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Fundamentals (part 1)

April 9, 2010

There are 2 very key issues that seem to be fooling so many people out there, at least those tweeting and commenting about weight loss on the internet. I am hoping everyone else gets these concepts already. They are the following pitfalls:

  • *When used with a sensible diet and exercise plan.

  • non-organic foods/toxins are making us fat

The former problem is one that has plagued us since con artist and snake oil salespeople appeared, but the latter is newer.  In fact, aside from some people who are way out there on the organic food ideology, it has only shown up as an actual diet solution recently.  In any case, both of these pitfalls are based upon different fundamental beliefs but both of them are built upon the same logical mistake.  This is the principle known as Occam’s Razor.   To quote Wikipedia:

The principle is attributed to 14th-century English logician, theologian and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham. Occam’s razor may be alternatively phrased as pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate (“plurality should not be posited without necessity”)[2]. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (translating to the law of parsimony, law of economy or law of succinctness). When competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selection of the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities while still sufficiently answering the question. It is in this sense that Occam’s razor is usually understood. To quote Isaac Newton, “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes.”[3]

What does this mean?  Simply that the easiest, least complex answer to a question is usually the right one.  Do not bring in to an argument additional elements that are not needed in the argument in the first place.  Note, this is not a fallacy (not a logically provable mistake), but instead a process or way of thinking, that without independent proof, is almost always wrong.

Let me illustrate this point, if you come home after a night out, leaving your teenage kids to take care of your house and when you return the house is a disaster, broken furniture, empty bottles of alcohol everywhere, food and mess scattered on the floor and an empty keg sitting in the middle of the kitchen, there are probably a number of possible explanations.  The most logical one, the kids had a party and it got out of control.  With this theory you may confront the kids and suggest this theory to them.  They might respond that a UFO landed in the back yard and the aliens brought booze and drank and destroyed the house (not the smartest kids I agree).  Not wanting to falsely condemn your kids you ask the neighbours and find out that the kids were there and so were many of their friends drinking.  Further, after talking with neighbors, the Air Force and NASA no UFO’s or aliens were seen on the night of the party.  So, you have 2 competing theories.  One is the kids had a party and trashed the house.  Clearly the kids were there and the house got trashed so this theory is  sufficient to explain what happened to the house and very likely true (although you have no direct evidence that the kids destroyed the house).  The other theory involves the proven facts that the kids were there and the house got trashed, but includes 2 other unproven claim that aliens were both there and they trashed the house.  Which theory would you believe?

I know the alien part of this discussion appears absurd, but the weight loss arguments above are even more absurd.  In the first of the two arguments:

*When used with a sensible diet and exercise plan:

The general claim is that when you use/take/eat object A, the diet/fitness object in question, it ONLY works when used in conjunction with a sensible diet and exercise plan. Sure, they start out saying you get your best results when used in conjunction with diet and exercise, but in the end these products always claim that to lose weight you HAVE to follow a healthy diet and exercise plan.  The thing is, you will lose weight if you follow a healthy diet and exercise plan alone.  It is both true and sufficient that if you eat healthy and exercise you will lose weight until you reach a level of fitness that is in line with how healthy you are eating and how much you are exercising. This is the truth, the known.  Whether or not you put whatever device they are selling into that mix is immaterial to your weight loss.  You could advertise a guaranteed weight loss plan where you crochet for 3 minutes every day and lose weight, when used in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise.  Would you buy that weight loss plan?  Of course not.

For any diet or exercise product to have any effect, it HAS to stand on its own.  The seller has to be able to prove that just by taking it you will eat less food and lose weight, or just by using it for the required time you will lose significant amounts of weight.  Without the ability to do this, they are just selling you snake oil.   This is taken to the extreme by products like the Ab Circle Pro or the 3 minute legs because these products make claims like, ‘aerobically burns fat in just minutes a day’, ‘best of all it is fun and easy and takes just 3 minutes a day’, and then have the following disclaimer: The complete Ab Circle Pro system includes a reduced calorie diet and regular aerobic exercises…  Just 3 minutes a day on the Ab Circle Pro because it is essentially a useless piece of crap, but you need to do that hour of cardio that you have been unable to add to your daily routine.

What people are totally missing is that the 3 minute claims to attract you are really just admissions of the uselessness of the product.  They could say 0 minutes a day and be offering the exact same program.

The most enjoyable example of people embracing the claim of exercise and diet being necessary for any impact of a separate diet program was the mass of Jillian Michaels supporters who ran to the message boards to say the following and so much more (By the way I have forgone the indicating each and every spelling and grammar mistake with a sic, with this disclaimer.  The following is all sic…):

  • I have taken the detox and cleanse and had great results. With any diet you have to work at it. There are no magic pills, we have to exercise and diet. So for anyone that thinks they eat whatever and not exercise and still lose weight they are kidding themselves.
  • Just started Julians cleanse and burn..& feel great, I’m excited for further results..& thi is with watching what I eat and exercise..
  • how rediculous of this lady to file this against Jillian. I would bet money that the lady never once exercised or ate correctly while taking the medication. read the labels people it clearly states ” will work with regular exercise and diet routine” people are so money hungry it is sickening!!!

Thanks people for jumping to your favorite celebrity’s defense…  She really needs that along with the $50 million she made selling her product that is literally useless without diet and exercise, according to all of you.  According to the product, ‘it is like an automatic diet’.  I guess the kind of diet that doesn’t work…. Think about this though.  If you are losing weight without buying these products because you follow a healthy diet and an exercise routine, why would you buy these products in the first place?  You wouldn’t, so why buy them if they require this same routine?

Part 2 of this entry will include the the second problem, that of attributing weight gain to toxins….

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