Book Breakdown Part 2: Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size

By Cory Davis

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.

Breakdown of Health 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.

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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.

For those interested in the relationship between weight and longevity, please see Dr. Michael Gregor’s Obesity Paradox short video here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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
  • Be active

Key Point # 10:

You can change your taste.

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

Book Breakdown Part 1: Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size

Health at Every Size Book Breakdown Part One

By Cory Davis

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.

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight: Bacon, Linda:  9781935618256: Books - Amazon.ca
Health at Every Size Book Cover

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.

Breakdown of Health 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

References

Howard, B. V., Manson, J. E., Stefanick, M. L., Beresford, S. A., Frank, G., Jones, B., … & Prentice, R. (2006). Low-fat dietary pattern and weight change over 7 years: the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial. Jama295(1), 39-49.

Noppa, H., Andersson, M., Bengtsson, C., Bruce, A., & Isaksson, B. (1980). Longitudinal studies of anthropometric data and body composition The population study of women in Göteborg, Sweden. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition33(1), 155-162.

Shimokata, H., Andres, R., Coon, P. J., Elahi, D., Muller, D. C., & Tobin, J. D. (1989). Studies in the distribution of body fat. II. Longitudinal effects of change in weight. International journal of obesity, 13(4), 455-464.

Sowers, M., Zheng, H., Tomey, K., Karvonen-Gutierrez, C., Jannausch, M., Li, X., … & Symons, J. (2007). Changes in body composition in women over six years at midlife: ovarian and chronological aging. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism92(3), 895-901.

Swift, D. L., Johannsen, N. M., Lavie, C. J., Earnest, C. P., & Church, T. S. (2014). The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenance. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 56(4), 441–447. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2013.09.012

World Health Organization (2020). Every move counts towards better health – says WHO. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://www.who.int/news/item/25-11-2020-every-move-counts-towards-better-health-says-who

Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique – Book Review

Book Review by Cory Davis

This is a book review of author John Gribbin’s “Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique” (2011) published by John Wiley & Sons Inc. out of Hoboken, New Jersey, originally published by Penguin Books Ltd. In Great Britain.

4/5

“Alone in the Universe  will make for interesting conversations and leave you awake at night pondering our fragile existence and place in the cosmos.”

Alone in the Universe -- Why Our Planet Is Unique.jpg
Alone in the Universe by John Gribbin Book Cover

About the Author

John Gribbon is a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex, UK with a PhD in Astrophysics, M.Sc. in Astronomy and B.Sc. in Physics. Notably, John Gribbin worked as a research student for Fred Hoyle, a famous scientist known for developing the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and opposition of the big bang, in favour of the steady state model.

However, he is most well known for being a science communicator who wrote many books including “Before the Big Bang”, “In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality”, and “Richard Feynman: A Life of Science”.

What the Book is About

First and foremost, “Alone in the Universe” is not an argument that we are literally alone in the universe. It is an argument that we are alone as a technological civilization in the Milky Way Galaxy. It answers the Fermi Paradox, which is essentially, if technological civilizations are common, then “Where are they?”. Perhaps using Occam’s Razor, the most-simplest explanation is that technological civilizations are not common, and they are not here.

Along the same vein as “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe” By Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, this book explores the conditions and series of events that made complex life possible here on earth, and the many possible ways it could have gone sideways if it occurred slightly differently.

Indeed, the universe is a violent inhospitable place for life, and even more so for complex life. The series of events that led to the fragile state of conditions we currently inhabit were very unlikely. Earth could have easily turned out differently. If we ran the clock back and changed the initial conditions only slightly, we may not be here today to talk about it.

The book is structured into eight chapters. The first chapter felt like an argument that life is common. He does this throughout the book, giving the reader support for an opposing view, before arguing against it. The second chapter is about the Milky Way Galaxy and its habitability. He does go beyond the Milky Way at times, noting that not all galaxies are habitable. Just based on metallicity alone, we can conclude that most galaxies are not very accommodating to technological life. The third chapter talks about the stars and their influence on life in worlds that orbit them. The fourth chapter focusses on factors that influence the habitability of solar systems, such as orbits and the influence of large Jupiter-like planets in different locations within them. The fifth chapter is dedicated to the conditions of earth such as plate tectonics and how they influence habitability making comparisons to other planets such as Venus and Mars. The sixth and seventh chapters are dedicated to evolution, highlighting the fact that it is not goal-oriented (intelligent technological life is not a goal of evolution), rather it is a series of adaptations to changing environmental conditions, which vary over time differently in various locations on earth. Here, the author also highlights the several unlikely events throughout our evolutionary history that led to complex life. The last chapter focusses on us as a technological civilization, why it is a unique feature and the possibility of it occurring again.

