This is a breakdown of John Gribbin’s argument as made in his book Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique (2011) for why most star systems in the Milky Way Galaxy are uninhabitable for technological life.
On December 19, 2020, I wrote a review of this book, giving it 4/5 stars. I thought it was a fun thought experiment which made me wonder and ponder our existence in the universe. If you are interested in checking it out, please find it here. There were four reasons that I did not give it a 5/5: (1) there was no summary of the argument, (2) there was no clear outline about why it is important, (3) the conclusion was extreme, and (4) the title of the book is not honest.
On December 30, 2020, I summarized the author’s argument consicely into 12 premises and a conclusion for why we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy as a technological civilization. If you are interested to check it out, please find it here. His argument first reduces the the amount of stars that could harbor life from 100% of the Milky Way to just 10%, based on metallicity and location. On January 1, 2021, I broke down this argument for why most of the Milky Way area is uninhabitable for technological civilizations here. But this still accommodates 10% of the stars in the Milky Way. That leaves between 10 – 40 billion stars to consider as potential systems to harbour life. However, the author shreds this down from 10% to 0.06% in his discussion about habitable star systems and types, the topic of this post.
In this post, I will break down John Gribbin’s argument for why most star systems in the Milky Way are uninhabitable for technological civilizations. His argument is as follows:
Most stars are not the right type to accommodate complex life like ours.
75% of the stars in our neighbourhood are red-dwarf stars with about 10% the mass of our sun.
Their habitable zones are very narrow and extremely close to their star, much closer than mercury is to the sun. They are around 5 million kilometres to their star, whereas mercury never gets closer than 46 million km to the sun. Because of this, these planets would be tidally locked, where one side of the planet always faces the sun, and the other side faces away. This means that one side the atmosphere would freeze off, and the other side would get scorched. You are also much closer to the star and therefore more vulnerable to solar radiation.
A note that the author does not make here is that some argue that tidally locked planets would have a zone of habitability between the frozen and scorched sides where temperatures would be just right. The oceans may not completely freeze or burn off because of circulation. This may be true, and create a habitable area under water. However, air moves in response to differences in pressure (related to temperature). Hot air rises and cold air (more dense) moves in. If you have an extremely cold side, and an extremely hot side, such as with a tidally locked planet, this would create winds more violent than we can imagine on earth. The chance of a “green belt” (as they call it) forming on land plummets. There may be a possibility of some lichen-like life on land here, but I am skeptical of complex life thriving on land. Please correct me if I am off-base.
Red Dwarves are also much more active than the sun. They blast their solar systems with radiation that would strip away atmospheres and blast life with dangerous radiation. You are also more vulnerable to things like solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
Large stars also have more difficult habitable zones. They have much shorter lives and are way hotter. Therefore, intelligent life most likely couldn’t evolve there either. The range of habitable stars would be only K-type, F-type and G-type.
Most stars inhabit multiple star systems.
Most stars orbit at least one other star which threatens stable planetary orbits, circular planetary orbits, stable habitable zones, and stable climates. Therefore, most multiple star systems cannot accommodate the evolution of technological life.
Only 20% of stars are single. Even in single-star systems, there is a lot that could go wrong for complex life. However, binary, or triple star systems are more dangerous for the planets who reside there. Very stable orbits can only occur in a narrow range of conditions in them. But even where they do occur, it is unlikely that they are circular, causing the planet to dip in and out of the habitable zone.
Fluctuating heat caused by the binary system would also cause problems (different temperatures of each star). Just a 4.5-degree (Celsius) shift on earth today could threaten civilization. The habitable zone would also vary greatly. The two stars would be getting hotter at different rates as they mature, which would impact the stability of planetary climates.
Most stars do not show refractory element patterns conducive for rocky planet formation
Stars that have depleted refractory elements at their surface tend to have rocky planets, stars who have not tend to have gaseous giants in their early solar system. Only 10% of stars exhibit refractory element patterns.
When the sun was about 2 million years old it received a blast of iron-60 and aluminium-26 from a supernova very close to us at the time.
Our sun had an unusually high metallicity – which is a puzzle easily solved by the above statement.
However today, sun has less heavier elements at its surface than the interior – vaporizing refractory elements like calcium and aluminium at high temperatures – these elements are common in rocky planets like the earth. So, the sun has been depleted of refractory elements which in turn have been used to form rocky planets.
