If you haven’t seen it, “Adam Ruins Everything” is a television show on TruTV, where host Adam Conover busts common myths held by the public. Some of the topics they’ve covered range from things like why diamond engagement rings are a scam to the criminality of the privately owned prison system. Adam’s bubbly personality and nerdy character are a perfect fit for the onslaught of facts he typically brings on each episode. Of course Adam isn’t a genius, or a know-it-all, undoubtedly the show has a team of researchers that help develop the script from each episode. To add credibility, every time Adam states a fact a small citation appears briefly in the corner of the screen. I’ve been a fan of the show for some time, and seeing that Adam often covers topics I’m not well versed in, his arguments always seem to make a lot of sense. That was, until he covered a topic I am well versed in, which is: fitness and nutrition.
Let me start by saying, I don’t disagree with everything that was presented in the episode “Adam Ruins Weight Loss.” In fact, there was a lot of very good information presented. Let’s begin with that:
The War on Fat is Bullsh*t.
The Episode’s segment on the war on fat, which highlights the fallacy of the work of Ancel Keyes, is pretty spot on. If you think toward cold weather climates such as the New England climate, which so many of you reading are probably from, there is little to no edible vegetation that grows in the winter months. So what did people eat before modern agriculture and refrigeration? Animals, and not just parts of the animals, but ALL of the animals. That means we ate the really fatty parts like the bone marrow, the brains, and other fatty bits. Humans have been eating diets rich in fats for a long time. Low fat proponents like to argue that the life span of our ancestors was much shorter than today, but as they say, correlation does not equal causation. Our lives are extended today due to things like better understanding of the importance of hygiene, better shelter, and of course better medical technology. It’s definitely not because we eat less of the foods our bodies have evolved to eat.
Extreme/Rapid Weight Loss is Damaging
Adam pokes fun at reality shows like “biggest loser” on this episode, and rightly so. A small study conducted by Dr. Kevin Hall, showed that biggest loser competitors had their metabolism down regulated by 600+ calories per day. That’s huge. The weight loss depicted on those shows isn’t just unhealthy though, it’s also unrealistic. Adam claims on the show that contestants of the biggest loser were encouraged to gain weight pre-filming to make their transformations seem even more impressive.
Why Different Diets Work
In a small extra segment of the show, Adam sits down with Dr. Hall and talks about why different diets work for different people. Dr. Hall admits, they don’t really know why, and that if you collect data from different diet strategies you have success and failure stories associated from each. But the reality is, the reason why some people succeed and some fail is actually dependent on a few different things:
- What your definition of success is
- How well you are able to adhere to the diet
- if the diet is a realistic long term strategy
For some, simply seeing pounds come off is a success. To others, it may be obtaining a certain physique. I could get you to drop 5-15lbs of water weight in a week but it will have zero impact on how you look. Would you call that a success? One thing that bothers me about the “I’ve tried everything” crowd, is that most of them haven’t tried one thing in particular: Sticking to a plan long term. Bing impatient has killed more fitness dreams than any other single thing. This is a point Dr. Hall concludes with: long term persistence is the most important.
Lastly, if the diet isn’t a realistic long term strategy, it doesn’t really matter how successful it is in the short term, because eventually you’ll “fall off the wagon” and gain all the weight (or more) back. Factors 1 and 2 have more to do with psychology than biology. In other words, if your friend has had success with a “low carb” diet, it’s not necessarily because his biology is better suited for low carb, but because it’s easier psychologically to adhere to that plan. As Dr. Hall says on the show, low carb diets when calorically matched, have no benefit over other diets.
Unfortunately, Adam takes a shot at the calorie counting crowd, and basically says its useless. As someone that has used managing calories to successfully transform their own body, as well as hundreds of other people’s bodies, I know first hand that counting calories work. There is an also an overwhelming amount of scientific data to support this. This is the difference between intimately familiar with a topic vs. analyzing some data and drawing your own conclusions.
On the show Adam argues that fitness watches do a terrible job at calculating energy expenditure (true), and that food labels aren’t 100% accurate (also true), but neither of those things actually matter. While fitness watches may use your number of steps or even your HR to calculate calorie burn, there are much more efficient ways of estimating your caloric needs. There are plenty of online calculators that use your age, height, weight, gender, general activity level, and even body fat percentage to calculate your daily calorie requirements. These numbers are actually fairly accurate. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because if you stick to hitting those numbers consistently (30 days or more) you’ll be able to tell if you’re eating too much if you gain or maintain your weight. If you are losing weight, you will know you are in a deficit.
By now you may be wondering: Well what about food labels being inaccurate? Yeah, they are, and as Adam points out, even whole foods can vary from harvest to harvest, but again, it kind of doesn’t matter. Most of us eat similar if not the same things every day. It doesn’t matter if your bowl of cereal really has 50 grams of carbs instead of the claimed 45, because if you eat it every day, again you’ll be able to track changes. Not losing weight? Reduce the serving size of the cereal and see what happens! Ironically they actually mention this on the show without realizing that reducing your calories, and reducing your portion size is basically the same thing. IT’S ALL ABOUT CONSISTENCY.
For the first time watching the show, I’ve actually been familiar with some of the references popped on screen. That’s when I realized something…a lot of them were from newspapers or non-scientific publications. Several of the citations were from Gary Taube’s work, who is someone who read a lot of literature then formed his own opinions. I’m not saying Taubes is wrong, or that the references are illegitimate, but it’s using opinion and passing it off as fact. That bothers me.
Without a doubt, the worst thing about the episode, was how much they tried to convince the viewer that weight loss is basically impossible, and you should just “love yourself.” There are a whole host of reasons to exercise beyond losing weight, so if you struggle with weight loss, don’t give up on keeping fit. That said, we should be encouraging people to exercise, and by telling them “it’s probably not going to happen for you,” will probably keep a lot of people from even trying, and that’s not good. I reached my boiling point however, when Adam brought on metabolism expert Marion Nestle and said “instead of trying to lose weight, you should just try to eat healthy,” and that, is America’s nutrition problem in a nutshell: What is healthy? It depends on who you ask:
Vegans: No meat or animal products is the most healthy diet
Paleo: No grains, legumes, or dairy, minimal fruit is the most healthy diet
Mediterranean: Lots of fruit, grains, and legumes is the most healthy diet
Doctors/Government: Low fat, low sodium, low cholesterol is the most healthy diet
Ketogenic: Low carb diet is the most healthy diet
Sugar Epidemic: Low sugar diet is the most healthy diet
Are you confused yet? I could go on. This is the problem when you tell someone “just eat healthy.” Sadly, this time, I feel like Adam left viewers with more questions and confusion than answers, and when we’re talking about people’s health, that’s not okay.
Are You Not Entertained?
It’s important to remember that “Adam Ruins Everything” is a comedy driven television show. While a lot of the information may be intended to be informative, its primary purpose is to be entertaining. The show is well produced, and actually quite funny, but the show and its producers should take pause and realize how much damage could potentially be done when discussing a topic like this. Is weight loss easy? For most, no. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise, because there are so many more benefits to exercise than just losing weight.
Have you seen the show yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! For a complete list of sources Adam uses in the show, click here. You can watch the episode here (some restrictions may apply).