After watching that, I wasn’t sure if it was a comedy skit or a documentary about the American experience. Should I laugh or should I cry?
The obsession with body fat is an interesting story. It didn’t begin a few generations ago but goes back centuries. But maybe that shouldn’t be surprising.
That was the colonial era when the diet was transformed by imperial trade of foreign foods. I might note that this included previously rare or never before seen varieties of fattening carbohydrates: sugar, potatoes, corn, rice, etc. The old feudal system was ending and entirely different forms of food production and diets were developing, especially for the then landless peasants. Hunting, gathering and grazing for the commoners definitely would have been on the decline for a while at that point, as the last of the commons had been privatized. The loss of access to wild game would take longer in the colonies, but eventually it happened everywhere.
The last stage of that shift overlapped with the beginnings of industrialization and agricultural improvements. In the 19th century, change in wheat surpluses and hence costs and prices. Agriculture boomed as fewer people were employed in it. There was also a sudden obsession with gender roles and social roles in general, such as the post-revolutionary expectation of the mother to make citizens out of her children. Bread-making, a once uncommon activity for Americans, became increasingly important to the normative identity of family life and the symbolic maintenance of the social order.
Regular consumption of wheat bread was once limited to the wealthy and that is how refined bread gained its moral association with the refined class. Only the wealthy could afford wheat prior to the 19th century, as prior to that the poor were forced to rely upon cheaper grains and grain substitutes at a time when bread was regularly adulterated with bark, sawdust, chalk, etc. Poverty breads, in the previous centuries, often were made with no grain at all.* For wheat and especially heavily refined white bread to become available to all walks of life meant an upsurge of the civilizing process. The obsession with middle class life took hold and so cookbooks were produced in large numbers.
In a growing reactionary impulse, there was a nostalgic tendency toward invented traditions. Bread took on new meanings that then were projected onto the past. It wasn’t acknowledged how radical was the industrial agriculture and industrial milling that made all of this possible. And the disconnection is demonstrated by the simultaneous promotion of the grain production of this industrial age and the complaint about how industrialized life was destroying all that was good. Bread, as a symbol, transcended these mere details.
With the aristocracy having been challenged during the Revolutionary Era the refinement of the refined class that once was admired had then become suspect. The ideology of whole foods began to emerge and had some strong proponents. But by the end of the 1800s, the ideal of refinement gained prominence again and prepared the way for the following century of ever greater industrialization of processed foods. Refinement represented progress. Only after more extensive refinement led to mass malnourishment, near the end of that century and heading into the next, did whole foods once again capture the public imagination.
Then we enter the true era of fat obsession, fat blaming, and dieting, endless dieting. Eat your whole grains, get your fiber, make sure you get enough servings of fruits, and veggies, and don’t forget to exercise. Calories in, calories out. Count your calories, count your carbs, count your steps. Count every last one of them. Still, the basic sides of the debate remain the same: fewer carbohydrates vs less meat, whole foods vs refined foods, barbaric lifestyle vs civilizing process, individual moral failure vs societal changes, etc. One theme that runs through dietary advice from the ancient world to the present is that there is a close link between physical health, mental health, and moral health — the latter erupting as moral panic and moral hygiene. But what stands about the modern era, beginning in the 1600s, is that it was observed that psychological problems were mostly seen among the well-to-do.
This was often blamed on luxury and sometimes on meat (a complaint often about animals raised unnaturally in confinement and probably fed grain, the early equivalent of concerns about factory farming; but also a complaint about the introduction of foreign spices and use of fancy sauces to make meat more appetizing), although there was beginning to be an awareness that a high-carb diet might be playing a role in that it was often noted that the morbidly obese ate lots of pastries, fruit pies, and such. The poor didn’t have much access to wheat and sugar before the 1800s, but the wealthy had plenty of such foods centuries earlier. Meat consumption didn’t change much during that era of colonial trade. What did change the most was availability of starchy and sugary foods, and the wealthy consumed them in great proportions. Meat had always been a desirable food going back to earliest hominid evolution. Modern agriculture and global trade, however, entirely transformed the human diet with the introduction of massive amounts of carbohydrates.
It’s strange that right from the beginning of the modern era there were those pushing for a vegetarian diet, not many but their voices were being heard for the first time. Or maybe it wasn’t so strange. Prior to the modern era, a vegetarian diet so far north in Europe would have been impossible. It was only the elite promoting vegetarianism as only they could afford a vegetarian diet year round, in buying expensive plant-based foods that were often shipped in from far away. Although plant foods were expensive at the time, they were available to those who had plenty of money. But during the Middle Ages and earlier, vegetarianism for the most part was not an option for anyone since the food items required of such a diet simply weren’t available enough to sustain life, certainly not in places like England or Germany.
There is another side to this bring us back to the obsession with fat. It was only with the gradual increase of grain production that cattle could be fed grain, not only as additional feed in the winter but year round. This is also what allowed the possibility of confining animals, rather than grazing them on fields. Grain surpluses weren’t consistent until the 19th century, but even before that grain production had been increasing. There were slow improvements in agriculture over the centuries. The rich could afford meat from grain-fed animals much earlier than the rest of the population and it was highly sought after. That is because such meat is extremely fatty creating those beautiful marbled steaks, pork chops, etc (such fattiness, by the way, is a sign of metabolic syndrome in both animals and humans). Fat couldn’t have been a focus of debate prior to grain-fattened animals became common.
So, there is a reason that both wheat bread and fatty meat gained immense symbolic potency at the same time. Similarly, it was during this same era that vegetables became more common and gardens likewise became symbols of wealth, abundance, and the good life. Only the rich could afford to maintain large gardens because of the difficulty involved and immense time-consuming work required (see The Jane Austen Diet by Bryan Kozlowski**; also about the American diet before the 20th century, see The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz that I quote in Malnourished Americans). They represented the changed diet of modern civilization. They were either indicators of progress or decline, depending on one’s perspective. Prior to modernity, a diet had consisted to a much greater degree of foods that were gathered, hunted, trapped, and fished.
The shift from one source of food to another changed the diet and so changed the debate about diet. There suddenly were more options of foods available as choices to argue about. Diet as a concept was being more fully formulated. Rather than being something inherited according to the traditional constraints of local food systems and food customs, assuming one had the wealth, one could pick from a variety of possible diets. Even to this day, the obsession about dieting carries a taint of class privilege. It is, as they say, a first world problem. But what is fascinating is how this way of thinking took hold in the 1600s and 1700s. There was a modern revolution in dietary thought in the generations before modern political revolution. The old order was falling apart and sometimes actively being dismantled. This created much anxiety and it forced the individual into a state of uncertainty. Old wisdom no longer could be relied upon.
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*Rather than bread, the food that was most associated with the laboring class was fish, a food the wealthy avoided. Think about how lobster and clams used to be poverty foods. In Galenic theory of humoral physiology, fish is considered cold and wet, hard to digest and weakening. This same humoral category of food also included fruits and vegetables. This might be why, even to this day, many vegetarians and vegans will make an exception for fish, in seeing it as different than ‘meat’. This is an old ideological bias because ‘meat’ was believed to have the complete opposite effect of being hot and dry, easy to digest and invigorating. This is the reason for why meat but not fish was often banned during religious fasts and festivals.
As an interesting side note, the supposed cooling effect of fish was a reason for not eating it during the cold times of the year. Fish is one of the highest sources of vitamin A. Another source is by way of the precursor of beta-carotene found in vegetables. That these two types of food are considered of the same variety according to Galenic thought is interesting. Cold weather is one of the factors that can disrupt the body’s ability to convert beta-carotene into usable vitamin A. The idea of humors mixes this up slightly, but it maybe points to understanding there was something important to be understood. Eating more meat, rather than vegetables, in winter is a wise practice in a traditional society that can’t supplement such nutrients. Vitamin A is key for maintaining a strong immune system and handling stress (True Vitamin A For Health And Happiness).
By the way, it was during the 19th century that a discussion finally arose about vegetarianism. The question was about whether life and health could be sustained with vegetables. Then again, those involved were probably still being influenced by Galenic thought. By vegetarianism, they likely meant a more general plant-based diet that excluded ‘meat’ but not necessarily fish. The context of the debate was the religious abstinence of Lent, during which fish was allowed. So, maybe the fundamental argument was more about the possibility of long-term survival solely on moist, cooling foods. Whatever the exact point of contention, it was the first time in the modern Western world where a plant-based diet (be it vegan, vegetarian, or pescetarian-style Mediterranean diet) was considered seriously.
These ideas have been inherited by us, even though the philosophical justifications no longer make sense to us. This is seen in the debate that continues over red meat in particular and meat in general, specifically in terms of the originally Galenic assertion of its heat and dryness building up the ‘blood’ (High vs Low Protein). It’s funny that dietary debates remain obsessed over red meat (along with the related issue of cows and their farts), even though actual consumption of red meat has declined over the past century. As with bread, the symbolic value of red meat has maybe even gained greater importance. Similarly, as I mentioned above, the uncertain categorization of fish remains hazy. I know a vegan who doesn’t eat ‘meat’ but does eat fish. When I noted how odd that was, a vegetarian I was talking to thought it made perfect sense. This is Galenic thought without the Galenic theory that at least made it a rational position, but the ideological bias remains in spite of those adhering to it being unable to explain why they hold that bias. It amuses me.
