Posted by: SLS | January 20, 2011

Punctuated, Intermittent, Stochastic

I am becoming more and more amazed at the frequency with which stochastic principles apply to theories in human health. According to the black swan theory and effect (the impact of improbability on a certain outcome), infrequent, intermittent or chaotic actions impart the largest influence, rather than predictable and repeated stimuli. We’re learning this in exercise where an 8 minute Tabata drill outperforms a 40 minute endurance run with regard to fitness level. Now, Gary Taubes is very logically arguing the same concept in regards to caloric balance. He points out that remaining in caloric balance requires a precision of better than 1% and asks whether this is truly the answer to a stable body weight.

Taubes writes:

Considering the fact that not getting fatter year in and year out means literally matching energy in to energy expended without error for years on end, do we really think that this job is done by the brain, by either conscious behavior, or some system that listens to signals from the body and then puts a halt on eating behavior when it decides enough food has come in that the amount so far expended or likely to be expended in the near future is about to be exceeded? (

I believe the alternative, not surprisingly, is that there are certain rare, costly, or effective signals that essentially drive the hormonal process for weight change. Instead of it being what we do over time (e.g. the 20 lb weight gain during a decade), the result is effected by just a few incidents with considerable impact on how the body distributes calories. Maybe I am becoming a punctuated equilibrium person after all. It certainly deserves more thought.



  1. Could you give us one example of a “rare, costly, or effective signals that essentially drive the hormonal process for weight change”? All I can think of is something like not eating for a day, or consuming a huge number of calories one day. Are those the sort of events you are thinking of?

    • Sure, the most potent signal is a large quantity of dietary glucose, as this was once rare in the environment (and still is outside of modern civilization). It is seasonal and sporadic, except for perhaps in a tropical forest. However, dietary glucose is no longer an exceptional signal in modern living. Rather, the absence of glucose and a high quantity of protein is the new rare signal- just like the majority of people in some random public location will be overweight or obese while lean or fit persons would be the exception. Branched chain amino acids are a potent signal for protein synthesis and muscle building/repair. Glucose is a potent signal for resource abundance and energy storage.

  2. OK, I get that a cronic high glucose diet is like a constant stream of black swan events for our bodies.

    But wouldn’t BCA’s be the the normal almost daily fare in our EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptedness)?

    • BCAAs most likely were and still should be normal daily fare, but the reality of the present is that they are not, and that I think makes them a sort of black swan as well and especially when their consumption has such a powerful effect on our metabolism. I know that’s severely over simplifying metabolism to chalk up its major stimuli to glucose and BCAA’s, but they do prompt some undeniably powerful signals, and their average contribution to our diets has pretty much been reversed since our prehistoric days, so take someone on a SAD and start feeding them quality BCAA’s in natural foods with low glycemic carbs and you see a radical change to their body composition.

      I should have mentioned in my first response to your question some other “effective signals” for weight loss other than dietary examples: heavy load bearing, fast twitch muscle recruitment, and intensive neuromuscular stimulation. I’d love to talk on this more…. hopefully I can come back to this discussion when I have some more time. Thanks for good questions!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s