What is Reasonable Eating?

Would it be OK if you could get to exactly the shape, the weight, the health you wanted through eating?

What if you could literally eat your way to better health, to great shape, to abundant energy?

Would it be OK if you didn't have to change? If you didn't have to adopt any inconvenient routines?

What if you could get to a perfectly healthy state without burdensome exercise regimes?

What if you could get to exactly where you wanted to go shape-wise without ever really having to feel hungry?

What about if you could do it all without having to subscribe to monthly vitamin supplements from Dr. X's new Miracle Vitamin Cure Solution Company?

Of course, these things sound way too good to be true, which is why you may have to read the next couple of chapters if you need to build your belief a little.

On the other hand, if you're already in a place of total belief and you don't care about any of the back story then go straight to Chapter 4: The Algorithms, and get cracking.

The truth is that most of us like a little bit more about the theory of a thing before we get too involved in it. Especially if it involves practices that are different from what everyone else is doing.

There's a lot of crazy stuff out there these days - largely the result of the unfettered ability to self-publish via the internet. And you know what? A lot of people are going to think you're crazy too!

Especially when you tell them how simple it all is.

But on a personal note, I don't think that's such a bad thing. If everyone thinks you're crazy it means you're either into something, or you're crazy.

I gave up wondering what other people thought about me a long time ago. Well, not quite entirely. I'm still in the human form after all, and I still prefer approval from others rather than rejection. But in practical terms, I seldom let the worry of what other people might think deter me from my course of action.

Luckily, you don't have to do that. I've got ways of explaining things that will make it very easy for you to tell people what you're doing when they enquire.

And they will.

Within a few weeks of going on this programme you're going to have people coming up to you in the supermarket saying 'Crikey Moses! What the hell have you done?' 'I mean, you look amazing. What are you ON? I want some of that!'

And then you'll tell them and they a) won't believe you and b) will be somewhat disappointed that it isn't some brand new technology, some new whizzo formula thing that will be the holy grail they've been looking for all their lives.

Believe me, I went to a family wedding recently and several family members hadn't seen me for months. They literally could not believe how well I looked and how much weight I'd lost.

And when I told them what I'd actually done, they just thought I was messing about.

What? You're kidding me? Is that all???!!!!

Well, no. That's not quite all, but y'know, that IS the most of it!

So, first of all I'm going to hit you with a few of my thoughts on this whole business of eating.

Tom's Thoughts Number 1: All Diets Work.

Well, probably not ALL. I'm sure there's a crazy diet based on some fabricated indigenous african warrior tribe that involves you ingesting the sap of some remote plant in supplement form, miraculously re-created in the lab by our world renowned nutritionist Dr Ludovic Van Herzberg phD and only available through our slightly awkward to pronounce pyramid scheme…

But certainly, MOST diets work.

And I’m sure that's not what you were expecting me to say!

It's usually at this point in a 'diet programme' that they try to tell you why every other diet doesn’t work and why the reason that their new one actually does work is because of some latest scientific understanding, backed up by incontrovertible scientific research study findings etc...

Well I’m not going to be saying that. I'm saying that pretty much all diets work. Sure, there will be some that you are better suited to than others but, in general, for most people, they will all work.

Some diets will focus on eating less of food A, and more of food B, adopting more of strategy X and less of strategy Y, but in general, diets help people to manage their weight.

And deep down, most of us know this already.

So, what do we do? In our search for the answer, we look for stuff to be a lot more complicated than it really is.

Diet proponents introduce such a range of complexity that we have no reason to possibly object to their impeccable logic. They talk about all the reasons why all the other approaches won't work and go on to say how this new approach is finally the one that will consistently solve the eating conundrum of the western world.

Our search is a natural phenomenon, it's a manifestation of a deep human desire to find truth, in places where it doesn't exist...

Anyway, we now have such a plethora of approaches to eating that any alien observer could only reasonably conclude one thing: Humans are pretty weird.

Most of the favoured approaches classify as fads. They're popular for a while because they're new but they soon get replaced by the next one. A lot of them are totally contradictory and people become so overwhelmed with all the options that they plump for the newest, the most recent research because they are blinded by the fact that it's not the diet that's the problem.

The problem with diets is not the diet itself, it's the willpower of the follower. The diets work if you stick to them. We just don’t stick to them.

Well there are actually a few problems, it's not quite as simple as that.

There are other factors that end up meaning some diets require less willpower than others for reasons that will soon become clear. But the willpower one is the biggest. The other massive one is awareness.

Despite being in many regards the most advanced form of life on the planet, we have the remarkable ability to completely discount the future effect of current actions.