Ideologies are powerful systems. They are mind viruses that can survive and mutate across centuries and sometimes millennia. Most of the time, their origins are lost to history. But sometimes we are able to trace them and it makes for strange material to study.
See: “Fish in Renaissance Dietary Theory” by Ken Albala from Fish: Food from the Waters ed. by Harlan Walker, and Food and Faith in Christian Culture ed. by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden. Also, read text below, such as the discussion of vegetarianism.
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(Both texts below are from collections that are freely available on Google Books and possibly elsewhere.)
The Fat of the Land: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking 2002
ed. by Harlan Walker
“The Apparition of Fat in Western Nutritional Theory”
by Ken Albala
Naturally dietary systems of the past had different goals in mind when framing their recommendations. They had different conceptions of the good, and at some point in history that came to include not being fat. Body size then became an official concern for dietary writers. Whether the original impetus for this change was a matter of fashion, spirituality or has its roots in a different approach to science is impossible to say with any degree of precision. But this paper will argue that nutritional science itself as reformulated in the 17th century was largely to blame for the introduction of fat into the discourse about how health should be defined. […] Obesity is a pathological state according to modern nutritional science. But it was not always so.
When and why fat became a medical issue has been a topic of concern among contemporary scholars. Some studies, such as Peter N. Sterns’ Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West, place the origin of our modern obsession in the late 19th century when the rise of nutritional science and health movements lead by figures like John Harvey Kellogg, hand in hand with modern advertising and Gibson Girls, swept away the Victorian preference for fulsome figures. As a form of social protest, those who could afford to, much as in the 60s, idealized the slim androgynous figure we associate with flappers. Others push the origin further back into the early 19th century, in the age of Muscular Christianity and Sylvester Graham. But clearly the obsession is earlier than this. In the 18th century the 448 pound physician George Cheyne and his miracle dieting had people flocking to try out the latest ‘cures.’ It was at the same time that dissertations on the topic of obesity became popular, and clearly the medical profession had classified this as a treatable condition. And readers had already been trained to monitor and police their own bodies for signs of impending corpulence. The roots of this fear and guilt must lie somewhere in the previous century as nutritional science was still groping its way through a myriad of chemical and mechanical theories attempting to quantify health and nutrition with empirical research.
The 17th century is also the ideal place to look if only because the earlier system of humoral physiology is almost totally devoid of a concept of fat as a sickness. […]
For all authors in the Galenic tradition it appears that fat was seen as a natural consequence of a complexion tending to the cold and moist, something which could be corrected, but not considered an illness that demanded serious attention. And socially there does not seem to have been any specific stigma attached to fat if Rubens’ taste in flesh is any measure.
The issue of fat really only emerges among authors who have abandoned, in part or totally, the system of humoral physiology. This seems to have something to do with both the new attempts to quantify nutrition, first and most famously by Santorio Santorio9 and also among those who began to see digestion and nutrition as chemical reactions which when gone awry cast fatty deposits throughout the body. It was only then that fat came to be considered a kind of sickness to be treated with therapy.10
The earliest indications that fat was beginning to be seen as a medical problem are found in the work of the first dietary writer who systematically weighed himself. Although Santorio does not seem to have been anxious about being overweight himself, he did consistently define health as the maintenance of body weight. Expanding on the rather vague concept of insensible perspiration used by Galenic authors, Santorio sought to precisely measure the amount of food he consumed each day compared to the amount excreted in ‘sensible’ evacuations. […] Still, fat was not a matter of eating too much. ‘He who eats more than he can digest, is nourished less than he ought to be, and [becomes] consequently emaciated.’12 More importantly, fat was a sign of a system in disarray. […]
Food was not in fact the only factor Santorio or his followers took into account though. As before, the amount of exercise one gets, baths, air quality, even emotions could alter the metabolic rate. But now, the effect of all these could be precisely calculated. […]
At the same time that these mechanistic conceptions of nutrition became mainstream, a chemical understanding of how food is broken down by means of acids and alkalis also came to be accepted by the medical profession. These ideas ultimately harked back to Paracelsus writing in the 16th century but were elaborated upon by 17th century writers […] It is clear that by the early 18th century fat could be seen as a physiological defect that could be corrected by heating the body to facilitate digestive fermentation and the passage of insensible perspiration. […] Although the theories themselves are obviously nothing like our own, we are much closer to the idea of fat as a medical condition. […]
Where Cheyne departs from conventional medical opinion, is in his recommendation of a cooked vegetable diet to counter the affects of a disordered system, which he admits is rooted in his own ‘experience and observation on my own crazy carcase and the infirmities of others I have treated’ rather than on any theoretical foundation.
The controversy over whether vegetables could be considered a proper diet, not only for the sick or overgrown but for healthy individuals, was of great concern in the 18th century. Nicholas Andry in his Traité des alimens de caresme offered an extended diatribe against the very notion that vegetables could sustain life, a question of particular importance in Catholic France where Lenten restriction were still in force, at least officially. […] According to current medical theory, vegetables could not be suitable for weight loss, despite the successful results of the empirics. […]
It is clear that authors had a number of potentially conflicting theoretical models to draw from and both mechanical and chemical explanations could be used to explain why fat accumulates in the body. Yet with entirely different conceptual tools, these authors arrived at dietary goals surprisingly like our own, and equally as contentious. The ultimate goals now became avoiding disease and fat, and living a long life. While it would be difficult to prove that these dietary authors had any major impact beyond the wealthy elites and professionals who read their works, it is clear that a concern over fat was firmly in place by the mid 18th century, and appears to have its roots in a new conception of physiology which not only paid close attention to body weight as an index of health, but increasingly saw fat as a medical condition.
Food and Morality: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2007
ed. by Susan R. Friedland
“Moral Fiber: Bread in Nineteenth-Century America”
by Mark McWilliams
From Sarah Josepha Hale, who claimed, ‘the more perfect the bread, the more perfect the lady’ to Sylvester Graham, who insisted, ‘the wife, the mother only’ has the ‘moral sensibility’ required to bake good bread for her family, bread often became a gendered moral marker in nineteenth-century American culture.1 Of course, what Hale and Graham considered ‘good’ bread differed dramatically, and exactly what constituted ‘good’ bread was much contested. Amidst technological change that made white flour more widely available and home cooking more predictable, bread, described in increasingly explicit moral terms, became the leading symbol of a housewife’s care for her family.
Americans were hardly the first to ascribe moral meaning to their daily bread. As Bernard Dupaigne writes, ‘since time immemorial [bread] has attended the great events of various human communities: monsoon or grape harvest bread, the blessed bread of Catholics or the unleavened bread of Passover, or the fasting-break bread of Ramadan. There is no bread that does not, somewhere in the world, celebrate an agricultural or religious holiday, enrich a family event, or commemorate the dead.’2 With such varied symbolic resonance, bread seems easily filled with new meanings.
In America (as later in France),3 bread became a revolutionary symbol. To the early English colonists’ dismay, European wheat did not adapt well to the North American climate; the shift to corn as the primary grain was perhaps the most important dietary adaptation made by the colonists. Wheat remained too expensive for common consumption well into the nineteenth century. […]
By the end of the Revolution, then, bread was already charged with moral meaning in the young United States. In the nineteenth century, this meaning shifted in response to agricultural improvements that made wheat more widely available, technological change that made bread easier to make consistently, and, perhaps most important, social change that made good bread the primary symbol of a housewife’s care for her family. In effect, bread suffered a kind of identity crisis that paralleled the national identity crisis of Jacksonian America. As Americans thought seriously about who they were in this new nation, about how they should act and even how they should eat, bread’s symbolic meaning – and bread itself– changed.
American agricultural production exploded, although the proportion of the population working on farms declined. James Trager notes that even before the McCormick reaper first sold in large numbers as farmers struggled to replace workers leaving for the 1849 Gold Rush, the average time required to produce a bushel of wheat declined 22 per cent from 1831 to 1840.7 Dramatic improvements in efficiency led to larger yields; for example, wheat production more than doubled between 1840 and 1860. Such increases in wheat production, combined with better milling procedures, made white flour finally available in quantities sufficient for white bread to become more than a luxury good.8
Even as wheat became easier to find for many Americans, bread remained notoriously difficult to make, or at least to make well. Lydia Maria Child, a baker’s daughter who became one of America’s leading writers, emphasizes what must have been the intensely frustrating difficulty of learning to cook in the era before predictable heat sources, standardized measurements, and consistent ingredients.9 […]
Unlike Hale, who implies that learning to bake better can be a kind of self improvement, this passage works more as dire warning to those not yet making the proper daily bread. Though bread becomes the main distinction between the civilized and the savage, Beecher turns quickly, and reassuringly, to the science of her day: ‘By lightness is meant simply that in order to facilitate digestion the particles are to be separated from each other by little holes or air-cells; and all the different methods of making light bread are neither more nor less than the formation of bread with these air cells’ (170). She then carefully describes how to produce the desired lightness in bread, instructions which must have been welcome to the young housewife now fully convinced of her bread’s moral importance.