The behaviour of our sun and the formation of rocky planets is related. That depleting these “refractory” elements at its surface is related to the formation of rocky planets. Early on these elements that would have been present in the sun’s atmosphere went into the formation of rocky planets.
Depletion of refractories seems to be a signature that there are rocky planets like ours.
Stars that don’t exhibit this behaviour tend to have gaseous planets in the inner solar system to the detriment of any possible rocky planets that formed there.
Refractory elements are not volatile and include things like silicate that make up rocks – and form asteroids, rocky planets, and moons. Other elements are volatile and form gaseous planets.
Only about 10% of stars exhibit refractory element patterns that fit into this category
In a previous post, I broke down John Gribbin’s argument for why most of the Milky Way Galaxy is uninhabitable. He argued that 90% of stars in the Milky Way are not habitable for technological life due to their location with respect to metallicity content. That leaves only 10% of stars to consider for the discussion today.
75% of these stars are red dwarves, or M-Stars. This lowers the percentage of stars to consider from 10% to 2.5%.
Only K-Type, F-Type, and G-Type stars should be considered to accommodate technological life. This reduces the number of stars from 2.5% to 2%
Multiple star systems are dangerous. Only 30% of the 2% are left – 0.6%. He notes that only 20% of stars are single. So here he includes some multiple star systems as candidates by incorporating 30% for consideration.
Only 10% of stars exhibit patterns of depleting refractory elements at their surface to be used for rocky planet formation. That leaves only 0.06% of stars left.
Even if it we were to ignore all other premises (here), you could still argue that 0.06% is rare. That is 0.06% of 400 billion. That leaves roughly 240 million stars out there, in the galactic habitable zone, with the right kind of star, in the right kind of star system, and exhibits behaviour that depletes refractory elements at their surface to form rocky planets. Many of these stars may be younger or older than our sun, in various stages of their life cycles.
So, it is worth noting that stars live in and die, leaving a relatively narrow period of time that they can accommodate technological life:
It took almost 4 billion years to produce complex life on earth
The sun is heating up giving us a limited amount of time before the oceans are evaporated
Time is important, and the stage in the star’s life cycle is indicative of the probability that complex life exists within its solar system
These are just a few premises for why John Gribbin argues that we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy. Other interesting points to drive that 0.06% down even further (he argues) are: (1) that evolution is not goal-oriented, but rather adapts to environmental changes, (2) our solar system is uniquely accommodating, (3) our planet is uniquely accommodating, (4) the explosion of complex life was a rare event that does not guarantee lineages who could result in technological civilizations, (5) mass extinctions play a critical role in evolution, (6) there are several looming existential threats to humanity, and (7) human level intelligence is rare, even in the context of complex life.
If you are interested in having those arguments broken down further, as argued in the book, please let me know in the comment section below.
I think the author makes a compelling argument, that provokes imagination and big thinking across vast expanses of time and space. However, I am not necessarily convinced by the argument, as the conclusion at the end of the book is extreme. If we take his argument at face value, I think that one conclusion we could make is that technological life in our Milky Way Galaxy is rare, and the the likelihood of two existing at the same point in time and close enough in space to recognize each other is vanishingly small. With that said, not all arguments were totally convincing, and there are still many unknowns.
As always, I found this topic very interesting. But I am more interested to hear what your thoughts and opinions are. If you have any thoughts, comments, feedback or ideas, please share them in the comment section below. I am sure they will create an interesting dialogue. If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and subscribe, or follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. I always appreciate it when you do.
Thank you so much for reading this post. I look forward to my next book review on “This Is Marketing” by Seth Godin. If this book interests you, stay tuned for future posts.
Welcome! Thank you so much for checking us out at Maple Fried Rice. Today, my beautiful wife, Josie Jiang, and myself wish you all a Happy Valentines Day!
In this video, I ask Josie what a typical Valentines Day for her would be like in China, and she asks me about my experience in Canada. I then learn that in China, they don’t just celebrate one Valentines Day, but rather they have a Chinese Valentines Day (七夕, or the Qixi Festival) in the summer as well. So much fun!
Thank you so much for watching. Happy Valentines Day and love you all!
On January 30, 2021, I wrote Book Breakdown Part 1: Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size (here). On January 23, 2021, I wrote a book review for Health at Every Size (2010) by Lindo Bacon (here). I gave this book a 3/5 for three main reasons: (1) the argumentation and logic was not convincing, (2) some of the messages were dangerous, and (3) it was unecessarily aggressive and polarizing. However, the book had several points that resonated with me, giving a swath of great advice, and made a strong stance against diet culture and weight-based discrimination.
