Irreverent Skeptics Podcast Episode 16 – It’s a Good Day to Diet

On March 29, 2014, the gang talked about dieting – fad diets, diets that work, diets that could kill you, and so on. We also talked about what actually worked for all of us and why some diets just aren’t up to snuff. Read on for the show notes! We also have a couple of outtakes: here’s the first and here’s the second.

For best results, never eat this.

For best results, never eat this.


Today we’re going to talk about fad diets. People all over the world have been trying for ages to find easy ways to lose weight and get fit, which has led to the development of a huge number of often bizarre and sometimes potentially dangerous diet ideas. But do any of them actually work? We’ll discuss just a small number of the more popular fad diets and see if there’s any merit to them. So what is dieting, really? Dieting is any change in behavior and food consumption that you undertake to have a desired effect such as weight loss or improved heart/liver/etc. function. Most people diet to lose weight. But there are drawbacks to losing too much weight too quickly, and unless the diet is designed to be maintained long-term, you’re likely to gain the weight back when you go off the diet. Fad Diets:

  • Paleo
    • The paleolithic diet is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans. It is based on the premise that human genetics have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture, which marked the end of the Paleolithic era, around 15,000 years ago, and that modern humans are adapted to the diet of the Paleolithic period.
    • The Paleolithic diet consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils. Certain portions should be established for balance of nutrients to maintain homeostasis.
    • Proponents argue that modern human populations subsisting on traditional diets, allegedly similar to those of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, are largely free of diseases of affluence and that Paleolithic diets in humans have shown improved health outcomes relative to other widely-recommended diets.
    • The paleolithic diet is a controversial topic among dietitians and anthropologists. An article on the website of the National Health Service of the United Kingdom Choices refers to it as a fad diet.
    • The Paleolithic diet is also known as the “paleo diet”, “paleodiet”, “caveman diet”, “Stone Age diet”, and “hunter-gatherer diet”.
  • The Werewolf Diet – aka The Lunar Diet or The Moon Diet
    • The basic idea of this diet is to drink water, fruit or vegetable juice (fresh squeezed) for a 24 hour period when the moon is full.
    • An extended version of this plan tailors the diet around phases of the moon. Time and amounts of food eaten will vary by the moon’s current phase.
    • from moonconnection.com: “Human knowledge throughout time have spoken of the moon’s effect on the earth and the human body. The moon’s gravitational pull dictates the action of the ocean’s tides. A woman’s menstrual cycle runs in parallel to the cycle of the moon. Some believe the moon affects the emotions – for example, the full moon stimulates aggressive behavior.” (which is utterly bullshit) “In addition, the moon can affect the water contained in the human body. The human body is 60% water. When the moon reaches its full phase and new phase, its gravitational pull combines with the sun for the greatest gravitational effect. This period of increased effect lasts about 24 hours.”
  • HCG – Human Chorionic Gonadotropin
    • The “crazy” or “icky” factor of this diet is that you are injected with or ingest pills of a hormone (hCG) of pregnant women.
    • The real mechanism of weight loss in this case is that one eats no more than 500 calories per day. Considering that the average American adult eats an average of around 2500 calories per day, this is going to be a shocking change and one that would be impossible to maintain indefinitely.
    • hCG is only approved for treatment of infertility and there is a lack of evidence that injecting one’s self with hCG is a viable long-term weight-loss solution.
  • Vegan (can certainly be undertaken as a fad diet)
    • (To the detriment of babies and kittens alike)
    • A diet where no animal products are consumed. So honey, eggs, milk, cheese, etc are foregone in this case. There are a number of plant-based diets that are similar.
  • Raw Food
    • This is the practice of eating only uncooked and unprocessed foods. Types of foods eaten can include: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, beef and unpasteurized dairy products. I saw cheeses and yogurts included in the list, but wonder how that is justified under the non-processed bit.
    • Developed in the 1890s by Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner of Switzerland, inventor of muesli. Popularized somewhat in 1984 by Leslie Kenton’s book “Raw Energy – Eat Your Way to Radian [or degree] Health”. It cited examples of the diets of long-lived Hunza people, in Northern Pakistan, as proof of the benefits of a raw food diet.
  • Blood Type [McElroy] – this one is especially bullshitty and pseudoscientific. I had no idea. Per Wiki:
    • The blood type diet is a nutritional diet advocated by Peter J. D’Adamo, outlined in his book Eat Right 4 Your Type. D’Adamo claims that ABO blood type is the most important factor in determining a healthy diet and recommends distinct diets for each blood type. Throughout his books, D’Adamo cites the works of biochemists and glycobiologists who have researched blood groups, claiming or implying that their research supports this theory. The consensus among dietitians, physicians, and scientists is that the theory is unsupported by scientific evidence.