The path for Beecher, Hale, and others had been prepared by Sylvester Graham, although he is little mentioned in their work.14 In his campaign to improve bread, Graham’s rhetoric ‘romanticized the life of the traditional household’ in ways that ‘unknowingly helped prepare women to find a new role as guardians of domestic virtue,’ as Stephen Nissenbaum notes.15 Bread was only one aspect of Graham’s program to educate Americans on what he called ‘the Science of Human Life.’ Believing on the one hand, unlike many at the time, that overstimulation caused debility and, on the other, that industrialization and commercialization were debasing modern life, Graham proposed a lifestyle based around a strict controls on diet and sexuality.16 While Graham promoted a range of activities from vegetarianism to temperance, his emphasis on good bread was most influential. […]
And yet modern conditions make such bread difficult to produce. Each stage of the process is corrupted, according to Graham. Rather than grow wheat in ‘a pure virgin soil’ required for the best grain, farmers employ fields ‘exhausted by tillage, and debauched by the means which man uses to enrich and stimulate it.’ As Nissenbaum notes, the ‘conscious sexual connotations’ of Graham’s language here is typical of his larger system, but the language also begins to point to the moral dimensions of good bread (6).
Similarly loaded language marks Graham’s condemnation of bakery bread. Graham echoed the common complaints about adulteration by commercial bakers. But he added a unique twist: even the best bakery bread was doubly flawed. The flour itself was inferior because it was over-processed, according to Graham: the ‘superfine flour’ required for white bread ‘is always far less wholesome, in any and every situation of life, than that which is made of wheaten meal which contains all the natural properties of the grain.’ […]
As Nissenbaum argues, pointing to this passage, Graham’s claims invoke ‘the vision of a domestic idyll, of a mother nursing her family with bread and affection’ (8). Such a vision clearly anticipates the emphasis on cookery as measure of a woman’s social worth in the domestic rhetoric that came so to characterize the mid-nineteenth century.
Such language increasingly linking cookery with morality emphasized the virtue not of the food itself but rather of the cooks preparing it. This linkage reached read ers not only through the explosion of cookbooks and domestic manuals but also through the growing numbers of sentimental novels. Indeed, this linkage provided a tremendously useful trope for authors seeking a shorthand to define their fictional characters. And that trope, in turn, helped expand the popularity of interpreting cookery in moral terms. […]
After the Civil War, domestic rhetoric evolved away from its roots in the wholesome foods of the nation’s past toward the ever-more refined cuisine of the Gilded Age. Graham’s refusal to evolve in this direction – his system was based entirely in a nostalgic struggle against modernity, against refinement – may well be a large part of why his work was quickly left behind even by those for whom it had paved the way.
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Here is another text I came across. It’s not free, but it seems like a good survey worth buying.
We are told red meat causes bowel cancer. Today @thetimes reports on surge in colon cancer among the young. But young people are eating less meat. How does @WHO explain that?
Fake news – there is big money behind the drive to get people off red meat and onto replacement products such as Beyond Meat.
just possibly, cancer might have nutritional basis. Which seems at least an outside possibility since cancer is modern disease found rarely in peoples eating their traditional diets.
“Hyperinsulinemia appears to be a consistent marker of enhanced colon cancer risk.”
The Role of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disturbances in Cancers of the Colon, Prostate, and Pancreas
by Edward Giovannucci & Dominique Michaud
Hyperinsulinemia & colon cancer. Prospective cohort study of 14.275 women:
“For colon cancer alone (75 case subjects and 146 control subjects), ORs increased up to 3.96 (95% CI = 1.49-10.50; P:(trend) <.001) for the highest versus the lowest quintiles.”
Serum C-Peptide, Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF)-I, IGF-Binding Proteins, and Colorectal Cancer Risk in Women
by Rudolf Kaaks et al
Fat is our Friend
“Leading a Western lifestyle, being overweight, and being sedentary are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer”… but I thought it was mostly down to red meat.😉
Yes, because it rots in your colon… obviously
Does Meat Rot In Your Colon? No. What Does? Beans, Grains, and Vegetables!
by J. Stanton
“A high-fiber diet and increased frequency of bowel movements are associated with greater, rather than lower, prevalence of diverticulosis.”
A High-Fiber Diet Does Not Protect Against Asymptomatic Diverticulosis
by Anne F. Peery et al
Is diverticulosis related in any way to bowel cancer? Recall that rise in colon cancer has occurred at same time that unproven Burkitt/Trowell hypothesis has been accepted as dogma. BT hypothesis holds that absence of dietary fibre causes colon cancer. So prevention = more fibre.
“There is no direct evidence of an effect of dietary fiber on colon cancer incidence… In a trial of ispaghula husk fiber, the intervention group actually had significantly more recurrent adenomas after 3 years”
Does a high-fiber diet prevent colon cancer in at-risk patients?
by Linda French, MD & Susan Kendall, PhD
If, as seems likely, colonic caracinoma is significantly pathogenically driven, then more “prebiotic” might be expected to be carcinogenic in the dysbiotic gut but potentially anti-cancer in a situation of eubiosis. Seeking some ubiquituous impact of fibre for all seems unwise
Interesting given bowel cancer may be highest in groups most likely to ingest plant fiber, at least if this study is to be believed
Vegetarians Have Fewer Cancers But Higher Risk Of Colorectal Cancer, Study
by Catharine Paddock PhD
Did they study seed oils?
‘’Elementary my dear Watson” … it’s a paradox ‘of course’ 😉 at least in nutrition epidemiology
What causes health? It’s such a simple question, but it’s complex. The causes are many and the direction of causality not always clear. There has been a particular challenge to dietary ideology that shifts our way of thinking. It has to do with energy and motivation.
The calorie-in/calorie-out (CICO) theory is obviously false (Caloric Confusion; & Fung, The Evidence for Caloric Restriction). Dr. Jason Fung calls it the CRaP theory (Caloric Reduction as Primary). Studies show there is a metabolic advantage to low-carb diets (Cara B. Ebbeling, Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial), especially ketogenic diets. It alters your entire metabolism and endocrine system. Remember that insulin is a hormone that has much to do with hunger signaling. Many other hormones are involved as well. This also alters how calories are processed and used in the body. More exercise won’t necessarily do any good as long nothing else is changed. The standard American diet is fattening and the standard American lifestyle makes it hard to lose that fat. Even starving yourself won’t help. The body seeks to limit energy use and maintain energy stores, especially when it is under stress (NYU Langone, Researchers Identify Mechanism that May Drive Obesity Epidemic). All that caloric restriction does is to slow down metabolism, the opposite of what happens on carbohydrate restriction.
We associate obesity with disease and rightly so, but that isn’t to say that obesity is the primary cause. It too is a symptom or, in some cases, even a protective measure (Coping Mechanisms of Health). The body isn’t stupid. Everything the body does serves a purpose, even if that purpose is making the best out of a bad situation. Consider depression. One theory proposes that when there is something wrong we seek seclusion in order to avoid further risks and stressors and to figure out the cause of distress — hence the isolation and rumination of depression. It’s similar to why we lay in bed when sick, to let the body heal. And it should be noted that depression is a symptom of numerous health conditions and often indicates inflammation in the brain (an immune response). Insulin resistance related to obesity also can involve inflammation. When the cause of the problem is permanent, the symptoms (depression, obesity, etc) become permanent. The symptoms then become problems in their own right.
This is personal for me. I spent decades in severe depression. And during that time my health was worsening, despite struggling to do what was right. I went to therapists and took antidepressants. I tried to improve my diet and exercised. But it always felt like I was fighting against myself. I was gaining weight over time and my food cravings were persistent. Something was missing. All that changed once I got into ketosis. It’s not merely that I lost weight. More amazingly, my depression and food addictions went away, along with my tendencies toward brooding and compulsive thought (The Agricultural Mind). Also, everything felt easier and more natural. I didn’t have to force myself to exercise for it now felt good to exercise. Physical activity then was an expression of my greater health, in the way a child runs around simply for the joy of it, for no other reason than he has the energy to do so. Something fundamentally changed within my body and mind. Everything felt easier.
This touches on a central theory argued by some low-carb advocates. It’s not how many calories come in versus how many go out, at least not in a simple sense. The question is what is causing calories to be consumed and burned. One thing about ketosis is that it forces the body to burn its own energy (i.e., body fat) while reducing hunger, but it does this without any need of willpower, restraint, or moral superiority. It happens naturally. The body simply starts producing more energy and, even if someone eats a high-calorie diet, the extra energy creates the conditions where, unless some other health condition interferes, increased physical activity naturally follows.
It’s not merely that being in ketosis leads to changed activity that burns more energy. Rather, the increased energy comes first. And that is because ketosis allows better access to all that energy your body already has stored up. Most people feel too tired and drained to exercise, too addicted to food that trying to control it further stresses them. That is the typical experience on a high-carb diet, mood and energy levels go up and down with the inevitable crashes becoming worse over time. But in ketosis, mood and energy is more balanced and constant. Simply put, one feels better. And when one feels better, one is more likely to do other activities that are healthy. Ketosis creates a leverage point where health improvements can be made with far less effort.
