From a Paper in the AMA Journal: Let’s End the Diet Debates

Right after I posted this last post, I read an article that makes it seem like I’m not alone in my thinking.  The authors of a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association just last month seem to be thinking along the same lines as I am:

As the obesity epidemic persists, the time has come to end the pursuit of the “ideal” diet for weight loss and disease prevention. The dietary debate in the scientific community and reported in the media about the optimal macronutrient-focused weight loss diet sheds little light on the treatment of obesity and may mislead the public regarding proper weight management.

I find the ‘science wars’ on nutrition and weight loss tiring. Looking for the ‘best’ approach to weight loss is the wrong approach. ‘Best’ needs to be defined by the individual. Everyone who wants to lose weight should experiment with multiple approaches and find not only the approach that works for them, but also makes them happy. It’s a lifelong thing – and I hate the word ‘struggle’ – I’d rather call it a ‘practice’. Every day, show up for your diet, ‘punch the clock’, make the effort and then after giving an approach a chance, evaluate how you feel physically and psychologically.

If you gave it your best and it doesn’t seem to be working – try something different. Try a variation on what you are doing – or a different approach completely.

I respect other people’s beliefs even if I don’t agree with them. Science might point us in directions worth exploring but individuals need to take personal responsibility and find what works for them to lose weight, feel good and be happy. Also – ‘science’, being a human endeavor, is fraught with errors, false assumptions and personal biases. I am listening to lectures on how science knows what it knows and the lecturer makes the point that what science believed what the truth in the 18th century was entirely replaced in the 19th century and again in the 20th century. It stands to reason that what we think of as ‘truth’ today will again be replaced.

Vegan works for you? Go for it! Paleo? More power to you. Calorie restriction and exercise? All fine by me. I’d rather not argue but instead find common ground and learn from each other instead of calling people names and trying to be ‘right’.

4 thoughts on “From a Paper in the AMA Journal: Let’s End the Diet Debates

  1. Excellent writing as usual. I too get tired of the ‘struggle’ and am always looks for ways to tweak my ‘diet’ to make it work. And I think that’s why it does work because I am always mixing it up, and trying new ways to do things so it’s not the same old same old, doesn’t become boring and doesn’t stop work. Keep on blogging, I am sure at times it feels like you are talking to yourself, but sometimes the best insights come from talking to yourself 🙂 Hope your current experiement is going well, you haven’t said how you are doing so looking forward to an update on how your newest tweak is working for you. My approach although it gets tweaked, it always low(er) carb, high(er) fat, enough protein, and calorie control. As a woman who doesn’t exercise (much) I can’t get away with much, and have to really watch calories but it is what it is, and no amount of moaning and complaining is going to make it any better, so I do what needs to be done, and get it done. Like you say, show up daily, punch the clock, do what needs done and garner the rewards. And if there are days when I don’t show up as much as I should, well then I don’t lose or I gain, and I accept it, adjust things and get back on the wagon.

  2. Good job on this post!

    “…the lecturer makes the point that what science believed what the truth in the 18th century was entirely replaced in the 19th century and again in the 20th century. It stands to reason that what we think of as ‘truth’ today will again be replaced.”

    Entirely replaced? Not hardly. In truth, truth never changes; it simply exists. Only our opinions change. In my opinion, the lecturer has conflated truth with opinion. I wish scientists would stop doing that. It’s very confusing for those who rely on scientific opinion instead of scientific evidence.

    By way of reminder:

    Excerpt from an essay by John Stuart Mill entitled “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.”

    “There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument; but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it.

    Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. (norms of rational conversation are allowed to do their work)

    In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that can be said against him, to profit by as much of it as was just, and to expound to himself and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion and by studying all modes in which in can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of the human intellect to become wise in any other manner.

    The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it; for being cognizant of all that can at least obviously be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers – knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties instead of avoiding them and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter – he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.”

    Never forget that a fact is always true!

    1. First off, I cannot do justice to the ideas conveyed in these lectures in a sentence. The discussion of what ‘truth’ is spans at least 8 lectures. Perhaps the best way to address your response would be to say that while a fact is always true, we humans have been rather poor in our judgement of fact throughout history, so perhaps facts are impractical for us mere humans and instead we need to suffice with probabilities and take personal responsibility for what we decide are ‘facts’ for our own lives and not attempt to foist them upon others.

      There’s another way around this. In the lecture series the professor describes the debate about what heat is from the 1800s. At the time the belief that heat was a substance given off by an object. Joseph Fourier (1768-1830) waded into this discussion and created a series of formulas that explained heat but didn’t try to explain what it is.

      I believe the lecturer’s point at this juncture was that Fourier didn’t care to get into shouting matches with people who believed heat was a substance – he wanted to show how it works – whatever it was. In a way, he was able to create provable fact without knowing or caring what was true.

      Engineering is a science-based, fact-laden field that can be so because it is self-evident: if the gizmo doesn’t work, you got your facts wrong.

      There few fields outside of this where ‘fact’ can be so easily proven, and nutrition is not one of them. While there are indeed facts in nutrition, many of them are unknowable in my opinion. We have to rely on empiricism and probability.

      So while a fact is always true, for many aspects of life I believe they only exist in the abstract and it is hubris for us to believe we know them. Instead, I take the approach to ‘act as if’ a certain hypothesis is true and take the risk of being wrong. This approach doesn’t require me to constantly seek self-validation and I don’t get all twisted in my shorts when someone disagrees with me.

      I wrote about this in 2007.

  3. “So while a fact is always true, for many aspects of life I believe they only exist in the abstract and it is hubris for us to believe we know them.”


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