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You told us so?!? What makes you think that?!?!

November 15, 2010

This is part one of a two part response to Rush Limbaugh and his radio show regarding the Twinkie Diet.  I haven’t heard the show but I have read the transcript and  I will have to take what I read as fact (please inform me if any of this is in error and Rush did not say the things in this transcript.)  Unless otherwise noted all quotes in this post are from this transcript:

I love stirring the conventional wisdom pot, as you know.  And I love being right.  Folks, it’s a thrill.  I have to tell you, you don’t know what it’s like to be right as often as I am, particularly when you’re simply following instincts, when being right really doesn’t have that much to do with formal education, just being street-wise smart, just having common sense, having the guts to say what you know to be true regardless what the reaction to it is gonna be and when it eventually is all proven like “I hope he fails,” all this stuff.

I never know if Rush is trying to be funny or if he really believes what he says.  For starters how does he know that ‘you [we] don’t know what it is like to be right as often as I am [he is]’?  I am pretty sure that I don’t think I am right as much as Rush thinks he is right, but I am still probably right a lot more often than he is.  To tell you the truth I think a stopped clock is right two more times every day than Rush Limbaugh is.   Is he just trying to use humorous hyperbole or does he really believe that he is right all the time?  In any case it is hard to believe that anybody thinks they are right as much as Rush Limbaugh thinks he is right….  I take it to be a sign of delusion.

I am also quite confused about the statement that “being right doesn’t have that much to do with formal education…”  Actually I think it does.  I don’t think having a formal education guarantees that you will be right, but it does increase the odds considerably.  Don’t get me wrong here, I am not proposing that you have to have an education to be right or to speak your mind, but I tend to seek out and listen to experts when forming my opinions.  True, I do independently research the findings that have helped to create their opinions because many experts just seek out information to back their common sense beliefs (and some are just stone cold crazy and don’t even have evidence to back their beliefs), but again,  having a deep and strong background into a subject does create a much greater likelihood of being right, the kind of background that formal education gives you. This background doesn’t necessarily have to be formal either, many people research subjects with a vigor that would make a Phd student envious.

Exercise is Irrelevant

This aside out of the way, lets get to the heart of the matter, please begin Mr. Limbaugh:

What have I told you about diet and exercise?  Exercise is irrelevant.  What matters in losing weight is what you eat, pure and simple, and how much, nothing more than that.  And everybody tries to tell me I’m wrong, that I don’t know what I’m talking about.  And every time a story comes out on this I am validated, and nobody has ever said, “Rush, you know, you were right about this.”  This is CNN, their Web page:  “For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.” This is a nutrition professor.  “His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most — not the nutritional value of the food.

So, Rush Limbaugh is saying:

  • Exercise is irrelevant to weight loss.
  • What matters in losing weight is what you eat, pure and simple.

The premise of the nutrition professor is:

  • In weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most – not the nutritional value of the food.

Right off I hope you can see the problem here, and Rush is right, you don’t need a university degree to see what is wrong, just good old logic.  The study first and foremost says literally nothing about exercise and Rush Limbaugh is making a statement only about exercise, so how does it prove Mr. Limbaugh right?!?!  The statement ‘What matters in losing weight is what you eat, pure and simple’ is simply a restatement of the first statement that exercise doesn’t matter in losing weight, so there really is no way in which this study done by Professor Haub could have proven or refuted Rush Limbaughs claims, yet here he is claiming victory, literally drowning in a sea of euphoria on being right more times than others can imagine.

Calories in Calories Out

Rush Limbaugh later goes on to say that future stories like this one are going to be released confirming what the ‘old El Rushbo’ has been saying all along but this time he says something different:

Every six months or so we’re gonna get a story like this, and it’s just gonna confirm what I, old El Rushbo, have always said.  It is incredible.  And Snerdley, what makes it even more incredible is that I have known this instinctively all along.  It is what you eat.  It’s the content.  It’s not all the health food garbage. It’s calories in versus calories out, pure and simple.  It’s not health foods; it’s not exercise, pure and simple.  You gotta figure out how many calories at your body size and age that you can eat every day without gaining weight and then subtract from that, even if it’s booze. If you go over the limit of calories, the whole thing’s blown.

Here he says that he has known instinctively all along that it is

  • the content of what you eat-not the health food garbage &
  • It’s calories in versus calories out, pure and simple.

Not only are these 2 totally different statements (although not contradictory in any way), but there is something disturbing about them.  The first of the two lines is literally the conclusion of the study that he is reporting on.  If this is what he has been saying all along then he has been right, but that makes his earlier assertions about exercise (and his later assertions) even more confusing and errant.  As well it looks like he is trying to make his argument match this study by molding it from ‘exercise has nothing to do with weightloss’ to ‘it is the number of calories not the quality of calories that creates weightloss’.

The second claim is even more disturbing because Rush Limbaugh claims that he is always ‘stirring the conventional wisdom pot’, but in weightloss the one and only bit of conventional wisdom is the ‘calories in versus calories out’ theory.  If this is Mr. Limbaugh’s position than his gut feeling is what the establishment has claimed all along.  To find continued support for that isn’t shocking, and to claim you are stirring the conventional wisdom pot is… well… delusional…

It is Hard to Argue with Yourself…

The problem is, the ‘calories in versus calories out’ theory SUPPORTS the arguments that exercise is extremely helpful to weightloss-which is the exact point that Mr. Limbaugh is arguing against.  In fact Rush Limbaugh is clear on this point himself:

Let me tell you something else.  Marvin Harrison, number 88, wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts, recognized as one of the finest wide receivers in the history of pro football, no longer playing, ate nothing but junk food.  He was known as a junk food junky.  You ever seen Marvin Harrison?  String bean.  Now, granted he’s out there running the equivalent of a marathon every week, but still.  It doesn’t matter.  I maintain he’d have looked the way he looked regardless.  He was able to eat more of it, is the point.  Exercise doesn’t matter.  If you run a marathon every week, yeah, you’re gonna be burning some calories, but not as many as you think.  Don’t distract me.