In the public mind, diet is associated with struggle and failure. But in its original meaning, the word ‘diet’ referred to lifestyle. Diet shouldn’t be something you do so much as something that changes your way of being in and relating to the world. If you find making health changes hard, it might be because you’re doing it wrong. Obesity and tiredness is not a moral failing or character flaw. You aren’t a sinner to be punished and reformed. Your body doesn’t need to be denied and controlled. There is a natural state of health that we can learn to listen to. When your body hungers and craves, it is trying to tell you something. Feed it with the nutrition it needs. Eat to satiety those foods that contribute to health. Lose excess weight first and only later worry about exercise. Once you begin to feel better, you might find your habits improving of their own accord.
This is a challenge not only to dietary belief systems but an even more radical challenge to society itself. Take prisons as an example. Instead of using prisons to store away the victims of poverty and inequality, we could eliminate the causes and consequences of poverty and inequality. We used to treat the mentally ill in hospitals, but now we put them into prisons. This is seen in concrete ways, such that prisoners have higher rates of lead toxicity. As a society, it would be cheaper, more humane, and less sociopathic to reduce the heavy metal poisoning. Similarly, studies have shown the prison population tends to be extremely malnourished. Prisons that improve the diet of prisoners result in a drastic reduction in aggressive, violent, anti-social, and other problematic behaviors. A similar observation has been made in studies with low-carb diets and children, as behavior improves. That indicates that, if we had increased public health, many and maybe most of these people wouldn’t have ended up in prison in the first place (Physical Health, Mental Health).
We’ve had a half century of unscientific dietary advice. Most Americans have been doing what they’ve been told. Saturated fat, red meat, and salt consumption went down over the past century. In place of those, fruits and vegetables, fish and lean chicken became a larger part of the diet. What has been the results? An ever worsening epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, mood disorders, and on and on. In fact, these kinds of health problems were seen quite early on, following the fear toward meat that followed Upton Sinclair’s 1906 muckraking journalism on the meatpacking industry in The Jungle. Saturated fat intake had been decreasing and seed oil intake had been increasing in the early 1900s, in the decades leading up to the health epidemic that began most clearly around the 1940s and 1950s. The other thing that had increased over that time period were grains, sugar, and carbs in general. Then the victims who followed this bad advice were blamed by the experts for being gluttonous and slothful, as if diet were a Christian morality play. We collectively took the hard path. And the more we failed, the more the experts doubled down in demanding more of the same.
Do we want better lives for ourselves and others? Or do we simply want to scapegoat individuals for our collective failures? If you think we can’t afford to do the right thing, then we really won’t be able to afford the consequences of trying to avoid responsibility. The increasing costs of sickness, far from being limited to healthcare, will eventually bankrupt our society or else cause so much dysfunction that civil society will break down. Why choose such a dark path when an easier choice is before us? Why is the government and major health institutions still pushing a high-carb diet? We have scientifically proven the health benefits of low-carb diets. The simplest first act would be to change our dietary guidelines and all else would follow from that, from the food system to medical practice. What are we waiting for? We can make life hard, if we choose. But why not make it easy?
* * *
I’ve long wondered why we humans make life unnecessarily hard. We artificially construct struggle and suffering out of fear of what would happen if people were genuinely free from threat, punishment, and social control. We think humans are inherently bad and must be controlled. This seeps into every aspect of life, far from being limited to demented dietary ideology.
We are even willing to punish others at great costs to ourselves, even to the point of being highly destructive to all of society. We’d rather harm, imprison, kill, etc millions of innocents in order to ensure one guilty person gets what we think they deserve. And we constantly need an endless parade of scapegoats to quench our vengeful natures. Innocence becomes irrelevant, as it ultimately is about control and not justice.
All of it is driven by fear. The authoritarians, social dominators, and reactionaries — they prey upon our fear. And in fear, people do horrific things or else submit to others doing them. Most importantly, it shuts down our ability to imagine and envision. We go to great effort to make our lives difficult. Struggle leads to ever more struggle. Suffering cascades onto suffering. Worse upon worse, ad infinitum. As such, dietary ideology or whatever else pushed by the ruling elite isn’t about public good. It’s social control, pure and simple.
But let all of that go. Let the fear go. We know from science itself that it doesn’t have to be this hard. There are proven ways to do things that are far simpler and far easier and with far better results. We aren’t bad people who need to be punished into doing the right thing. Our bodies aren’t fallen forms that will lead us into sin. What if, instead, we looked to the better angels of our nature, to what is inherently good within us?
Here is some of what I’ve written before about the easy versus the hard, about freedom versus social control:
Public Health, Public Good
Freedom From Want, Freedom to Imagine
Rationalizing the Rat Race, Imagining the Rat Park
Costs Must Be Paid: Social Darwinism As Public Good
Denying the Agency of the Subordinate Class
Capitalism as Social Control
Substance Control is Social Control
Reckoning With Violence
Unspoken Connection: Fundamentalism and Punishment
What If Our Economic System Conflicts With Our Human Nature?
An Invisible Debt Made Visible
About imagining alternatives, I’ve been reading Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. It’s a utopian novel, but in many ways it isn’t all that extreme. The future portrayed basically is a Nordic-style social democracy taken to the next level. That basic model of governance has already proven itself one of the best in the world, not only for public good but also wealth and innovation.
In reading about this fictionalized world, one thing stood out to me. The protagonist, Julian West, was put into trance to aid his sleep. He was in a sealed room underground and apparently the house burned down, leaving behind an empty lot. As a leap of imagination for both author and reader, this trance state put him into hibernation for more than a century. His underground bedchamber is discovered by the Leete family who, in the future world, lives on his old property although there house was built on a different location.
The father is Doctor Leete who takes particular interest in Julian. They have many conversations about the differences between the late 19th and early 21st centuries. Julian struggles to understand the enormous changes that have taken place. The world he fell asleep in is no longer recognizable by the world he woke up in. When he questions something that seems remarkable to him, Doctor Leete often responds that it’s more simple than it seems to Julian. The contrast shows how unnecessarily difficult, wasteful, and cruel was that earlier society.
The basic notion is that simple changes in social conditions can result in drastic changes in public good. The costs are miniscule in comparison to the gains. That is to say that this alternative future humanity chose the easy path, instead of continually enforcing costly punishment and social control. It’s quite amazing that the argument I make now was being made all the way back in 1888 when Bellamy began writing it. From the novel, one example of this other way of thinking is the description of the future education system in how it relates to health:
I shall not describe in detail what I saw in the schools that day. Having taken but slight interest in educational matters in my former life, I could offer few comparisons of interest. Next to the fact of the universality of the higher as well as the lower education, I was much struck with the prominence given to physical culture, and the fact that proficiency in athletic feats and games as well as in scholarship had a place in the rating of the youth.
“The faculty of education,” Dr. Leete explained, “is held to the same responsibility for the bodies as for the minds of its charges. The highest possible physical, as well as mental, development of everyone is the double object of a curriculum which lasts from the age of six to that of twenty- one.”
The magnificent health of the young people in the schools impressed me strongly. My previous observations, not only of the notable personal endowments of the family of my host, but of the people I had seen in my walks abroad, had already suggested the idea that there must have been something like a general improvement in the physical standard of the race since my day ; and now, as I compared these stalwart young men and fresh, vigorous maidens, with the young people I had seen in the schools of the nineteenth century, I was moved to impart my thought to Dr. Leete. He listened with great interest to what I said.
“Your testimony on this point,” he declared, “is invaluable. We believe that there has been such an improvement as you speak of, but of course it could only be a matter of theory with us. It is an incident of your unique position that you alone in the world of to-day can speak with authority on this point. Your opinion, when you state it publicly, will, I assure you, make a profound sensation. For the rest it would be strange, certainly, if the race did not show an improvement. In your day, riches debauched one class with idleness of mind and body, while poverty sapped the vitality of the masses by overwork, bad food, and pestilent homes. The labour required of children, and the burdens laid on women, enfeebled the very springs of life. Instead of the these maleficent circumstances, all now enjoy the most favourable conditions of physical life ; the young are care fully nurtured and studiously cared for ; the labour which is required.of all is limited to the period of greatest bodily vigour, and is never excessive ; care for one’s self and one’s family, anxiety as to livelihood, the strain of a ceaseless battle of life, all these influences, which once did so much to wreck the minds and bodies of men and women, are known no more. Certainly, an improvement of the species ought to follow such a change, In certain specific respects we know, indeed, that the improvement has taken place. Insanity, for instance, which in the nineteenth century was so terribly common a product of your insane mode of life, has almost dis appeared, with its alternative, suicide.”
* * *
Here’s What Weight-Loss Advice Looked Like Nearly 100 Years Ago
by Morgan Cutolo, Reader’s Digest
I’m throwing this in for a number of reasons. It is showing how low-carb views are basically the same as dietary advice from earlier last century. Heck, one can find advice like that going back to the 1800s and even 1700s. Low-carb diets were well known and mainstream until the changes at the AHA and FDA over the past 50 years or so.
The return of low-carb popularity is what inspires such articles from the corporate media. Reader’s Digest would’t likely have published something like that 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Attitudes are changing, even if institutions are resistant. Profits are also changing as low-carb products become big biz. Corporate media, if nothing else, will follow the profits.
