What is happiness and how important is it to you? The answer to this seems obvious at first, yet as we look closer we can see that the answer to this question is more illusive than one might think. The fact is, if we all had a clearly defined picture of what happiness means to us―we would all strive towards it.


How much happiness do you really want? So, I Imagine you, dear reader, now sit poised with eyebrows raised at such a silly question. When your eyebrows return from the top of your head, allow me to explain why the question is not silly, nor is the answer self-evident. Maximum happiness and maximum knowledge, whilst the two are not mutually exclusive, I would argue, the two interests are in a zero-sum contest; that is to say, we cannot have the maximum happiness and the maximum knowledge simultaneously. As we surely want both happiness and knowledge, this means we need to make a difficult decision, how much of each do we want in our lives?  Knowledge is necessarily burdensome―the more we know the more we understand how much we do not know. Idioms like “ignorance is bliss” suggest I’m not the first to recognise that as we attain more knowledge we also learn of the depths of the problems we face. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability tend to overrate their competence, intelligence, and have an illusory sense of superiority―the fact that the majority of drivers rate themselves as better than average demonstrates this perfectly. If ignorance really is bliss and the most important thing in our lives is to be happy, then why waste our time on knowledge at all? Well, we recognise implicitly that happiness is not the be-all-and-end-all of our existence. House dogs―well treated― are the happiest creatures I can think of. A walk, some cuddles, a comfy spot to call their own, and they are in a perpetual state of happiness. They are not burdened by the knowledge of their own mortality and have everything done for them. Yet, is there anyone on the planet who would sincerely trade places with their furry friend? If there is, this person is likely not of sound mind! We recognise that a reduction in happiness is a price we are willing to pay in order to have the intelligence to appreciate a sonnet, or a symphony, a great work of art, literature, or a conversation. The trade-off between happiness and knowledge gives rise to experiences of awe and wonder. An inconvenient fact is that people who have children rate themselves as less happy than they were before they had kids, so why have them at all? It is because we recognise that, whilst we will endure the burden of child rearing, it is an experience which we ultimately want to have in our lives. We recognise that in spite of it being hard, and burdensome, and stressful that this experience is invaluable and to be without it can be tragic. Most would consider this experience to be their most meaningful despite the zero-sum relationship it has with happiness.


Is happiness, simply, a synonym for contentment? There are two people within your consciousness, each jostling for control of your actions―the current-self and the-reflective self. If we were asked, as we mindlessly browsed social media, how content and happy we felt in that moment, the current-self would perk up and we would say that we were indeed happy and content. However, at the end of our day, when we total up time spent on social media, if we were asked how happy or content we were throughout the day, the reflective-self would perk up and we would express regret for our time spent on social media because, reflectively, we see this as time wasted. Now, both of these versions of yourself have a purpose, the current-self needs to be appeased from time to time in order to stay sane and the reflective-self is working towards the big picture. However, your current self is only concerned about making you feel content and this contentment, usually, takes the form of cheap and easy pleasure. When we embark on a challenge, a new diet plan for example, our reflective-self understands that to maximise happiness you will need to make sacrifices which your current-self doesn’t want to make. Your reflective-self, generally, is the version of yourself which you need to take control of your actions, it does not bother about feeling content in the moment―it is concerned with long-term happiness.

My advice to you then is this. Figure out how happy you want to be, define it, and write down the long term goal which would have the maximum happiness payoff with the minimum knowledge loss to you. This may mean distancing yourself from things which you like in order to specialise in one domain. Let your reflective-self take control and strive towards achieving your personal definition of happiness. Be aware that at times you will not feel content, but take refuge in the fact that you know you are investing in a plan for long term happiness.

Written by Aidan Doherty

Plural Realities

Plural Realities

Postmodernism and it’s impact on the fitness industry


Postmodernism is a philosophical school of thought and is notoriously hard to define. This is because the concept of postmodernism is applied to many different aspects of culture as well as being used to define an epoch in time. People affected by postmodernism usually have many different views and beliefs which make it a heuristic nightmare. Lecturer Daniel Palmer wrote, when asking a student to define what postmodernism meant; a student replied “it’s when you put everything in quotation marks.” I think this is simultaneously witty — and makes the point. Postmodernists believe words such as “truth” “facts” “reality” to be completely relative and without objectivity. Objective truth is a non starter in a postmodernist worldview which inevitably leads to an indulgence in cultural relativism. I am of the opinion that absolute truth is an illusion, however there is undoubtedly a hierarchical value system which can be placed on claims and we can be maximally certain about things.