It's a well known psychological phenomenon and is called Hyperbolic Discounting

All it means is that humans have perfected the art of making decisions that their future selves would have preferred them not to have made.

We are basically pretty bad at delaying the rewards in the present in order to achieve a greater reward in the future.

We are much better at the 'live now, pay later' approach to life.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment performed an interesting study into the whole concept and for those of you interested, here's the wikipedia page: Marshmallow Experiment

The 30 second summary is that the ability of children to resist immediate gratification in order to benefit from a greater future payoff, seemed to correlate strongly with the ability to succeed in later life.

As with all social science experiments, you should be wary of drawing firm conclusions from the results. Small sample sizes, and large numbers of potentially confounding variables mean that the findings should be reviewed with interest, rather than conclusion.

So, what am I saying here?

All diets are equally beneficial?

No, not at all.

All diets work for some people.

Most diets don't work for most people.

Tom's Thoughts Number 2. It Can't JUST Be WHAT We Eat

My thinking on this is inspired by all the different eating habits of the peoples of the world.

Take any region in the world and it will have its own indigenous culinary style. Of course there are cultures that tend to produce more overweight people than others: The Standard American Diet seems to generate poor health more effectively than the traditional mediterranean diet for example. However, in general, you find healthy and unhealthy specimens from most regions, whatever particular food they consume.

So, it can't JUST be what we eat, there has to be more to it than that.

The Inuits for example eat practically nothing but animals; fish. The eating regime in most of India is vegetarian. Both populations contain healthy and unhealthy individuals. Both have people who are overweight and both have diseases associated with poor eating habits, mixed in with all the healthy, slim people.

So, all I propose here is that there's got to be more to it than JUST what we eat.

My hypothesis is supported by two basic empirical facts:

Most diets focus solely on what food to eat.

Most diets don't get results.

What if other factors are not insignificant?

Like, when we eat, how often we eat, what food combinations we eat, the rate at which we eat, the time we eat relative to other actions of the day, the temperature of the food we eat.

There's a bunch of variables here. Some of them no doubt statistically insignificant. But perhaps others less so.

Tom's Thoughts Number 3. You've Got To Be Able To Talk About It

This is more critical than I anticipated before I started doing my research and it could be the reason why most people struggle to significantly change any aspect of their lives. Ever.

We are social beings. Highly social beings whose fundamental drive to interact with people is a critical part of their lives. Part of this social aspect is that we want to be able to talk about the things that we're most interested in. We love it.

And if we can't talk freely and engagingly about what we're doing, we are less likely to want to stay doing it. The same sort of zealous fervour people may find unappealing in evangelists and football fanatics is the same spark that just might enable you to stick at what you're doing for long enough to make something happen. So, one of the things I'll be focusing on later is ’how to talk to people so that they, too, get excited about what you're doing’.

Before I do that however, I'm just going to digress for a moment on the importance of surrounding yourself with the right sort of people. There is a lot of research, and a great deal of common sense behind the belief in the power of association:

Who you associate with says a lot about you.

A great way to test what people are like is to look at the quality of their friends. If you've got great friends, that a lot of other people also seem to like, there's a good chance that you're a great person too. If quite a few of your friends are a little bit odd, then there's a good chance that you just might be a little bit odd!

This power of association runs deep into the habits we adopt. It makes sense of course. If you want to successfully follow a particular way of life, you'll have more luck if you are surrounding yourself with people who also follow that way of life.

Look around at your friends. Do they all eat healthily? If so, there's a good chance that you can too.

Are they all slim? Likewise, it'll be easier for you to succeed if they are.

Does this mean that you shouldn't associate with people that aren't already how you want to be in all areas of your life? Well, no, not at all.

However, I'm just saying that it'll be easier for you to get healthy if you spend all your time with healthy people.

It'll be easier to maintain a vegetarian diet if you hang around vegetarians all the time.

People are now calling this the power of your social network, but it's really no more than what your mother worried about when she sent you off to school:

Her biggest fear wasn't that you wouldn't learn enough, that you wouldn't get a good education or a good job. Her biggest fear in most cases was likely to have been this:

'I hope they don't fall in with the wrong crowd.'

And that's the single biggest factor in why a lot of people still spend a huge amount of money on private education.

If you send your kids to private schools, you have a better idea of who they're hanging around with. (Incidentally, this is also the very reason that some people cite for NOT sending their kids to private schools!)

So, there's a few things you can do if you want a higher chance of success in any endeavour:

1. Surround yourself by people who already think it's a good idea.

You do this by getting rid of your old friends and getting new friends. Not always easy, but do-able and certainly a lot of people end up doing this.