Here is what really stood out to me. In the article, two major dietary experts are quoted: Dr. Jason Fung and Dr. Robert Lustig. Both of them are leading advocates of low-carb diets with Dr. Lustig being the most influential critic of sugar. But neither of them is presented as such. They are simply used as authorities on the topic, which they are. That means that low-carb has become so acceptable as, in some cases, to go without saying. They aren’t labeled as low-carb gurus, much less dismissed as food faddists. No qualifications or warnings are given about low-carb. The article simply quotes these experts about what the science shows.
This is a major advance in news reporting. It’s a positive sign of changes being embraced. Maybe we are finally turning off the hard path and trying out the easier path instead. Some early signs are indicating this. The growing incidence of diabetes might be finally leveling out and even reversing for the first time in generations.
Low-Carb Diets On The Rise
American Diabetes Association Changes Its Tune
Slow, Quiet, and Reluctant Changes to Official Dietary Guidelines
Official Guidelines For Low-Carb Diet
Weight Watchers’ Paleo Diet
At Optimizing Nutrition, there is a freaking long post with a ton of info: Do we need meat from animals? Let me share some of charts showing changes over the past century. As calories have increased, the nutrient content of food has been declining. Also, with vegetable oils and margarine shooting up, animal fat and dietary cholesterol intake has dropped.
Carbs are a bit different. They had increased some in the early 20th century. That was in response to meat consumption having declined in response to Upton Sinclair’s muckraking of the meat industry with his book The Jungle. That was precisely at the time when industrialization had made starchy carbs and added sugar more common. For perspective, read Nina Teicholz account of the massive consumption of animal foods, including nutrient-dense animal fat and organ meats, among Americans in the prior centuries:
“About 175 pounds of meat per person per year! Compare that to the roughly 100 pounds of meat per year that an average adult American eats today. And of that 100 pounds of meat, more than half is poultry—chicken and turkey—whereas until the mid-twentieth century, chicken was considered a luxury meat, on the menu only for special occasions (chickens were valued mainly for their eggs). Subtracting out the poultry factor, we are left with the conclusion that per capita consumption of red meat today is about 40 to 70 pounds per person, according to different sources of government data—in any case far less than what it was a couple of centuries ago.” (The Big Fat Surprise, passage quoted in Malnourished Americans).
What we forget, though, is that low-carb became popular for a number of decades. In the world war era, there was a lot of research on the ketogenic diet. Then around the mid-century, low-carb diets became common and carb intake fell. Atkins didn’t invent the low-carb diet. Science conferences on diet and nutrition, into the 1970s, regularly had speakers on low-carb diets (either Gary Taubes or Nina Teicholz mentions this). It wasn’t until 1980 that the government began seriously promoting the high-carb diet that has afflicted us ever since. Carb intake peaked out around 2000 and dropped a bit after that, but has remained relatively high.
The inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids combined with all the carbs has caused obesity, as part of metabolic syndrome. That goes along with the lack of nutrition that has caused endless hunger as Americans have been eating empty calories. The more crap you eat, the more your body hungers for nutrition. And all that crap is designed to be highly addictive. So, Americans eat and eat, the body hungering for nutrition and not getting it. Under natural conditions, hunger is a beneficial signal to seek out what the body needs. But such things as sugar have become unlinked from nutrient-density.
Unsurprisingly, Americans have been getting sicker and sicker, decade after decade. But on a positive note, recently there is a slight drop in how many carbs Americans are eating. This is particularly seen with added sugar. And it does seem to be making a difference. There is evidence that the diabetes epidemic might finally be reversing. Low-carb diets are becoming popular again, after almost a half century of public amnesia. That is good. Still, the food most American have access to remains low quality and lacking in nutrition.
Gary Taubes wrote, “This is Curt Richter talking about his diabetic rat experiments published in 1941. It raises an obvious question: Could Richter’s rats have been smarter than the expert committees of the American Diabetes Association? I’m just saying….”
* * *
Increased Fat and Decreased Carbohydrate Appetite of Pancreatectomized Rats
by Curt P. Richter and Edward C. H. Schmidt, Jr.
BERNARD, who in 1859 first stated his concept of the constancy of the internal environment, described various physiological mechanisms, part responses of the organism, responses of individual organs, which contribute to the maintenance of this constancy. We have recently found that behavior mechanisms, responses of the total organism, may also serve to maintain the constancy of the internal environment. The existence of these behavior mechanisms became established in experiments in which certain physiological mechanisms had been excluded. Thus, after adrenalectomy had removed the chief physiological means of regulating sodium metabolism, it was found that the animal itself made an effort to maintain the sodium balance by seeking and ingesting large amounts of sodium chloride (1). Similarly, after parathyroidectomy had removed the physiological mechanisms for the maintenance of a constant calcium balance, the animals themselves made an effort to correct the calcium loss by ingesting large amounts of calcium solution (2).
It was well known at the time (although it may have been forgotten since then), as I discussed in Good Calories, Bad Calories, that animals can be made to like one food more than another, and so eat more of the one than the other, by interventions that influenced their underlying physiologic/metabolic/hormonal states. Here’s how I illustrated this in GC,BC:
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, a series of experimental observations, many of them from [Curt] Richter’s laboratory [at Johns Hopkins University], raised questions about what is meant by the concepts of hunger, thirst and palatability, and how they might reflect metabolic and physiological needs. For example, rats in which the adrenal glands are removed cannot retain salt and will die within two weeks on their usual diet from the consequences of salt depletion. If given a supply of salt in their cages, however, or given the choice of drinking salt water or pure water, they will chose to either eat or drink the salt and, by doing so, keep themselves alive indefinitely. These rats will develop a “taste” for salt that did not exist prior to the removal of their adrenal glands. Rats that have had their parathyroid glands removed will die within days of tetany, a disorder of calcium deficiency. If given the opportunity, however, they will drink a solution of calcium lactate rather than water—not the case with healthy rats—and will stay alive because of that choice. They will appear to like the calcium lactate more than water. And rats rendered diabetic voluntarily choose diets devoid of carbohydrates, consuming only protein and fat. “As a result,” Richter said, “they lost their symptoms of diabetes, i.e., their blood sugar fell to its normal level, they gained weight, ate less food and drank only normal amounts of water.
In short, change underlying physiologic/hormonal conditions and it will affect what an animal chooses to eat and so seems to like or find rewarding. The animal’s behavior and perceptions will change in response to a change in homeostasis – in the hormonal milieu of the cells in the body.
It’s quite possible that all those foods we seem to like, or even the ones we find rewarding but don’t particularly like, as Dr. Guyenet argues, and that subsequently cause obesity (not necessarily the same thing) are those foods that somehow satisfy an underlying metabolic and physiological demand. This in turn might induce our brains to register them as more palatable or rewarding, but the initial cause would be the effect in the periphery. The nutrient composition of the food, in this case, would be the key—what it’s doing in the body, not necessarily the brain.
Good Calories, Bad Calories
by Gary Taubes
This idea that energy expenditure increases to match consumption, and that the ability to do this differs among individuals, also serves to reverse the cause-and-effect relationship between weight and physical activity or inactivity. Lean people are more active than obese people, or they have, pound for pound, a higher expenditure of energy, *89 because a greater proportion of the energy they consume is made available to their cells and tissues for energy. By this conception, lean people become marathon runners because they have more energy to burn for physical activity; their cells have access to a greater proportion of the calories they consume to use for energy. Less goes to making fat. That’s why they’re lean. Running marathons, however, will not make fat people lean, even if they can get themselves to do it, because their bodies will adjust to the extra expenditure of energy, just as they would adjust to calorie-restricted diets.
Our propensity to alter our behavior in response to physiological needs is what the Johns Hopkins physiologist Curt Richter called, in a heralded 1942 lecture, “total self-regulatory functions.” Behavioral adaptation is one of the fundamental mechanisms by which animals and humans maintain homeostasis. Our responses to hunger and thirst are manifestations of this, replenishing calories or essential nutrients or fluids. Physical activity, as Richter suggested, is another example of this behavioral regulation, in response to an excess or dearth of calories. “We may regard the great physical activity of many normal individuals, the play activity of children, and perhaps even the excessive activity of many manic patients, as efforts to maintain a constant internal balance by expending excessive amounts of energy,” he explained. “On the other hand, the low level of activity seen in some apparently normal people, the almost total inactivity seen in depressed patients, again may be regarded as an effort to conserve enough energy to maintain a constant internal balance.”
This is where physiological psychologists provided a viable alternative hypothesis to explain both hunger and weight regulation. In effect, they rediscovered the science of how fat metabolism is regulated, but did it from an entirely different perspective, and followed the implications through to the sensations of hunger and satiety. Their hypothesis explained the relative stability of body weight, which has always been one of the outstanding paradoxes in the study of weight regulation, and even why body weight would be expected to move upward with age, or even move upward on average in a population, as the obesity epidemic suggests has been the case lately. And this hypothesis has profound implications, both clinical and theoretical, yet few investigators in the field of human obesity are even aware that it exists.
