Context might be my favorite word these days. Because context has the potential to change everything. And context often saves us from a whole bunch of angst and work. I love anything that does that. Why is context so awesome? Because what you see is not always what you get.
After spending the last
lifetime many, many years perusing the interwebs in search of health truths in order to fix WTF is was wrong with me it’s become clear to me that one of the biggest reasons that we’re all so horribly confused about what the right way to eat is, what works and what doesn’t, and what is truly healthy in the food department, is that there is an almost complete lack of context. I blame Twitter (somewhat). You just cannot adequately explain anything in 140 characters (unless you’re Ted Naiman, in which case a few words on a meme can replace an entire book) so you’re left to use keywords which regularly impart some of the truth, a little of the truth or exactly none of the truth.
Add to that the love of bait-and-click headlines by anyone who stands to earn a cent off of your arriving on their website, the marketing ‘gurus’ and shills who take anything out of context to get a sale (often touted as The Silver Bullet), plus our absurdly sensationalist media who will say anything to get you to push that link. The other side of the context coin is people taking snippets – or in trendier terms soundbites – from an article which can then be entirely misunderstood or misconstrued once they are removed from the entire piece. And unless you listen to or read the entire piece it’s highly likely that you’ll walk away with the wrong end of the stick. To your detriment. And often to someone else’s gain.
So without context what do we end up with? An entire world full of people who wouldn’t know what was truly healthy if their life depended on it. Which is the sad, sad irony in all this: our lives DO depend on it. Context: what you see is not always what you get. One of my favorite people on Twitter is Bill Lagakos, partly because he is such a huge fan of context. I think he must use #context more than anyone else in the Twitterverse. I do believe that a lot of context is lost merely through lack of time and space rather than a conscious attempt to mislead people. A lot of tweets and soundbites are shared with all the right intent, but the fact remains that folks can easily walk away with the wrong idea. I am not saying that lack of context is necessarily deliberate. I am just saying that it happens all the time and it is adding mightily to the swirling mists of dietary confusion.
Here’s just a few examples of stuff we see every day online:
- You have to eat fat to lose fat.
- Calories don’t count.
- Carbs make you fat.
- Eat more to get thin.
- Eat as much as you want and lose weight.
- Lose weight without giving up all the foods you crave.
- Vitamin [insert letter here] will [insert benefit here].
- Butter makes your pants fall off.
- To lose weight eat more fat.
- Eat less, move more.
- Eat more, exercise less.
- Calories in, calories out.
- Too much protein makes you fat
- Raspberry ketones for fat loss
Now some of these are just plain wrong, but I’ve another post lined up for those and their click-bait cousins. Today I just want to wax lyrical about context, because if you take the above bullet points at face value – and therefore out of context – they can lead you down entirely the wrong path. And it’s super easy to take these headlines at face value because who has the time to read about this stuff in detail in the midst of their crazy busy life?
1. I have a crazy busy life but I don’t have a ‘normal’ crazy busy life with a spouse and children and family to tend to, and 2. Getting to the root of all this was my #1 priority after the mortgage was paid and the ‘kids’ were fed and watered, so I have made it my business to read it all this past year. The good news is: because I have, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
Anymore I feel like my purpose on this earth is to help as many people as I can – or maybe I should say as many people who will listen and are ready to change – find and get on the right path. I’ve been on the wrong path soooooo many times and if I can help in saving you from that misery I’d like to. I used to think I was here ‘just’ to give you delicious recipes that actually worked and that didn’t take a ton of time and a degree from the Culinary Institute to make, but I feel increasingly compelled to also help you navigate the vast vats of crapola that is the diet and nutrition landscape.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent the last year completely immersed in what The Internet has to say on the matter, but from my perspective that landscape is getting greyer, and murkier, and uglier every day. Because $$$. I have no skin in this game. My only motivation is to save you from the utter frustration of conflicting information that all the so-called experts, scientists, doctors, dieticians and nutritionists put out there like it’s gospel, and that leaves you – after all these years – still not knowing what the hell you are supposed to eat. Context: what you see is not always what you get.
So let’s contextualize a few examples:
- You have to eat fat to lose fat / To lose weight eat more fat.
- No, no you don’t. You have to eat the right kinds of fat to be optimally healthy, but you don’t have to eat fat in order to lose body fat. Moreover, if you just add more fat to your current diet you will more than likely gain body fat. Eating fat does not make you magically lose body fat. However, if you change your diet to eat very few starch and sugar carbs you can eat more fat and still lose body fat – hence the “you have to eat fat to lose fat” statement.
- Calories don’t matter / Calories in, calories out.
- Yes, yes they do. If you are trying to lose weight and you are consistently consuming more calories than your energy requirements you will more than likely gain body fat or at least not lose any body fat. Having said that, what the calorie is made of is far more important – if you just count calories in order to lose body fat without taking into consideration what they are made of you may lose body fat but you are also likely to be tired, cranky, sad, sick, and then get fed up and go back to whatever you were eating before. And then you’ll gain body fat at a faster rate than ever. Calories do matter, you just don’t have to count them if you are eating the right foods – hence the “calories don’t matter” statement. Conversely, losing body fat is not just a simple case of mathematics. 300 calories of doughnuts and 300 calories of protein will bring completely different results to your body despite the calorific value being the same.