    • D’Adamo’s premise is that blood type is key to the human body’s ability to differentiate self from non-self. Lectins in foods, he asserts, react differently with each ABO blood type and, to a lesser extent, with an individual’s secretor status. (Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that perform recognition on the cellular and molecular level and play numerous roles in biological recognition phenomena involving cells, carbohydrates, and proteins.
      • Blood group O is described by D’Adamo as the hunter. He recommends that those of this blood group eat a higher protein diet. The group is alleged by D’Adamo to be the first blood type and to have originated 30,000 years ago, although research indicates that blood type A is actually the oldest.
      • Blood group A is called the agrarian or cultivator by D’Adamo, who believes this type dates from the dawn of agriculture, 20,000 years ago. He recommends that individuals of blood group A eat a diet that emphasizes vegetables and is free of red meat, a diet more closely vegetarian.
      • Blood group B is called the nomad by D’Adamo, who estimates this group to have arrived 10,000 years ago. He states that this type is associated with a strong immune system and a flexible digestive system. He also asserts that people of blood type B are the only people able to thrive on dairy products; this is contradicted by the fact that while people with blood type B tend to be from Asia (specifically, China or India), lactose intolerance is most common among people of Asian, South American, and African descent and least common among those descended from northern Europe or northwestern India.
      • Blood group AB is described by D’Adamo as the enigma, and believes it to be the most recently evolved type and to have arrived less than 1,000 years ago. In terms of dietary needs, he treats this group as an intermediate between blood types A and B.
    • The blood type diet has met with criticisms for many different reasons. D’Adamo responds to several of these on his website.
    • A 2013 scientific review by the Centre for Evidence-Based Practice of the Belgian Red Cross, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concludes that no scientific evidence exists to support the blood type diet theory and calls for properly designed scientific studies to address it: “No evidence currently exists to validate the purported health benefits of blood type diets. To validate these claims, studies are required that compare the health outcomes between participants adhering to a particular blood type diet (experimental group) and participants continuing a standard diet (control group) within a particular blood type population.”
    • Criticisms of D’Adamo’s research include:
      • Consistently providing inadequate evidence – his first book had no references, only a bibliography, and in subsequent books, his specific process and reasons for reaching his classification conclusions remain undocumented.
      • Restricting the complex processes of the human body to just four limiting stereotypes is basically a kind of “blood type astrology”.
      • There is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the asserted associations between disease states and ABO blood types. D’Adamo has published no peer-reviewed articles with data to support his claims. For example, his claim that elderberry can be used as a remedy for the common flu lacks scientific evidence and may be misleading.
      • D’Adamo claims many ABO specific lectins exist in foods. This claim is unsubstantiated by established biochemical research, which has found no differences in the reactions of lectins with human ABO types. Research shows that, with rare exceptions, lectins specific to a particular ABO type are generally not found in foods and that lectins with ABO specificity are more frequently found in non-food plants or animals.
      • While D’Adamo’s theory refers to lectins in food that react to specific ABO blood types, he cites a study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition to support his claim that actually makes the opposite conclusion.
      • The blood type diet has been criticized for its lack of support by clinical trials. In Eat Right 4 Your Type, D’Adamo mentions the diets being in the eighth year of a 10 year cancer trial. However, the results of this trial have never been published. In his book Arthritis: Fight It With the Blood type Diet, D’Adamo mentions an impending clinical trial of the blood type diet to determine its effects on the outcomes of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, but the results of this 12 week trial have also never been published. A study published 16 and 7 years, respectively, after the books (in July 2013) turned up no published results of any such trials.
      • D’Adamo’s assertion that the O blood type was the first human blood type requires that the O gene have evolved before the A and B genes in the ABO locus; phylogenetic networks of human and non-human ABO alleles show that the A gene was the first to evolve. It would be extraordinary, evolutionarily, for normal genes (those for types A and B) to have evolved from abnormal genes (for type O). The paper “Evolution of Primate ABO Blood Group Genes and Their Homologous Genes”, published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, put it this way: “Although the O blood type is common in all populations around the world, there is no evidence that the O gene represents the ancestral gene at the ABO locus. Nor is it reasonable to suppose that a defective gene would arise spontaneously and then evolve into normal genes.” A 2004 study concluded that “diversification of the representative alleles of the three human ABO lineages (A101, B101, and O02) was estimated at 4.5 to 6 million years ago”. D”Adamo asserts that the ABO blood types emerged between 30,000 and 1,000 years ago.
  • Weight Watchers [McElroy]
