weeks, with 2 weeks in between each treatment method so that the subject would not become accustomed to the routine. 

During the control periods, the same caregiver would be present in the room, but without reading a story.

The treatments involved rotating 2 different books: Where the Wild Things Are - a more action-packed thriller compared to Goodnight Moon. We wanted to test if the level of excitement in the books affected TTS values.  We hope that this data will help the caregivers select appropriate bed-time books in the future. 

TTS values were collected every day, for a total of 14 data points for each treatment.  The mode was selected as the average for each treatment, as there were typically one or two extreme outliers for each one. 

The methods section is very important! This shows you how the researchers conducted the study in the first place, which tells you if the study is a good one or not.

If the methods were, "our intuition and common sense told us Goodnight Moon was a superior book choice, then we flipped a coin to decide whether it was better than the control," you'd say it was a poorly-done study, wouldn't you?! I hope so!

We're also shown how the researchers tried to make sure nothing else could possibly be affecting the outcome of the study besides the book being read. Maybe they missed some possible other variables, or were unable to control for some, (such as the time of year, it's hard to get kids to sleep around Christmas!) affecting the validity of the results?

Results: It was found that reading Where the Wild Things Are resulted in the lowest average TTS compared to Goodnight Moon and no book. (Figure 1)  The average TTS values for each treatment were:

  1. Goodnight Moon - 21 minutes
  2. Where the Wild Things Are - 13 minutes
  3. Control (no book) - 27 minutes

These findings show a significant difference between TTS in each group.  

ToddlerStudy

Figure 1: Average TTS scores across various 2-week treatments

The findings appear to suggest that a bed-time story is a better treatment than nothing, however further research involving a wider variety of stories is necessary to draw any conclusions. 

Results sections can be pretty cut-and-dry. They tell you what happened, which is pretty important though!

Discussion: Reading of Where the Wild Things Are showed a dramatic decrease in the time it took for the subject to fall asleep as compared to Goodnight Moon and Control treatments. As well, aside from boredom on the part of the caregivers from reading the same book over and over, side-effects were non-existent.  

It is believed that the excitement of the story-line, followed by a slow, soothing ending is what made Where the Wild Things Are the best choice. The subject has a history of enjoying action-packed media, so it is possible this history influenced the outcome of the research.

It is possible that pushing back reading time to 9:30 PM would have influenced the efficacy of the Goodnight Moon treatment, when the subject would be more apt to being sleepy, and more receptive to a low-action story. Further research will be necessary. 

There are many limitations in this study. First, only two books were chosen as treatments - one as a more "action-based" story, and one as a "low-stress" story. However, the subject owns many other books and it is possible their outcomes will be unpredictable. 

As well, we were unable to control for the time of year this study was conducted.  The beginning of December occurred around the same time as the Goodnight Moon treatment. The subject loves Christmas, so his excitement may have adversely affected this treatment's outcomes. 

This study only included one subject, which is another large limitation for general use of this research. Further research with more subjects and a wider variety of treatments will be necessary for public relevance. 

Man, we got a load of information from the discussion section! (That one is always my favorite) The researchers owned up to the fact that this study has little relevance outside of the one subject they studied. Even then, there were many possible alternative explanations.

The researchers are basically straight-up telling us that a headline like, say...

"Scientists show storybook, Where the Wild Things Are, a better sedative than a bottle of Benadryl!"

...just may be a tad inaccurate.

We also learned some limitations we would have had NO IDEA about unless we knew the subject well beforehand, such as Christmas-time is a large confounding variable for him. Realize that important contextual data like this is not always included in the study itself.

This means unless you had been following and studying the subject for a long time prior, you wouldn't be able to grasp the importance of everything going on in the study.

This of course doesn't mean that it's pointless for you to read a study.  Hell, if you read any part of the actual study being discussed in the internet article du jour, you're doing better than 99.9% of the people commenting, and potentially even the person who wrote the damn thing.

If I imagine ignorant commenters like this instead, my soul is much happier.

Being able to point out limitations isn't being critical about what another person believes, it's pointing out how the study they're basing said beliefs on has the potential to be wrong.

At the same time, you need to be able to apply that same idea to yourself and your beliefs.

It's always possible that one study had too many confounding variables and limitations to be useful. So what if we did 99 more studies, and 98 of them showed that Where the Wild Things Are, read at 9:00 PM was the most effective treatment, with just 1 of them showing Goodnight Moon was a slightly better choice?

99% of studies came to one conclusion, 1% came to another. Using this data, which of these statements is more evidence based?

  • "Based on the current evidence, Where the Wild Things Are is the best choice for getting this subject to fall asleep the quickest. Should more studies come out showing otherwise, we will reconsider this stance."
  • "Where the Wild Things Are shows all manner of unnatural things that are not good for a child's developing brain. Here is a study that shows Goodnight Moon is the best choice. The other studies are funded by lobbyists pushing a pro-monster agenda."

And if you read an article that cited the ONE study out of 99 on the subject showing Goodnight Moon was the best choice, not knowing the other studies existed, you might believe it.

This is why if the scientific community comes to a general consensus on a subject matter, you really ought to lend it some credence. They likely know more than you do because they know:

  • The context the studies are done in
  • The entire giant SCOPE of research being done on the subject
  • What limitations and variables really matter
  • The specific scientific jargon used in said studies

If you were the parent of the child in our fake study, you'd roll your eyes at someone telling you that a warm bath is the one true answer. (and maybe start yelling at your television when an ignorant, uninformed pundit started calling you an idiot for believing otherwise)

Now imagine the same thing happening, except you're a scientist who has devoted the past 12 years of your life to studying one specific subject matter for meager pay of about $20,000/yr, and some random person from the internet calls you a Big Industry shill for your findings. I'd probably need to be restrained.

Moral

You use a crude version of the scientific method everyday. Anytime you use logic and information to figure out why your child won't go to bed at night, that's an un-refined version of the scientific method.

When you actually set up an experiment and record the results, that's getting a bit more refined. Trying to control for variables that affect the outcome, considering the context in which you're doing the experiment - that's refining it more and more.

