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Culture War Roundup for the week of September 18, 2023

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Weight Loss (...yes, again...)

I listen to a variety of podcasts, and I generally do what I can to avoid listening to ads along the way, even if that's just manually skipping ahead through them. But occasionally, my hands are busy with something else, and I just have to deal. In any event, last week, I heard an ad for GOLO, a weight-loss program.

I'm not at 'current episode' on all of my podcasts; I'm listening to back catalog for some of them. I didn't think to go check the date on it, and I don't even remember which podcast it was in at this point, so I don't know if it was a few years old or brand new, but at whatever time it was, they were touting it as a "new approach". Forbes' review of GOLO says 2023 on it, so presumably it's pretty recent.

I was curious about what the Kids These Days are doing, and you may have seen me here before talking about weight loss, so I decided to check it out. I was sooooo ready to hate it. After checking it out, though, in some sense, it actually pleases me a fair amount. In another sense, it illustrates quite well a phenomenon I've been seeing in terms of our society's collective psychology about the topic.

What's GOLO about? From their website... insulin resistance! Muscle loss! These are the bad buzzwords. Metabolic efficiency! Immunity Health! Hormone Balance! These are the good buzzwords. Plus, they have a magic supplement! It's easy! Just take one capsule with each meal. It's in a paragraph that starts with "The Science Behind GOLO", in bold and everything. The Science (TM) is right there! They even shit on CICO, helpfully pointing out in all caps:


Let's dive in, see what's really going on. Obvious first place to start is their supplement; what's in it? 7 plant extracts and 3 minerals, of which, best as I can tell, chromium is the star of their show. Of course, best as science can tell, there is just the barest degree of plausibility, and Examine concludes by pointing out:

Anyone wishing to supplement chromium should be aware that chromium supplementation is not associated with any reliable benefits on markers of glucose metabolism.

Ok, so if their magic suppliment isn't exactly Ozempic, what do they have going on? Gotta dig into 'More Information' on their site.... then be careful! Don't fall into the trap of clicking on any of the distractions, even the one that promises to tell you what their 'GOLO For Life Plan' is. Gotta go to the FAQ. That's where you've gotta dig down into the question about what the GOLO For Life Plan is. It helpfully states:

The GOLO For Life Plan combines the right foods together to help manage and optimize glucose and insulin levels while creating a thermogenic effect. The GOLO For Life Plan improves weight loss in two ways:

  • Minimizing or eliminating muscle loss and maximizing fat loss
  • Providing proper nutrition that includes healthy fats and carbohydrates which eliminates nutritional imbalances and promotes steady weight loss and better health.

On the GOLO For Life Plan, you can eat more food and lose weight without the obstacles you may have faced with other diets. You will be eating between 1300 and 1800 calories each day, and will:

  • Stay full and energized
  • Keep insulin steady throughout the day
  • Give your body proper nutrition
  • Reduce hunger and cravings
  • Learn how to eat to promote weight loss
  • Learn how to maintain your weight when you reach your goals

I tried to be helpful and cross out all the noise that isn't relevant for us at this point. What is the real key to a fancy new diet for weight loss that has all the buzzwords that people use when they say that CICO is garbage? It was CICO all along! There are more telltale signs that this is just a recycling of what we've known for a long time. 1300-1800 is a pretty wide range, so what's going on? Two more items further down in the FAQ, under How is the GOLO For Life Plan Personalized?, we see:

The GOLO For Life Plan is based on your energy needs. We help you determine the right amount of food that you need, to lose on average, 1-2 pounds per week.

That Forbes article fills in some more details:

While everyone has the same food guidelines, your specific caloric intake recommendation is based on your gender, age, current weight and activity level.

The government of Canada has helpfully published basically exactly this sort of thing on their website for years. We've known how to do this for years. Weknowdis. Moreover, the real, actual science has confirmed for decades that to a pretty darn good level of approximation, 500cal/day from your TDEE is right about a 1lb/wk weight loss/gain. Weknowdis.

