Arthur De Vany in the UK Times

The diet that really works

Bryan Appleyard thinks he has found a diet that really works: it took him three weeks to shed 14lb with healthy ease. But he had to go back 5,000 years to discover the science behind it

This isn’t just background, it is essential to an understanding of Arthur’s approach to diet and fitness. It is very rigorous and thoughtful – which is why Nassim’s [Nicholas Taleb] advocacy got me on the diet. The first point is that economics happens inside the body as well as outside. His work is all about the dynamics of complex, adaptive systems; he calls himself a complexity scientist. Central to this is the overthrow of old statistical models. Basically, we have all been taught that events – human wealth, earthquakes, blockbuster movies – cluster round an average forming a graph in the shape of a bell curve. This is an illusion and the concept of the average leads to fatal errors.

In reality, almost all events of significance follow what are known as “power laws”. This means, to simplify, that what are thought of as rare events are, in fact, more important than any average. We think of bank crises, like the present one, as rare and the rest of the time the banks go on making money. In fact, they don’t. Bank crashes are so devastating that they wipe out all the investment profits of the banking system. Look at the average and you don’t see this; apply power laws and you do.

“The average,” says Arthur, “is always misleading and may not exist.”

The obsession with the bell curve and the average has corrupted us. We tend to think of stable models not just of the human world but also of the human body. Almost all dietary and fitness regimes are based on a homeostatic view of the body – meaning it is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in a continuous, stable condition. The average is the ideal. So we are told to eat regular meals consisting of a balance of the food groups and to take regular exercise, dominated by steady aerobic activity like cycling or jogging. This is all wrong.

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  1. Richard Nikoley on August 17, 2008 at 16:01

    It stems from the Paleo approach, where it's thought that the animals consumed by primitive man were not as fat as today, as being in the wild, animals are usually pretty lean.

    However, my presumption is that fat was prized above all, owing to our natural propensity to love it. I think there's enough evidence that there's no amount of animal fat that's dangerous, provided one gets adequate protein nutrition.

  2. Bill on August 17, 2008 at 15:13

    Hey Richard,
    i read the article about Art and it was very good the only problem is he's against saturated fat's.Yes he is healthy and fit so what's his problem with the animal fat's?

  3. Chris on August 18, 2008 at 11:23

    This part made me smile:

    “We do have a lot of sex for a 70-year-old couple. I had to close the door the other night, she was screaming so loud – she sings!”

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