There is A LOT that goes into a full scientific study. You cannot rely only on the abstract of one single study to tell you everything you need to know about a subject.

If anything, read the entire, full study before trying to form any kind of conclusion. If you don't understand the study, don't worry - just don't come to any hard conclusions and be open to the idea that your interpretation is wrong!

Oh, and when the scientific community forms a near-unanimous consensus, you should probably listen to them.

6 Comments

So, if you haven't heard, something pretty cool went down this week:

Dr. Oz was called in by Senator Claire McCaskill to testify at a hearing about weight-loss scams.  Many people in the fitness industry were outraged, assuming that McCaskill was calling on him as an expert witness.

What ensued was much more entertaining.

Claire "I'm so bored of your bullshit" McCaskill vs. Mehment "I have a sweet head of hair" Oz

Claire "I'm so bored of your bullshit" McCaskill vs. Mehment "I have a sweet head of hair" Oz

McCaskill blasted Oz for irresponsible conduct on his show - of promoting several sham products as "miracle" weight-loss cures.  It was pretty glorious to watch.

When I listened to their conversation the first time through, I was struck by how good Oz was at saying a lot of words that sounded like a good defense, yet weren't coherent enough for me to register what he was actually saying.

So, I decided to write a transcript of the entire thing so I could analyze exactly what his defense was.  I inject my commentary below, but if you just want the transcript, you can get it from the following link:

Transcript

Senator McCaskill: "I can't figure this out Dr. Oz...I get that you do a lot of good on your show.  I understand that you give a lot of information that's great information about health, and you do it in a way that's understandable.  You're very talented, you're obviously very bright. You've been trained in science-based medicine."

The above is all true.  Just watch a couple of episodes of Dr. Oz's show; you can find most segments online for free.  Here's a modest clip - no product pushing, just giving out information and advice.  This clip is pretty tame, yet he presents typically 'boring' information in a way that's entertaining for his audience.  Yes, he has a knack for grabbing your attention.  He's very compelling, seemingly genuine, and personable.  Give the man credit where it's due.

It's also true that he has a background in science and science-based medicine.  He got his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, and has been a professor of surgery at Columbia University for 13 years.  He's practiced actual real medicine and been named in actual real studies.  I mean just look at this resume, seriously.

So this is why I have a hard time believing his defense of promoting 'miracle cures' below...

Senator McCaskill: "Now, here are three statements you've made on your show:

  1. 'You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they've found the magic weight-loss cure for every body type.  It's Green Coffee Extract.'
  2. 'I've got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat!  It's Raspberry Ketones.'
  3. 'Garcinia Cambogia: it may be the simple solution you've been looking for to bust your body fat for good.'

I don't get why you need to say this stuff, because you know it's not true!  So why, when you have this amazing megaphone, and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?"

You may have heard about some of these products.  If you have, it's probably from crap advertisements like these from Facebook:

Pulled from the BS Detector handbook.  Hard to find working links to these sites because the domains expire quickly.  Because they're scams.

Pulled from the BS Detector handbook. Hard to find working links to these sites because the domains expire quickly. Because they're scams.

Dr. Oz agreed to come to Senator McCaskill because he does not appreciate his name being used to endorse these specific products.

It's true that he didn't endorse those specific brands, and it's wrong for the products to say that they themselves have been endorsed by Dr. Oz.  He has an acceptable complaint, though he doesn't garner much sympathy from me or Senator McCaskill.  But more on that much later down the page.

Dr. Oz: "Well, if I could disagree about whether they work or not, and I'll move on to the issue of the words that I used.

And just with regards to whether they work or not - take green coffee bean extract as an example - I'm not going to argue that it would pass FDA muster if it was a pharmaceutical drug seeking approval.  But among the natural products that are out there, this is a product that has several clinical trials.  There was one large one, one very good quality one, that was done the year we talked about this in 2012."

I know that everyone loves to hate on the government and especially the FDA. Certainly there are some legitimate criticisms.

But one of the less legitimate criticisms is that the FDA is suppressing cures for cancer and weight loss because of the heartless cancer / diet industries lobbying them.  Yes, the FDA can take a long time approving things.  But is this out of malice or out of being backlogged, under-staffed and under-funded?

In any case, to get a drug approved by the FDA, the following steps must happen:

  1. Test on animals to show reasonable expectation of safety
  2. Get approved to be tested on humans
  3. Go through several phases of testing to discover side effects, ensure safety, show that it works, and figure out appropriate use and dosage on varying populations.  This is the hard part.
  4. The FDA reviews the findings and can approve the drug for market

So when Dr. Oz says that the drug wouldn't pass FDA muster, that means that the drug does not have sufficient evidence to show it works.  Because he literally just admitted this, he is willingly promoting a product as a "miracle cure" to millions of viewers when he knows good and well it has not been shown to work.

Good thing that supplements don't have to be approved by the FDA then, huh?  

Senator McCaskill: "I want to know about that clinical trial.  Because the only one I know was 16 people in India that was paid for by the company that was...at the point in time you initially talked about this being a 'miracle,' the only study that was out there was the one with 16 people in India that was written up by somebody who was being paid by the company who was producing it."

Dr. Oz: "Well this paper argued that there was no one paying for it, but I have the four papers...five papers actually, plus a series of basic science papers on it as well.

Here is the study that McCaskill is referring to.  It's funny that the paper claims no conflicts of interest, but was paid for by the company selling the supplement - Applied Food Sciences, Inc. in Austin, Texas.  If you're interested in a detailed review of this study, I recommend checking out Science-Based Pharmacy's review.

I'm uncertain what other papers Dr. Oz is referring to.  If I knew, I'd look them up. Unfortunately I can't find much research on green coffee bean extract in the first place.  In fact, I've only found papers showing that the supplement is far from a miracle drug; at best promoting only modest loss of a couple pounds, if that.

There just isn't enough good evidence out there that green coffee extract is worth taking.  It's therefore irresponsible to tout it as a "miracle cure."  It's like trying to convict a man of a crime before the evidence has been analyzed because it's merely possible he did it.

"Well, sir, you did live in same area code where the crime happened so..."