Facts, for example, are at one end of the continuum in which we can be maximally certain, whilst at the other there is fabrication, of which we can be minimally certain. Truth — to the postmodernist — cannot be defined therefore there is no objective or moral system which is better than any other. Viewed through the lens of today’s culture postmodernism seems to disdain, more than anything else, hierarchical systems. Postmodernists see hierarchy as a power system which only erodes our culture and political systems. Of course, this translates perfectly to the notion of relative truth — all claims are on an equal playing field! A rejection of hierarchy is not only enervating but it also potentially poses some serious obstacles to how our society functions. You see, we cannot destroy hierarchical systems without too destroying value systems, as value systems are — by definition — hierarchies. We imbue everything we do with some sort of value ranking; this enables us to prioritize tasks, to favour one choice over anther, to distinguish between right and wrong, or to establish ethical certainty. To give you an example of how this school of thought goes beyond the pale ethically, we can look at the notion of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the notion held by many anthropologists, and inevitably postmodernists, which states that cultures can be viewed through their own lenses. This means that whether something is morally, ethically, or behaviourally right or wrong is dependent on the culture. For example, in extremist Islamic cultures woman are viewed as second class citizens and are subjugated by being poorly educated and by not being afforded the same rights as the males. A cultural relativist, and a postmodernist, would say that we cannot judge this as objectively wrong — that this is their culture. This notion, in my opinion, is morally reprehensible and I would invite the cultural relativist, if he really believes what he purports, to send his daughter off to one of these countries for a year foreign exchange; after all, there would be nothing wrong with the treatment she would receive during her visit. In fact, it may even be morally correct for the denizens to subjugate his daughter — on his own account.

Postmodernism and Fitness

So how does all this translate to the fitness industry and how the hell is it relevant to your progress and your gains. Well this school of thought, of course, spells disaster for methodological naturalism in which the scientific method is based. Science, being the main tool for which we get reliable knowledge in the fitness industry, is of course vital to the industry’s effective operation. Due to its focus on rigor, its commitment to the mitigation of human biases, and demonstrable effectiveness — we have placed science at the summit of the hierarchy of truth. Postmodernists seek to pull this hierarchy down so that all claims can share an equal space at the table. Now this is not pie in the sky rhetoric, with the global consumption of social media these ideas spread like intellectual contagions. This idea, in particular, is spreading at an astounding pace and we now have personalities such as David Wolfe and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are making health claims which require an esoteric knowledge, promulgating ideas which are being received by the public as if they have the same credibility as genuine, perspicacious, and evidence based experts. We have hard working, competent, and erudite people having their work discredited by people who believe, through a google search, that they — in fact — know better. Social media has acted like a force-multiplier for this ideology and one of the greatest impacts has been felt by the medical community with the anti-vaccination movement. With the inception of the vaccination we have, arguably, the greatest medical breakthrough in history which, is now being undermined by a large group of predominantly middle-class privileged mothers who have decided the entirety of the medical community are no better informed than anyone else. This movement has gained incredible traction and is a great example of how postmodernism can potentially threaten what is widely considered an immutable fact. The Netflix documentary The Magic Pill is an example of how we, in the fitness industry, could find ourselves exposed to the intellectual contagion. In the documentary the celebrity chef Pete Evans makes outlandish — and more importantly unsubstantiated — claims such as changing to the paleo diet can mitigate the symptoms of diseases such as Autism and cancer! Using arguments from authority, by having physicians bolster his claim, laypeople could easily find themselves fooled by his hyperbolic rhetoric. The President of the Australian Medical Association compared it to the documentary Vaxxed and said the two were competing “in the awards for the film least likely to contribute to public health.”

What can we do to protect ourselves against this?