They often have to learn the hard way.

They share their goals, their ambitions a few times with their closest friends and the reaction they get is so overwhelmingly negative that they lose heart and end up quitting their proposed course of action.

Now, this is not the book to go deep into the psychology of this - I'll be addressing these issues in another work, but a good algorithm to use is this:

If your friends don't make you feel good, they're not your friends.

They might have been your friends at some point. When you were both quite different. Perhaps when you were in school, or at a mutually beneficial part of your lives. But the job of a friend is to make you feel good. That's it. Sure, if you go to someone openly and ask them what they think, if you seek their counsel, then you should fully expect them to tell you something that you may not like. But that won't make you feel bad. Because you asked for it. You sought it out. You went to them as an explorer of a subject and they told you what they thought. Criticism or condemnation received in this way will never make you feel bad.

You may decide to reject your friend's advice, but you won't feel bad about it. You will reason that they have their own perspective and you have yours. And you will make the decision whether to proceed with your exploration of a subject based on receiving the opinion of a valued friend.

However, if you are repeatedly being made to feel bad by the uninvited criticism and condemnation of friends, who are of course, 'only doing it to protect you' then don't be afraid to stop hanging around with them. They can't help you get where you want to go. Unless it's to be more like them. (Which, in the end, is all anyone can truly help you with).

It's probably important to note at this point the reason why you receive criticism from your friends.

The only reason they give you any kind of opinion is if they believe they can influence you.

It'd be pretty foolish of me to go to see Richard Branson and convince him that civilian space-flight was a foolhardy enterprise. I wouldn't even try, despite what I may believe.

Why?

Because deep down, I don't believe that I have any influence over Richard Branson in this domain.

So, how can people detect whether they may have influence over you?

Uncertainty.

If you are unsure about what you're doing, you will be broadcasting an uncertain energy. It may not be in your words. You may well have convinced yourself of what to say, but your energy will be all wrong. After all, the single most attractive part of our humanity is our energy, and if our energy is out of alignment with what we are saying and what we are thinking, then it will be instantly evident.

Your body language will be wrong, your gestures will be wrong. Your eye-contact will be wrong.

We've evolved to spot this at a subconscious level and your friends are no exception to this rule.

First, let's learn how to observe this in others:

Turn on the TV and watch the next show available that has politicians of any form in it.

As soon as a politician speaks you can detect this dissonance between what they are saying and their personal energy. In fact, most of the time they don't even have to be speaking. They just radiate incongruence from every pore.

Not all of them, for sure. But the overwhelming majority lead such complex, duplicitous lives that they are unable to align their beliefs, their actions, their words, their body language, their gestures, their 'energy' with their message.

That's why we don't trust them. The psychological ability to discern B.S. has obviously been powerfully selected for by evolutionary processes over the millennia.

The ability to rapidly work out whether to trust people or not would have been hugely beneficial over the ages. Those genes are with all of us who made it this far.

We should use our 'intuition' a whole lot more than we do and I'll be going into all this stuff in much more detail in subsequent works, to show people how to tap into our natural skills in more effective ways.

Anyway, the issue here is not whether or not to trust politicians. That's simple: Don't.

Our issue is much bigger than that. It's about you and how you come across to people when you tell them what you're going to do.

If they detect certainty. They won't say anything to dissuade you from your path. Why would they? Their subconscious knows deep down that it'd be futile anyway, and instead of wasting their energy, they'll immediately detect your certainty and align with your assuredness instead, wishing you luck and coming up with all sorts of reasons why your course of action is a wonderful idea.

So, the next way to improve your chances of success is;

2. Come across as certain when you tell your friends what you're doing.

In order to come across as certain you've got to do the following:

i. BE certain. (Actually easier than it sounds.)

ii. Have a good way of explaining what you're doing.

Being able to clearly state what you're doing and why you're doing it will make you very convincing when you talk to people.

So, how do we explain what we're doing? We tell stories. Tell them stories about all the different aspects of eating that you're going to encounter. Use my stories. Use your stories. Use the stories of the research studies. Use examples rather than precepts. Use diagrams, use metaphors, use the algorithms I'm giving you.

If you do all these, people will get it.

And above all, use the following format to explain everything you're doing:

A. The Connection: 'Well you know how…'

B. The Results: 'Well, it turns out that...'

C. The Reason: 'The thinking, the evidence, the logic behind it'

D. The Reasonable Plan of Action: 'What you're doing about it, that's not only well-thought out, but also appears likely to get results.

This is the 'Reasoned x Reasonable' approach and it's the foundation of Reason-Ability.