"Dr. Oz: But, Senator McCaskill, we can spend a lot of time arguing the merits of whether green coffee bean extract is worth trying or not worth trying.  Many of the things that we argue that you do with regard to your diet are likewise criticizeable.

Should you be on a low-fat diet, a low-carb diet...I spent a good part of my career recommending that folks have a low fat diet.  We've come full circle in that argument now and no longer recommend that.  Many of us who practice medicine, because we realized it wasn't working for our patients."

Here Dr. Oz is attempting to deflect the fact that there is little evidence coffee bean extract is worth buying.  He is doing this by changing the subject to the current low-carb / low-fat diet controversies.  The fact is, low-fat diets aren't inherently "bad" diets anyway.  It's just that you can't tell a patient to go on a low-fat diet and expect them to understand you don't mean to gorge on Snackwell cookies...if they follow your advice at all.

Going on a low-fat or low-carb diet, however, is free and doesn't require buying products.  So there's yet another difference.

Dr. Oz: "So it is remarkably complex, as you know, to figure out what works out for most people even, in a dietary program.  In the practice of medicine we evolve by looking at new ideas challenging orthodoxy and evolving them."

Yes, you challenge orthodoxy with great evidence.

When debating something controversial, I often see people argue, "Galileo was right, but he was punished for his ideas at the time," or, "Barry Marshall was a laughing stock when he said stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria, but he ended up being right," as if those situations are comparable to what they're doing.

But the difference is that these men had evidence on their side to back up their statements, not just a hunch.  That this evidence was initially feared or ignored is human folly, yes.  And it was eventually corrected.

But there is not currently good evidence that these "weight loss miracles" are actually miracles.  This is why we don't believe in unproven cures - not because we're willfully ignoring claims or just being ignorant.  If solid evidence came out that they were useful, we'd change our minds.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence...and a little bit of time to ponder its merits and re-adjust our worldviews accordingly.

Dr. Oz: "So...these are the five papers, these are clinical papers.  And we can argue about the quality of them, very justifiably.  I can pick apart papers that show no benefit as well.  But at the end of the day, if I have clinical subjects, real people having undergone trials - and in this case I actually gave it to members of my audience.  It wasn't a formal trial..."

Senator McCaskill: "Which wouldn't pass...the trial you did with your audience, you would not say that would ever pass scientific muster?"

Dr. Oz: "No, I would never publish the paper, but it wasn't done under the appropriate IRB guidance - that wasn't the purpose of it. The purpose of it was for me to get a thumbnail sketch of, 'is this worth talking to people about or not?'

That would be all fine and dandy, except that Dr. Oz talked to people about green coffee extract being a miracle cure before he did this little audience 'experiment'!  (Also check out that clip to hear from Dr. Oz why he came to talk to McCaskill.)

Not to mention, despite admitting that this study would never stand up to any kind of scrutiny, he uses the results as "proof" to his audience that the supplement works.

Dr. Oz: "But again, I don't think this ought to be a referendum on the use of alternative medical therapies.  Because if that's the case then listen, I have been criticized for having folks coming on my show and talking about the power of prayer.  Now again, as a practitioner, I can't prove that prayer helps people survive an illness..."

Senator McCaskill: "It's hard to buy prayer."

Dr. Oz: "Yes, it's hard to buy prayer, that's the difference..."

Senator McCaskill: "Prayer is free."

Dr. Oz: "Yes, prayer is free, that's a very good point!  Thankfully prayer is free...but I see in the hospital, when folks are feeling discomfort in their life, and a lot of it's emotional, when they have people praying for them, it lightens their burden."

Here's the prayer episode in question.  Just skip to 4:10 to get to where they talk about the power of prayer.  I imagine the criticism was about a medical doctor bringing someone on his show suggesting that the supernatural is a reliable method for curing what ails us.

As a funny aside, you can buy prayer if you want, no problem!

prayerlol

Farmer's Almanacs have the BEST advertisements

Dr. Oz: "And so my show is about hope.  And I want - and as you've very kindly stated - we've engaged millions of people in programs, including programs we did with the CDC, to get folks to realize that there are different ways - that they can re-think their future.  That their best years aren't behind them, they're in front of them.  That they actually can lose weight.

So, if I can just get across the big message that actually I do personally believe in the items I talk about in the show, that I passionately study them...I recognize that oftentimes they don't have the scientific muster to present as fact."

This is the most telling part of the transcript, in my opinion.

Dr. Oz realizes that the information he gives is not factual - he just stated that exactly above.  He is literally admitting to deceiving his audience.  You can passionately study the mechanics of a Shake Weight, that doesn't make it work any better.

There are entire schools devoted to witchcraft where you can study for years and spend lots of money if you want.  You can believe with all of your heart that you can cast spells. That doesn't make the witchcraft any more credible.  Reality doesn't change.

He wants to give his audience hope?  Give them the stories of people who lost weight using real, effective, proven methods rather than ineffective pills and expensive supplements.

It's like he doesn't trust his audience with the truth.  Losing weight is hard and requires a lot of effort... but don't tell the common folk, they'll lose hope and give up.  We must lie to them for their own good!

You know a great way to lose hope?  Being told you'll lose weight with a product, spending $50 on it, then not losing any weight.  The bottle then joins six of its brethren in the back of a kitchen cabinet, commemorating all the times you've tried - and failed - to lose weight.

Dr. Oz is right - your best years aren't behind you, and you can lose weight.  Just not by doing nothing other than taking green coffee extract.

Dr. Oz: "But nevertheless I give my audience the advice I give my family all the time.  And I've given my family these products, specifically the ones you mentioned, and I'm comfortable with that part.

Where I do think I've made it more difficult for the FTC is that in an intent to engage viewers, I use flowery language.  I used language that was very passionate.  But it ended up not being helpful, but incendiary. And it provided fodder for unscrupulous advertisers.  And so that clip that you played, which is over two years old, and I've hundreds of segments since then, we have specifically restricted our use of words.

And I'm literally not speaking about things that I would otherwise talk about.  There's a product that I have never talked about in the show that I feel very strongly about, because I know what will happen."

'Flowery' is certainly one way to describe his language.  I'd use 'grossly over-exaggerated' or 'completely incorrect,' but that's just me.

