The Goal of The Connected Thread
Welcome! My name is Tom Woodward. I have a degree in economics and a keen interest in nutrition, fitness, health, and sustainability. It has become increasingly concerning in recent years how far removed our society has become from the original state in which we were placed in nature. While the evolution and transformation of society is inevitable (see Guns, Germs, and Steel), no amount of organizational, creative, or technological advancement will alter the fact that thousands of years ago, our bodies were evolved to move in a certain way and consume certain types of food. The archeological record and current study of historical societies as well as more modern primitive tribes who engaged in activity and nutrition in accordance with the way our bodies evolved display impressive physiques, little tooth decay, and a lower incidence of cancer than we have currently.
Since the onset of the agricultural revolution, we have been plagued by shorter stature, increased orthopedic problems, and more recently a growing epidemic of obsesity, chronic disease (heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, autoimmune disfunction) and food allergy that has coincided with the boom in industrial farming, globalized agriculture, and food processing. Looking in the rear view mirror, it becomes evident that a few of the notable differences between how we live now and how we lived in the past concern nutrition, toxicity, and physical activity.
That said, it would be improper of me to automatically assume that these changes are the root cause of our physical degeneration and propensity to develop disease. Instead, the main goal of this blog will be to take a scientific approach, using lessons from the past along with information from human biology, kinesiology, and biomechanics to uncover real truths about the subjects of fitness, nutrition, and health. This is the only way to critically evaluate all of the health information that we are bombarded with these days. There are a number of fallacies, inconsistencies, and conventionally accepted beliefs about nutrition, fitness, and our food system that become more deeply ingrained each and every time we hear them. The only way to get a clear answer is by following the issue directly to the source. This is difficult and it takes time, but it is necessary.
“For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” – Henry David Thoreau.
Nutrition and fitness are hotly debated topics in this country and around the world. Diet book sales are at an all time high and it seems that virtually every day, a magazine, newspaper, talk show, or any other type of medium will tout or trash a certain type of food, nutrient, supplement, or exercise program. There are some serious problems with this. We live in a society that not only likes fast food, but fast news as well. The media caters to this by crafting sound bytes and extreme proclamations about diet and exercise with very little explanation about the underlying study that was done. People are heavily influenced by the message rather than the science behind it, especially if the advice is endorsed by a reputable organization or noted physician. Eventually as more people begin to accept the wisdom offered by the media, doctors, and organizations, it becomes ‘conventional wisdom’, which in this country might as well be the truth to most folks. This process is known as an informational cascade, and it works like this:
In the very beginning, a study might test the correlation between saturated fat and heart disease for example. The study is probably observational since it’s unrealistic to put people in a lab for years and track what they eat. They might have a control group to whom they give no counsel, while they tell the test group to eat healthier and decrease their intake of saturated fat. The study results show the group that lowered their saturated fat intake have slightly fewer deaths from heart disease than the control group. The result was statistically significant, but barely. The lead research doctor in the study may be a proponent of a high carb, low saturated fat diet. He would use this study as excellent evidence that saturated fat is linked to heart disease. And when this hits the news wire, the attention grabbing headline would read something like, “More evidence that saturated fat causes death from heart disease.” For a regular person with no background in nutrition, reading this in a reputable newspaper is probably enough to switch from butter to margarine right then and there.
However, if you take a critical look at the study, you would realize that it was observational and self reported by the participants, which reduces the validity. Additionally, the researchers introduced another factor by giving the participants a lecture about nutrition and reducing their saturated fat. It’s likely that from this lecture the participants cleaned up their diet in other areas besides saturated fat, unlike the control group who received no lecture. And in the end, the results were still only barely statistically significant. So it’s possible that saturated fat had no bearing at all on the results of the study, yet the headline in the paper reads that new evidence suggests it may kill you.
Eventually, a message that started with just a few people and was based on shaky science quickly becomes a widely accepted fact about health. This is very unfortunate and can have dire consequences for people who blindly follow advice about nutrition. The best way to combat this type of thing is to gain knowledge.
The subject of nutrition and it’s effect on health can seem daunting at first, but it really only involves a rudimentary understanding of nutrient metabolism, evolutionary biology, and a skeptical approach to making conclusions about research studies. Similarly, a basic understanding of kinesiology and human biomechanics will get you farther along the path to understanding exercise than you would reading hundreds of maganizes and news articles about fitness. Whenever I post about a subject, I’ll cite as many sources as possible so you can effectively chase the trail while at the same time deepening your knowledge. If you have any questions, need clarification, or are simply curious about something, feel free to leave them in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Every person who has mastered a profession is a skeptic concerning it.” - George Bernard Shaw
Thank you for stopping by!