This is yet another example of how the specialization of modern research can work against scientific progress. In this case, endocrinologists studying the role of hormones in obesity, and physiological psychologists studying eating behavior, worked with the same animal models and did similar experiments, yet they published in different journals, attended different conferences, and thus had little awareness of each other’s work and results. Perhaps more important, neither discipline had any influence on the community of physicians, nutritionists, and psychologists concerned with the medical problem of human obesity. When physiological psychologists published articles that were relevant to the clinical treatment of obesity, they would elicit so little attention, said UCLA’s Donald Novin, whose research suggested that the insulin response to carbohydrates was a driving force in both hunger and obesity, that it seemed as though they had simply tossed the articles into a “black hole.”
The discipline of physiological psychology was founded on Claude Bernard’s notion of the stability of the internal environment and Walter Cannon’s homeostasis. Its most famous practitioner was the Russian Ivan Pavlov, whose career began in the late nineteenth century. The underlying assumption of this research is that behavior is a fundamental mechanism through which we maintain homeostasis, and in some cases—energy balance in particular—it is the primary mechanism. From the mid-1920s through the 1940s, the central figure in the field was Curt Richter of Johns Hopkins. “In human beings and animals, the effort to maintain a constant internal environment or homeostasis constitutes one of the most universal and powerful of all behavior urges or drives,” Richter wrote.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, a series of experimental observations, many of them from Richter’s laboratory, raised questions about what is meant by the concepts of hunger, thirst, and palatability, and how they might reflect metabolic and physiological needs. For example, rats whose adrenal glands are removed cannot retain salt, and will die within two weeks on their usual diet, from the consequences of salt depletion. If given a supply of salt in their cages, however, or given the choice of drinking salt water or pure water, they will choose either to eat or to drink the salt and, by doing so, keep themselves alive indefinitely. These rats will develop a “taste” for salt that did not exist prior to the removal of their adrenal glands. Rats that have had their parathyroid glands *132 removed will die within days of tetany, a disorder of calcium deficiency. If given the opportunity, however, they will drink a solution of calcium lactate rather than water—not the case with healthy rats—and will stay alive because of that choice. They will appear to like the calcium lactate more than water. And rats rendered diabetic voluntarily choose diets devoid of carbohydrates, consuming only protein and fat. “As a result,” Richter said, “they lost their symptoms of diabetes, i.e., their blood sugar fell to its normal level, they gained weight, ate less food and drank only normal amounts of water.”
The question most relevant to weight regulation concerns the quantity of food consumed. Is it determined by some minimal caloric requirement, by how the food tastes, or by some other physical factor—like stomach capacity, as is still commonly believed? This was the question addressed in the 1940s by Richter and Edward Adolph of the University of Rochester, when they did the experiments we discussed earlier (see Chapter 18), feeding rats chow that had been diluted with water or clay, or infusing nutrients directly into their stomachs. Their conclusion was that eating behavior is fundamentally driven by calories and the energy requirements of the animal. “Rats will make every effort to maintain their daily caloric intake at a fixed level,” Richter wrote. Adolph’s statement of this conclusion still constitutes one of the single most important observations in a century of research on hunger and weight regulation: “Food acceptance and the urge to eat in rats are found to have relatively little to do with ‘a local condition of the gastro-intestinal canal,’ little to do with the ‘organs of taste,’ and very much to do with quantitative deficiencies of currently metabolized materials”—in other words, the relative presence of usable fuel in the bloodstream.
Eric “Butterbean” Esch, having weighed 425 lbs at his heaviest, was one of the best boxers of the 1990s. He regularly knocked out his competitors in under a minute. He didn’t look impressive, besides being obese. He wasn’t the best trained nor did he fight with much style. But he was a powerhouse. He could take punches and give them in return. And when he landed a punch, it was devastating.
As with many others, Butterbean’s obesity was not an indicator of a lack of muscle, stamina, and aerobic health. Even in later fights when his power was decreased, he still could hold his own for many rounds. In 2002, he remained on his feet for 10 rounds with one of the greatest fighters of all time, Larry Holmes, before finally knocking him back against the ropes with the fight ending after the referee did a standing 8 count. He expanded his career into professional wrestling and MMA matches, winning many more fights. As late as 2011 in his mid-40s, he was still knocking out opponents and he was still fat.
This is why so few people can lose weight through exercise alone. All that more exercise does for most, specifically on a high-carb diet, is to make them hungrier and so leading to them eating more (exercise on a ketogenic diet is a bit different, though). And indeed, many athletes end up focusing on carbs in trying to maintain their energy, as glucose gets used up so quickly (as opposed to ketones). Long-distance runners on a high-carb diet have to constantly refuel with sugary drinks provided along the way.
Americans have been advised to eat more of the supposedly healthy carbs (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, etc) while eating less of the supposedly unhealthy animal foods (red meat, saturated fats, etc) and the data shows they are doing exactly that, more than ever before since data was kept. But telling people that eating lots of carbs, even if from “whole foods”, is part of a healthy diet is bad advice. And when they gain weight, blaming them for not exercising enough is bad advice stacked upon bad advice.
Such high-carb diets don’t do any good for long-term health, even for athletes. Morally judging fat people as gluttonous and slothful simply doesn’t make sense and it is the opposite of helpful, a point that Gary Taubes has made. It’s plain bullshit and this scapegoating of the victims of bad advice is cruel.
This is why so many professional athletes get fat when they retire, after a long career of eating endless carbs, not that it ever was good for their metabolic health (people can be skinny fat with adipose around their internal organs and have diabetes or pre-diabetes). But some like Butterbean begin their athletic careers fat and remained fat. Many football players are similarly overweight. William Perry, AKA The Fridge, was an example of that, although he was a relative lightweight at 335-350 lbs. Even more obvious examples are seen with some gigantic sumo wrestlers who, while grotesquely obese, are immensely strong athletes.
Sumo wrestlers are also a great example of the power of a high-carb diet. They will intentionally consume massive amounts of starches and sugars in order to put on fat. That is old knowledge, the reason people have understood for centuries the best way to fatten cattle is to feed them grains. And it isn’t as if cattle get fat by being lazy while sitting on the couch watching tv and playing on the internet. It’s the diet alone that accomplishes that feat of deliciously marbled flesh. Likewise, humans eating a high-carb diet will make their own muscles and organs marbled.
I speak from personal experience, after gaining weight in my late 30s and into my early 40s. I topped out at around 220 lbs — not massive, but way beyond my weight in my early 20s when I was super skinny, maybe down in the 140 lbs range (the result of a poverty diet and I looked gaunt at the time). In recent years, I had developed a somewhat protruding belly and neck flabs. You could definitely tell I was carrying extra fat. Could you tell that I also was physically fit? Probably not.
No matter how much I exercised, I could not lose weight. I was jogging out to my parent’s place, often while carrying a backpack that sometimes added another 20-30 lbs (books, water bottle, etc). That jog took about an hour and I did it 3-4 times a week and I was doing some weightlifting as well, but my weight remained the same. Keep in mind I was eating what, according to official dietary guidelines, was a ‘balanced’ diet. I had cut back on my added sugars over the years, only allowing them as part of healthy whole foods such as in kefir, kombucha, and fruit. I was emphasizing lots of vegetables and fiber. This often meant starting my day with a large bowl of bran cereal topped with blueberries or dried fruit.
I was doing what Americans have been told is healthy. I could not lose any of that extra fat, in spite of all my effort and self-control. Then in the spring of last year I went on a low-carb diet that transitioned into a very low-carb diet (i.e., keto). In about 3 months, I lost 60 lbs and have kept it off since. I didn’t do portion control and didn’t count calories. I ate as much as I wanted, but simply cut out the starches and sugars. No willpower was required, as on a keto diet my hunger diminished and my cravings disappeared. It was the high-carb diet that had made me fat, not a lack of exercise.
Dr. Richard David Feinman*: “Whatever else we know or don’t know about Paleo, we know that our ancestors did not get three squares a day, and evolution must have invested far more in ketogenic metabolism than was reflected in our research interests.
“Simply, we were dumb. We’re trying to fix that now.”
Dr. Robert Lustig**: “The thing is I’m a practicing physician and a scientist and for every one patient I took care of and got better ten more would show up in my door. There was no way I was ever going to fix this.
“And the thing that really really bothered me was I learned virtually everything I know about nutrition in college because I majored in nutrition and food science at MIT. And then I went to medical school and they beat it out of me and told me that everything I’d learned was the irrelevant, it had no place in patient care, it wasn’t necessary, and that really all I had to do was focus on calories. I figured these are the clinicians. I’m gonna be closer. I better listen to them and so I practiced that way for like 20 years.
“And then I started doing research because my patients weren’t getting better and I started doing research to try to figure out what’s going on and it like all came rushing back to me, kind of like post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s like, oh my, I knew this stuff back in 1975. So I got pissed off. So I think part of the passion actually is sort of the the being dumbfounded and the anger of what I see going on in medicine today. So I’m glad it translates in a positive way and that people appreciate the passion but I’m just like really ticked off.”
* * *
*”[Dr.] Richard David Feinman is Professor of Cell Biology (Biochemistry) at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. Dr. Feinman’s original area of research was in protein chemistry and enzyme mechanism, particularly in blood coagulation and related processes.
“Dr. Feinman has worked in several scientific areas including animal behavior and he has had a previous life in the visual arts. His friends consider him a Renaissance Man but he has made peace with the term dilettante.