So, he claims he has learned his lesson... but has he?

Here's a segment he did not too long ago about how litramine will "flush fat fast" and "literally helps you poop out unwanted fat fast."  I suppose that's not exactly errr....flowery.  But I'm not seeing any big changes in your game plan going on here, Dr. Oz.

Dr. Oz showing how 'Forskolin' literally burns belly fat on yet another episode.  Flowery?

Dr. Oz showing how 'Forskolin' literally burns belly fat on yet another episode. Flowery?

Dr. Oz: "I'll say something very...in fact we did a show, with yacon syrup, which you did not bring up. It's a South American root that had a big study published on it, I think a very high quality study, where they showed that not only did it help people lose weight but it more importantly helped their health.  It was men and women who were diabetic, done by an academic center down there - it was not funded by industry - and we talked about it.  And I used as careful language as I could, and still there were internet scam ads picking one or two supportive words.

Well of course I support them, I wouldn't be talking about it otherwise, but it still ended up out there."

Here's the segment on Yacon.  Sorry...careful language?  What's careful about this?

  • "The shocking results - how women lost weight with no diet, and no exercise!  The secret syrup revealed!"
  • Bring a clip of a woman on the show saying "I lost 13 pounds with no exercise!"

Not exactly being modest with the words there, I don't think.

Senator McCaskill: "Well, I...listen.  I'm surprised that you are defending...I mean I've tried to really do a lot of research in preparation for this trial, and the scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products that you've called miracles.

And when you call a product a 'miracle' and it's something you can buy, and it's something that gives people false hope, I just don't understand why you need to go there.  You've got so much you do on your show that makes it different and controversial enough that you get lots of views - I understand you're in a business of getting viewers.

But I really implore you to look at the seven...and I would ask you to look at the seven list that the FTC put out on "The Gut Check."  The seven...it's very simple:

Causes weight loss of 2 pounds a week for a month without dieting or exercise; Causes substantial weight loss no matter how much you eat; Causes permanent weight loss, like you said looking to 'bust your body fat for good'

...if you just look at those seven, and if you spend time on your show telling people that this is the seven things you should know, that isn't magic in a bottle, that there isn't a magic pill, that there isn't some kind of magic root or acaii berry or raspberry ketone that's going to all of a sudden make it not matter that you're not moving and eating a lot of sugar and carbohydrates.

I mean...do you disagree with any of these seven?"

Here's a link to "The Gut Check" article in question.  Good stuff.

Dr. Oz: "Senator McCaskill, I know the seven, I say those things on my show all the time."

Senator McCaskill: "Well then why would you say something is a miracle in a bottle?"

Dr. Oz: "My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience.  And when they don't think they have hope and when they don't think they can make it happen, I'm willing to look and I do look everywhere, including alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them.

So you pick on green coffee bean extract.  With the amount of information I have on that, I still am comfortable telling folks that if you can buy a reputable version of it...and I say this all the time: I don't sell it and these are not for long-term use.

And by the way, with green coffee bean extract as an example, it's one pound per week over the duration of the different trials that have been done.  That happens to be the same amount of weight that was lost by the hundred or so folks on the show who came on, and half of them got a placebo.  We've actually got fake pills, gave it to half the people, real pills, to the other half, and it's sort of the same thumbnail.  I'm looking at a rough idea.

Look, we know the answer to the question "How can I lose weight?"  It's eat less and move more.

What makes that difficult, (and complicates an actual useful answer) among many other factors, is the current food and social environment...and people like Dr. Oz who are promoting a new miracle cure every other week, leaving people confused about what does and doesn't work.

If Dr. Oz truly wanted to be helpful to people, he wouldn't be grasping at straws - massively promoting and exaggerating the benefits of anything that has one tiny study to show it might help you lose one extra pound when combined with diet and exercise.

A poorly-constructed study like the ones he does with his audience don't give him a rough idea.  They're worthless - and he admitted that when he said they wouldn't stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Dr. Oz: "If you could lose a pound a week more than you would have lost, doing the things you should be doing already - you can't sprinkle it on cabasa (?) and expect it to work - but if that trial data is what's mimicked in your life and you get a few pounds off, it jumpstarts you and it gives you confidence to keep going.  And then you start to follow the things we talk about every single day, including all of those seven items, I think it makes sense."

If the only thing that people needed to lose weight and keep it off was to lose the first couple of pounds quickly, then low-carb diets or fasts would be the answer to our weight-loss woes, since they will get you to drop weight initially very quickly. Plus, doing that is free and actually proven.  Unfortunately it doesn't always last.

As well, note how he says that you need to be doing the things "you should be doing already." I assume that means eating a sensible diet and exercising.  Why is it that all weight-loss pills or fitness products say you must combine them with diet and exercise for results?

pill

Oh yeah, it's because it's diet and exercise that get you results, not the product.

Senator McCaskill: "Well, I'm going to give time to my colleagues now, and hopefully I'll have a chance to be able to visit with the other witnesses in the next round.

I will just tell you...I know that you feel you are a victim.  But sometimes conduct invites being a victim.  And I think if you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn't be victimized quite as frequently."

Dr. Oz: "Senator McCaskill, those topics you mentioned are over two years old.  I have not been talking about products in that way for two years, and it has not changed at all what I am seeing on the internet, and frankly it is getting worse.  So I completely heed your commentary, and I realize - to my colleagues at the FTC - that I have made their jobs more difficult.  That's why I came today.

I'm cheerleading for this process.  I want to do anything I can to help, but taking away those words doesn't change the problem that's already happened."

As we've shown above, Dr. Oz is still talking about products with 'flowery' and exaggerated language.  He hasn't changed, but recognizes the problem is still occurring.

So Dr. Oz recognizes that it's bad for his name when other companies claim that he has personally endorsed their products, but doesn't want to have to change his actions so that doesn't happen.

He wants to continue peddling ineffective products on his show for...ratings...or money...or whatever, but without suffering the backlash and negative consequences of doing so.

I agree that advertisers should not be allowed to fake Dr. Oz's endorsement.  But honestly, to me that's a different issue.