This post is the second of two that breaks down Lindo Bacon’s key points made in Health at Every Size. Last post, I broke down the first five major points, and in the this one, I discuss the rest.
BreakdownofHealth at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight, Part 2
Key Point #6:
We are victims of fat politics and there is no evidence that obesity is dangerous to your health.
Lindo Bacon opens their argument by attacking the statement that thousands of Americans will die from obesity. They claim that the science on obesity is flawed and that on average, overweight people actually live longer than normal weight people.
They say that the obesity epidemic was manufactured, that obesity does not increase the risk of death. They call it the “Death by Fat Myth”. They go on to attack several linkages health professionals have established between diet, weight and disease including hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and atherosclerosis. They argue that fat can actually protect you from disease claiming that there are many conditions that are observed in normal weight people that are less common in obese people such as cancer, chronic bronchitis, anemia, type 1 diabetes and osteoporosis.
This argument is frustrating because they are using data to reach inappropriate conclusions. I struggle to follow the logic because the diseases they list are not caused by being thin – so extrapolating that obesity protects you from them does not make sense. The thinness related to these conditions may be induced from smoking (Cancer, chronic bronchitis), lack of nourishment and eating disorders (anemia, osteoporosis) or a myriad of other reasons. This is where their critical thinking and argumentation really comes under scrutiny. They claim that being overweight can protect you from certain diseases, those diseases more commonly seen in thin people. The examples they use are flawed because the thinness is a result of other pre-existing mental, health or economic conditions. They are not a result of thinness, but rather thinness may be a result from the pre-existing condition.
For example, they argue that being obese can potentially protect you from type 1 diabetes. This kind of argument is dangerous and scientifically flawed. This is a dangerous claim because obesity is related to type 2 diabetes. The reason why that claim is scientifically flawed is that thinness is often a result of type 1 diabetes. Thinness does not by any means induce type 1 diabetes. In fact, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented by weight regulation or anything that we are aware of for that matter. Therefore, obesity cannot prevent such diseases.
They argue that your genes play a big role: that “genes determine the result of the habits you choose”. If that were true, then environmental influences (like advertising and politics that they argued about earlier) are not a big deal. This is the old debate about nature versus nurture. The likely answer is that they both play significant roles. However, a lot of environmental factors can trigger genetic factors as well. Someone genetically vulnerable to cancer may not get cancer, but under certain environmental conditions, they may be at greater risk. Someone not predisposed to cancer may get it from repeated exposure to carcinogens. We cannot say exactly how to weigh genetic and environmental influences because they vary from circumstance to circumstance, person to person. So, I cannot agree with their analysis.
They say that being obese or thin is mostly a result of your genetic predisposition of storing fat. They also argue that everyone cannot lose weight (and maintain the weight-loss) by eating healthful food and regular exercise (as well as other methods).
They attack the experts and say they may be influenced by cultural norms or use shady science tactics. They argue that all they are doing is fear mongering about weight – that the weight-loss industry is worth a lot of money – “fearmongering about weight is worth billions”.
Again, the argumentation here is aggressive, and unconvincing.
Key point #7:
Respect yourself, regardless of body-size.
I really enjoyed the message here about self-hate and your body shape. It is true that people “remain stuck to the body they’ve grown to loathe”. As if hating your body should be the motivator to change. They say that change should come from valuing yourself so much that there is invested interest to change. If you love yourself, you will be motivated to treat yourself well, which may include exercising more and eating healthier foods.
They make another good point about how we frame healthy foods in our diets. If we are eating salads as a tool or chore for weight-loss, then how will we be able to actually enjoy the flavours of all the fresh, vibrant produce it contains? Furthermore, being thin may not result in getting a supportive partner, more friends or acceptance by your family. People have all these ideas about what being thin will do for them, providing a sense of false hope.
In response to that, I do believe being thin as a result of a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of certain diseases and make you feel good. I am not thin, per se. However, I have found that by losing weight I feel better. I feel lighter. It is easier to move, hike, jog, run, bike, walk around, get up, sit down, sleep. It is easier on my joints, I have less swelling. For me, having a healthy weight induces a much better quality of life. Building muscle mass makes me feel strong, life is easier, it is easier to do almost everything when you go from little muscle, to just a little more. When I gain weight, it is because I am lazy and lack self control – something they say is a myth. They say that “thin is better” is another myth – I just need to disagree here. I am not thin – but being thinner than I was, has been life-changing.