    • Does it work? Well, it’s a pretty basic idea: reduce the intake of things which will get stored as long-term energy storage in fat, get exercise to burn off calories, reduce portion sizes to reduce caloric intake, and view the plan as a life-long change rather than a quick fix. Personally, when I took it seriously, I lost about 27 pounds over about 12 weeks, and it wasn’t a huge hassle. But I didn’t stick with it, and I gained the weight back and more…
    • What do studies show?
      • There are lots of studies funded by Weight Watchers that are, unsurprisingly, all positive. But there’s plenty of independent research as well that confirms the results.
      • (per Time’s article Study: Weight Watchers Works Better than Clinical Weight Loss Programs, October 11, 2012) Study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the journal Obesity: a study pitting the commercial weight-loss program against professionally directed weight loss treatments found that dieters stuck with Weight Watchers longer and were more likely to lose weight.
      • Researchers randomly assigned 141 overweight or obese men and women to one of three groups: a behavioral weight-loss treatment led by a health professional; Weight Watchers, whose weight-loss groups are led by peer counselors; or a hybrid program that started with 12 weeks of behavioral weight loss treatment, followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers. All programs lasted a total of 48 weeks.
      • People in all three groups experienced significant weight loss: it didn’t matter whether a health professional was running the treatment or not. On average, Weight Watchers users lost just over 13 lbs., compared with just under 12 lbs. for those who lasted all 48 weeks in the professionally led group, and nearly 8 lbs. for people in the combination treatment.
      • The Weight Watchers group fared best overall. Nearly 37% of those doing Weight Watchers lost at least 10% of their starting weight, compared with 11% of those in the professionally led group and 15% of those in the hybrid group. The researchers said they were surprised, since they assumed the hybrid treatment would lead to the most success.
      • The Weight Watchers members attended more meetings and were more likely to stick with the study to the end than people in the other two groups.
    • I have personal experience with this. The basic concept is keeping track of the things you eat to control your intake of sugar, fiber, fat, and calories. The program provides you with tools and meal ideas for meeting your basic dietary needs and avoiding things that could cause weight gain. It also promotes regular exercise and the use of a support structure of other dieters to encourage you to stick with the plan.
  • Detox/Cleansing
    • Some diets are meant to help ‘cleanse’ or ‘detox’ the body as well, but most popular cleansing/detox diets are pretty unscientific, often promoting the idea that you can remove unspecified ‘toxins’ from your body by drinking special juices or taking herbs.
    • From WebMD’s The Truth About Detox Diets page:
      • You might lose weight on a detox diet, because they’re usually very low in calories.
      • But the idea that your body needs help getting rid of toxins has “no basis in human biology,” says Frank Sacks, MD, of the Harvard School of Public Health. Your organs and immune system handle those duties, no matter what you eat.
      • Some involve fasting, or just drinking liquids. Others allow some foods, like fruits and vegetables. They typically are short diets — they’re not a way of eating you can stick with in the long run.
      • You’ll be hungry and may feel weak. Whether or not a detox diet is safe
      • depends on the plan and how long you stay on it.
  • ATKINS DIET
    • The Atkins Diet, officially called the Atkins Nutritional Approach, is a low-carbohydrate diet promoted by Robert Atkins from a research paper he read in The Journal of the American Medical Association published by Alfred W. Pennington, titled “Weight Reduction”, published in 1958.[1]
    • Atkins used the study to resolve his own overweight condition. He later popularized the method in a series of books, starting with Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972. In his second book, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (2002), he modified parts of the diet but did not alter the original concepts.
    • The New Atkins for a New You (2010) is based upon a broad array of information gained over the last decade not covered in previous editions, including nutrient-rich foods. The New Atkins for a New You Cookbook was released in 2011 by Colette Heimowitz to provide dieters with simple, low-carb recipes.
    • The Atkins Diet involves limited consumption of carbohydrates to switch the body’s metabolism from metabolizing glucose as energy over to converting stored body fat to energy. This process, called ketosis, begins when insulin levels are low; in normal humans, insulin is lowest when blood glucose levels are low (mostly before eating). Reduced insulin levels induce lipolysis, which consumes fat to produce ketone bodies. On the other hand, caloric carbohydrates (for example, glucose or starch, the latter made of chains of glucose) affect the body by increasing blood sugar after consumption (in the treatment of diabetes, blood sugar levels are used. [2]) Fiber, because of its low digestibility, provides little or no food energy and does not significantly affect glucose and insulin levels.
  • Lemonade Diet Drink (cleanse) (Ew)
    • “Did you know: The slim and trim Beyonce’ Knowles in the movie “Dreamgirls” lived on a crash diet consisting of lemon cayenne pepper drink for 14 days to reduce 20 pounds, in order to fit into the role of a teenager! Read on to know more about how to make this detox drink.