Ultimately, it is down to you to understand the difference between a good source of information and a bad one. You need to understand why some sources are good and why some are bad. You need to be sceptical of all claims and educate yourself in methods of differentiating between good information and bad. Remember that we all have biases, which we need to correct for, that make us view information through a distorted lens. We know that we are more likely to accept information which agrees with our pre-existing notions — this is called confirmation bias. Good quality sources usually have tell tail signs such as regulatory bodies, policies, or procedures which ensure that the information given is true and are held to account when it is not. There are resources out there such as Snopes, factcheck, politifact, and fullfact which you can use to filter claims on the go however, some claims will require deeper research. All the information on the internet is not equal however it is being presented to you as if it were. So where ever you get your information — especially if it’s fits into your worldview — make sure it has been objectively substantiated. Do not allow yourself to become complicit in the propagation of misinformation.

Written By

Aidan Doherty

The Sugar Crisis

the truth about sugar

The fitness industry, like any other, spits out trends at a phenomenal rate. Food Gurus, paradoxically, seem to find the ultimate diet to trump all others every few years. They make outlandish claims about what’s currently trending, nutritionally speaking, and when counter evidence is presented to them they seem completely resilient to the opprobrium. They move on, plant a flag somewhere else and, without compunction, make some more money spinning the same story. So then the question becomes; where do we get our information from? How can we tell the difference between a credible source and perfidious charlatan? The answer, unfortunately, is that the onus lies with you. Like it or not you are now part of an information age unlike any before it. The information bubble has popped and we are adrift in its entrails. As we float in this sea of information, we can use many devices to extract what we want yet the methods of filtering we normally use seem to be redundant. There are, however, methods out there which are both readily accessible and consistently reliable (tautology, so what?!). You now have a responsibility to implement these before promulgating information.

I have decided then to turn my, unforgiving, eye towards the current demonization of sugar. It’s important to note that demonization is often justified so it pays to look into these things — an informed decision is rarely regretted so, let’s get informed!

So firstly, what is sugar? Sugar is a form of carbohydrate which is broken down very quickly by the body. Sugar takes many forms however the ones we are most familiar with are sucrose (table sugar), fructose (sugar in fruit), lactose (sugar in milk), and glucose (what carbohydrates are broken down into). Glucose is the only fuel source which brain cells can use — so the notion that we don’t need carbohydrates can be dispelled immediately. Sugar is now facing the obloquy and it has become quite fashionable to finger it for the current obesity crisis facing the western world.

So let’s do away with some popular misapprehensions surrounding sugar and see if we can’t get our heads above water with what is true and what isn’t.


Claim – Sugar Makes You Hyper

We have all been there with our kids, they’ve returned home from a party jacked up on cake, chocolate, and aptly prepared to give you a mental breakdown! “Too much damn sugar at that party!” Tends to be our complaint! Unfortunately, as great as it would be to have an out like this, science has shown time and time again that the link between sugar and our kid’s hyper-activity simply does not exist. The brain uses glucose as an energy source and thus it seemed logical to link sugar intake with increased cognitive activity; there have been some studies which show that cognitive ability may be increased by consuming sugar however even these findings have not been demonstrated effectively. Take this quote from a review which looked at the literature regarding the link between sugar and children’s behaviour and cognitive abilities…

The meta-analytic synthesis of the studies to date found that sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children. The strong belief of parents may be due to expectancy and common association.”

There was also a brilliant study analysing children and parents, in which the parents were told their children had been given either a placebo or actual sugar. In actuality neither groups had sugar and both were given a placebo. The mothers who believed their children had been given sugar actually reported that their children were significantly more hyperactive! This demonstrated that our biases are playing too much of a roll, we are expecting our children to be more hyper and therefore we perceive them to be such.

Claim – Sugar is toxic and addictive!

Facebook is notoriously good at proliferating absurdities and it — again — has a part to play in the propagation of the notion that sugar has addictive properties. Social media’s role in the alarmism that surrounds many of the topics today cannot be overstated. Articles which allude to sugar being addictive are everywhere these days and, to this end, it’s important for me to firstly make some distinctions. There is a spectrum here which, at one end, people use hyperbolic titles to get clicks and, at the other, flat out asserts that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. I am addressing the harmful end of this spectrum. This all comes from a study on lab rats which demonstrated sugar had addictive properties BUT this cannot be extrapolated to humans. There is a large body of evidence contravening this claim which has shown that — in humans — sugar is NOT addictive. The review concluded… 

“To conclude, the society as a whole should be aware of the differences between addiction in the context of substance use versus an addictive behavior. As we pointed out in this review, there is very little evidence to indicate that humans can develop a “Glucose/Sucrose/Fructose Use Disorder.”

