In 2009, Fiona Broome began to notice something odd going on in the world.

She had vivid memories of historical events that no one else remembered. For instance, she remembered watching the funeral of Nelson Mandela in the late 1980s. She recalled watching mourners in the streets of South Africa. And remembered a moving and profound speech by Mandela’s wife.

Of course, none of that made sense, because Nelson Mandela was still alive. In fact, he died four years later in 2013. 

Broome was astounded to learn that Mandela was still alive, even though she swore she’d witnessed his funeral twenty years earlier. Here’s what’s even crazier: she discovered that thousands of other people, too, had vivid memories of Mandela’s funeral in the 80s. 

People from all across Canada, the US, and England posted on her site claiming they, too, remembered watching it all on TV. 

She eventually labeled this phenomenon, “The Mandela Effect.” But it’s a phenomenon she discovered that went beyond Nelson Mandela himself, and she’s documented countless other occurrences like:

  • People being taught the US has 51 or 52 states
  • Berenstein or Berenstain Bears
  • The Monopoly Guy (Mr. Moneybags) wearing a monocle 
  • The spelling of KitKat bars
  • A portrait of Henry VIII holding a turkey leg
  • Moving Countries and changing Geography (namely Sri Lanka)
  • The “mirror, mirror” line from Snow White

Clearly, we’re all living in The Matrix, and Hugo Weaving is gonna come and arrest me at any moment. Or, Fiona Broome was dropped on her head one-too-many times as a baby. It’s a toss-up really.

The Mandela Effect

Is Our Reality, Real?

But what if she’s not wrong? What if, something else is happening? Fiona believes she knows why thousands of people remember different details from history. And it’s all thanks to the multiverse.

As a comic book fan, I’m pretty versed in the idea of multiverses. Hell, it was a plot driver for the first half of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” this summer. And it was the entire plot of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

The “multiverse” was considered cockamamie comic book material for years. But some physicists believe they actually exist. 

The Mandela Effect

Hey, maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. That’s far above my pay grade. What I do know is that psychology might have a better answer for The Mandela Effect, which (sadly) doesn’t involve parallel universes.

So how can someone even begin to explain The Mandela Effect on a psychological level?

Firstly, psychologists attribute The Mandela Effect in part to false memories. Incorrectly recalling events long after they’ve happened is something we all do. 

Why do you think police officers try and get eye-witness accounts written down as soon as they arrive at a scene? Because the longer they wait, the more likely those witnesses may misinterpret or even slightly fabricate what they’ve seen. This is what’s known as confabulation. 

Side note: There’s a distinction between confabulation and lying: lying is an intentional act of deception; confabulation is non-intentional, and the person may not know the information they’re giving is false.

In 1959, James Deese pioneered a study on false memories. However, it wasn’t until 1995, thanks to the help of three more researchers, that this test became popular. It’s a paradigm known as the Deese–Roediger–McDermott paradigm

Here’s how it works:

Researchers speak a list of similar words. For example, they may read off a list of words like:

  • Bed
  • Rest
  • Awake
  • Tired
  • Dream
  • Wake
  • Snooze
  • Blanket
  • Doze
  • Slumber
  • Snore
  • Nap
  • Peace
  • Yawn
  • Drowsy

They then ask their subjects, after a delay of some time, to list as many words as they can remember. 

And guess what happens? About 50% of all participants report the distinct memory of having heard “sleep” on the list. But sleep isn’t on the list, nor is it ever said by the researchers.

Inaccurate memories can also be blamed on “source monitoring errors.” Elizabeth Loftus has studied human psychology and memory for more than 50 years. With the help of one of her undergraduate students, Jim Coan, they demonstrated that it’s possible to implant false memories into peoples’ minds. They created a procedure they called “Lost in the Mall.”

Let’s All Go to the Mall

Coan put together booklets containing four short narratives describing events from his childhood. He then instructed his family members to try and remember as much as possible about each of the four events. He told them they had six days to write down as much as they could remember. 

One of those childhood events described Coan’s brother getting lost in a shopping mall at the age of 5, then being rescued by a good Samaritan and reunited with his family. Here’s the crazy thing: this story was an absolute fabrication.

And yet, Coan’s brother unwittingly added additional details to this bogus story. After the experiment wrapped up, Coan asked his brother which story was false. But his brother couldn’t identify the made-up tale. When Coan told his brother that he’d never been lost in the mall, his brother expressed complete disbelief. He was sure the mall incident had transpired.

Professor Loftus was impressed by Coan’s experiment. So Professor Loftus decided to test this out on a larger audience. And the results were pretty freaking interesting. One-quarter (25%) of the participants from Professor Loftus’s study thought the fabricated story had actually taken place.

But I have a couple of examples that might strike more at home for you. And it’s up to you to determine whether they’re a false memory or if The Mandela Effect is to blame.

Do you remember the most famous line from Star Wars? How’s it go again?

“Luke, I am your father.” 

WRONG. 

Darth Vader’s original line (go watch Empire again and you’ll see what I mean) is actually, “No, I am your father.”