In their study, some patients claimed their obesity started with some childhood trauma, a self-representation about motherhood, or a desire to be noticed by taking up more space. These psychological frameworks reinforce weight-gain. So, their obesity is closely tied to their mental health or worldview. Of course, a program that addresses mental health, self-acceptance, self-esteem and letting go of their obsession with weight would help get positive results. Addressing mental health may be a gap in obesity awareness. However, by no means does this disprove modern understandings about the science of weight – as they imply.
They want us to avoid negative talk, frame our thoughts differently, seek support and to seize the moment, pieces of advice that should resonate with us all.
Key Point #8:
Eat when you are hungry.
Here they give you several guidelines: eat delicious food, pay attention to what you eat, satisfy your hunger, and address emotional eating. I like this message, however, earlier in the book they adamantly argue against the use of rules in your diet. Here, they seem to be giving us rules, but call them guidelines instead.
They urge you to keep a journal to understand your hunger, fullness, emotions, feelings, and satisfaction. Without journaling, they assert, you may not be able to notice certain feelings or sensations you have from eating. Becoming sensitive to how your body responds to food is at the heart of the book, and the concept of intuitive eating.
Great points. I agree with the core message to eat when you are hungry and don’t deny your hunger as a result of weight regulation efforts. Eating should be in response to how your body feels, rather than avoided and shamed as a result of your weight goals.
Key Point #9:
Live well to be healthy.
Here they urge you to seek a healthy lifestyle.
They want you to reframe exercise. When on the diet and exercise regime, your workouts may seem to be a chore. Exercise rather should be fun and does not need to be at the gym necessarily, if you don’t enjoy it. Just be active by doing things like delivering mail in person, going for walks, and stretching.
They urge us to build in activity throughout the day, even by things as little as throwing away your remote control so you must change the channel manually. Moving can be fun, the outdoors is beautiful and there is so much to see, smell and touch in this world.
They want us to address the resistance we have to physical activity albeit feelings of humiliation, ridicule, injury, or self-confidence.
Here, they also advise us to eat a whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet. Great advice. They claim that by doing so, you could reset your “set-point” weight to a healthier level. So, I guess what you eat does matter – to maintain a healthy setpoint weight. Something I they argued did not matter much earlier in the book. Earlier on, they argued that what you eat does not really matter when it comes to weight, now they are taking it back. I found this book to be full of mixed messaged like this. That kind of communication is dangerous. Anyone could pick up this book, skim through some main points, then totally get the wrong idea.
They tell you exactly what most dietitians and nutritionists would (the same health professionals they attacked earlier on claiming their science is flawed) – to eat a variety of food, primarily plants. They say that intuitive eating will only get you so far, that “some conscious effort” is needed to ensure you get all the appropriate nutrients. For example, if you are lacking iron or zinc, your body may not give you any urge to eat foods high in them.
They have more rules here. Something they told us to avoid early on. So, they call hem guidelines. That really bothers me because it seems hypocritical and is more about semantics. They attack the health and wellness community by their use of rules, then proceed to give us many rules under the guise of “guidelines”. However, these guidelines are great, the common type of advice that you hear from many mainstream health professionals:
Eat real food (not processed crap)
Enjoy what you eat
Eat a lot of plants
Key Point # 10:
You can change your taste.
They author argues that you can change your taste. If you crave junk food, fast food, or unhealthy food, rather than healthy foods, you can change that. Don’t eat healthy food because you have to. Don’t be restrictive and forceful with your eating habits, rather be open and try new, healthy things.
They claim that we can break old habits. We can change how we perceive meals and food and explore what plants can offer your taste buds.
I think this is true. We can change our taste buds. By eating a variety of different plant foods, we can explore a much more diverse and vibrant diet and discover insatiable foods that we may not have considered previously. In my experience, I never liked soy milk, tomatoes or peppers, but grew to love them by exploring different ways of using them.
Key Point # 11:
Society needs to change their perception about weight.
The author is really trying to change the public’s perception about weight. They say that weight is not the issue, healthy living is. Rather than attacking weight, address health – being active and eating a whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet.
They seek to break the stigma about weight, saying that the science does not support society’s assumption about obesity. They claim that the war on fat was lost, that attacking weight resulted in eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship between our society, diet and weight.