    • Popularly known as master cleanse diet, lemon juice detox or lemon detox diet is basically a liquid diet comprising lemon cayenne pepper drink. It is claimed to be effective for cleansing the body, for boosting energy, for clearer skin, and for better sleep. Lemon detox diet is also said to beneficial for losing weight. Though the diet was developed for the purpose of detoxification and fasting, it is now very popular as a weight loss program.”
  • Keto – Ketogenic Diet (similar to Atkins, but I don’t know for sure that it’s undertaken as a fad diet) it definitely is – http://www.reddit.com/r/keto
    • A high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, used in medicine primarily to treat epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fuelling brain function. However, if there is very little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state known as ketosis, leads to a reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures.
  • Tapeworm Diet
    • Tape worm diet, sounds insane and disgusting right? Well, after this article you will understand how this diet actually works, the theories behind the results and maybe even consider a tape worm or two of your own. Or not.
    • Tapeworms Balance Our Immune System
    • Many years ago before the modernization that we have become accustomed to today, it was common for the human body to have a variety of worms. Diet, hygiene and other lifestyle changes have meant that most if not all worms in the body have been removed in developed nations.
    • Now some believe that our bodies have not evolved to a point where it is accustomed to being free of worms. Consequently, our bodies are still undergoing the process of looking for the worms that our bodies inhabited for so many years. But they’re not there now. What does this mean? This means that the body becomes more sensitive to other foreign material creating an immune system imbalance. This immune balance is responsible for conditions that are currently rife in society, for example in the common form of allergies such as psoriasis, hay fever etc. This is the theory anyway. And the fix? Introduce not just any old worm back into the human body, but specific worms that help to keep the immune system in balance.
    • A side effect, which we are focusing on in this article, is that of weight loss.
    • How Does the Tape Worm Diet work?
    • The way that tapeworms aid in weight loss is reminiscent of urban myth and in fact, the concept of using tape worms for weight loss has been around for almost a century.
    • Tapeworms Reduce Calories
    • The idea is that introducing tapeworm into the body means that the food you eat is split between your own body and that of the tapeworm. You are a host and tapeworm uses you by attaching suckers to your stomach and feeding on the foods that you eat. To expel calories, we are usually required to expend energy through exercise as an example. The tapeworm is an additional means of reducing the amount of calories that you absorb WITHOUT reducing the calories that you consume. Supporters of the tapeworm will praise this idea of dieters being able to eat whatever they choose to eat while still losing weight.
    • How to Ingest a Tapeworm
    • The traditional way of becoming infected with a tapeworm is by eating raw meat, being in contact with infected faeces and other foods containing tapeworm. However, for the purposes of dieting, methods would include the tablet form.
    • Life cycle of the Tapeworm
    • After being ingested, the tapeworm makes its way through the digestive system, attaching itself and feeding as it goes. Eventually, it will make its way out of the body with bowel movements. This is a very unpleasant experience both physically and psychologically. People have been known to take drugs designed to reduce the lifespan of the tapeworm so that it is already dead when it is removed from the body.”
    • Tapeworm Diet Side Effects
      • When the tapeworm diet is being promoted, then of course the side effect of weight loss will be at the top of the list. But let us take a look at some of the other potential side effects & symptoms of the tapeworm diet.
        • Abdominal pain
        • Weakness
        • Headache
        • Nausea
        • Diarrhoea
        • Constipation
        • Bloating
  • Grapefruit Diet
    • “There have been a few studies about grapefruit and weight loss. In one, obese people who ate half a grapefruit before meals for 12 weeks lost significantly more weight than those who didn’t eat or drink any grapefruit products.
    • It may be that the water in grapefruit helps you feel full, and then you eat less. But if you’re hoping that grapefruit will melt fat, you’re going to be disappointed.
    • Trying to lose 10 pounds in 10 days isn’t healthy. Even if it worked, you’d be likely to gain it all back, as with any fad diet. For lasting results, it’s much better to lose weight at a slower, steadier rate, focusing on a plan you can live with for life.
    • The classic version of the diet involves:
      • Cutting back on sugar and carbs (including rice, potatoes, and pasta)
      • Avoiding certain foods, such as celery and white onion
      • Eating more of foods that are high in protein, fat, and/or cholesterol (such as eggs, pork, and red meat)
      • Eating grapefruit or grapefruit juice before or with every meal
    • Most variations also cut calories, some to as low as 800 calories per day.
    • On the diet, you also drink 8 glasses of water and 1 cup of coffee daily.”
  • SLIM FAST
    • Basically, the plan is thus:
      • A shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and then a 500 calorie dinner.
      • ‘Nuff said..
  • New Guy Diet (Joke)
    • This diet involves 4 basic food groups
      • Bacon Group
      • Chili group
      • Cheese Group
      • Meat Group
        • Hot Dog
        • Hamburger
        • Gyros Meat
    • Foods with one or all these groups are prefered.
    • It does require some exercise.
    • Works best when there is a health nut present.