It has to make sense logically and also be transparent how what you're doing about it is going to work.

This is critical.

People have to be able to instantly extrapolate your reasonable plan of action into the future results you will get.

They have to be able to 'see for themselves, how likely it is to work'.

1. The Connection: Well, you know how .

2. The Results: Well it turns out that .

3. The Reason: Well, the thinking/research/theory behind it is that .

4. The Reasonable Action Plan: So what I'm going to do is .

Sir Isaac Newton famously said examples are more important than precepts when getting ideas across, so I'm going to give you a few examples that are both indicative and contra-indicative: (i.e. I sometimes use the 'opposite' of what I'm suggesting to illustrate a point more clearly.)

Example One:

Your friend asks you about your plan to exercise more.

Friend: So, what's this all about then?

You: Well, you know how high blood pressure is the leading cause of early death in the West?

Friend: Um, well I can imagine it's certainly a leading contributor.

You: Well, it turns out that exercising aerobically for just 30 minutes extra per week can reduce your blood pressure by 50%!

Friend: What, for everyone? Really?

You: Yes it looks that way! According to a recent study in Germany, researchers found that as little as 30 minutes of low-level, aerobic exercise per week reduced blood pressure by 50% for over 90% of subjects studied, in a period of just 3 months.

Friend: Well, that does sound interesting. I'll have to check it out. So is that what those new running shoes are all about then?

You: Running shoes? Oh no. These are walking shoes. All I'm going to do is walk the dog at the weekends. My wife usually does it on her own, but I'm going to do Saturday and Sundays from now on with her.

Friend: Nice one. That'll work.

Example Two:

Your friend is intrigued about your new bass guitar.

Friend: So, whose bass is that then?

You: Well, you know how I've always wanted to learn the bass?

Friend: Yeah… I remember you bought one at college and had it kicking around the dorm for a few months. What ever happened to that?

You: No idea, that was a while ago. Probably lost it in a card game… Yep, so I've wanted to learn the bass for years and never really got around to it.

You know, every time I got close to it, I sort of did it for a few weeks and then it just fizzled out.

Friend: Yeah… well, there's tons of things I've started and not really finished too.

You: Tell me about it...

Anyway, it turns out that the reason a lot of people don't achieve their goals is that they don't have systems in place to force them to do the work for for long enough to get good enough to really start to enjoy it, to play with other musicians etc.

Friend: yeah, well, ok. Maybe. So, what?

You: Well, something interesting just happened. The kid who plays bass in the church band is off to college at the end of the year and so I said I'd stick my hand up and have a crack!

Friend: Er, ok. That sounds interesting. You getting lessons and everything?

You: Well, this is the thing. Because he's not going for another 6 months, I've got time to get good enough. He's offered to let me sit in on one track each week, and teach me how to play it as we go. This way, it won't stress me out too much and I'll have learnt the whole song book by the time he goes to college.

Friend: That sounds awesome. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Can I start calling you Sting yet?

Example Three:

Your friend wants to know all about your decision to quit your job and go traveling.

Friend: So, what the hell man? You've quit your job?

You: Well, you know how I've always wanted to go travelling? And kept just putting it off?

Friend: Um, yeah, kind of. We all want to do that don't we?

You: Well, yeah I guess. Although I've always wanted to do it seriously, like before the kids get too old and everything. You know, travelling with teenagers is not my idea of fun.

Friend: Yeah, I reckon. So, what's the plan?

You: Well, you know how a lot of people these days make money writing travel blogs etc.?

Friend: Well, I don't know they make any money, but I guess they must make enough to actually travel. And eat I suppose.

You: Well, some of them make a good quid. And I can write pretty well. And I think there's probably a market for traveling with a family. I don't think many bloggers have covered that area in any depth.

Friend: Yeah, ok. Well, maybe not. So, what's the plan?

You: Well, I've bought a domain name and I've written to a bunch of newspapers to see if they want me to write any guest articles etc. and I've got some money saved up. So, I'm going to rent out the house, sell the car and a bunch of stuff I don't need and then get cracking. We'll probably go at the end of March.

Friend: So, where are you going to go?

You: Haven't quite decided yet, I fancy South America to start with.

Friend: And what about the kids?

You: Well, they're not that keen and wife's a bit apprehensive but I reckon it'll work out great. I mean, what's the worst that can happen?

Friend: Well, I applaud your bravery but it's a little bit nuts if you don't mind me saying so. How much are you going to need to live on etc. until you get some income from the writing? Have you thought about possibly getting a TEFL certificate and teaching English as you go, just to give you some more options?

You: Hmmm, that's not a bad idea, but I was really hoping to be able to just travel and enjoy the experience.