They claim to have the solution, to address lifestyle factors rather than weight to destigmatize fat and shatter the stereotypes around weight. To do this we need to shift from a weight-centered view of health to one that celebrates a diversity of body sizes. They urge the scientific community to fix their broken method of weight-related research and disentangle relationships between government, industry and universities that negatively impact the health of citizens.
They urge us to avoid supporting the processed food industry who sell us empty calories and unhealthy junk. They urge policy makers and industry to address social inequities when it comes to access to information and healthy food.
Finally, they urge health professionals and the public to stop making weight the central issue, but rather to address lifestyle factors. They are disappointed with the extent that weight shaming, and weight related discrimination proliferates in our society.
One issue I had was with their argument that weight related disease is more influenced by genetic factors than weight. This may be true, however, if you are genetically predisposed to weight related diseases, then losing weight should greatly reduce your risk. Yes, genetics plays a role but lifestyle factors related to weight, and your weight specifically can be mitigating factors for weight-related health conditions.
I appreciate what the author is doing in this chapter, urging health professionals to destigmatize weight and rather address lifestyle factors. Maybe this is a better approach, I don’t know. However, I think the route they took to get there was flawed, namely by attacking the science of obesity poorly.
This book was interesting. As frustrated as I am with the argumentation, Lindo Bacon makes several great points and impactful messages. I agree with all the advice about healthy living – which is the same advice I hear health professionals say when they urge people to find a healthy weight (especially to obese people who need to lose weight). However, I disagree with how they got there.
They say to follow the science, but only the science they prescribe you, as mainstream science is flawed. However, I found their use of logic in their scientific arguments to be lackluster, stretching evidence beyond its applicatory scope. They say things like obesity could protect you from type 1 diabetes, chronic bronchitis and cancer. They claim that overweight people live longer. These are all claims based on unreasonable extrapolations, poor comparisons, and bad logic. Presenting them to the public in such a fashion is dangerous.
Thank you so much for reading this summary of Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size. I sure found this interesting. I am much more interested to hear what your thoughts and opinions are. If you have any feedback, comments, or ideas, please share them in the comment section below. I am sure it will create an interesting dialogue.
If you enjoyed this post, please like and subscribe, I really appreciate it when you do. You can also follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks.
On January 23, 2021, I wrote a book review for Health at Every Size (2010) by Lindo Bacon (here). I gave this book a 3/5 for three main reasons: (1) the argumentation and logic was not convincing, (2) some of the messages were dangerous, and (3) it was unecessarily aggressive and polarizing. However, the book had several points that resonated with me, giving a swath of great advice, and made a strong stance against diet culture and weight-based discrimination.
This post is one of two that will break down Lindo Bacon’s key points made in Health at Every Size. It will breakdown the first five major points, and in the next one, I will discuss the rest.
Prior to reading this breakdown, please note that Lindo Bacon prefers to be referred to by the gender-neutral pronouns “them” and “they”. So, please be cognizant of this when reading this post as when I state that “they argue”, or “they claim”, I am referring to Lindo, rather than two or more authors.
BreakdownofHealth at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight, Part 1
In this breakdown, I will share with you the first five key points the author makes in this book. Some of which I agree with, others, I do not.
Key Point #1:
You body has a built-in mechanism to regulate your weight.
The first chapter introduces us to the concept of a “fat-meter”, that our bodies have a natural weight which it gravitates towards called your “set-point”. They describe it as “built-in mechanism” that tells your body to boost your metabolism after over-eating and weight gain or slow it down after under-eating and lost weight. This explains why people who diet often gain weight afterwards, rendering it pointless. However, if you are struggling to maintain weight and are considered over-weight, this meter may not be functioning correctly and cannot correctly determine your setpoint. They promise the reader that after completing this book you will be able to reset your fat meter to naturally reach your healthiest weight.
They argue that your setpoint weight is mostly genetic. Dieting reminds our bodies of famine which forces them to store fat more easily. Your fat cells communicate with your body to regulate its functions. When you lose weight below a setpoint, your body recognizes it as a threat. By dieting and losing weight below that setpoint, your body may respond by increasing it to protect itself.
They object to diet culture here, a point that I agree with. Fad diets can be dangerous and ineffective for long term weight loss. Better advice would be to live a healthy lifestyle rich in exercise, social activities, and whole foods, as the author gives later in the book.
