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SANE 401 / Lesson 5

The Secret Law of Large Numbers

Jonathan: Hey, everybody, Jonathan Bailor back with another Smarter Science of Slim show, happy as always to be with you today, sharing some simple, Smart science, and freeing us, as always, from these nefarious calorie myths that make us think that our biology is broken, and that unless we spend our valuable time and effort doing math every time we eat, or every time we move our body, that somehow it’s going to get off track, which is just silly. That thinking, and that message to us, that we are somehow inadequate and need to intervene by default? That is the thinking that is off track.

Let’s talk about just how off track that thinking is. You may not know this, because very few people do, based on what we hear in popular culture, which is, of course, just eat less and exercise more, and eat whatever you want, as long as you don’t eat too much of it, because as long as you keep your calorie count down and your number of calories burnt through exercise up, you will stay slim and healthy. Correct? No, as evidenced by the 70% of our population who that hasn’t worked for. Let’s put some more numbers behind that, shall we? Some definitive data to silence all of those people who would tell us, no, no, no, starvation and stair-steppers are the way to go. You just need to try harder. False.

In fact, don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at a three-year study, just a quick digression here. The name of this publication is the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. AKA, there is an entire journal that deals with obesity and related metabolic disorders. It’s not Cosmo. It’s not Men’s Health. It is written by actual experts, for actual experts, and that’s why it is confusing, and it is very difficult to get our hands on, but these are the resources in which we find this little-known science. I just love to give them shout-outs any time I can, people that wear lab coats, rather than people that wear Spandex, and I’m just so honored to be able to share their work.

Anyway, speaking of awesome work to share, a three-year study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders that looked at 854 subjects from the age of 20 to the age of 45. The study was designed to look at the long term efficacy of eating less and exercising more to maintain weight loss. Remember, it’s maintaining weight loss and improving health that we are actually after. We’ve all lost weight, that’s not the problem. The problem isn’t losing the weight, it’s keeping it off, maintaining our health and enjoying our lives, right? We can lose weight by cutting off our legs, but that is not something we should do because it certainly doesn’t further the rest of our goals, it doesn’t empower us, it doesn’t help us rock our mission; whereas eating more and exercising less, but Smarter, does. But we’ll get to that later.

Let’s get back to the study of nearly 900 people, aged 20-45, and the researchers looked at them and concluded, quoting verbatim from the actual experts in the study, “Less than 1 in 20, or 4.6%, lost and maintained weight successfully.” Again, less than 1 in 20, 4.6%, lost and maintained weight successfully. Obviously, a 4.6% success rate is extremely low, and, in and of itself, should have been a headline, considering that each and every day we are all bombarded and told that we are inadequate because eating less and exercising more isn’t working for us, while 95.4% of the population is in the same boat as us? Seriously, if anything else in the world failed for 95.4% of the people that used it, would we really say that the people using it were at fault and not the approach? But again, I digress.

A 4.6% success rate, meaning that 95.4% of the people who try to eat less and exercise more do not end up losing weight and maintaining it successfully, that is obviously atrocious, but let me put into perspective just how terrible that success rate is. Another study was done, this time by the American Cancer Society, to look at the long-term success rates of individuals who attempted to quit smoking, cold turkey. Very, very interesting study, because tobacco is the third most addictive substance in the world. It trails only heroin and cocaine. So, we’re talking some heavy hitters here.

What is the long-term success rate for giving up the third most addictive substance in the world, a substance which is only exceeded in its addictive properties by cocaine and heroin? What is the long-term success rate of quitting that cold turkey? No help, no counseling, no patch, no pills, no powders, no gums, no nothing. The long-term success rate is 5.5%, which is low, very low, as we would expect it to be, as we know how hard it is to quit smoking with all the help in the world, let alone cold turkey. But 5.5% is still higher than 4.6%. So, we are more likely to give up the third most addictive substance in the world, cold turkey, than we are to achieve our long-term health and fitness goals via what we are told all day, every day, and what I was taught when I was a personal trainer. Obviously that is unacceptable, so the question then becomes, how can this even continue to happen? How can something that is less effective, or that puts us in a position of failure more frequently than quitting the third most addictive substance in the world without any help? How can it continue to live on? We have to cite our friend, the law of large numbers, here.

