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Bill Nye and Fad Diets

What’s a calorie? Do fad diets work? What (if anything) is so great about the Paleo Diet?

These are some of the questions Bill Nye looked at in Bill Nye Saves the World in the episode “This Diet is Bananas.” For those not familiar with the show, it’s a new Netflix series where Bill Nye looks at “scientific issues that touch our lives,” everything from vaccines to GMOs to artificial intelligence to the sexual spectrum to fad diets. With the help of panel experts, surveys, guests, and research, he tries to provide some clarity and new perspectives.

I knew much of the information in “This Diet is Bananas,” but not all of it, and some of it was very nicely expressed.

I liked how Nye started the episode with reminding us what a calorie is – a unit of energy, not something that defines whether a food is good or bad. (It was also fun seeing him take a blowtorch to a marshmallow.)

For fad diets, I’m all too aware that they’re often more harmful than helpful, since people tend to gain the weight back, and then some, and they put themselves through a lot of stress trying to follow certain very restrictive rules. One I’d never heard of was the “sniff diet,” where people sniffed foods instead of eating them and said they were perfectly satisfied. I get that our scent receptors have a lot to do with the enjoyment we experience from eating, but this seems to be taking it a bit far.

One thing I didn’t know, though, is that 70% of our body weight and size is hereditary. For comparison, 80% of our height is hereditary, so we really don’t have a lot of wiggle room.

Which isn’t to say that we can’t strive to optimize our health and perhaps our shape, but we can only go so far. One of the women commented that her family is shaped like Oompa Loopmas, and for some, that’s just the way it is. (I’ve often thought my family had Hobbit leanings.)

The psychological aspects were quite familiar, like how we give credit to a diet when we lose weight but blame ourselves (not the diet) when we gain weight back. And how it’s not about willpower, but rather about making choices that help you feel good.

The interview with the “Paleo man” was funny, reminding us that our distant ancestors may not have been that healthy. It’s also hard to tell how they were impacted by diet, since they didn’t live that long.

But my favorite part was the discussion of perfection. How can we define that, when standards of beauty are so changeable, and when what works for one person doesn’t for another? One of the women on the panel (I think Traci Mann) had an answer: you achieve perfection when you eat a reasonable amount of food, get a reasonable amount of exercise, and do it with minimal stress to yourself.

That works for me, since with that definition, perfection can vary person to person, or even day to day for an individual. So here’s to avoiding fad diets, and aiming for that version of perfection!

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