All eight chapters support the final conclusion: that we are alone in the galaxy. Not that technological life never existed before in the galaxy, or that it won’t happen again sometime in the future. He is not arguing that we are alone in the universe. He is arguing that in the short sliver of time that we exist, it is highly improbable that another technological civilization inhabits the Milky Way at this particular moment.

What I Liked About the Book

Alone in the Universe communicates science in an easily digestible way. It outlines a suite of scientific information to provide context to the inferences used to establish the premises of the author’s argument.

The argument itself is thorough. From the chemical structure of the galaxy, planetary orbits, rotation, and tilt, to the evolutionary circumstances that resulted in our civilization, orientated in the vast expanse of time, it is clear to see that complex, technological life like ours is relatively rare.

There were many moments throughout the book where my mind was racing. Excited, I stayed up at night pondering our existence and what earth would be like if pivotal moments in our evolutionary or cosmic history went slightly different. This is why I gave this book such a high rating. It was fun and it engaged the reader, giving me lots to think about.

Whether you agree with the conclusion or not, that we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy as a technological civilization, the argument itself makes for a fun thought experiment that will fuel interesting conversations on topic.

Alone in the Universe makes for an excellent addition to the Fermi-Paradox and Rare Earth Hypothesis compendium, putting forth an argument for why it may be the case that intelligent life in the universe is exceedingly rare.

What I Disliked About the Book

The argument itself was not summed up in an easily accessible way. After reading the book, I will have to go back through all my notes to summarize the argument. The end of the book does not do this for you, which was disappointing. After getting through the whole book, it just would have been really nice to sum it up in a one-or-two-page reflection piece to really hit the message home.  

The introduction was initially bland. It talked generally about the milky way, how big it is, how many stars there are and so forth. It talked about the observable universe and how many galaxies there are, how many light years accross it is, etc. He states that we can see a diameter of 27 light years or so, because the universe is about 13.8 billion light years old. I was getting bored because this is old news. However, those new to the topic, could find it to be a feature, rather than a bore.

As I kept reading though, I started to find gems of knowledge that were new to me. For example, did you know that the first direct evidence that planets form out of clouds of debris was around a pulsar? Pulsars form from stars much larger than the sun who go supernova. Some of these stars, if they are big enough, form black holes. But if not, they can form pulsars, neutron stars or possibly other exotic forms such as quark-stars. Apparently, some planets cannot survive a supernova, the event is much too violent. However, researchers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail of Penn State University found planets orbiting a pulsar that could not possibly have survived a supernova. Therefore, the planets were formed out of the material discharged from the supernova explosion. My mind is blown.

There were a couple times I was lost in the book, having to re-read paragraphs to try to understand what he was saying or why it supports his argument. This mostly occurred in the last few chapters, where the material became a little more complex.

The book is structured well, but it did not come together for me in the end.  My four main criticisms are a follows:

  1. I would have appreciated a diagram or summary of the argument. Each chapter was like a premise leading the reader toward a conclusion. The end of the book does not summarize the argument for you. You need to take notes and formulate his argument yourself.
  2. Some of the premises did not necessarily lead to the conclusion as there are still so many unknown variables. All in all, it was a strong argument, but the conclusion was extreme. I think a fairer conclusion would have been “therefore, the probability that more than one technological civilization exists in the Milky Way Galaxy at this precise moment in time is very low”, rather than “we are (authoritatively and definitively) alone in the Milky Way Galaxy”.
  3. The book was not written very purposefully. I understand that the purpose is to argue that we are alone in the galaxy, but why is this important? He indicates that the earth is fragile so we should probably take care of it, but is this why he wrote the book? That is not clear. In my opinion, the book should have had one final chapter, that sums up the argument and outlines why we should care. What is the agenda? Should we defund SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)? Should we save the planet? Does the conclusion that life is rare indicate some kind of greater responsibility for humanity? What is the point of this book and why is it important? I would have appreciated some ending that drove the message home.
  4. The conclusion is not that we are “Alone in the Universe”, it is that we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy. He makes this clear when you read the book, but the cover is dishonest, like a catchy title to lure the reader in.

For the above four reasons, my rating was reduced from 5 stars to 4 stars.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone curious about the subject, especially for those who hold opposing views. If anything, it will inform you of the other side to an argument that you may not have heard explained in depth before. Enter it with an open mind, make notes and develop a more substantiated opinion of the topic, even if you don’t reach the same conclusion. Alone in the Universe  will make for interesting conversations and leave you awake at night pondering our fragile existence and place in the cosmos.