“His current interest is in nutrition and metabolism, specifically in the area of diet composition and energy balance. Work in this area is stimulated by, and continues to influence, his teaching in the Medical School where he has been a pioneer in incorporating nutrition into the biochemistry curriculum. Dr. Feinman is the founder and former co-Editor-In-Chief (2004-2009) of the journal, Nutrition&Metabolism. Dr. Feinman received his BA from the University of Rochester and he holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Oregon.” (from bio on his blog)
Dr. Feinman is quoted by Kathryn Goulding in a Paleo Magazine interview for an article on his book Nutrition in Crisis (June/July 20019).
**Dr. Robert Lustig is a Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco. He specializes in neuroendocrinology and childhood obesity. He is a leading expert on the obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome epidemics.
His career has included working as a physician, involvement in research (authored 125 peer-reviewed articles and 73 reviews), public speaking (videos of his talks have received millions of views), and authoring books (Fat Chance, Hacking the American Mind, Sugar Has 56 Names, and Obesity Before Birth; also the introduction to John Yudkin’s classic Pure, White and Deadly). He has also been a co-founder, president, director, chairman, member, and consultant of numerous public and private medical, health and dietary task forces, committees, board of directors, institutes, and other organizations.
His focus has been primarily on sugar, not carbohydrates in general. Dr. Feinman has been critical of him on this account. But it appears that he is moving toward the low-carb diet, along with a convergence of his views with those of Gary Taubes. See the discussion on the Ketogenic Forums: Has Lustig moved toward us?
Dr. Lustig is quoted from the below video:
I came across some articles on obesity and the military (see below). Metabolic syndrome, obesity being one part of it, is on the rise in the military and in the population in general, along with much else such as autoimmune and mood disorders.
Weight issues are not an issue of mere exercise, as I discovered in aging. The weight began accruing in my thirties and continued into my forties. I’ve always been active and so, in response, I became even more active. I had long done aerobic exercise multiple times a week, often long jogs and sometimes carrying extra weight. Weightlifting was added to my regimen these past few years. Still, the body fat wouldn’t budge. Besides, the worst rates of obesity are found among the young and so aging is not the issue, as further demonstrated by age-related diseases (e.g., what was once called adult onset diabetes) hitting hard at younger and younger ages.
Why is that? Some of it is basic biological changes in aging, of course — still, that couldn’t explain it all since it is happening in all age groups. I had improved my diet over time, but admittedly I was still eating a fair amount of carbs and sugar, even if no where near the amount the average American gets. In the wider population, the consumption of carbohydrates and added sugars has drastically increased over time, specifically as dietary percentage of red meat and saturated fat has gone down while dietary percentage of vegetables and vegetable oils has been on the rise. There are other complex factors that could be mentioned, but I’ll keep it simple.
The point is that the American population, in and outside of the military, are in compliance with official dietary recommendations. The military is even able to enforce a high-carb, low-fat diet on military personnel since they have few other choices when food is prepared for them, and it is specifically during deployment that military personnel have the worst diet-related health decline. There is no greater opportunity than the military for gathering highly-controlled dietary data, as the only other segment with more controlled diets are those locked away in institutions. Also, the military enforces a rigid exercise program, and those who join are those who self-selected for this lifestyle and then had to meet high standards to be accepted. Yet military personnel apparently are getting fatter and fatter.
The amount of carbohydrates we’re talking about here is not insignificant. The USDA recommends 50-60% of the diet to consist of carbohydrates with an emphasis on grains, most of those simple starchy carbs. Even adding some fiber back into processed foods doesn’t really make them any healthier. Grains alone brings up a whole mess of other issues besides gluten (e.g., grains block absorption of certain key nutrients) — it’s long been known that the best way of fattening animals is with grains.
To put in context how distorted is our diet, a recent study compared a high-carb and a low-carb diet where the latter consisted of 40% carbs. If that is what goes for low-carb these days, no wonder we are such a sickly population. Most traditional societies rarely get such high levels of carbs and what they do get usually comes from sources that are fibrous and nutrient-dense. Look at hunter-gatherers — 40% carbs would be at the extreme high end with many groups only getting 22% carbs. As a concrete example, compared to potato chips or a baked potato, chewing on a fibrous wild tuber is a laborious process because of how tough it is, only gaining slightly more calories than you’d be expending for all the effort.
For further perspective, a study published this month implemented a ketogenic diet (Richard A. LaFountain et al, Extended Ketogenic Diet and Physical Training Intervention in Military Personnel). That by itself isn’t noteworthy, as ketosis has been scientifically studied for about a century. What is significant is that it was the first time that such a diet done was done with military personnel. If you’re familiar with this area of research, the results were predictable which is to say they were typical. Military personnel aren’t essentially any different than other demographics. We all evolved from the same ancestors with the same metabolic system.
The results were positive as expected. Health improved in all ways measured. Body fat, in particular, was lost — relevant because the subjects were overweight. Benefits were seen in other aspects of what is called metabolic syndrome, such as better insulin sensitivity. All of this was accomplished while physical fitness was maintained, an important factor for the military. Going by what we know, if anything, physical fitness would improve over time; but that would require a longer term study to determine.
Ketosis is how I and millions of others have lost weight, even among those who don’t know what ketosis is. Anyone who has ever restricted their diet in any way, including fasting, likely has experienced extended periods of ketosis with no conscious intention being required — ketosis simply happens when carbs and sugar are restricted, and even commercial diets like Weight Watchers are quite restrictive along these lines. Other ketogenic gains often are experienced in relation to hunger, cravings, mood, energy, stamina, alertness, and focus. The point here, though, was weight loss and once again it was a glorious success.
That such studies are finally being done involving the military indicates that, after a century of research, government officials are maybe finally coming around to taking ketosis seriously. It’s understandable why drug companies and doctors have been resistant, since there is no profit in a healthy sustainable diet, but profit isn’t a concern for the military or shouldn’t be, although military contractors who provide the food might disagree (high-carb food is cheaper to provide because of high-yield crops subsidized for a half century by the government). If the USDA won’t change its guidelines, maybe the military should develop its own. A military filled with those of less than optimal health is a national security threat.
As for the rest of us, maybe it’s time we look to the studies and make informed decisions for ourselves. Not many doctors know about this kind of research. And if anything, doctors have a misinformed fear about ketosis because of confusion with diabetic ketoacidosis. Doctors aren’t exactly the most knowledgeable group when it comes to nutrition, as many have noted. And the government is too tied up with agricultural and food corporations. Any positive changes will have to come from the bottom up. These changes are already happening in a growing movement in support of alternative diets such as ketogenic low-carb, which is maybe what brought it to the attention of some military officials.
Government will eventually come around out of necessity. A global superpower can’t maintain itself in the long run with a malnourished and obese population. The healthcare costs and lost sick days alone could cripple society — even now most of the healthcare costs go to a few preventable diseases like diabetes. I’m willing to bet that when the next world war is fought the soldiers will be eating low-carb, high-fat rations made with nutrient-dense ingredients. Not doing so would risk having an inferior military. For-profit ideology only goes so far when the stakes are high.
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Is U.S. Nutrition Policy Making the Military (and Recruits) too Fat to Fight?
from Nutrition Coalition
This year, for the first time since 2005, the Army fell short of its recruitment goal, according to the recent report, “Unhealthy and Unprepared,” by The Council for a Strong America, a group of retired generals and admirals. Obesity was largely to blame. Some 71% of young people between the ages of 17 and 24 fail to qualify for military service, says the report. These alarming numbers raise the disturbing question of whether the U.S. will be able to continue the luxury of maintaining an all-volunteer army in the future.
Another recent study, this one by the Rand Corporation found that some two-thirds of the nation’s active military personnel are overweight or obese. Topping the scale is the Army, with 69.4% of its personnel overweight or obese. But even the trimmest military branch – the Marine Corps – isn’t much better, at 60.9%. These numbers may be misleading, since “obesity” is defined by BMI (body mass index), which does not distinguish between whether extra pounds come fat or muscle—the latter being more likely to be the case in the military. Still, rates of 60-69% are disturbingly high. Since these folks are following the military’s exercise program, we certainly can’t blame them for shirking on physical activity.
It seems, in fact, that the U.S. military diet actually worsens health, according to an Army publication six years ago. Chanel S. Weaver of the U.S. Army Public Health Command wrote, “Even those Soldiers who are actually fit enough to deploy can face challenges in maintaining a healthy weight while serving in the deployed environment.”
In the article, Dr. Theresa Jackson, a public health scientist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command, states, “Literature suggests that fitness decreases and fat mass increases during deployments.” This is an astonishing fact: fitness declines in the military, despite mandated regular exercise.
This paradox could be explained by the growing understanding that exercise plays a relatively minor role in weight loss. “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet,” is the new common catchphrase among experts. Instead, the principal factor driving obesity, as the data increasingly show, is poor nutrition.
A look at the Army’s nutrition guidelines shows that they emphasize low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. The Army recommends eating “…high protein, low-fat items such as: fish, beans, whole wheat pasta, egg whites, skim or 1 percent milk, and low-fat yogurt” while avoiding “items such as: fried items, high fat meats, egg yolks, and whole milk.” This guidance comes from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), a policy that has been co-issued by USDA and US-HHS since 1980. The military essentially downloads these guidelines and serves food in mess halls to reflect DGA recommendations.