Friend: Um, ok then. Good luck with that.

Of course I'm exaggerating somewhat with this one. But clearly the difference is obvious between Example Three which is pretty flaky and the other two.

The connection is still good, and the reason is still strong, but the plan of action just doesn't look reasonable.

Combining a shaky plan with the uncertainty in delivery, makes it easy for other people to doubt whether you are going to go through with it and also whether or not it's going to be a disaster.

So, one of the principal ambitions of this programme is that you're going to be able to give people a very clear reason for doing what you're doing and to back it up with a very reasonable plan.

You're not going to get anyone doubting you. You'll be amazed.

Tom's Thoughts Number 4. There's a lot we just don't know.

Did you know for example, that recent estimates for the number of brain cells in the gut is around 500 million?

So, when people say they've got a 'gut feeling' about something, they're undoubtedly right. The 'butterflies' we experience before the interview are real, and a measure of our digestive tract's intelligence.

Did you know that the gastrointestinal system can operate wholly independently of both the brain and the spinal column?

Of course, you already knew that you didn't have to be consciously aware of digestion, much like you don't have to be aware to carry on breathing. But, unlike breathing which stops if the connection with the brain is terminated, digestion carries on regardless.

So, what is 500 million neurons anyway? Is it a lot or a little? What can I compare it with?

Well a good thing to compare it with is the size of an animal's brain.

Neuroscientists estimate that rats brains have around 50-100 million neurons. And rats can be trained to do quite a lot. So, you've got a 'brain' in your digestive region that has the processing power of 5 rats.

An octopus' brain has around 300 million neurons.

Clearly this is an exact science, with no doubt every single neuron counted individually in each captured octopus.

But the illustration serves a point.

Your gut has intelligence. A not insignificant intelligence, that has capacities far greater than most of us are aware.

What if our gut can be trained, in the same way as we might train a lab rat?

What if our digestive system has already trained us to choose the foods that it wants, due to the large amounts of serotonin and dopamine it receives when certain foods are digested?

Did you know that 90% of the serotonin in our body is located in the digestive system at any one time?

Serotonin is generally believed to be a key factor in determining people's happiness and well being.

This study concluded that around half of the dopamine produced in the entire body is produced by the mesenteric organs (digestive tract, pancreas, spleen).

Now, here's a quick extract from the Wikipedia entry on dopamine:

Every type of reward that has been studied increases the level of dopamine in the brain, and a variety of addictive drugs, including stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine, act by amplifying the effects of dopamine.

So, it certainly suggests that there could be a bit more to digestion than just getting energy and nutrients into the body.

Well, not only that. What if the connection between our gut and our feelings was just a bit more complicated than we thought?

What about this article that talks about food as a collection of hormones?

It suggests that any talk of the macronutrients fat, carbohydrate and protein, is a gross over-simplification of the real contents of food. It explains that it is potentially far more helpful to consider food as a collection of molecules that can send signals to the body, rather than purely as macronutrients.

So not only is the body creating hormones in response to what it's digesting, but there are hormones in the food itself that are directly signalling to the body's systems.

Perhaps causing it to feel good, and then setting up a chemical dependency on a particular type of food.

Now, is that so far fetched? I mean, that's exactly how drugs work! So the body is certainly susceptible to this. Why isn't food thought of as a drug? Especially as it can have a direct effect on around 500 million neurons, and can also directly influence where 90% of the body's 'feel-good' hormone, serotonin, originates.

Did you know that of all the DNA in your body, only 1% of it is human?

That may take a bit of time to sink in...

According to the most recent research in the field, 99% of the DNA in your body is from microbes, bacteria, etc. living inside your body, most of it being in the digestive tract.

Some scientists are now suggesting that the human body should be thought of as a super-organism with trillions of organisms working symbiotically rather than an isolated single being. In 2008, scientists recorded up to six different tribes of bacteria living on our inner elbows? It turns out that these bacteria process the raw fats the skin produces and in turn moisturize your skin.

There are approximately 10 trillion human cells in our bodies, and around ten times this number of bacterial, fungal and other cells.

That's around 100 trillion tiny, fully-functioning organisms on and inside every single one of us right now, as we go about our business.

For more details, have a look at the Human Microbiome Project here:

The point of this little piece is to just say;

'You know what? We don't really know that much about any of this stuff. Let's just keep exploring, keep trying stuff and perhaps rely on the body's intelligence to work this stuff out for itself. And by that I mean we should probably stay as close as possible to things that have worked for millions of years.'

Anyway, let's head on to the whole concept of Reasonable Eating, where it came from and what we're going to address.