Did you ever wonder where that idiotic advice came from? You hear it everywhere. From your own doctor, from your next door neighbor, from the health writers in all the major papers, from just about anyone you ask. How’s the best way to lose weight? Eat less and exercise more.
Would it surprise you to learn that there is no scientific evidence that people can lose weight by eating less and exercising more? Sure, there are studies showing that it works for the short term, but who wants to put the effort into losing weight for the short term. We all want long-term, i.e., permanent, weight loss. There are no studies showing that eating less brings about permanent weight loss and no group of studies demonstrating that increasing exercise promotes weight loss. So, how does one achieve permanent weight loss? It’s easy. Ask anyone. Eat less and exercise more.
Since there is no evidence that the eat-less-exercise-more strategy works other than for the very short term, how did it become so entrenched in the minds of so many? It did it by the same means that the idea that a low-fat diet is optimal for health (another unproven hypothesis, that if anything has been shown to be just the opposite) got traction. It is a meme.
The dictionary definition of a meme is that it is an element of culture or a system of behavior that passes from one person to the next non-genetically, but more like a virus. Some ideas become memes; some don’t. The ones that do can become extremely powerful. In fact they can become so powerful that, like a deadly virus, they can kill their host.
Below is an excellent video from a TED presentation on memes by the philosopher Daniel Dennett. From it you will learn how powerful memes can be. And from it you can extrapolate why all these diverse people think the only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. Sadly, you’ll realize how difficult it’s ever going to be to change this false idea. Gary Taubes’ book is going to make a strong run at it, so let’s all keep our fingers crossed.
A bit about TED. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design and is a get together of supposedly smart people who give talks to one another much like the Renaissance Weekends, with the difference being that the Renaissance Weekends are all off the record whereas the TED talks are filmed and made available to the public. (I’ve never been to a TED meeting but MD and I have attended a Renaissance Weekend. See my post about our experience .) Whereas the Renaissance Weekends are liberal leaning but with an opposing conservative and libertarian group to make the discussions lively, TED strikes me as a way liberal-leaning get together. I doubt that you’re going to see any Karl Roves or Thomas Sowells there. But, that’s just my opinion from watching the videos over the years.
The presentation by Dennett on memes is outstanding. Enjoy.
Click here for the video
If you’re still in the mood after watching the Dennett video, take a look at this one. The speaker, Hans Rosling, from Sweden, gives a talk that wows the TED crowd. He has some truly dazzling graphics and a stupendous stunt at the end (which impressed the heck out of me. In fact, I’m considering learning it for my own talks), but, in my opinion, his talk is extremely disingenuous. Watch as the crowd leaps to its feet in raucous applause at the close. If they’re applauding the stunt, I’m right there with them. But, if as I expect, they are applauding because they swallowed Dr. Rosling’s ideas hook, line and sinker, it tells me that critical thinking isn’t a skill much in evidence at the TED meetings.
And finally, if you’re feeling depressed and down on yourself, take a look at this last video. To increase your self esteem and make you really feel upbeat and positive about your own skills, abilities and achievements, compare yourself to this 11-year old girl selected at random from all the 11-year olds out there. You’ll feel a lot better. Really.
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