Dr. Oz should not be allowed to lie to and deceive his audience - which he above has admitted to doing.

Now, I get that there will never be a regulation that doesn't allow him to say whatever he wants on his show.  The real solution then lies in educating his audience.

How we do that is another subject entirely.  But hopefully by showing them something like the analysis above, they can at least recognize he has faults and has given them bad advice at least once.

And if he's done it once...maybe he's done it twice.  And maybe he could do so again.  And maybe his word isn't gold...

4 Comments

Weight loss certainly has been made a bit confusing over the past few decades.

Not only have you had to worry about if you're eating too much fat, now you have to worry if you're eating enough of the right kind of fat. (Olive oil was one of the good ones, right?  But they also say vegetable oils are bad.  Are olives vegetables...?)

More recently, you've been reading that you shouldn't eat too much sugar.  But only certain kinds of sugar.  Processed sugar is bad.  (Which means like...bread and candy, you're pretty sure, but does that also count dark chocolate?  Wasn't that supposed to be good for you?) And fructose is also bad.  But fruits have fructose...so...what are you allowed to eat again?

I like to partake in the occasional internet meme.

Lately you've been reading that people need to make sure they're eating enough food when trying to lose weight.  What does that mean?  Are they talking about how you need to avoid going into "starvation mode"?  So now not only do you have to balance eating the right kinds of foods, you have to make sure you're not eating too little on top of making sure to not eat too much.

Why are you so weird, stock photos? No one smiles when looking at nutrition labels.

Yikes.  No wonder we all seem to struggle with weight loss.

It doesn't have to be so complicated

So the majority of those first two paragraphs is a mixture of bullshit and things you really don't need to worry about. Magazines, newspapers, talk shows and online publications have a LOT of space and air time to kill.  To avoid talking about the exact same thing over and over, they tend to focus on generating a crap ton of small things that none of us would have to think about if we expanded our vegetable intake from shredded iceberg lettuce in Taco Bell tacos to broccoli and eggplants.

Have olive oil.  Eat fruit.  Eat some bread.  Dip your bread into olive oil with a side of grapes. Relax.

But what about that last one?

Up until a few years ago, I was very confused about what people really meant when they would suspect out loud that maybe they weren't eating enough on their diet.  And no wonder it confused me - it's doubtful that they really knew what they meant either.

Usually it's some notion of "you need to eat enough so you don't go into starve mode," and when you ask what starvation mode is, the answer is typically even more confused. Something along the lines of "if you don't eat enough your body thinks it's starving and won't let you lose anymore weight."

How true is that?

Starvation mode probably isn't what you think

"Starvation Mode" is really just a series of metabolic changes that happen when you lose weight.  The changes are twofold:

  1. Your body resisting the fat loss - increasing your hunger, decreasing your subconscious activity levels (such as foot tapping, leg shaking, your motivation to find a really close parking spot - all referred to as NEAT)
  2. As you lose weight, your body just doesn't require as many calories to maintain itself. A 300-pound person will always have a higher metabolism than a 100-pound person if activity levels are similar

The steeper your deficit, it becomes more likely that you will down-regulate your metabolism faster than you should, but you will never reach a point where it is "impossible" to burn fat. You're not likely to get to a spot where you can't lose weight on 1,200 calories a day.

So how do people eat more to lose weight?

Because in the long-term, they're actually eating less.

Tell me if this scenario rings any bells:

Monday: My diet starts today!  I've got my MyFitnessPal account set up.  1,200 calories a day and I'll be losing 2 pounds per week - I'll get this weight off in no time.

I went grocery shopping yesterday and bought fruits, veggies and lean meats - I did the math and bread and chocolate just have too many calories.  I threw away all the junk food in my house despite my partner's protests.  I'm serious this time.  This time I really commit and make a change.

Tuesday / Wednesday: Man, my sugar addiction must have been worse than I thought!  3 days of veggies and meat and I'm DYING for some chocolate and pastries.  But, I must teach my body that FRUIT is my dessert now!  Time to sit down to some blueberries in non-fat plain greek yogurt!  Tastes just like blueberry pie...!

....

...okay, no it doesn't...

Thursday: Today I looked at the instagram of a figure competitor for some motivation. Knowing that there are really hot people out there who eat mainly broccoli, sweet potatoes, and chicken breasts in tupperware containers makes this process more inspiring.

A new take on "food porn"

Friday: My girlfriends went out for dinner tonight, but I know that if I go out I'm just going to drink wine and eat too much bread.  ...worth...it........?

Saturday: I was really depressed after not going out last night, so when my partner wanted to go to brunch this morning I couldn't say no.  I got the egg white omelette, but he got the pancakes and gave me one.  Ugh.  Totally screwed up.

Sunday: Wow, I really fell off the wagon yesterday.  It all went downhill after that pancake.  I couldn't get enough - we went out for dinner and I got a huge dish AND dessert AND wine. Ugh, I feel so fat.  I don't know how I ate that much in one day.

Monday: I went out to the movies yesterday and ate an entire large popcorn almost entirely by myself.  On top of going out to eat twice. Time to get back on the wagon.  I better only eat 1,000 calories per day this week to make up for what I did over the weekend...

Repeat week in, week out.  Let's look at this in number form.  Suppose your TDEE (the total amount of calories your body needs to maintain its weight) is about 2,000 calories per day.

That means to maintain your weight, you need to eat 14,000 calories per week.  If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less than that.  Even if you go a little overboard on the weekend, you should still be losing weight, right?

  • Monday - Friday: 1,200 x 5 = 6,000
  • Saturday - Sunday: 4,000 x 2 = 8,000
  • Total: 14,000

Suddenly no more deficit.

You may be thinking "there's no way in hell I eat 4,000 calories in one day!"  Sadly, it's a lot easier than you might think:

  • Breakfast: Starbucks Vanilla Frappucino (Grande) & Blueberry Scone - 800 calories
  • Snack: Granola Bar - 200 calories
  • Lunch: Subway foot-long Chicken Teriyaki with chips and a sprite - 1,090 calories
  • Snack: Gas station slushie - 300 calories
  • Dinner: 1/2 Rack Outback Baby Back Ribs, mashed potatoes, 1/3rd of a piece of chocolate cake & 2 glasses of red wine - 1,800 calories
  • Total: 4190 calories.  Whooooopsie.