I am skeptical about the “set-point weight” concept, but do believe there are grains of truth in it. Our bodies do compensate for under-eating, and starvation. However, it may not be so simple as to say that you have a natural setpoint weight that your body reverts to. Weight is a complex, and an incomplete science that varies across cultures, genetics and lifestyles. I think it may be a useful term when explaining certain characteristics about how your body responds to weight but lacks grounds to say it is as simple as they imply.
Key Point #2:
If you struggle with weight, your weight-regulatory system may be broken.
If someone struggles with weight, the author claims that their fat meter may not be working. This is because they are not driven to eat by hunger anymore. Rather, they are driven to eat by boredom, sadness, anger, loneliness, or a host of other emotions or circumstances. It could also be that past behaviours increased the setpoint weight making a thinner build much more difficult to achieve.
They argue that eating in response to hunger will not make you gain weight, but denying or ignoring hunger will force your body to protect itself by storing fat more efficiently.
They identify that Americans do not enjoy food as much as other cultures. Where Americans would call chocolate cake a guilty pleasure, the French call it a celebration. They imply that the reason French people suffer less heart disease and obesity than Americans is not only what they eat, but also how they eat. Part of this argument resonates with me. Food should be fun and enjoyable, not shameful and resentful.
They argue that we maintain our natural healthy setpoint weight when we actively respond to what our bodies tell us. When we challenge this process, we damage the systems that regulate it.
They categorize people into two groups: restrained and unrestrained eaters. They point out that researchers found that unrestrained eaters are more sensitive to hunger than restrained eaters. So, restrained eaters will need to be deprived of food for longer in order to feel hungry.
They argue that restrained eaters are in danger of gaining weight. Restrained eaters when faced with pizza, will eat several slices when the unrestrained eater is satisfied after one. They claim researchers found that restrained eaters, when already full, are more likely to order a dessert when enticed by a waitress than unrestrained eaters. The major difference being that restrained eaters engage with food in response to emotion more than unrestrained eaters who respond to hunger and fullness.
I appreciate the reinforcement that we should eat when we are hungry, not as a coping mechanism for various emotions or circumstances.
They attack the notion of labelling foods as good or bad. There are mixed messages here because later chapters paint a clear picture of good food to maximize in your diet and bad foods to avoid. I think the aim here is to get us to reframe how we think about food. Rather than labelling food good or bad, eat what you want but do it consciously, in response to how your body feels. Chips are often thought of as “bad”. However, are they really that bad if you limit your intake to only a small handful on rare occasions? Probably not. If you eat an entire bag impulsively though, you probably wont feel that good afterward. After you eat a salad, you feel light, full, and clean. They are trying to get us to be less restrictive with our eating. If you set yourself a dietary framework or meal-planning regime based on rules and regulations, it may take the fun out of it.
Key Point #3:
Dont trust the experts. An attack on the science of weight-loss.
They attack the science of weight-loss by saying that there is no “scientific evidence to support any theory of how to lose weight and keep it off”. They state that diet and exercise only works for a minority of people. They go on to state your failure at weight loss is not your fault and that self blame could get in your way of “what is possible”.
They say you are not completely in control of the factors that contribute to your weight such as when and what you eat or how often you exercise. I agree that we are not in complete control, there are all kinds of factors that influence our behaviour. However, we do have some control, even in how we manage those influences in our lives. Although I should not blame myself for being overweight, it was control, motivation, and support to change my lifestyle that enabled me to drop and maintain it.
I agree with the statement but disagree with the message. It feels like they are telling us to not take responsibility for our personal health and that we are not in control of our own behaviour. It is demoralizing to have someone imply that your internal locus of self-control is unwarranted, that we should relinquish responsibility of ourselves to the environmental and genetic factors that influence our behaviour.
They justify their logic by pointing to the hypothalamus, a small but important part of the brain that regulates your appetite. It may nudge you when you see junk food that you cannot resist. They say “it is not your fault” because these urges are not completely in your control, and are so powerful that they can ruin diets. They say that few people are able to overcome this.
They contest that if you eat less food you will weigh more because of your biology’s defence against starvation. They say that a study showed that women who diet over the long-term return to their original weight even if they stick to it. Furthermore, those women ended up having a larger abdominal circumference. They use this as evidence that those who reduce their calorie intake would just gain it back anyways even if they stick to their diet. There is a grain of truth here but there are huge problems with the message.