- Carbs make you fat.
- Yes they do and no they don’t. Eating carbs triggers the production of insulin. Insulin’s job is to shuttle excess starch and sugar carbs into our fat cells. If insulin is not triggered this does not happen. It is true that if I eat starch and sugar carbs I get fatter. But is it the carb that makes me gain body fat? No, it’s the insulin doing it’s job. The remedy is to not eat starch and sugar carbs that will trigger insulin production, but that doesn’t mean it’s the carbs that are actually making you gain body fat.
- Eat more to get thin / Eat as much as you want and lose weight.
- Yes and no. If you have body fat to lose and you just eat more of what you are currently eating you will just gain more body fat. However, you can eat more of the right foods and lose body fat. As well of eating more of the right foods you have to eat less of the wrong foods. You can’t just eat more and get thin. What you eat is critically important if you are going to eat more and get thin. With no context the “eat more to get thin” and “eat as much as you want and lose weight” statements are just misleading at best and dangerous at worst.
- Lose weight without giving up all the foods you crave.
- No and yes. It all depends on what you crave. If you crave eggs, carry on eating them. If you crave doughnuts, the chances are you will have to give them up if you want to lose body fat. You absolutely cannot continue to eat all the starchy and sugary things you crave and lose body fat. Run far, far, far away from anyone who tells you that you can. If they will flat-out lie about that then they will lie about anything to get your $$$. If you crave chocolate, as long as it’s 85% cocoa or higher and you’re not eating a whole big bar every day the chances are you’ll still be able to lose body fat.
- Vitamin [insert letter here] will [insert benefit here].
- No and yes. Vitamins do not typically work in isolation, so unless you have a deficiency that needs to be addressed the chances that adding a single vitamin in isolation will give you any appreciable benefit are very slim. In my experience the only exception to this is super-dosing with Vitamin C, which has brought benefits far and wide to my body (losing body fat is not one of them). I also have to take methylated B vitamins because my body cannot process B vitamins on it’s own (but taking them does not make me lose body fat). Outside of specific deficiencies that are unique to you, adding a particular vitamin to your diet won’t make you magically lose body fat.
- Butter makes your pants fall off.
- No, no it doesn’t, and if you add butter to your current diet you will almost certainly gain body fat not lose it. In fat, consuming high starch and sugar carbs and high fat at the same time will have disastrous consequences. However, it you switch to or are eating a low carb diet you can happily eat butter (but NOT in unlimited quantities!) and still lose body fat. Eating butter in and of itself does not make you lose body fat. No really, it doesn’t. And “Butter” Bob Briggs would agree with me wholeheartedly on this! He goes to great lengths on his videos to explain that this catch-phrase is only within the context of an LCHF, Lowcarb, or KETO diet, but if you’ve never seen Bob’s videos and don’t have that context then you would miss that key piece of info. I love Bob. Bob has done a ton to help folks get healthier, but anyone who sees this catchphrase out of context could get entirely the wrong idea. This is a perfect example of how lovely, well-intentioned people can have their wonderful message misconstrued by others through lack of context.
- Eat less, move more / Eat more, exercise less.
- No and yes. Yes and no. It very much depends on what you are eating and what exercise you are doing. If you are eating the wrong foods and doing most types of exercise you have to eat less and move more if you have any hope of losing body fat, and then you will likely still fail long-term and you almost definitely will not experience optimal health. If you are eating the right foods and doing eccentric or bodyweight or HIIT exercising then you can eat more and exercise less, lose body fat and experience optimal health.
- LowCarbHighFat (LCHF) for weight loss.
- Yes and no. It is the low carb of LCHF that (mostly) causes you to lose body fat, not the consumption of high fat. So as Ted Naiman likes to say, “If you have a body with high fat, all you need is the low carb”. In other words, if you want to lose body fat it’s not eating high fat (HF) that will get you there fastest, it’s the low carb (LC). You have all the fat you need for energy in your ‘on-board pantry’, so you don’t need to add large amounts of dietary fat to get the high fat (HF) part of the equation. The reason it’s called high fat is that because you are not eating any starch and sugar carbs you have to replace those calories from either protein or fat. Once you have eaten your daily protein needs the rest of the calories comes from fat, so it can seem like a lot of fat relative to what you ate before you started LCHF. However, to lose body fat faster, lower the amount of dietary fat you eat so that you burn more from your ‘on-board’ pantry. Note: I said “lower fat” not “zero fat”. You need to eat some of the right kinds of fat to be healthy.
- Too much protein makes you fat.
- No and yes. “Too much” means nothing out of context. Also, if you are trying to lose weight and you have eaten your body’s daily protein requirements and eaten enough calories to meet your daily energy needs then yes, eating more of pretty much anything except water and fiber will make you gain body fat. Protein in and of itself does not cause body fat gain.
