I had a bunch of other stuff written for this week…but then I heard another frustrating podcast on low carb diets and felt compelled to act! By writing a newsletter!
Now, to be fair, I did a business course that Ben lead and found it very valuable and I usually run into him a few times per year at various competitive fitness related activities. So there’s no bad blood there.
While I fully support Ben in recommending avoiding sugar, flour and vegetable oil in most people’s diets, I was upset by some of the factual errors in his explanations (ie salad dressing is not made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – that’s reserved for things like peanut butter, margarine and baked good; both white bread and wheat bread have gluten; weight loss is not based upon carbohydrate balance).
This brings me back to a concept that I’ve discussed before in this newsletter:
Metaphorical vs Literal Truth
In this case, if you follow Ben’s recommendations of avoiding sugar, flour and vegetable oil in your diet – as well as being skeptical of “health-washed” foods like wraps and smoothies, you will probably have good results from your nutrition program.
So, his recommendations are “metaphorically true” in that they achieve the ends that they intend to produce.
And, they may actually achieve these ends more effectively than more rigorous explanations which would potentially confuse and overwhelm people with too much density and conditionality since the real world rarely has a tight narrative of causality that translates into easily memorable rules.
In this case, literal truth may be less “true” than the metaphorical truth because it may not produce results as effectively.
Sounds a lot like some debates about religion amongst popular contemporary public intellectuals. (This is also very frustrating to listen to and I do not recommend it).
From my general disposition as well as the fact that I’m in two death metal bands, you can probably guess what my religious beliefs are.
However, I have been teetering on being convinced that religion is actually a net positive for society.
This doesn’t mean that I think that religion is “true” per say, but I think that it achieves a group organizing impulse that is fundamental to human biology and that it creates a framework that allows many people to more effectively pursue their goals.
While I used to rail against anything that I thought was inaccurate by doing things like arguing inappropriately with authority figures or writing polemical articles in my high school zine, I suppose my perspective has tempered with age – and I’m much more willing to allow people to be inaccurate as a trade-off for better long-term outcomes.
Still, there is a negative side to some metaphorical truths.
Religion begets fundamentalism.
And the insulin hypothesis of obesity begets CrossFitters who train at high intensity several times per week cutting carbs in an attempt to lose body fat – and ending up messed up and overtrained.
So, if you want the literal truth of how the body regulates appetite and weight gain, check out this page abundant with studies laying out a framework for understanding body fat regulation from my man Stephan Guyenet.
If you just want to look good, feel good, and improve long-term health – avoid sugar, flour and vegetable oil and explain it to yourself however you fancy.
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