It doesn't even have to be in concentrated meals.  Maybe you eat the entirety of a tub of icecream over 2 days.  Maybe it's a bag of M&M's you have beside you while you're watching TV.  Maybe it's getting all the fixings plus a crap ton of dressing on your salad.

1,690 calories right there.

I've done this.  I know the feeling of eating more than you ever thought possible but still finding room - and the motivation - to eat more.  It's almost depressing.

But the solution for me wasn't to cut more calories during the week to "make up" for binges that I thought were just inevitable.  My solution was to eat more during the week so that binges never happened.  

"Eat more to lose weight" needs to be re-phrased

A more appropriate, but much less sound-bite-worthy phrase would be "eat more calories throughout the week instead of at huge deficits so that over the course of a week or two you are actually eating less overall."

Instead of shooting for a huge deficit, why not try a much smaller one?  See if this week plan sounds better to you:

Monday: Today I'm going to make a lifestyle change.  I'm not going to starve myself this time around - but if I'm honest with myself I really don't need as much food as I've been eating.  I can reasonably cut my portions by a quarter or a fifth and lose weight.  It won't be as quick, but I'm in this for the long haul.

Tuesday - Thursday: This is actually going a bit easier than I thought.  It takes some conscious effort, but I think over the long-term I won't have to think about it so much.

For dinner, I am eating just a little bit less of my usual steak and potatoes.  I usually crave sugar around 3 PM and cave into some Oreos, but instead I just added some chocolate squares or my favorite kind of granola bar onto lunch, and I found that the craving was gone.

Friday: I went out with my girlfriends for dinner tonight!  I usually try to "save up" calories throughout the day when I know I'm about to go out to eat, but I decided to eat normally. I was able to stick to 1 slice of bread from the basket, and I wasn't starving so I was able to enjoy my steak without going overboard.  I actually couldn't finish the whole thing.

Saturday: Went out to brunch with my partner.  Got some eggs benedict and snuck a couple of bites of the pancakes he got!  Wasn't super hungry at lunch after that, so I stuck to the 6-inch sub.  Dinner was delicious - but the chocolate cake was so rich I could only stand a few bites.  They were AMAZING though!

Sunday:  Went to the movies and got a small popcorn.  I basically always eat the whole thing while I'm there - I've heard mindless eating is a huge thing at the movies.  But thankfully there wasn't too much in the small, and I wasn't as hungry for the rest of the day.

Monday: The scale didn't change too much.  But it's only been one week, and I know I ate less than I normally do.  And the best part is, this is the first week on any diet I've ever been on where I haven't been tempted to binge.  I think I can keep this up.  I'm proud of myself!

So taking our same person with a 2,000 calorie TDEE (14,000 calories per week) who is shooting for 1,800 calories per day.  Hell, I'll even say on that Saturday she ate more:

  • Monday-Friday: 1,800 x 5 = 9,000
  • Saturday: 2,100
  • Sunday: 1,900
  • Total: 13,000

You've suddenly gone from a miserable week with no deficit to a fairly sustainable week with a 1,000 calorie deficit.  It's not huge, but it's better than nothing and more likely to be sustainable in the long-term.

Moral:

Eat more to lose weight means:

  1. Eating at a small deficit rather than a huge one.  This is to avoid the intense hunger pangs and binging that lead to a halt or reverse in your weight-loss progress.
  2. Your NEAT activities won't decrease as much, meaning that your TDEE doesn't decline so sharply.
  3. You will have more level and sustained energy for your workouts instead of swinging from "no energy" on your low-calorie days to "too bloated to move" on binge days.

All of these things lead to a more enjoyable weight-loss experience - one that is more sustainable and successful over the long term.

I hope that this clears things up a bit - if you've got more questions or comments, leave them below or give me a shout on Facebook!

P.S. I'd feel remiss if I didn't mention Leigh Peele's book "Starve Mode" if you're interested in more details about the metabolic changes that can happen when you lose weight.

6 Comments

I've just got a quick, fun post for you all today.

Before we start this little quiz I'd like to explain why I decided to make this post.

If you spend much time on Facebook, especially if you follow extreme health 'purists', you'll find a lot of images like this scattered around:

Get it? The milk is blood. Because...blood is...bad?

Get it? The milk is blood. Because...blood is...bad?

Or this...

lolwat

For some reason, when we see images like those or articles explaining the points in finer detail, we tend to take it at face value.  Why would someone go through all the trouble to make that image or write that 1,000 word article unless it was true?

Unfortunately, that image is about as accurate as this quote, and not nearly as funny:

In this exercise I'm trying to drive this point home:

Just because it's in a book, on the internet, or got shared by a thousand people does not make it true.

Spotting Health Bullshit

Could you even recognize the truth if you saw it?  Let's find out.  In the pairs of images below, I edited the text in one of them with complete nonsense I came up with off the top of my head, or just made a completely new image.  (Photoshop skill handicap)

Can you find the fake? (I hope I did a decent enough job editing to make the answers not obvious...as well, you may need to click on the images to bring up a larger version to read the text)

#1 - Let's start with something easy.
ToF5

 

#2 - It's almost like the numbers were pulled out of a hat.

ToF4

#3 - Note that you must eat EXACTLY what's listed below...why?  Your guess is as good as mine.

ToF3

#4 - Ahhh a picture of something "natural" next to a laundry list of cures for very serious ailments that have been plaguing humans since the dawn of time.  Sounds legit.

ToF1

#5 - Yes, pure sugar in the form of honey or agave works wonders for your waistline.

ToF2

 

Answer Key

Let me take up some space here with some cuddly puppies so you don't accidentally spoil it for yourself:

#1 - Original on the left

#2 - Original on the right

#3 - Original on the right

#4 - Actually both of these are real.  TEN THOUSAND TIMES STRONGER THAN CHEMOTHERAPY!!!  KILL 10,000 TIMES THE CELLS!

#5 - Original on the left

How did you do?  Probably could have gotten a good score judging by not-quite-perfect font replacements, but hopefully they weren't too bad.