If you are curious about life in the universe, and our place within it, then this is a must read. But this is not the only book I would recommend on the subject. Below are some books and audiobooks that I thoroughly enjoyed on the topic and would recommend to anyone who is interested in no particular order:

  1. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee
  2. Lucky Planet by David Waltham
  3. The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies
  4. Aliens: The Worlds Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life by Jim Al-Khalili
  5. The Contact Paradox: Challenging Our Assumptions About the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
  6. The Copernican Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Possibilities by Caleb Scharf
  7. Goldilocks and the Water Bears by Louisa Preston
  8. Light of the Stars by Adam Frank
  9. Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Seth Shostak
  10. All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Life by John Willis
  11. Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Jean Heidmann

If you would like me to revisit any of these for a review or breakdown, please let me know in the comment section below.

Thank you so much for reading my review for Alone in the Universe by John Gribbin. I found this material super interesting. But I am more interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you have any thoughts about life in the universe, or comments about this book, please share them below. I promise to read them, and am sure they will make for interesting dialogue.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like or subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. Please stay tuned! In my next post, where I will break down the author’s argument for why we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Getting to Yes by Fisher, Ury and Patton Book Review

5/5

“…it was informative, easy to understand, short, and extremely well organized. It shifted my perspective and challenged my behaviour. We all need that every now and then.”

See the source image

This is a book review for “Getting to Yes”, Third Edition by by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton of the Harvard Negotiation Project. This book, originally published in 1981 by the Houghton Mifflin Company, was republished by Penguin Books in 1983, followed by a second edition in 1991, and the third edition in 2011.

What is negotiation?

As it is spelled out in the introduction, negotiation is getting what you want from others. I know, that is blunt and self-centred way of putting it. So bear with me.

The authors note, negotiation used to be viewed as a win or lose situation with one party coming out a winner and the other a loser. One person getting what they want from someone else. However, it is increasingly recognized that win-win situations are possible and often yield a better outcome than alternatives.

This is an important reason why you should add negotiation skills to your conflict resolution and communications toolset. The best case in a conflict scenario is when both parties are able to achieve a win. Many conflicts originate from a perceived win-lose scenario to begin with.

However, the point is not to avoid or eliminate conflict. Conflict can be a source of opportunity, better understanding, innovation, and new relationships. The authors want to see negotiation transformed from “adversarial battles” to “collaborative problem solving”.

So, getting to yes does not mean using conflict to benefit at someone else’s expense, it means addressing conflict collaboratively and identifying solutions that satisfy interests of both parties more effectively than could be realized through positional bargaining – or haggling. In doing so, you could uncover opportunities not available otherwise, enhance your network and develop good working relationships with long-term benefits.

What does Getting to Yes promise the reader?

This book is intended to be a guide to principled negotiation. It is not a one size fits all approach, but they do argue it is a one size fits most approach. Every tool is not designed for any and every scenario but are incredibly valuable additions to your communications toolset. It is short, and easy to read. The authors have carefully put together the material in an organized way, offering tool after tool in an organized, easy to find fashion.

On a higher level, this book intends to play a role in the paradigm shift from the old school adversarial perception of negotiation in the public sphere to a collaborative one. It does this by emphasizing the benefits of negotiating on merits, principle, collaboration and objective standards – innovation, efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and relationships.

How does it deliver this promise?

Getting to Yes is exceptionally well organized. It first sets out identifying the problem. It states that your method of negotiation should be assessed with three criteria; (1) it should result in a wise agreement (meets the legitimate interests of both sides, is fair, durable and takes the community into account), (2) be efficient and (3) improve relationships between the parties. It breaks down hard negotiating and soft negotiating stating their pros and cons before offering a solution, Principled Negotiation. They argue that Principled Negotiation meets the criteria better than positional bargaining.

There are four main focus points of Principled Negotiation: (1) separating the people from the problem, (2) focusing on interests, not positions, (3) inventing many mutually beneficial options and (4) using objective standards.

Each of these four points is given its own chapter, where the authors provide tools and advice to support you.

The next few chapters address questions and criticisms of the book’s earlier editions. For example, one glaring questions is what if the other side is more powerful? The response given is empowering. It makes you realize that power is not just about wealth and resources, you have power if you know how to use or build it. For example, there is power in relationships, effective communication, understanding interests, objective standards, collaboration and of course, your BATNA (or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). It gives you tips on how to neutralize dirty tricks, play negotiation jujitsu and protect yourself. The second half of the book is just as engaging and riveting as the first half, if not even more.

… Wait, did I say negotiation jujitsu? Yes, read the book and find out.

Impact the book had on me

Like me, after reading this book, you may become more thoughtful in how you interact with others. After reading this book, I see inefficiencies and division where I didn’t before, restricting our ability to be more productive. I see opportunities for collaborative solutions where I could have easily seen a fight.