Humans do however develop eating disorders and these people typically tend to have unhealthy relationships with high calorie, low nutrient foods. As for toxicity, anything can be toxic given that we consume enough of it and sugar is no different — studies have shown this again and again. Obscurantism like this can be extremely misleading to the general public. Take this quote from a study reviewing the literature…

“There is no evidence, however, that fructose is the sole, or even the main factor in the development of these diseases, nor that it is deleterious to everybody, and public health initiatives should therefore broadly focus on the promotion of healthy lifestyles generally.

Claim – High Fat Low Carb is best, sugar is the enemy! 

There is, indeed, the notion that there is one diet which surpasses all others! One which its proponents claim is how humans were meant to eat. There tends to be a lot of zealotry with in the low carb community and you will regularly here utterances such as “the ultimate diet” espoused by proponents of ketogenic and low carb diets, in fact, the topic has been the source of many of my posts. There is quite a bit of literature to support this claim too and that, I think, is one of the reasons this trend has taken off. The problem is that with literature we need to learn, not just to look at conclusions drawn, but also at the limitations with the research, and what you will find is that most of the literature which supports low carb diets don’t control for some very fundamental variants… calories and protein. You see, what we find when we compare diets in which calories and protein are equated is that there is no difference! Here a very recent review of the literature concludes…

“A wide range of dietary approaches (low-fat to low-carbohydrate/ketogenic, and all points between) can be similarly effective for improving body composition, and this allows flexibility with program design. To date, no controlled, inpatient isocaloric diet comparison where protein is matched between groups has reported a clinically meaningful fat loss or thermic advantage to the lower-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. “

Thus we know that —fundamentally — our calorie and protein intake are of the utmost importance. Excess calories, be it from sugar or fat, will lead to obesity.


Claim – Sugar Causes Diabetes 


Diabetes is a condition which causes a persons blood sugar to become too high. There are two kinds of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the cells which produce insulin. Type two diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing insulin. The root cause of type 2 diabetes is generally unknown however what we do know is that there are some major contributing factors, most notable is weight gain! This 2018 overview lists the risk factors as follows…

  • Being overweight and not getting enough exercise.
  • Smoking.
  • Low fibre, high fat, sugary diet.
  • Medication which affect the body sugar metabolism.
  • Genetic factors.

What is the common denominator when looking at these lifestyle factors? Overweight, Little exercise, low fibre, high fat, sugary foods. All these things lead to a negative energy balance i.e. you’re taking in more calories than you need! That said there are a number of factors which need to be addressed as stated in this consensus statement. It does however go on to say…

“Most patients with type 2 diabetes are obese, and the global epidemic of obesity largely explains the dramatic increase in the incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes over the past 20 years.”

And then follows with…

“However, the precise mechanisms linking the two conditions remain unclear, as does our understanding of interindividual differences. Improved understanding will help advance identification and development of effective treatment options.”

This shows that whilst there is a prevalent link between lifestyle and type two diabetes we simply do not know the specifics of that link as of yet and to attribute it to sugar would be specious. The best advise to give someone is to get their weight under control and exercise as often as possible.

So in conclusion. There is nothing inherently bad with sugar, problems arise when we eat beyond what we need — when we are in a surplus of calories. There is a hierarchy of importance which we should appeal to when addressing these things and at the top of this hierarchy is total number of macronutrients by the end of the day. Fundamentally, if we manage our calories correctly, eat enough protein and plenty of fibre, most of the hard work is done. Sugars only really become a concern when we go into a surplus of calories. Peace!

Written by Aidan Doherty

Can Positive Body Image be Harmful

Blog Graphic depicting a woman binge eating

If the title confuses you, or worse still offends you, then I implore you to read calmly and objectively. As the western political pendulum caroms between left and right, regression and dogma, and emotive arguments vs skewed arguments, I see the preliminary symptoms of such behaviour creep surreptitiously into the fitness domain. What is amazing to me is that for most of these issues the answer seems so simple — honest and open discourse about the facts.  Facts are paramount here, we must address them in their entirety if we are to progress.