In any case, health bullshit around the internet is RAMPANT.  Everything cures cancer, everything causes cancer, everything is a harmful chemical, everything is an all-natural cure for HIV despite HIV itself being all-natural.

Be skeptical of what you see.

 

After announcing that I'd make a Facebook page by the end of April, I finally took the plunge.

Hey, I'm only a month late...

In any case, if you enjoy my articles and want to get a little more in the week between posts, go ahead and follow Making Sense of Modern Fitness on Facebook!  Click the link here or just click the little 'like' box on the sidebar to your right.

Nothing more for you guys today, sadly...unless you're following me on Facebook! But here's a cute puppy for you in the meantime:

SO FLUFFY!!!!

5 Comments

You started seeing them pop up a few weeks ago.  It was probably slow at first - maybe just one Facebook advertisment or one little post on Pinterest:

21Days2

Abs everywhereeee

But now that Memorial Day and the end of the school year are getting closer and closer, you're reminded that your body is just so not ready for the beach more often than Hallmark reminded you to buy a card for Mother's Day:

21Days

Oh look, more faceless abs!

But let's get real here for a moment.

Yeah, it's nice to think that you can look like that model in 21 days, and the juxtaposition of her abs next to "21 Days" is 100% to make you feel like that's what you'll get...even though both you and the advertiser know you know better.

Unfortunately, deep down, your emotional brain doesn't give a damn what your logical brain has to say on the matter.  It wants to be sexually appealing and comfortable NOW dammit!

But as you've read in my Bullshit Detector ebook, you know it's my mission to give you the information to better arm your logical brain.  So let's ask the only actually relevant question about 21 day weight loss challenges:

How much can you really change in 21 days?

Is 21 days enough time to make any actual visual change?  Can you look better in your swimsuit in a mere three weeks?

Anecdotes won't help us here.  When you're trying to logically judge whether you should believe in a certain idea or purchase a product, the last place you want to get your information is from the person promoting it.

Think of it this way, have you ever applied to a job, and they ask you the question "what's your biggest weakness?"  Your answer and your parent's or former employer's answers are probably quite a bit different:

  • You: My biggest weakness is that I'm a perfectionist. (Nice 'humble-brag' answer, good job!)
  • Your Mom: Her biggest weakness is that she takes 3 hours to do her hair in the morning and always makes us late.
  • Former Employer: Her biggest weakness is that it takes her 3 weeks to do a project that should only take 3 days.

My biggest weakness is that I'm a workaholic. No, I mean that I just care too much about customers...actually it's that I have a hard time maintaining a good work / life balance because I work sooo hard. Or umm...actually it's that I have mild OCD when it comes to expense reports and logging my hours. IT'S ALL OF THE ABOVE!!

See how the message sounds quite a bit different depending on the perspectives and motivations of the person telling it?  This is one of many reasons you can't just Google "21 Day Weight Loss Challenge Results" and expect to get an unbiased opinion.

Where can you get an unbiased opinion?  Glad you asked!

Scientific Studies!!

So let's run the gamut of ways you could try to change your physique in 21 days by looking at studies on various diet plans, starting with the most drastic:

Complete Fasts

What better way to understand how much you can actually change yourself in 21 days than at its most extreme - abstaining from all food for 3 weeks?

There aren't a ton of studies done on normal, healthy people fasting for extended periods of time...it's probably not always the easiest to squeak by the ethics committee.

But, you'll most certainly lose a ton of weight.  How much depends on what size you start out at, but it's going to be a combination of:

  • Water
  • Muscle Tissue
  • Fat
  • Lack of anything solid in your system (aka no poop. Yeah, it registers on the scale)

But if you're a healthy, ~120-130 pound,  21-25 year old female, you might lose about 17 pounds of a combination of the above substances. (1)

A few studies (2, 3) seem to indicate that you can expect about half of weight loss to be due to water.  (As well, you can reasonably expect to gain all the weight back later. (4) )

At the same time, you run the risk of significantly increasing your cortisol levels, becoming emotionally distraught, and fairly irritable...so you'll maybe look a little better in a bikini but you won't give a crap.  On top of that, can you imagine how miserable and bloated you'd feel after breaking your 3-week fast on some chili cheese fries?!

Could look hot on outside, but feel miserable inside.

(To be fair, this study only had 5 subjects and most of them did just fine emotionally during the 3-week fast.  However, they were basically secluded during the research and not given options to consume food.  If you increased the sample size and tempted them with food at every turn - like the real world does - what would the outcome have been?) 

Alternate-Day Fasting

So let's say you want to do something more "reasonable", like say, only fast for 1 day at a time rather than 3 weeks all at once.

This is accomplished by people who do a particular version of "alternate-day fasting" where the idea is that you won't eat for 1 day, then you'll get to feast the next.  Most people don't eat quite double the amount of food on the feast day, so weight loss occurs.

In one study, patients participating in alternate-day fasting for 3 weeks:

  • Lost about 2% of their original bodyweight. (5) (So, if you were 130 pounds, about 2.6 pounds)
  • About 1.1% of that was fat.  (1.4 pounds for our 130 pound example)
  • Around 0.9% was muscle and/or water. (1.2 pounds)

I know, I know after 17 pounds lost in complete fasting, 2.6 pounds sounds measly.  But keep in mind that you'll

  • Have more energy for exercise and life in general
  • Won't lose as much muscle
  • Are still in a completely reasonable and good realm of weight loss.

...Unfortunately, some participants were still hangry and irritable on their fasting days.  Go figure! So this does not appear to be a diet that could be maintained for a significant period of time by yourself.

So how about you eat a little something everyday, but cut your intake by half?  That's like the best of both worlds, right?

Low Calorie Diets

Usually these kinds of interventions (along with their sibling, the VERY Low Calorie Diet) are reserved for the super-obese who need to lose about 50 pounds of pressure off their heart and lungs now, and are in a hospital setting.  But you need to look hot in a bikini.  So that's like, comparable in urgency, right?

Well, in an old but very well-known and interesting study, a group of men were put on a diet that involved 1/2 of their daily calories needs, and were also expected to walk 22 miles each week.  (6)

One of the study participants - during the Starvation Cycle on the left and going through the Recovery Phase on the right.