List of diets:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar Diet –
  • Body for Life – A calorie-control diet.
  • Cookie Diet – Another calorie-control diet in which low-fat cookies are eaten to quell hunger, often in place of a meal.
  • Hacker’s Diet – A calorie-control diet from “The Hacker’s Diet” by John Walker. It’s basically a system of carefully monitoring caloric intake.
  • Nutrisystem Diet – The dietary element of the weight-loss plan from Nutrisystem, Inc. Nutrisystem distributes low-calorie meals, with specific ratios of fats, proteins and carbohydrates
  • Breatharian Diet – A diet in which no food is consumed, based on the belief that food is not necessary for human subsistence.
  • Dukan Diet – A multi-step diet based on high protein and limited carbohydrate consumption. It starts with two steps intended to facilitate short term weight loss, followed by two steps intended to consolidate these losses and return to a more balanced long-term diet.
  • ITG Diet – A 3-step diet based on limiting carbohydrate consumption combined with low fat protein to maintain muscle. The first step is followed to reach the dieter’s goal weight while steps two and three focus on returning the body and dieter to a healthy balanced diet for long term weight maintenance.
  • South Beach –
  • Stillman Diet
  • Beverly Hills Diet – An diet that restricts foods to only fruits in the first days and gradually increases the selection of foods up to the sixth week.
  • Cabbage Soup Diet – A low-calorie diet based upon heavy consumption of cabbage soup and probably a lot of socially awkward fart hiding moments.
  • Israeli Army Diet – An eight-day diet where only apples are consumed in the first two days. Cheese in the following two days, chicken on days five and six, and salad for the final two days. Despite what the name suggests, the diet is not followed by Israel Defense Forces.
  • Junk Food Diet – wut?
  • Alkaline Diet – The avoidance of relatively acidic foods – foods with low pH levels – such as grains, dairy, meat, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and fungi. Proponents believe such a diet may have health benefits; critics consider the arguments to have no scientific basis.
  • Feingold Diet – A diet which attempts to combat hyperactivity by avoiding foods with certain synthetic additives and sweeteners.
  • Fruitarian Diet – A diet which predominantly consists of raw fruit.
  • Jenny Craig – A weight-loss program from Jenny Craig, Inc. It includes weight counselling among other elements. The dietary aspect involves the consumption of pre-packaged food produced by the company.

