Friday, February 25, 2011

America, Diets, And The Expensive Lunch

Christopher Wanjek, one of my favorite medical writers on the internet, has posted an article about the recent research linking diet soda consumption and an increased risk for strokes. He repeats a sentiment from various food and diet writers who are complaining that "the health police" are telling the world that they can't drink diet sodas. Obviously, this is delivered in a derisive way, implying that the health police, whoever they are, are telling us that we can't eat or drink anything.

First off, if any of the health police had been previously saying that diet soda was alright, they were idiots. I can't think of a single doctor or dietitian who would say that drinking any kind of soda is recommended. As a treat, yes, but nothing more. Just because diet soda doesn't have any calories in it doesn't mean that it doesn't have other stuff in it, as Wanjek points out in his article.

I find this typically symptomatic of the American perspective on, well, life. We are on a constant quest for fun, while trying to avoid paying for it. We are, in essence, on a quest for a free lunch. This philosophy manifests itself no stronger than in diet. We consume diet gimmicks and exercise equipment in amounts unseen anywhere else in the Western world.

For example, there is something distinctly American about the Atkins diet; just the idea that we can be thin by eating lots of meat! Don't pay any mind to all of the other countries that can't even afford meat. Or the fact that most dietary scientists say that eating the meat-rich diet of an American would be impossible for the entire planet.

No, we want to eat candy for dinner. We want to exercise without actually doing any exercise. That exercise one really blows my mind. What do you think exercise is? It's moving your body! You can't move your body without moving!

The absolute pinnacle of that quest were those batshit crazy electric belts that supposedly jolted your muscles into moving. Don't prefer some insane exercise gimmick? Don't worry! There are diet products that will make it seem like you're exercising all the time, even when you're sitting in front of the TV, which is apparently the American dream.

Even I, super genius, fell for one of these gimmicks about ten years ago. I was young and stupid, and ever since high school had ended, I was starting to put on pounds. So I tried a product called, subtly, Ripped Fuel. It's still available now, but at the time it was using ephedra, which has famously since been taken off of the shelves. Probably a good thing, since I took one-sixth the dose, pegged a temp of over 103, had a racing heart, and didn't sleep for two days.

Um... healthy.

The ephedra actually did something, though! But eating something that simply burns fat is inherently unhealthy, so it got banned! Shocker, it worked by the only mechanism that a pill could possibly burn fat, by raising your body temperature. Which can prove lethal, as it did for many sports stars.

But the banning of ephedra didn't stop the diet companies from producing billions of pills of other total nonsense. They are the very definition of snake oil. And all of the commercials say, somewhere, in very small text, that the results seen are rare and can only be achieved with changes to diet and exercise. But the rest of the commercial makes damn sure to make it seem like you'll see those results with the pill alone. You will NEVER BE THIN BY SITTING IN FRONT OF YOUR TV AND SWILLING BACK SODA!

I'm not saying that a life of leisure and food is immoral or bad, I'm saying that only a moron could possibly think that they will ever achieve results with these stupid products, sold on TV, at one in the morning. And America is fucking filled to overflowing with morons (See P.T. Barnum, even though he apparently never said it). You can choose either a lean, muscular body, and exercise regularly and eat well; or you can have a soft body and small muscles but enjoy leisure and fatty food. You cannot have both.

Even with the wildest advances in science, you will likely never be able to have both. Genetic science would have to develop a human that stores no fat, and has muscles that grow regardless of exercise levels. That simply cannot be a stable organism. I can only assume that a person like that would grow and look great, until they literally explode at age thirty-five.

Regardless of what advertising tells you, there is no free lunch. You wanna' know how I lost fifty pounds? I'll tell you for free. I started eating more fruit and vegetables and exercised every day. It was easy. So easy, in fact, it's apparently really hard.

Penn & Teller did an excellent episode of Bullshit! about food around the world, and the disconnection between America, where we're all fat, and Africa, where they're all starving to death.


Christopher Wanjek said...

Great stuff, right on target. -chris wanjek

Aaron MC said...

Hey, thanks a bunch for the nod of approval! I'm flattered that you chose to read my article.