Forbes says, "Programs range from 30 to 90 days," but I can't find solid details on the GOLO website. Most of the examples are people who did stuff for 6mo-1yr. Best I can tell, they're basically just selling the supplement, and then I guess giving away the meal planning to put you in the right calorie range. So, for a bit, with the Forbes wording, I was wondering if they were actually going to have some trick to try to get you to do it for 1-3mo, then 'cycle off', but try to figure out how to get you to just go back to maintenance caloric intake, then say that you should start another 1-3mo cycle. Maybe that's buried somewhere in the planning tool they're giving away with every purchase of the supplement. Final thing to point out, which I couldn't really find in detail on the GOLO site, Forbes says:

GOLO also provides eating guidelines, encouraging you to eat more whole foods (including fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and grains) while avoiding sugar and processed foods.

In the end, what have they done here? It actually almost makes me proud of capitalism. They've found a way to package and monetize the bog standard, traditional advice for losing weight. You could just listen to the CICO people, the honest doctors, the fitness people, etc., who tell you the same basic advice. Stop eating total crap like piles of dessert all the time. Stop drinking big gulps of straight sugar calories, no matter whether they're soda, juice, or whatever other trendy beverage is happening right now. Eat at about a 500cal/day deficit to shoot for 1lb/wk of weight loss, eat regular foods, and maybe if you're feeling physical/psychological effects after getting somewhat deep into a cut, go back to maintenance for a bit, and then start again.

But the packaging. Ohhhh the packaging! Insulin resistance! Metabolic efficiency! Immunity Health! Hormone Balance! CICO SUCKS! They do what they can to try to meet people where they are. To try to get them used to the idea that they're shooting for about a pound a week, so it'll be longer than other people promise (though, of course, they say 1-2lb/wk, just to get your brain to think it could be twice as fast). And of course, the cherry on top, a supplement that probably doesn't really do anything is the mechanism by which they monetize. Hell, after people lose the weight, I bet the GOLO For Life thing basically steers them toward how to stay at maintenance for the rest of time... but you probably better keep buying/taking their supplement, just to make sure you don't ruin all your gainz! It's a thing of sheer beauty, designed to bob and weave around all the CICO bashers who are going to scream from the rooftops that CICO doesn't work and trash your weight loss program if it even hints at the idea that CICO is what's going on rather than repeating the buzzwords and bowing at the god of, "It's not your fault, it's... check cue card... insulin resistance!"

In the end, I can't help but love it. Could you have listened to me tell you basically all the same underlying facts? Sure. Could you find a plethora of communities or official government public health documents that outline how you can do all this same stuff, but for free? Yup. But man, we're too dry in the delivery, and we tend to be abrasive to the folks who want to believe that there is some other magic going on in the world. I can't help but think of how Matt Levine might put it. The market wants the bog standard advice that works and that is backed by science, but it also doesn't want it to sound like that. It wants to hear some buzzwords, platitudes, shitting on CICO, and having a magic supplement. That's an arbitrage opportunity, and GOLO seems to have filled it.

EDIT: Sigh, I tried so hard to get the strikethroughs to work inside the bulletpoints. It displays correctly in the comment preview (and still displays correctly in the preview as I'm editing). But it's broken in the actual comment. @ZorbaTHut Help?

I've been recently thinking about how much the obesity epidemic simply reflects that food is tastier than before. This would particularly affect a country like Finland, with stereotypically famously bland food (in this poll it's the second least popular in the world among polled, with only Peruvian cuisine scoring worse).

If I compare the selection in stores and restaurants to what we had in even the 90s, there's been an exposion of choice. I can easily go to a store that's 5 minutes from my home and find the ingredients for, say, this delectable meal of kimchi noodles (I actually have them waiting in my fridge already), whereas decades ago even knowing what "gochujang paste" would have required specialist knowledge.