This study is so well-known because of the harrowing pictures of the men after 6 months of this and their extreme emotional duress and depression during the process.  One man had to be eliminated from the experiment after just a few weeks for emotional instability.

Just how few calories were these men on to induce such dramatic weight loss and mental problems - surely something crazy like 600 per day, right?

It was ~1,600 calories per day.

To be fair, this "diet" extended over 6 months time, much longer than any 21 Day Weight Loss Challenge.  As well, the diet was mostly carbohydrates and basically no protein to prevent muscle wasting, described as:

...starvation diet reflecting that experienced in the war-torn areas of Europe, i.e., potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, dark bread, and macaroni.

Tasty.  Anyway, a summary of this experiment is:

  • Participants ate a little less than half of their maintenance calories for 6 months.
  • Diet was a high-carbohydrate, low-fat and low-protein diet.
  • Participants walked 22 miles per week.
  • Weight loss came out to an average of 1.5 pounds per week for 6 months.

...Doesn't this actually sound kinda familiar?

This diet sounds like an exaggeration of what many of us do to lose weight:

  • Eat a low-calorie, low-fat, high-carb diet.
  • Log in the miles via walking / running / cycling
  • Do so for an extended period of time - possibly indefinitely

I'm not trying to say that you're going to end up looking like the man in the above picture - health problems and mental issues and all - by following the above regimen.  If it was up to you, your body wouldn't let you get to that point assuming you didn't have an eating disorder.

What I am trying to say is if you ever beat yourself up about "falling off the wagon" after "being so good" for 5 days...think about that in a new light.  Your body doesn't like running 3 miles a day on 1,200 calories of Special K with skim milk for weeks on end.  For most of us, your body will overpower your mind.  That's probably for the best.

Hey, at least they're bucking the trend of this article and going for a 14-Day Challenge instead!

Summary: So what can you accomplish in 21 Days?

Complete Fast: ~17 pounds if you're a young, normal-weight female.  Half of this will likely be water.  The rest will be a combination of muscle tissue and fat, depending on your activity.

Alternate-Day Fasting: ~2% of your bodyweight for healthy, normal-weight people, half of it being fat.

Low Calorie Diets (~50% of daily needs): The men in the study started at ~150 pounds and lost on average 1.5 pounds per week over 6 months.

If you eat a similarly high-carb diet, you can probably expect this or a little bit more over 21 Days as weight loss is typically greater during the first few weeks.

If you eat a low-carb diet of similar calorie levels, you can expect to lose more due to losses in water weight.  Note that this won't affect your appearance much.

Overrall: In all studies, subjects gained back all, or close to all, their weight back afterwards.  Some even ended up heavier. Across the board were reports of irritability and distracting hunger, though this wasn't the case for all participants.

Moral

Look, I know the quick fix is always tempting, especially when you want to look good for a particular event.  Marketers PREY on that.  Just read Harper's Jumpstart to Skinny book (essentially a 21-Day Diet) - he repeats over and over how much you know you want to look hot for the beach / reunion / wedding!

And I'll be real with you: it's not that you're likely to kill yourself on these diets. (Though there is seriously a reason why all the participants on these diets, especially complete starvation, were under constant medical surveillance.) They're short-term, and the negative physiological consequences tend to go away after a couple days of re-feeding.  (Though the mental ones can last much longer, which is my main concern) You'll probably even lose a fair amount of fat, an amount that you might even notice.

But now it's time for you to be real with me and with yourself: will it really make you that much happier to lose at most around 5-8 pounds of fat?  Do you want to exchange 3 weeks of stress and misery for maybe 1 good day at the beach, only to have to repeat the cycle every year because you'll likely gain the weight back from the crash diet?

WorthIt

6 pound difference - 160 on the left, 154 on the right. Worth it? Only you can answer that question.  (Also not covering my face out of anonymity, it was because I was making embarrassing faces in both pictures!)

Why not make this year the one that you do something permanent about your weight-loss goals by making small changes that add up over 365 days instead of huge changes that crumble after 21 days and leave you right where you started?

Maybe you have an iron will and you'll be really strict during your 21-Day calorie restricted diet, be really strict after, and keep the results.  But if that was the case...wouldn't it be likely you'd be at a weight you're happy with already?

If you made it this far, thanks for staying with me.  Leave a comment below, or share this with your weight-loss-hopeful friends and family if you enjoyed it!

P.S. While researching this article I came across this book on fasting.  I only read Chapter 4 about fasting for medical interventions, but it looks like a good resource on the use of fasting for various reasons throughout human history!

P.P.S. I realize that many of the studies I posted are old, or I only used 1 study where it would be better to use at least 3.  Many of them have small sample sizes...unfortunately finding 3-week long starvation or semi-starvation studies on healthy, non-obese individuals was really, really tough.  So I worked with what I could find. 

8 Comments

What would health and fitness advertising look like if marketers had to be honest?  I was inspired to do this post after seeing the hilarious before & after pictures here - I'm not sure who did these originally, but I owe them for a lot of laughs.

I had WAY too much fun doing these.  Someone should have been taping me giggling like an idiot while trying to come up with witty sentences in Photoshop.

In any case, I thought it had been far too long since I'd done something similar to my popular "Pinterest Modifications" post, so without further ado, here's my take on a few popular articles and products we've seen over the years...

AdRedo1

Alternative caption "9 foods that, just like everything else on Earth, contain chemicals."

AdRedo2

"Eat this, not that" potentially an experiment in "how many books can you sell off of one concept?"

AdRedo3

Please pay close attention to my pro-level Photoshop skills here.

AdRedo4

Any takers on how many VS models have done this workout?

AdRedo5

God I hate slideshows.

AdRedo6

Other products used: going back in time before having children, eating less, moving more.

AdRedo7

I mean this could be any exercise DVD / magazine headline / program promotion really.

And this last one is a little off-topic, but this was my theory for why Cosmo keeps talking about sex when any sane sex-having female would probably find those articles a tad ridiculous:

AdRedo8

I know this because I have experience being an 11 year-old girl.