Attacking each other wont solve the worlds problems, it polarizes people. We need to attack the problem – “separate the people from the problem” as the authors assert. If you convince one person with your attacks, it is likely that you are locking in others.

My perception changed after this book to be more inclusive to others. I am more informed. I can now better align my behaviour with my goals. By no means did I become an excellent negotiator just by reading this book, but now I have many tools I can apply and practice in my daily life, and career. I think books like this should be read in public-school, so the next generation comes out with meaningful life skills beyond what our current curriculum offers. So they are less polarizing than we are, so they can learn to collaborate and be sensitive and more inclusive to others. So they can innovate a better world that we did.

Favourite part

The authors want you to get to yes through collaboration and frame-switching between the other party’s perspective and your own. It does this by encouraging it explicitly through the first main element of the Principled Negotiation method. Rather than treating negotiation as a shrewd competition for whoever gets the better end of the agreement, it approaches negotiation as a collaborative decision-making process. It emphasizes the value of good working relationships which translates to more efficient negotiations and other benefits as well. I would argue some benefits could be less emotionally drained staff, added meaning to jobs, corporate social responsibility, personal social responsibility, and of course the identification of opportunities that would not be available otherwise.

There was a lot of reinforcement of ideas throughout the book. Which I found helpful, discussing pieces of advice in various contexts. The notion of collaboration was ingrained throughout.

Favorite quotes

“People often see the negotiating as narrowing the gap between positions, not broadening the options available”

“the relative negotiating power of two parties depends primarily on how attractive to each is the option of not reaching an agreement”

“If the other side has big guns, don’t turn the negotiation into a gun fight”

“Base the relationship on mutually understood perceptions, clear two-way communication, expressing emotion without blame, and a forward-looking purposive outlook.”

”Making assumptions about someone based on their group characteristics is insulting, as well as factually risky. It denies that person their individuality. We do not assume that our beliefs or habits are dictated by the groups we happen to fit; to imply that of others is demeaning. Each of us is affected by the myriad aspects of our environment and upbringing, our culture and group identity, but in no individually predictable way”

“Make emotions explicit and acknowledge them as legitimate.”

Least favourite part

Often lacks the context of intercultural conflict. However, they do address this criticism at the end of the book and in various places scattered throughout and they do it well. In fact, almost every criticism I had was addressed somewhere. The fact is that negotiation in the context of intercultural conflict deserves its own book, and is not the focus of what the authors have set out to do here. Many of my criticisms of the book I give solutions to. However, many of these solutions are both informed and inspired by the book.

My Criticisms

The authors assert that people who get angry, fearful, hostile or frustrated easily have big egos and frequently confuse their perceptions with reality, often failing to interpret what you say in the way you intended. I agree with this, however, it assumes that the reader is self-aware in this regard. For example, someone can seem easily frustrated where miscommunication occurs because negotiators (or mediators, consultants) fail to address cultural distance.

They go on to state that “where perceptions differ, look for ways to test assumptions and educate.” I agree that this is good advice, however, that is assuming that intercultural circumstances are accommodating. Some readers may misinterpret this advice. When cultural biases dominate your perception and cultural distance resulted in the differing perceptions, do not let a negotiation become a war of facts. Where someone passionately believes something that contradicts your science, or what you perceive to be true, do not just tell them why they are wrong and you are right by turning the negotiation into a lecture.

A classic example is the clashing of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) with western science. Where this is at the core of a dispute, don’t say why traditional knowledge is wrong and western science is right. Instead, learn their views, let them speak, identify goals and interests, then build joint solutions that align with both perspectives. This can create opportunities, innovate and develop good working relationships.

If you are the one testing the others’ assumptions and educating, it assumes that you have a more accurate depiction of reality than the other party. Test both party’s assumptions allowing fair opportunity for education. Be persuaded by new legitimate information. Give the other side ample time to change your perception as well, they may have valuable information that could alter your initial understanding. However illegitimate you initially view the other side’s perspective, be open and be collaborative. Do not turn the conversation into a fact war.

On the other hand, it may be true that the other side’s perspective is factually misinformed, demonstrably so. What can you do? Is it your job as a negotiator to change their world view? I am not convinced of this. Remember that fact wars will not help. Dont focus on the facts in this instance, focus on establishing objective criteria on which to find an agreement to meet both party’s underlying interests, not positions.

Conclusion

In conclusion I loved this book. I gave it 5/5 because it was informative, easy to understand, short, and extremely well organized. It shifted my perspective and challenged my behaviour. We all need that every now and then.

Thank you so much for reading this post. If you liked it, please subscribe to my blog, like the post and follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks.

What I think would be more interesting than my opinions is to hear yours. If you have any thoughts, ideas, feedback or questions, please share them in the comment section below.