[on an aside I love the ‘Don’t distract me’ that shows up in several places in this transcript.  I know it is a live show and he is probably talking to someone, but I am imagining a split personality Rush yelling at himself as he realizes he is actually arguing against himself, complete with Looney Tunes-esque expressions and head turning].

First Rush Limbaugh is stating a claim related to the individual variety hypothesis that believes that everyone is genetically different and there are some lucky  freaks running around who can eat whatever they want and not gain weight.  This may or may not be true, but to stick with the discussion above (we can talk about the individual variety hypothesis in a later post) Rush notes that Marvin Harrison loved to eat junk food, and given his level of exercise ‘he was able to eat more of it’.  So even Rush Limbaugh accepts that exercise allows you to consume more food without gaining weight.  Essentially what a good ‘calories in minus calories out’ equation would support.  This, if true would literally prove that Rush Limbaugh was wrong when he said, ‘Exercise is irrelevant to weight loss’.

Further he points out that if you run a marathon every week you are going to burn more calories (again repudiation of his argument), but not as many as you think.  So, running a marathon a week will not burn as many calories as you think…  This may be true-depends on what you are thinking, but first and foremost this points to the fact that we are totally out of touch with how much exercise we should be doing as a society.  I know I was totally out of touch when I started looking into exercise.  The funny thing is that a marathon a week is a good distance to run to stay fit (maybe a tiny bit excessive).  A marathon is approximately 42 km.  You should be able to run 10km (1 hr) at least 3 times a week (or equivalent cross training activities such as cycling, hiking, swimming, playing basketball, etc) if you want to be fit (This is my claim by the way, I don’t know if anyone else is suggesting this, if you are leave a comment).  So 4 – 10km runs a week is a good distance to shoot for, especially if you are ramping up for an event.  You will end up on the fit side of things if you do this and control your diet.  The thing is you would burn about 3,407 calories running 42 km  if you weigh 200 pounds.  According to Dr. Haub a person who weighs 200 pounds should consume about 2600 calories to maintain this weight and that sounds about right.  So by running a marathon a week you would be able to consume almost 20% more calories (that is huge)!  You could eat an extra day and half’s worth of food every week and maintain the  same weight.  If you were eating the 2600 calories and increased your exercise by the marathon a week you would shed weight at a startling amount.  You could lose a pound of fat a week by exercising alone for only 4 hours a week.  To do that with diet alone you would have to eat almost 500  less calories a day.  Imagine if you did both…

It is even harder to come out a loser!

So, the argument that you don’t burn many calories exercising aside, with respect to exercise being irrelevant to weight loss, as far as I can tell, Mr. Limbaugh has argued himself and lost.  That is no easy task.

To be clear here, blowhards, and I am sure even Mr. Limbaugh would admit he is a blowhard, tend to make many points and then claim they are right when any one of them comes true, ignoring how many times they were wrong.  There are numerous different arguments in this transcript with respect to weightloss, many of them contradictory and each with its own level of certitude.  Because blowhards so often own the microphone they tend to be able to massage their argument from one point to another without fear of contradiction.  There is no one to point to the logic flaws and because they tell us how often they are right and how the evidence proves their point, we rarely look deeper into what they said.  We almost never bother to read the transcript to realize that you don’t even need an outside expert to show that Rush Limbaugh proved that he doesn’t even believe what he is saying.  When you look at the ranting of these confident people you realize what you know deep down to be true.  Life isn’t as easy as they present it.  It would be great if it was, but alas, while they live deluded lives in their white towers, we have to live in the real world.

On an aside, there was a very famous time article that pointed out many of the things that Rush appears to believe.  This could be where he got his opinion from.  That exercise is not nearly as important to weight loss as diet and that we feel hungrier when we exercise so exercise can actually derail weight loss.  The article was thoroughly attacked by fitness experts and it could be this argument that Rush Limbaugh is relating to.  I think there is a lot of truth in exercise being a difficult way to lose weight, but there is tremendous evidence supporting the belief that exercise is key to long term weight loss.  This is complicated, but I think if you read ‘You Are Not A Fit Person’ you will get a clear explanation of what I am talking about here.  It is an important distinction.  I am also writing an article on why exercise is so important to weightloss, much more important than the calorie in and out numbers, so Mr. Limbaugh I will be sure to send you a link so you can criticize my arguments.  I do understand that it is easy to criticize others, as I have done here, but it is a lot harder to argue for and support logical beliefs, so I will definitely give you a chance to criticize my beliefs.  Just to be fair.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010 7:06 am

    Great information Thanks!

  2. November 16, 2010 7:44 am

    The thought of taking health/fitness advice from “old el rushbo” gives me a bit of a chuckle. It’s easy to think you’re right if you don’t know (and don’t care) about the difference between anecdote vs scientific evidence, (or coincidence, correlation vs cause/effect, etc) and you don’t have to interact with anyone who disagrees with you. I don’t know how much you have to exercise to be fit, but I exercise a lot, 1-2 hours a day (not including walking-except an occasional hike), and I still gain weight if I overeat. Bums me out, but I shudder to think how little I could eat if I was sedentary.


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