Alright, so one word isn’t all that big of a deal, eh? It’s pretty easy to substitute “no” with “Luke.” But here’s another Star Wars mind-blowing fact you might now know: C-3PO has a silver leg.

That’s right, my scruffy-looking nerf herding friend, good ole goldenrod isn’t, well, all gold. But for 40 plus years, everyone, and tons of toys as well, have had him painted in all gold.

The Mandela Effect

Below 3PO’s knee, his leg was silver. However, this is “easily” explained due to the way the light onset reflected off his gold leg, making the silver part look gold.

Are these Star Wars goofs all easily blamed on false memories? Or is The Mandela Effect to blame for C-3PO’s silver leg or Vader’s misremembered line? Could we really be living in a multiverse, where universes have crisscrossed, and timelines became skewed, and thus, thousands, or even millions of people, have different memories?

Right now, parallel universes are still a “theory.”

It’s probable they exist, but we have no concrete evidence that they do. So, for now, I’m gonna lean toward believing that most of “The Mandela Effect” occurrences are likely nothing more than human memory errors.

And humans have terrible memories. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you ask someone to tell you what they’ve eaten in a day.

An Elephant Never Forgets (but humans do)

In 2002, a study conducted at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, asked 10 female registered dietitians and 10 women of similar age and weight who were not dietitians, to spend 7 days tracking and recording everything they ate. Participants were instructed to record their food intake as accurately as possible. 

The non-dietitians had no experience with keeping a food log and were only taught at the beginning of the study how to do it. Whereas the dietitians were far more experienced in tracking their food.

But here’s what the study found: the non-dietitians in the study underreported over the 7 days an average of 429 calories per day.

And the dietitians? How did they fare? The ten registered dietitians underreported their food intake, too, by around 223 calories per day.

We all remember the shots Michael Jordan made. But how many games do you remember where he missed the game-winner? Probably none, right? 

Humans have selective memories. We also have our own cognitive biases that muck up our own ability to solve our problems. But more than anything else, and it sure as hell isn’t parallel universes or The Mandela Effect, humans are prone to error. We make mistakes. We goof.

And a near-endless number of studies have shown that, when it comes to reporting food intake, everyone underreports.

Basically, the world is filled with a bunch of dirty, no good liars. 

Prove Me Wrong

Peter Drucker, the godfather of business management theory and practice, once said: 

“What gets measured gets managed.”

So it’s safe to say that if you don’t measure something, it’s not being managed. Meaning: if your goal is to lose body fat, if you’re not tracking everything you eat, I’ll bet you a quadrillion dollars you’re eating too many calories. Hell, if you can prove me wrong, I’ll let you name my firstborn child.

Take my client Aaron as an example. Here’s a snippet from his first weekly check-in email with me:

The Mandela Effect

Before Aaron started working with me, he wasn’t tracking his food. He had no idea how much he was eating every day. After a week of tracking only his protein and total calories, Aaron realized he wasn’t eating anywhere near the amount of protein he needed. But boy, oh boy, was he eating a crap ton of fats and carbs.

(PS: Aaron’s down nearly 20 pounds and has lost 5 inches in a little over a month. And that’s only been possible because he’s been tracking his food and consistently stayed in a calorie deficit. Yea: that tracking what you eat thing works.)

What You Can Do in This Universe To Make Fat Loss a Reality

Look, I want to believe that you’re an honest person. I want to believe that you’re like George Washington and “would never tell a lie.” But you’re not. We all lie. The list of studies above is proof that everyone — no matter where they live — lies about their food intake.

And sure, you could blame an alternate reality on why you can’t lose weight. It’s entirely possible that in another universe you’re as jacked as The Rock or a lean, mean, fighting machine like Scarlett Johansson. But you don’t live in that other universe. You’re in this reality. And in this reality, if you’re not tracking what you eat — no matter how much you swear it’s “clean” or “healthy” — I can guarantee you that you’re overeating.

So, what can you do if your goal is to lose body fat?

  1. Download a calorie tracking app like MyFitnessPal and record every single thing you put in your mouth for two weeks (you don’t need to track water or black coffee, and turn off the exercise tracking function in MFP while you’re at it).
  2. After you’ve tracked for two weeks, you can read this post where I show you an easy way to determine the calories and macros you need to lose body fat.
  3. Keep tracking everything for 6-8 weeks and be patient. You didn’t gain the fat you want to lose in 6 weeks, and it’s gonna take time to lose it too.

Everyone Confabulates

As I said above, there’s a difference between lying and confabulation. If you’re not tracking what you eat, you’re simply not aware of how much you’re eating. You might “think” you’re doing the right thing to lose weight — eating “healthy” foods and exercising. 

Look, it’s easy to blame carbs, sugar, genetics, or whatever another scapegoat you want to come up with for your lack of progress. At the end of the day, though, “assuming” you’re doing the right stuff leaves you open to falling victim to confabulation.

When asked to recall what people have eaten, studies show that everyone, even dietitians, confabulates what they eat. So if you want to make fat loss a reality in this universe, your first step is to track what you eat.

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