[Testimonial(s)] WUTs: Abraham game makers believe they are in a fight with Satan:

  • From Colin Campbell at gaming news site Polygon: Richard Gaeta, co-founder of Phoenix Interactive and the man behind the Kickstarter for Bible Chronicles: The Call of Abraham, says he believes 100% that Satan is literally working to confound the plans to release the game. In the end, the game, which follows the life of Abraham (a central figure in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) raised only $19,000 of its $100,000 target, and they are now seeking alternative fund-raising efforts.
    • “It’s very tangible,” added business partner Martin Bertram. “From projects falling through and people that were lined up to help us make this a success falling through. Lots of factors raining down on us like fire and brimstone.”
    • If Satan is rallying some of his resources to forestall, delay, or kill this project, I think, this must be a perceived threat to his kingdom,” added Ken Frech, a religious mentor to the project. “I fully would expect something like this to have spiritual warfare. Look at the gospel accounts of demons and so forth. That’s reality. Many Americans don’t believe it anymore. That doesn’t change reality.
  • Phoenix Interactive’s executives are Biblical literalists. Gaeta scoffs at the wishy-washy notion that Bible stories are allegories. Bertram dismisses the theory of evolution as “wrong.” Polygon’s Campbell asked them if they believe the world was created 6,000 years ago. “Yes,” they both said, without the faintest hint of prevarication. They also believe that the extraordinary stories surrounding Abraham all happened, just as they are described in the Book of Genesis.
  • The game is an action-RPG in which you play as an attendant in Abraham’s party. You witness Biblical events, and play a role in the overall group’s adventures, fetching, fighting and questing. God appears from time-to-time.
  • Gaeta and Bertram speak of coming to business decisions through prayer. They regularly gather in a local diner, along with a panel of religious advisers (all men, all middle-aged). As they wait for their pancakes and fried potatoes, they hold hands and pray for guidance. This, they say, helped them decide to make their game about Abraham, rather than other options, like Moses or Jesus. They want to tackle those other Biblical stories at a later time. God, they say, will help them choose when and how.

Maricopa, AZ vice mayor Farrell apologizes for pro-Westboro Facebook post – a RWNJ politician shared a fake Onion obituary of Fred Phelps that praised the man for standing against homosexuality on biblical principles. He had never heard of Phelps or The Onion. The quotes in the article are fucking golden. Onion obit: Fred Phelps, Man Who Forever Stopped March Of Gay Rights, Dead At 84

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2 Comments

  1. For the paleo diet to work correctly, it seems to me that the dieter would have to walk or run everywhere they went. Unless one could hitch a ride on one of Ken Ham’s tame dinosaurs, there were no modes of transportation.

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