Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A million and one ways to lose a stone and other ridiculous lists

“50 no-brainer ways to cut 50 calories”, “100 simple ways to lose weight”, “20 ways to get fit while you work”.....I could go on. The number of lengthy lists out there giving you an endless number of ideas to get fit or lose weight or somehow dramatically change your life for the better is pretty big. They are in magazines, on websites; there are even published books with such lists. But are they any good? Do they offer us good advice?
The first problem with these lists is the huge number of pieces of information that are thrown at us. The human brain can only hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds, so, is it useful giving us 100 things? It would probably take a lot longer than 30 seconds to read any of these lists anyway. By the time we finish the list we have probably already forgotten the first few things that were on it. And, if the list is in a magazine or on a website, chances are we will only read the list once, meaning that of all the things on the list, we won’t remember that many and probably implement even less.
Another problem with this gigantean lists is their vagueness. The lists are so long that if what was in them had any substance to them, they would need to be in a book that would already need a lot of strength and stamina to carry and open (a little like the catalogues in an Argos store). “Eat protein for breakfast”. That’s the first item in one of the lists that I saw recently. That is stupidly vague. “East protein for breakfast”, it doesn’t say how much protein, why we should eat protein, some people won’t even know what protein is. The only good thing about this little piece of advice is that it does mean there is a possibility that someone, somewhere, is cutting into a 12oz steak for breakfast, because a list said eat protein for breakfast, and maybe that’s just me, but that’s a funny image.
So, the lists are too long for us to remember most of what’s in them and what is in them is too vague, but the worst thing about these lists is that some of what is in them isn’t just vague, it’s wrong. What a lot of these lists do see that University X has just published a study showing Y, therefore Y must be true. In reality though there are often lots of studies about the same thing that give different answers. Look at alcohol; one minute it’s good for us to have a glass of red wine every now and again, the next, we shouldn’t have any alcohol. Eggs, chocolate, pilates...there are so many things that are hailed one day and attacked the next. These lists do not spend hours on end researching each individual item in the list to ensure their scientific validity, they just see that one study has said, “Yes, this is a good thing”, and into the list it goes.
Not all of the things in these lists are nonsense. There are some little things in everyone’s life that could be changed to make them a little healthier, but the effect that these little changes have on their own is tiny. Imagine trying to shift a beach one grain of sand at a time. Big changes are often needed like exercising regularly. Next time you come across one of these lists then, take caution and do not just believe what’s in them, if you can remember by the time you get to the end.
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