- Raspberry ketones for fat loss.
- No and kind of. I remember recording a podcast with Jonathan Bailor where he went on an epic rant over Dr. Oz promoting and selling Raspberry Ketones on the basis that it was an amazing fat-loss product, because as Jonathan says, “No one ever gained weight because they were deficient in Raspberry Ketones”. Consuming Raspberry Ketones while you continue to eat your current diet will not make you lose body fat. Consuming Raspberry Ketones while you eat a low carb high fat diet will not make you lose more body fat than if you just eat a low carb high fat diet. However, Dr. Oz wasn’t all BS, because raspberries do contain high levels of ketones so consuming them will raise the amount you have floating around in your blood stream. But, and it’s a big but – it’s not high levels of ketones in your blood that cause you to lose body fat, it’s the absence of starch and sugar carbs. The body will always burn starch and sugar carbs provided by your food before they will start burning ketones or body fat for fuel.
I could go on and on with more examples but I hope you have enough here to stop you in your tracks the next time you see a one-liner, tweet, or soundbite without context, because as you can see, once you add context the message can change entirely.
Context: what you see is not always what you get.
And, just so you have this all in the right context, this post is written with folks who are looking to lose body fat in mind. If we change the context of audience or goals then some of the above applies and some of it doesn’t. This does not necessarily apply to people who are at their goal weight, athletes, or people who need to be in therapeutic KETO, for example, because there is not one size fits all when it comes to this whole diet thing.
Mark wakelingMike Keens mate
carrieHi Mark! I’m Mike Keen’s mate too :-)
Dave CandageStill awesome! Still love you!
carrieLOL, Dave. You cheer a girl up!
AndyGreat summary Carrie – you have cut through all the fluff and guff. Love your work!
carrieThanks, Andy! If it’s helping others I’m happy!
DebraGreat content?Keep it coming.
jonny DI don’t know about the lot of them, and I do get your point, but in the case of ‘Butter makes your pants fall off’, Bob makes it very clear that this “catch phrase” is only relevant in light of following a LCHF diet. If you’ve watched his videos, you know he goes to great lengths to explain that obesity is an insulin problem first and foremost, and getting it under control and then coupling it with the power of fasting, is an unbeatble strategy to lose body fat.
carrieJonny – YES! YES! YES! And that was my whole point. For the loads of people who haven’t watched the videos etc and don’t understand the context they could get completely the wrong idea. This post was in NO WAY poking at Bob! I love Bob! I don’t think for one second that Bob is trying to mislead anyone. Bob is awesome and has done a load of good for people’s health. Maybe I need to edit the post a little so that is clearer. I think lack of context is typically a side-effect of not having enough room or time to give the full explanation – not a conscious attempt to mislead people. Now click-bait and headlines…that’s another story. Does that help clarify my intent here? Thanks for posting so I had the chance to make the post better!
tracyWho is Bob and where can we see these videos?
jonny DHaha – it’s all good, Carrie. Didn’t mean to get all defensive, it’s just that Bob’s first video “Butter makes your pants fall off” is what got me started on this journey in the first place. I do understand your intentions for writing this article, it’s needed in the world of click-bait we live in and there’s a lot of bs that you have to wade through to find the gold nuggets. Thank you!
jonny DTracy, his name is Bob Briggs. Here’s his video upload list on youtube:
Wren Tidwellgood one Carrie! I’m with you on all of this. All of your time and research has paid off.
carrieThanks, Wren! Always good to get your feedback.
JulieLove this post Carrie! I’ve been fed up with these sources of information, like JB, turning into used car dealers. Do you have a good source for figuring out daily protein needs? Looking forward to more posts on the subject. What worked for me after kid #1 isn’t working after kid #2 and I’m feeling a bit lost.
EmmaLove this post, Carrie!
Having been on your journey vicariously since your early ‘duet’ podcast days, & some ensuing confusion about that info on my part as you moved forward on your own path and unpacked a whole load more info through your necessary & drastic experiments on yourself (!), your posts of the last 2 years have been the most honest, most useful, amd definitely the most inspiring & reassuring of the entire webiverse for me. Thanks for the time you give to share all the info you collect & test, and for the CONTEXT of the real world that you always add!
I’m so very glad you have found a route to real health, and have shared all the information about the incredible changes you had to make, and the real, amazing results you’ve had personally. Wishing you continued health improvements as you no doubt pursue more info & more tweaks :) Thanks for sharing everything x
Karen RyanWhat you say in your article is sadly true of our culture today. Very few people want to take the time to understand anything that is stated about a particular subject. Result of that: just believing what is stated out of context. Matters of faith, political statements, quick fix diets, etc., are all falsely represented and spread like wildfire. We seek anything spoken or in print that supports what we are comfortable believing rather than seeking context and learning truth. Anyway, I know I am rambling, but thanks for reminding me to not take even “diet speak” out of context.