Obesity crisis solved, no fuss required.

financial independence
A scene from Wall-E

I was recently trapped sitting somewhere where Sky News is left on all the time.

Sky brought to my attention something called an “obesity crisis” which is apparently a ticking timebomb in the West about which they want us to worry so much we’ll need a cup of tea and 2 bars of chocolate just to calm down.

This, of course, is bullshit. There is no “obesity crisis”…there are just a lot of fat people about these days. Fortunately, this is a trivial problem which I have now solved.

Let me start with a personal revelation. The Escape Artist was not always the athletic and toned figure you now see before you.  I may not have eaten all of the pies, but I certainly looked like I’d had my fair share…and some. That I’d always done a fair amount of cycling and running didn’t seem to help that much.

This changed about 3 years ago, after I read about what was variously described as “The Caveman Diet”, “The New Evolution Diet” or the “de Vany diet” after its author.

Now normally The Escape Artist’s BS Geiger CounterTM starts to crackle loudly when near a diet book.  But I sat up and took notice when I saw that the forward recommending the book was written by Nassim Taleb (author of the The Black Swan etc).  As I had read Taleb’s books and knew that he was 1) not stupid and 2) not in the PR business, this prompted me to buy the book.

I recommend you read the book yourself in full. And then re-read it. But, as a down-payment to get started, here are the key takeaways:

  1. Eat as close as you can to what a caveman / cavewoman would have eaten
  2. This means eating real, natural food that used to grow (vegetables, salad, fruit, nuts), swim (fish), fly (birds) and run (red meat)
  3. Do not eat things that were made in chemical plants (e.g. margarine) or factories (e.g. Ready meals, Smash, Custard Powder, Vienettas)
  4. Avoid carbohydrates (e.g. bread, pasta) – they are the products of the agricultural revolution, developed after we evolved.
  5. Eat as much as you like…but skip the occasional meal
  6. Exercise little, but when you do, do it with intensity, randomness and variation
  7. Live free range…not like a battery hen

I lost over a stone within a two weeks of eating this way and I never went back. Perfection is, however, not required.  I remain a sucker for Fruit & Nut chocolate.

The label “diet” is in some ways misleading.  This approach works because it does not rely on self-denial and willpower.  You realise you are feeling better and enjoying food more and, if you get hungry, you just eat more good stuff.  One interesting change was that you start to taste the flavour in real food much more – I realised that added flavouring / sugar must have been drowning out the natural tastes.

I’ve come to realise that most of the food infrastructure around us is built around the economics of selling cheap carbohydrates at high profit margins.  If you are selling convenience food, to maximise profit you want to charge the highest prices for ingredients that cost you very little.

Bread, pizza, crisps, pasta etc are all as cheap as…errr…chips to make.  The vendors can then charge a massive premium when selling food in convenient locations (eg railway stations, airports, shopping centres).  To avoid being a “forced” buyer of processed carbs whilst out and about, a little foreward planning is sometimes required but its not that difficult.

A word of caution once you have become a convert and start to tell others. People can get defensive. Its strange but if people fear that someone might be about to take away their treats, they may start to react a bit like Gollum in The Hobbit when he thinks someone is about to steal “The Precious“.

As a result, I eventually stopped mentioning this stuff at work / socially. You will, however, need to talk with your spouse / partner to explain what is going on. Otherwise they may think that the reason you are looking fitter and have more mojo is that you are having an affair.

You may be asking – what has all this to do with reaching financial independence?  Well, it turns out that eating naturally is not only tastier and healthier but, with the exception of expensive meat, much cheaper.

As well as the direct cost savings available from a more natural diet, there is also an interesting analogy between the mental aspects of 1. saving / investing and 2. losing weight. In both cases, most people know what needs to be done; its just a matter of motivation and sticking to the plan. Both are simple but not always easy.

The media tell us that natural food costs more and the reason that many poor people are fat is that they can not afford to eat healthily and are cruelly forced by society to eat fast food, washed down with fizzy drinks in front of plasma screen TVs. This is not just bullshit, it is first-class, red-roped, celebrity bullshit.

I have tested and proved all this to myself beyond reasonable doubt. I didn’t need to write an academic dissertation or sit for 2 years on a government taskforce. Instead, I conducted a simple experiment that was more fun and which anyone can replicate:  I went to a Tesco, bought some reasonably priced vegetables & salad etc. and then went home and ate them.

The only scenario in which buying fruit & veg is expensive is if you buy it, then order delivery pizza and then throw away the fruit & veg unused. That is unfortunately what many people do.

That’s their choice. However, without a change of plan, they are unlikely to escape the Prison Camp.

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  1. Tesco! Try your local greengrocer. Today I bought all this for £11:50. 50-75% less than a supermarket.

    – 3 punnets of strawberries
    – 3 punnets of blueberries
    – 3 punnets of raspberries
    – 8 bananas
    – 8 apples
    – 1 large bag of cherries
    – 2 fresh sweetcorn
    – 5 avocados

    Picture: http://1drv.ms/TyUIg6

    Same price as a Dominos pizza & coke.

  2. It is simple to lose weight, but not easy. There are too many emotional, cultural and social connections between people and food to make it easy. Free you mind and your ass will follow. And also the availability of food makes it worse. Your genes load the gun and your lifestyle pulls the trigger. Best advice I ever heard was ‘Eat fresh food, not too much, mostly plants’.

    Prize to anyone who spots my plagiarism and identifies my sources…

  3. DP – You’re quoting Michael Pollan. Nice.

    TEA – If you have a chance, check out what I’ll have posted this coming Monday. It’s similar and I think you might get a kick out of it. I guess you could say great minds think alike?

  4. I’ve never been overweight but subsisted on a high carb high sugar diet for years and found myself to be always tired. Easy to put this down to too much work and play, which is a factor, but since I started loosely following the caveman diet I am feeling much better all round. Mrs TFS is always trying to keep the weight off so after a short period of persuasion she’s getting into it as well and the effects are good. We probably still eat too many carbs but try to stick to rice or real potatoes which are still natural in my book.

    We used to make most meals from scratch anyway so really all I changed was the type of meals (less bread and pasta) and cutting out crisps and sweets as my snacks and replacing that with apples and nuts, which I’ve always liked anyway and are both very tasty treats!

    On the whole “telling other people” thing. I will only tell people if they ask my opinion or advice, but like you say most people don’t seem to get it. They still see crisps and sweets as treats and that is doomed to fail, a major change in perspective is needed to succeed and no doubt arming yourself with information such as reading the book you recommend might help.

    Now when people offer me such things I kind of dread it as know ultimately it may contribute to me feeling crap further down the line. Like you say perfection isn’t necessary (or even possible?!) and I’m a sucker for the occasional choccy bar. It’s just one a week rather than 2 a day now 🙂

  5. […] Particularly if the conclusion is consuming more of something novel and unnatural is good for you. The Escape Artist gives you a rough guide if the simplicity of Michael Pollan’s Eat Food, mostly plants and not too much is too simple […]

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