I found the study they were referring to (Howard, et, al, 2006), even though they did not properly cite it. They just say that according to a study from the Women’s Health Initiative, eating less calories does not make you lose weight. There is a glaring problem with Lindo Bacon’s analysis here. The study was conducted over the course of about eight-years, in age ranges where increasing abdominal circumference in women is expected. The science suggests that “both time (chronological aging) and ovarian aging” contribute “to substantial changes in body composition (fat and skeletal muscle mass) and waist circumference.” (Sowers, et al., 2007), which supports conclusions already well established in the literature such as in Noppa, et al. (1980), and Shimoka, et al. (1989). The waist circumference increase was not a result of your body’s weight regulation system responding to a lack of calories, rather it is a direct result of aging. In fact, the Women’s Health Initiative Study (Howard, et al., 2006) found that over the course of years, the women on the lower fat diet did not gain weight. That is great, because women tend to gain weight over these years (Sowers, et al., 2007). So, the diet actually worked. Where most women in those age ranges would gain weight, the participants in the Women’s Health Initiative did not. For this reason, the logic that Bacon uses in their argument is unconvincing.
It is also confusing because later on they argue that to reset your “fat-meter” and achieve a “healthier” body and weight, you need to eat better, and be more active. They point to low-caloirie, low-fat foods as a tool to get there. Exactly what they are arguing against in this chapter.
They go on to say that there is no evidence to suggest that exercise will make you lose weight, that research shows that people on exercise programs do not lose significant weight in the long term. They say things like studies have shown that sedentary people on average only weigh about five pounds more than those who exercise regularly.
The thing with statements like this is that people can be “thin” for many unhealthy reasons. Smoking, drinking, cancer, eating disorders, and drugs can all effect weight causing people to be thin. Weight problems are not the only symptom of sedentary lifestyles, all kinds of other health related problems are associated with that. In November 2020, the World Health Organization said that 5 million deaths per year could be avoided if people were only “more active”. Later on in the book, Lindo agrees that physical activity is good for your health.
However, here they say that people living sedentary lifestyles do not weigh much more. Lindo suggests that active people are not thinner because they are active, but maybe because they are better at managing stress or some other reason. They give lots of alternate possibilities such as exercise makes some people eat more so they don’t get the benefit of weight loss.
However, there is a clear indication that physical activity can play a role in maintaining weight-loss weight loss. According to Swift, et al (2013), physical activity “has a major role in the amount of weight regained after initial weight-loss”, that significant exercise increases the amount of weight-lost people can maintain.
Key Point #4:
What you eat does not matter when it comes to weight-loss, but what you eat does matter when it comes to weight loss.
So, we unpacked a lot in so far. Here they reaffirm that we should understand by now that dieting is not likely to encourage long-term weight loss, but rather weight gain. They say things like “What you eat – at least from the perspective of weight loss – probably doesn’t matter that much”.
But then they acknowledge that they are not surprised that what you eat is associated with weight gain. What? They just said that it does not matter what you eat for weight. They attack certain foods – bad foods (recall earlier they said to stop categorizing food as good or bad) like refined carbs and high fructose corn syrup for likely being associated with weight gain.
They claim that what you eat – particularly high fat, high sugar, processed or animal-derived products – will mess up your weight regulation system. This can then cause you to have a higher set-point weight.
Earlier on, they said that your weight does not matter, that overweight people live longer, that most people cannot lose weight and maintain that weight loss, even with diet and exercise. Now, they are saying yes you can lose weight. Changing your diet and exercise is important – exactly what health professionals recommend – but they argue health professionals rely on bad science – and Lindo’s science is good and “clinically proven”.
I really struggle with the presentation and message thus far. There is so much that is agreeable and so much that is not.
For example, they try to get you to stop dieting with rules. Rules like limit processed food, eat high fibre food are not tolerated in their regime. However, they go on to say but you should not eat processed foods and to maximize your intake of high fibre foods. They urge you to avoid artificial sweeteners, soft drinks and fat-free foods as they can mess with your weight regulation system. These sound like rules to me, but they call them guidelines – not rules. This is a matter of semantics, not a reason to attack the entire nutrition and health profession as they do.
Key Point #5:
Industry wants you to eat unhealthy food, and the government is assisting them.