So before I put my point across I feel I should clarify some things, lest I be misunderstood. Firstly — kindness is beautiful and useful! I am extremely proud to live in society in which kindness is an extremely important component in our system’s operation. Compassion and kindness are two values which most of our populace would have instilled systemically and would give priority to, and rightly so. If you doubt our societies commitment to kindness and human flourishing go to the middle east or North Korea and see what it looks like when human life is undervalued. Perouse the history books and read how communist states had to remind it’s citizens that eating their children was a crime. This is only what has happened in the last century, as you go further into the past the rate and severity of suffering and violence increases almost exponentially. The empirical evidence, which shows we live in the best of all possible times by any meaningful metric, is overwhelmingly clear.


That being said, being kind is often not the most compassionate thing to do. The best analogy I can give to demonstrate this comes by way of how we treat and teach our children. Take this situation in which your child has been brought home by two police officers for shop lifting. The kind thing to do here is to forgive your child and welcome him/her back into your house with no repercussions — solve the problem with love! However, we all know that is the most uncompassionate thing you can do for your child. This will teach them absolutely nothing about right from wrong and will instead socially encumber them indefinitely.  What kind of parent cares so little for their child that they would not punish him/her when they needed to be punished. Through this act of unkindness [punishment] we teach our children social values such as how to act so that everyone — including them — has the best possible experience in life.

I see an analogous situation to the “solve the problem with love” method happening within the media. Positive body image, which has been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of eating disorders, has some how been extrapolated to glorifying obesity. As plus sized models took to the street to protest at a fashion event recently I couldn’t help be overwhelmed by the hypocrisy in their protest. Just as the fashion show was glorifying the skinny models, here the protesters were, glorifying obese ones.

Eating disorders encompass both under-eating and over-eating, and pretending either side of this is virtuous — is harmful.

This should not be a controversial thing to say given that obesity has been causally linked to over 50 diseases. This means that there are over 50 diseases which we can significantly reduce our risk of getting, given that we address the problem of obesity. Pretending that we are being progressive by glorifying obese people is an abhorrent trend which is just as harmful as the unrealistic body standards set within the media today. A study addressing the prevalence of obesity describes the problem as follows…

“Excess bodyweight is the sixth most important risk factor contributing to the overall burden of disease worldwide. 1.1 billion adults and 10% of children are now classified as overweight or obese. Average life expectancy is already diminished; the main adverse consequences are cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and several cancers.” 

Another study outlines the economic cost that obesity will have, given that it continues along the same crescendo as it has been…

The combined medical costs associated with treatment of these preventable diseases are estimated to increase by $48–66 billion/year in the USA and by £1·9–2 billion/year in the UK by 2030. Hence, effective policies to promote healthier weight also have economic benefits.”

When we go to the doctors and he discerns our health problems are causally linked to obesity, it would be unethical of him to advise you to simply “be happy in your skin.” The fact that obesity is already a huge problem within our society needs to be addressed and glorifying it under the guise of progressive values is harmful. All this movement does is make obese people feel better as they hurdle toward a completely preventable death.

To clarify here, I’m not proposing a reduction in kindness or to be more callous towards the obese, I’m simply purporting that kindness can be misplaced and sometimes rational compassion is what is needed. I am well aware of the causal link between poor mental health and binge eating disorder (BED) and I am not negating the severity of the struggle which some people deal with day to day. However, please step back and realise that pretending that there is nothing wrong with being obese is extremely harmful to the people who hear this message.

This is different from body shaming! As someone who actively works towards counteracting the societal problem of obesity I can tell you that making obesity a part of your identity is not a good thing — this is, inevitably, what this movement will lead to. The glorification of obesity is the antithesis of everything I promote and work toward, and devalues the work which perspicacious and conscientious people do to combat this! It encourages people — woman in particular — to embrace their obesity as part of their identity and to be proud of it. I’m almost certain that this movement is done with the intention of rectitude, however I feel they have diagnosed the problem correctly, but have implemented the wrong treatment. The real problem then follows, now that people have taken on obesity as an identity it becomes offensive to talk about it honestly and here in lies the problem! This is an effective way to sweep the problem of obesity under the rug which I am unwilling to do. Whilst I absolutely see the benefits, and encourage the proliferation, of promoting a culture of positive body image, I refuse to cede conversational territory to this movement in fear of being deemed offensive.

Obesity is responsible for far more societal problems than the unrealistic standards the fashion industry sets for woman. This is not the way to instil the values of positive body image. We look at the facts, we embrace what’s been demonstrated to work, and we implement the plan which has the highest potential of success.

Written by Aidan Doherty