If you talk about protein, dopamine, seratonin, carbohydrates, and other big words you probably don’t know what you’re talking about

March 17, 2014 by Joshua
in Awareness, Fitness, Nature

Ordering a burrito the other day the server asked me what “protein” I wanted in it. I got the same question ordering a potato not long before. Has calling food by once-highly scientific terminology become standard?

I guess protein has become a standard word. It used to be a scientific word. That means originally almost nobody knew what it meant. I think people still don’t know what it means, but that doesn’t stop them from using it. People ate before someone discovered some group of complex molecules and named them. In fact, they lived healthy lives before knowing such compounds existed to call them names—healthier lives than most Americans, as do most people in the world, all the more so the further you venture from our culture, it seems. If you’re using it to group beef, chicken, tofu, and beans into one category, I think there’s a strong case you don’t know what you’re talking about.

I see the same thing in psychology, or at least what people think of as psychology. I talk about emotions and habits a lot. I try to connect my understanding of emotions with my experience. A lot of people seem to do the opposite. They connect their understanding of emotions with scientific-sounding words as removed from their experience as you can imagine. I’ll talk about some emotion or other and they’ll say “Oh, that’s dopamine” or serotonin or the amygdala or something like that.

They have no idea what they’re talking about. If I ask, they’ll give me more nonsense they think makes sense. They’ll say they’re neurotransmitters or a brain structure, without realizing they just substituted one scientific-sounding word they don’t understand for another.


EDIT (May 2019): I recently read this about someone’s morning routine:

I get myself over to a window and open the curtains to let the light in. This shuts down the sleep hormone, melatonin, in my body, which allows the body’s natural circadian rhythm to know that I’m now awake.

Why not just say:

I get myself over to a window and open the curtains to let the light in. This wakes me up.

Fancy, scientific-sounding words like “hormone,” “melatonin,” and “circadian” don’t add science to the sentence. Nobody knows all that melatonin does, for example.


More importantly, they don’t seem to notice how happy people seem elsewhere. Aristotle, Buddha, Lao Tzu, and a lot of other people found ways to create healthy lives without knowing about neurotransmitters. The people I know who talk most about them don’t seem to have found such solutions. I wonder if something could have distracted them.

Is it any wonder that a culture in contention for the least healthy eating habits in the history of our species uses words it doesn’t understand? The problem, as I see it, is not trying to understand what proteins and carbohydrates do as a scientific endeavor—I expect future generations will make productive use of that knowledge—but for people to confuse knowing the name of something with what it is and does and then to act on it.

We don’t seem that emotionally healthy either and I suspect the big-word pseudoscientific approach many people take to psychology contributes to it.

They’re working at a level of a system irrelevant to their needs. If you want to make yourself healthier, I suggest you’ll succeed a lot more replacing conversations with words like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin, and even calorie with conversations about eggplants, gardening, and bicycling. They sound more mundane, but I bet show up in the lives of healthy people a lot more than in unhealthy people.

If you want to make yourself emotionally healthier I also suggest you’ll succeed more by avoiding conversations about serotonin, neuron, and even hormone in favor of ones about friendship, sports, trees, and playing around.

Science has figured out a lot about the universe. It explains a lot of simple things like gravity and light. Our minds and bodies are far more complex. We’re confusing and distracting ourselves if we think using big or scientific-sounding words implies understanding of what’s going on. We’re depriving ourselves of fun, joy, growth, health, and fitness as a result.

That’s why I prefer bean burritos to protein ones, and I don’t hesitate to eat all the guacamole I want, while staying fit, and not worrying about calories or anything more complex.

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3 responses on “If you talk about protein, dopamine, seratonin, carbohydrates, and other big words you probably don’t know what you’re talking about

  1. Josh, I can’t agree more regarding avoiding scientific names from the kitchen tables.I think is a huge and common error nowadays, to get some complex model and use it as guide without any mean to track it to reality, we are so prone to be fooled. I can’t just help to remember Karl Popper demarkation criteria.

    Through my personal experience, I think that what works (at least for me) to stay healthy and fit is just picking vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, and avoiding specially wheat, flour, sugar, salt, oils, milk, eggs, hard cheese and probably anything industrially processed.

    I wonder what’s is your opinion on B12 supplements for people that doesn’t eat animal products.

    Great post, thanks!

    • You might like my post today on a few of my nutrition rules: https://joshuaspodek.com/nutrition-rules.

      Other people’s habits seem complicated, but I’m sure mine look complicated to them. Now that I’ve eaten as I do for a few years, I don’t think much about it, but when I get out of my element it gets hard, like when I’m with people who love comfort food. They think I’m complicated when I don’t like foods where the main pleasure comes from salt, sugar, and fat.

      But my food is delicious, convenient, cheap, community-based, fills me up, and leaves me with defined abs so it works for me.

      Regarding B12, I use a lot of nutritional yeast. I like the flavor and texture. The kind the bulk food store where I buy it carries is fortified with B12 so I get it by default. Since it’s taken care of for me, I don’t think about it that much. As far as I know, it’s essential, so I think vegans have to take supplements if they want to avoid the problems with not getting enough.

  2. Pingback: Science discovering “tastes good” versus “wanting more” » Joshua Spodek

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