The law of large numbers is very, very handy. It basically just says, if you can get a big enough sample size, you can create useful data for just about anything. For example, if you want to show that eating less and exercising more works, just get 100 million people to try to do it, and at the end of the day you will have 4.6 million success stories. Wow! That’s 4.6 million people who eat less and exercise more and have success, who tell us we should just skip lunch, in addition to skipping breakfast, because it worked for them. And that if 90 minutes on the treadmill doesn’t seem to be working, we just need to bump it up to two hours per day, and maybe we, too, could be one of those 4.6 million.

But here is the problem: In a sample size of 100 million people, which I didn’t just pull out of thin air, at any given point in time in our country, the United States, there is about a 100 million of us who are attempting to eat less and exercise more in some way, shape or form. Basically, many popular diets are just different ways to eat less and exercise more, and at any point in time 100 million of us are attempting to do that. At any point in time we can turn on the TV or we can open our favorite magazine and we can find success stories. And those aren’t the only success stories we will see, there are going to be millions. Because remember folks, the law of large numbers is at play here. You take 100 million people, you tell them to do something that only works for 4.6% of them, and you still have 4.6 million success stories. But the much more important question, the question that we are here to answer, the question that I have committed my life to, and the question that, more importantly, tens of thousands of actual experts, researchers, endocrinologists, neurobiologists, and gastroenterologists around the world have dedicated their lives to, is finding a solution, an approach, a technique, a program, a lifestyle, that will work for the other 95.4% of us.

In the States, the other 95.4 million of us, great, 4.6 million, I’m glad that eating less and exercising more works for you. That’s fabulous, and I mean that, I’m not being sarcastic. Because as individuals in the health care field, we want people to be healthy and happy and fit, and if for 4.6 million of us, eating less and exercising more gets the job done, then awesome, checkmark next to 4.6% of us. But there is this big, empty hole next to the other 95.4% of us, the other 95.4 million of us that we have to solve. And we can’t say, try harder.

The law of large numbers can be very frustrating, because it can make us think that we are at fault, whereas in reality, we have 95.4 million friends who are experiencing the exact same thing. So don’t let those numbers scare you. In fact, if you want some numbers to scare you, and this is kind of a sad direction to take the podcast, but while we’re talking about large numbers, there are some meaningful large numbers that we should be aware of. For example, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute did a 115-million dollar study of 12,866 men with high cholesterol. Talk about some large numbers, nearly 120 million dollars to perform the study, and done on about 13,000 people with high cholesterol. That study found that the group that ate a “healthy,” low-fat, low-protein, high-starch diet, AKA what we are all told to do, MyPlate food guide pyramid, you’re familiar with it. They did that for seven years, and had a 7.1% increase in heart disease deaths. Those are large numbers. A 120-million dollar study, nearly 13,000 men with high cholesterol, who when they did what we are all told to do, and ate in the way that is supposedly healthy for seven years, had a 7.1% increase in heart disease deaths.

Let’s consider another large number. This one comes from the National Institutes of Health who did a nearly 700-million dollar study. That is a big study of nearly 49,000 women, for eight years. Quoting directly from the researchers: “Dietary intervention that reduced total fat intake did not significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease. One more time. National Institutes of Health. We’re talking large numbers, friends. We’re talking 700-million dollar study. We’re talking nearly 49,000 women, for eight years. Quoting: “Dietary intervention that reduced total fat intake did not significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease.”

Let’s keep going. Six years. Malmo Diet and Cancer Study. Of 28,098 folks, quoting directly from the actual experts, the researchers, not the back of a cereal box: “Individuals receiving more than 30% of their total daily energy from fat did not have increased mortality. Current dietary guidelines concerning fat intake are thus generally not supported by our data.”

Shall we keep going? The Nurses’ Health Study, the Health Professionals Followup Study, and the Nurses’ Health Study II, three just seminal studies that tracked about 300,000 people. None of these studies showed total fat intake, and we keep highlighting fat here because just as we are told to eat less and exercise more, we’re told don’t eat anything that has fat in it because fat has more calories than carbohydrates or protein, so you’re sure going to have to exercise more, you just can’t eat it, it’s got the calories so you’ve got to stay away from it, and don’t enjoy all those natural foods that may contain some fat because it’s going to kill you, which is false. 300,000 people across these brilliant studies, and none of these studies showed that total fat intake increased the risk of heart disease. The only conclusive finding around fat was that eating more unsaturated fats actually lowers our risk of heart disease. For example, if we were to eat more fat, but SMARTer, AKA whole food, natural, healthy fats, we would actually lower our risk of heart disease. Oh, but we can’t do that because what about the calories? Well, maybe it’s a myth. Maybe we’ve been fed a load of calorie myths, and maybe that’s why it fails 95.4% of the time.