They discuss how corporate marketing impacts our eating habits without us knowing using psychological tricks. Companies “nutri-wash” their products, like Pepsi Co. awarding Diet Pepsi the Smart Spot nutritional seal. They spend tens of billions in marketing and research to convince the public to buy foods. They talk about economic law, how shareholders can sue a CEO if they pursue social responsibility at the cost of maximizing profits.
They discuss food prices and government subsidies. One bushel of corn only cost about four dollars (USD at the time) and contains enough calories to sustain someone for two months (130,000 calories). The reason it is so cheap is that the government subsidizes it. Therefore, agriculture does not operate in a free market like most of the economy, but rather is protected. If a farmer cannot sell their produce for a fair price for certain crops the government will pay the difference. This is an incentive for farmers to grow more of a certain crop, even if it can’t sell.
The meat and dairy industries benefit from the subsidies too because they get cheap feed for their animals. They say that government subsidies do not cover many fruits, veggies and legumes, so schools find it difficult to get healthy food. So, rather than fruits and veggies, children get meat and dairy.
Because of the incentives, industry grows exuberant amounts of corn to sell to the animal farming and high fructose corn syrup sectors. Most fast-food menu items have corn in it – from fries fried in corn derived oils, to breaded chicken nuggets, to high fructose corn syrup in sodas. Just because it is so cheap and they can pass those savings onto you.
The second most subsidized food is soy – which could be healthy. However, most soy is converted to oil to make hydrogenated oils, soy lecithin, and other products – but is mostly processed and refined. This is opposed to using soy for tofu, tempeh or whole.
These policies and economics create a system that ensures unhealthy food that makes you gain weight is cheaper than healthy food.
They talk about how processed food (with high fat and high sugar) release opioids in your brain, which is pleasurable and encourages you to eat more. Industry is interested in you eating more because it is good for business. Getting you to eat high fat high sugar food is good for business. Maybe that is why only around 2% of food advertising is for fruits and veggies.
The food industry heavily influences the health-related organizations and health professionals. They donate to non-profits and sponsor professional events where they can disseminate information, internal studies about their products that may suggest they are healthy but only in a narrow sense.
Subway can now use the Fighting Heart Disease and Stroke Logo, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes has a Heart Healthy Logo. Coca-Cola donated 1M$ to a dentist organization and partnered with the American Academy of Family Physicians.
They attack the Dairy Industry, and they do it very well. The claim that “You Need Milk” is nonsense. They make a case that milk is not even good for you. That is true for most people, as over half the world has some degree of lactose intolerance.
They say we need to shift the blame. Industry blames the individual for overconsumption because nobody forces people to buy junk food. But they argue that because we believe in freedom of choice. Therefore, government should play the role to educate people and create incentives to eat healthy food.
I agree with a lot of the argument here. However, they frame industry in such a negative light, as if they want you to be unhealthy. As if political and economic forces have some plot against humanity. I dont think these kinds of attacks are warranted, nor does it further their goals. Industry is made up of people, they are not evil. However, I do agree that the system is not robust enough to promote and incentivise healthy foods, making them accessibile for the public. This is not because government is corrupt, rather that the system is complex and difficult to maneuver. If the public wants policy changes, we can vote that in. That is the power of democracy. So, we (the public) are also responsible. Governments in North America do not typically make decisions at will. Decisions are made through legislation (which is developed through public and stakeholder engagement), public consultation, and advice from experts. Decisions are a reflection of modern societal norms, beliefs, goals and values.
I dont think that attacking governments and industry does the cause justice. Rather, these groups are stakeholders in the interest of our discussion. Therefore, we need to treat them as stakeholders, which means being inclusive to them by establishing respectful relationships where innovation can flourish. By attacking eachother, we are polarizing people, dismantling relationships, and pitting people against eachother. Chaos is not the way forward, rather tolerance, understanding, diplomacy, diversity of perspectives and unity is.
Lindo Bacon makes many good points, creates an interesting dialogue and has lots of good advice. However, the argumentation and logic was difficult for me accept. I disagree with some points and agree with others. I also found some mixed messages, resulting in mixed feelings about the book.
Please stay tuned for my next post, where I will break down the rest of the key points made in Health at Every Size.
Thank you so much for reading this breakdown. If you enjoyed this post, please like it and subscribe, or follow me on Twitter at @interestpeaks. I always appreciate it when you do.
As always, I found this discussion interesting, but I am more interested in what your thoughts and opinions are. If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, please share them in the comment section below. I am sure it will create an interesting dialogue.
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