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Thursday, April 4, 2013

How not to lose weight

There is something that I've learned we are missing in the education of our children.  I would say that it is "common sense," but it goes further than that.  It has to do with a capacity for logic.  It's "skepticism."

Why is this a good thing and not a bad?  To start out, true skeptics are indeed open-minded.  They just don't want to be made a fool of and believe something at face value.  A true skeptic would be thrilled if it turned out psychic powers are real.  But we do not want to just believe Joe Schmo on the street when he claims he's psychic - he has to prove it.  Scientifically.  There shouldn't be any doubt.

Skepticism, however, goes further than psychics.  We run into situations every day where we should be doubting what we are told.  Turn on the radio or the TV and you are bombarded with commercials whose sole purpose is to convince you to part with your money.  They will make any claim they can legally get away with to persuade you, and that is the problem.  Too many people don't realize that every word they are saying has been mulled over by a team of lawyers to make sure they can't get sued.  Why would lawyers have to be worried about something like that if their claims were true at face value?

The worst case I've heard recently was a radio commercial.  It is yet another "miracle weight loss" drug that will make you "lose weight, fast" without having to exercise, diet, etc.  Here's the clincher.  "These ingredients have been clinically tested to help you lose weight."  Did you catch that?

Clinically "tested."

That doesn't mean they were scientifically proven, or that science even suggests that they can help you lose weight (and, by the way, "help" us lose weight?  Shouldn't that be "make" you lose weight?).  All this means is that the makers of this likely benign and inert chemical tested it themselves and didn't tell you what the conclusions were.  For all we know, they make you fatter, or made lab rats grow a second head.  And it claims that the ingredients were tested, but not the drug itself.  Did you know that there is sulfuric acid in corn syrup?  That apples contain cyanide?  Or that bitter almonds can kill you?  But in most cases the harmful parts have been removed/processed or are too small to affect you.  And it's easy to make dangerous chemicals out of household ingredients that are, in and of themselves, benign.  So testing the ingredients isn't doing any good.

Often the weight loss drugs in question use people's lack of scientific understanding to make spurious claims.  My favorite was one that claimed that people who used the drug lost 10 pounds in 6 months, which was far less than the average person loses by just moderately exercising.  One of these products, Sensa, claims that it actually makes you lose more weight than the average.  But take a look at the ingredients and you'll find that all of them are benign or pass right through your system, doing nothing to you or your appetite.  Look carefully and you'll see that they aren't claiming the drug Sensa makes you lose weight, by but that the Sensa System does.  And what is that system?  When you use Sensa, you are asked to count your calories and mark down what you eat.  That simple act, keeping a food journal, makes you cognizant of how much you are eating and makes you eat healthier.

There, I just saved you a bunch of money.

Doubting everything you hear is not a bad thing, it is a cautious thing that can prevent you from losing money, or even keep you out of jail.  As Descartes put it, "I doubt, therefore I am."  If you are indeed looking to lose weight, first you should go to your doctor and ask him/her for advice.  Then, you should start exercising (provided your doctor has given you the go-ahead).  Finally, eat your food in moderation, and chose the healthiest foods you can.  Don't eat until you are full - just eat until you are no longer hungry.  And eat slowly.  Give your brain time to realize that you're no longer hungry.  I am not a nutrition expert, a doctor, or a weigh-loss guru.  I'm just a guy who likes to think things through.

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