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.