Researchers published a study in Cell in January 2020 which showed that “WHEN we eat is just as important as WHAT we eat”: https://www.cell.com/current-biology/…/S0960-9822(19)31468-X. That is, the exact same number of calories has different (worse) outcomes when it’s doled out through continuous snacking instead of standardized meal times (less frequent meal times, which help better regulate dopamine and circadian rhythm). Again, the complexity of fat gain and loss signaling has more to do with endocrine and neurotransmitter cascades: https://news.virginia.edu/…/when-you-eat-might-be-important…
Complex systems confuse people. When a solution requires more than two if-then statements, you can see people get lost really quickly, leading to all kinds of crazy oversimplifications and distractions.
I run into this a lot with nutrition coaching and wellness strategy. At the outset, I tell everyone “you must manage stress,” because the body can gain additional fat in any caloric equation (including “burning more than ingested”) with mismanaged stress; and it can get leaner in any caloric equation (including “eating more calories than ingested”) with well managed stress. We have incontrovertible scientific evidence for both of these scenarios. In the first, sleep/weight loss studies have concluded definitively that there is no way to out-diet chronic stress: https://www.elev8wellness.com/…/chronic-stress-will-build-b…. The math doesn’t work. And for the second scenario, watch a child grow. My kids keep “eating more than they burn,” gaining more body mass and getting LEANER.
Everyone nods approvingly. They intellectually sort of grasp this. I repeatedly reinforce that this will be a lifelong journey. I consider a minimum effort of at least two years of high compliance the beginning of that process. Then, they proceed to mismanage stress and get frustrated that the calories-in/calories-out model is failing them at two-to-six months into 50-70% compliance. Um. Yep. I said that at the beginning. Manage stress. For. A. Long. Time.
Recently, I’ve also run into this difficulty in understanding complexity for the danger of rampant infection. People seem to think the debate is about how fatal it is, confusing this with “dangerous,” or how concerned we need to be. “Danger” is a complex series of systems, mostly unrelated to the fatality rate. It’s not just whether we agree the fatality rate is 0.5 percent or 4.0 percent. Both the deniers and the panickers get confused as soon as you try to walk them through the three if-then statements to explain. The inherent fatality rate isn’t the issue. It could be 0.1 percent. It could be 6.0 percent. That isn’t the issue. That was never the issue. The issue is that what we currently face is outrageously infectious (#1), 15-20% of people will require hospitalization (#2) and around 5% will require ICUs (#3), and we don’t have that capacity if even some of this happens at the same time (#4). So, if you don’t slow the infection, the hospitals WILL BE (not an opinion) overrun (#5 - oh drats: I lost everyone on #2), and all of the other reasons people go to the hospital or ICU (#6 - I realize that no one is paying attention now: but, just a reminder that all other injuries and diseases still exist) won’t be treated.
Unlike some peers of mine, I don’t believe everyone is too stupid to understand this. I think people are smart enough. I think humans can grasp ripple effects, exponential growth, compounded interest, statistical models, unintended consequences, and complex systems. I know they can. I just don’t think they want to. It’s harder than normal linear thinking. It requires more energy, not more intellect. And most importantly, it is equally unkind to sides.
I mean, I get it: there are things we all WANT to be true. I want calories-in/calories-out to be true. In fact, it is true as a hindsight description, just not as a foresight explanation. I too want economic trends to be pinned on one factor; but innumerable factors play a role. Complex reality doesn’t care what we want to be true.
It’s challenging to stay focused for three or more if-then statements. It’s mind-numbing to walk through the complexity of reality when that requires more than a single consideration. It’s easier to go, “if scary, then ‘fake news’.” Or, “if too hard to understand, then conspiracy.” Or, “if not highly fatal, then deny the danger.” Or, “if calories low, then lose weight.” Or, “if calories high, then gain weight.” Or, “if it can’t fit in a soundbyte/hashtag/logo, I don’t have time for it.” No. Complex systems require more than one if-then statement.
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