From the Harvard School of Public Health, intake of unsaturated fats was inversely associated with the risk of heart attacks in response to these studies. No shortage of data, no shortage of large numbers, and no shortage of just nonsense. While we are talking about the Harvard School of Public Health, most people don’t realize just how different what the Harvard School of Public Health says about nutrition is from what we are told is healthy. And these are pretty smart folks over at the Harvard School of Public Health. In fact, the Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health has been quoted as saying, and this is verbatim here, folks: “The USDA pyramid is wrong. It was built on shaky scientific ground and has been steadily eroded by new research from all parts of the globe. Some recommendations on diet and nutrition are misguided because they are based on inadequate or incomplete information, not the pyramid. It is wrong because it ignores the evidence that has been carefully assembled over the past 40 years.”

That’s shocking, friends. And it’s shocking that in the face of all this data, and all this brilliant research, we continue to be told to use an approach that doesn’t work, that has been proven to fail more frequently than when individuals try to quit smoking cold turkey. It’s frustrating. It’s extremely frustrating. We’ve got to empower ourselves with these facts. We always have to have the ability to pop back. Steven Covey, who is one of my favorite teachers of all time, I had the amazing pleasure of meeting the man in person before he left this earth. If you haven’t read his books, especially The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I would highly recommend you do so. He makes this point so eloquently, which is that between stimulus, or between something that happens to us, and our response to what happens to us, there is this space, and there is this moment of choice that we have. In that space the quality of our lives is determined.

Why do I come to you every week? And actually much more than that if you check out any of the other things my team is doing on the web and out there in the mainstream media, or check out the book, The Calorie Myth. Why we are so passionate about this mission, and getting this information to you, is because the stimulus you are going to continue to get for the foreseeable future is going to be these calorie myths. It’s going to be people telling you that you are broken, that you are inadequate by default, and that you need to eat less and exercise more, and that if that doesn’t work there is something wrong with you. That’s the stimulus, and there’s nothing we can do about that because there is a heck of a lot of money to be made off of fat, sick and sad people.

If you have a broken down car, it is much more profitable to a mechanic than if you have a car that is just humming right along and never needs any intervention. Broken people are much more profitable than happy people, so there is very little financial incentive to help us heal ourselves. But I digress. The stimulus is going to continue to be this nonsense, this disproven calorie myth-laden nonsense. But between stimulus and response there is this space, and if we can fill that space with this SMARTer Science of Slim, and with this hugely empowering research from actual experts that has taken place over the past 40 years, if we can fill our brains with enough of the facts of fat loss and these proven truths around longterm health, that space between stimulus and response will grow. It will grow not only because we have this knowledge in our brain, but as we start to apply this knowledge we will simply become healthier and our stress levels will fall, and our brains will be clearer, and if you want to have more choice over how you react to the world, having a health body and a healthy brain, low stress levels, and a brain full of simple, proven, empowering scientific knowledge, that space between stimulus and response quickly becomes an ocean, and people can try to feed us these calorie myths and this inadequacy nonsense all day, every day, and twice on Sunday, and it will just slide right off us like water off a duck’s back, because we know the truth.

We know that we are brilliant, we’re beautiful, and we are far from broken. Our bodies don’t want to be fat, they don’t want to be sick, and if we simply feed them the natural, nutrient-dense whole foods that we ate before we had any of these problems, and we move our bodies in a fun, safe, healthy and empowering way, not for hours on a human hamster wheel, we can achieve something that seems almost too good to be true, but something that all of our ancestors achieved, and that was simple slimness and health, and a life that is focused on living our mission, and doing the things that we are called to do as individuals, that we were put on this earth to do, rather than counting calories, which is certainly not what any of us were put here to do.

So don’t let the law of large numbers trip you up. The facts are, for 95.4% of us, these calories myths are counter-productive. Of course, if you are one of the fortunate 4.6%, or you know people that are, give them a hug, and give them another hug from me, because they’ve found a path that works for them and that’s awesome, and thank God that now there is a path for the rest of us, the other 95.4% of us, for the other 95+ million of us.

Remember, this week, and every week after, eat SMARTer, exercise SMARTer, and live better. I’m Jonathan Bailor. Chat with you soon.