As such, I have a considerable amount of options for cooking meals that taste actually good and have a great variety of them. Would it then be any wonder that I'd also eat more of it if it was just meat and potatoes with salt and pepper, day in day out? The whole idea behind, say, the potatoes diet was, exactly, less about the specific property of the potatoes and more just that it's so bland and samey-tasting it naturally would mean you would limit your food intake to an acceptable level (I haven't tried the potatoes diet myself and make no claims to its efficacy).

Another factor that comes up surprisingly rarely (it does come up sometimes but seems like an obvious thing to be mentioned even more often) is simply the car culture and the fact that people walk aroud less than usually. I would again, on the basis of my memories from the 90s, say that people currently are more prone to drive distances that they would have walked in the past, say parents driving kids to school for a 500m trip when they'd have walked it in the past, but don't have any real evidence.

It's sometimes very odd to have people simultaneously complaining about obesity making everything and everyone uglier and, at the same time, react very negatively to any idea that cities should be designed in a way to limit the use of the glorified four-seater fat scooter in their garage.

I can easily go to a store that's 5 minutes from my home and find the ingredients for, say, this delectable meal of kimchi noodles (I actually have them waiting in my fridge already), whereas decades ago even knowing what "gochujang paste" would have required specialist knowledge.

If you're researching recipes, cooking dishes that you can't cook from memory, seeking out particular ingredients that aren't the same 20 things you always buy and won't have a purpose in your cupboard if you deviate from your intended meal plan, etc., you've already specced several points into amateur chef.

Sure, cooking TV shows and YouTubers are successful, so there are a lot of people specced into amateur chef, but I don't think the typical person is. The average person flits between packaged breakfast foods, has a small repertoire of sandwiches or buys prepared meals at lunchtime, and rotates through a few different frozen dinners and takeout/delivery restaurants.

But I think you're right that even so the modern diet is way tastier than what was around 50 years ago.

But I think you're right that even so the modern diet is way tastier than what was around 50 years ago.

The size of the average vegetable has become bigger and its cost has gone down, but the taste of the average vegetable has become much worse. If you can make food barely taste like anything (so it doesn't really feel like you're eating anything at all), you now have to fix that problem with stuff that's a lot more calorically dense and/or load the dish up with salt.

Also, 50 years ago, with respect to dinner the average person would have been either cooking it themselves or married to someone who was. Fast food was a lot more expensive, relatively speaking.

They're still available, you just either have to grow them yourself, or go to farmer's markets and similar produce stands directly rather than buying from Generic Supermarket.

Personally, I was surprised to find that potatoes actually had a taste, and that one could have a preference for that taste, rather than just being a tasteless starch ball your family only pretends to like because they hate themselves and are going to consume a bag of potatoes seasoned the way they actually like them (in the form of potato chips) after the meal anyway... and then be bewildered as to how they're fat even though they stick to the "eating healthy" script.

I'm shooting from the hip here, but I think produce in America has gotten a lot better in the last 20 ish years. When I was young, my family was an early adopter of Natural and Organic foods, and the only places to get it were Whole Foods and local "health food" boutique grocery stores. We immediately noticed that, while processed foods didn't have the heightened artificial flavors, the produce and simpler items (such as seedy whole grain bread) were richer and more complex. There was plenty of coverage pooh-poohing the movement (heard plenty of "duh all food is natural and organic dummy" back in the day, and if you were anti-GMO you were letting people in Africa starve). Now, even the chain grocery store in my grandma's podunk town carries some Organic produce. Perhaps the popularity has encouraged "conventional" produce to pull back a bit on prioritizing looks at the cost of taste in order to compete.

There was plenty of coverage pooh-poohing the movement (heard plenty of "duh all food is natural and organic dummy" back in the day, and if you were anti-GMO you were letting people in Africa starve).

Any Euro coming over to America (and possibly anyone from literally any other part of the world) could confirm to you that you were not crazy, and the food over there tastes like it's a side product of fracking. Happy it got better since I was there.