Ironically, this reliance on the U.S. Guidelines could well be the very reason for the military’s obesity problems. This diet tells the entire U.S. population to eat 50-60% of their calories as carbohydrates, principally grains, and just as a high-grain diet fattens cattle, a large body of government-funded science shows that a high-carbohydrate diet, for most people, is inimical to sustainable weight loss.
The argument that Americans don’t follow the guidelines is not supported by the best available government data on this subject—which demonstrates widespread adherence to the Dietary Guidelines.
New military study: “Remarkable” results among soldiers on a ketogenic diet
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher
Those on the ketogenic diet lost an average of 17 pounds (7.5 kg), 5 percent of their overall body fat, 44 percent of their visceral fat, and had their insulin sensitivity improve by 48 per cent. There was no change in the participants on the mixed diet. Training results in physical strength, agility, and endurance in both groups were similar.
The researchers noted:
The most striking result was consistent loss of body mass, fat mass, visceral fat, and enhanced insulin sensitivity in virtually all the ketogenic diet subjects despite no limitations on caloric intake. Physical performance was maintained…. These results are highly relevant considering the obesity problem affecting all branches of the military.
[…] Although neither group counted calories, the ketogenic diet group naturally reduced their caloric intake while eating to satiety.
The most noteworthy response was a spontaneous reduction in energy intake, resulting in a uniformly greater weight loss for all ketogenic diet participants.
The military should lead the U.S. fight against obesity
by Steve Barrons
That advice, driven by the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, has largely stuck to the familiar low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that calls on us to cut meat, butter and cheese. Yet in recent years, the science has evolved, and it has become increasingly clear to people like me that fats aren’t the enemy. Indeed, as I ate more fat and reduced my intake of sugars and other carbohydrates like grains, I lost weight and became healthier.
Experiences like mine are now backed by a fast-growing body of science, showing carbohydrate restriction to be effective for fighting obesity and diabetes while improving most heart-disease risk factors.
For many, it’s hard to get past the basic assumption that the fat on your plate becomes the fat in your body. But the truth is that it’s excessive carbohydrates that turn into body fat — completely contrary to what Americans have long been told.
So why hasn’t the government’s dietary advice caught up to the science? According to a rigorous investigation in The BMJ on the dietary guidelines, the experts appointed to review the scientific evidence relied on weak scientific standards in their report and failed to review the most recent science on a number of topics, including optimal intakes for carbohydrates, saturated fat and salt. Most critically, the report relied heavily on observational studies in which researchers follow test groups over long periods of time. But even the best epidemiological studies, according to the BMJ, “suffer from a fundamental limitation. At best they can show only association, not causation. Epidemiological data can be used to suggest hypotheses but not to prove them.” This is science 101.
The U.S. military serves more than 150 million meals per year to its personnel, and when those meals are based on a government-advised, high-carbohydrate diet, our troops have a harder time staying trim and healthy. The Army’s own website warns people to stay away from high-fat meats, egg yolks and whole milk and advises “eating less fatty food for better overall health,” while encouraging a diet that includes pasta and bread. Making matters worse, service members usually have fewer options for avoiding these nutritional mistakes, especially on deployments when they often can’t cook their own meals.
Ditching carbs may be the key to military success in America’s future wars.
Top Pentagon officials say research has shown that human bodies in ketosis — the goal of the popular and controversial ketogenic diet — can stay underwater for longer periods, making the fat- and protein-heavy eating plan a potential benefit to military divers. It is one example of a rapidly growing trend as military researchers zero in on how nutrition and certain drugs can enhance how fighting men and women perform in battle. […]
But industries that specialize in the link between diet and performance are eager to engage in complex conversations about using cutting-edge science to optimize the human body while preserving basic elements of choice and individuality. The example of how ketosis — a biological process in which the body burns fat for fuel — could produce more capable military divers is one of the clearest examples of the 21st-century debate that now confronts the Pentagon.
“One of the effects of truly being in ketosis is that it changes the way your body handles oxygen deprivation, so you can actually stay underwater at [deeper] depths for longer periods of time and not go into oxygen seizures,” Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology at U.S. Special Operations Command, said at a high-level defense industry conference in Tampa late last month.
“That kind of technology is available today,” she said. “We can tell whether you are or are not in ketosis. We have really good indications of how to put you in ketosis. And we know statistically what that does to your ability to sustain oxygen.
“The problem,” she said, “is I don’t have the authority to tell people — swimmers, submariners, etc. — that they’re going to get themselves in ketosis so they can stay in the water longer. That’s an authority question, not a technology question.”
The controversial ketogenic or “keto” diet may be the future of the military, some defense officials say.
Service members, and Navy SEALS especially, may have to forgo beer and burritos for skinny cocktails and avocado salad (forget the tortilla chips) if a proposal from Special Operations Command gains momentum.
While a nutritionally enhanced future could eventually be put into effect for all branches, the SEALS and other underwater dive-mission specialists might be the first groups targeted for the change in nutritional guidelines. […]
Discussion of new dietary guidelines for service members comes at a time of growing concern about obesity in the military and its potential threat to readiness. […]
For the diet to be implemented laterally across the military, produce choices and meat quality at military dining facilities across the world would have to change significantly, not to mention the high-carb and sugar content of MRE’s. The popular pepperoni pizza MRE would be a thing of the past. Although one benefit of formulating a new high-fat ration is that it would be lighter weight to carry.
“You can carry even more calories because fats weigh less, which is an advantage,” said Kinesiologist Jeff Volek, a professor at Ohio State University’s Department of Human Sciences and author of the study.
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There is a piece from The Atlantic about weight loss, The Weight I Carry. It’s written from a personal perspective. The author, Tommy Tomlinson, has been overweight his entire life. He describes what this has been like, specifically the struggle and failure in finding anything that worked. One has to give him credit for trying a wide range of diets.
It was sad to read for a number of reasons. But a point of interest was a comment he made about carbs: “I remember the first time carbohydrates were bad for you, back in the 1970s. The lunch counter at Woolworth’s in my hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, sold a diet plate of a hamburger patty on a lettuce leaf with a side of cottage cheese. My mom and I stared at the picture on the menu like it was a platypus at the zoo. We pretended to care about carbs for a while. Mama even bought a little carbohydrate guide she kept in her pocketbook. It said biscuits and cornbread were bad for us. It didn’t stay in her pocketbook long.”
That is what I’ve read about. Into the 1970s, it was still well known that carbs were the main problem for many health problems, specifically weight gain. This was part of mainstream medical knowledge going back to the 1800s. It was an insight that once was considered common sense, back when most people lived on and around farms. Everyone used to know that how cattle were fattened for the slaughter was with a high-carb diet and so the way to lose weight was to decrease carbs. There was nothing controversial about this old piece of wisdom, that is until the government decreed the opposite to be true in their 1980s dietary recommendations.
The sad part is how, even as this guy knew of this wisdom, the context of understanding its significance was lost. He lacks an explanatory framework that can sift through all the bullshit. He writes that, “I’ve done low-fat and low-carb and low-calorie, high-protein and high-fruit and high-fiber. I’ve tried the Mediterranean and taken my talents to South Beach. I’ve shunned processed foods and guzzled enough SlimFast to drown a rhino. I’ve eaten SnackWell’s cookies (low-fat, tons of sugar) and chugged Tab (no sugar, tons of chemicals, faint whiff of kerosene). I’ve been told, at different times, that eggs, bacon, toast, cereal, and milk are all bad for you. I’ve also been told that each one of those things is an essential part of a healthy diet. My brain is fogged enough at breakfast. Don’t fuck with me like this.”
His frustration is palpable and reasonable. But I notice all that gets left out from his complaints. A low-carb diet by itself very well might feel impossible. If you aren’t replacing carbs with healthy fats and nutrient-dense whole foods, you will be trying to swim upstream. Carbs is used by the body as a fuel. Take it away and you better give the body a different fuel. And after a lifetime of nutrient deficiency as is common in modern industrialization, you’d be wise to rebuilding your nutritional foundations.
That is the failure of the deprivation model of diets. They eliminate without offering any good advice about what to add back in. The advantage of traditional foods and paleo is that they are less diets in this sense. They are simply seeking scientific knowledge based on how humans live in traditional communities in the world today and how humans have lived going back to the ancient world and beyond. The point is finding what naturally works for the human body, not forcing restrictions based on ideological demands. If a diet feels like a constant struggle, then you are doing something wrong. For most of human existence, the vast majority of individuals maintained a healthy body weight with no effort whatsoever. The epidemic of obesity is extremely and bizarrely abnormal. Obesity indicates something is seriously out of balance, specifically with insulin sensitivity and the related hormonal hunger signals. Deprivation simply antagonizes this state of disease.
We already know that the ketogenic diet is the most effective diet for weight loss. Not only in the losing part but also in maintaining one’s optimal weight. No other diet decreases hunger and eliminates cravings to the same extent. More generally, a recent study showed that a low-carb diet beat a low-fat diet in burning fat, even when protein and calories were exactly the same in both groups. This possibly indicates that, as some have speculated, a diet low enough in carbs may increase metabolism in burning more calories than one is consuming. Then when you reach your preferred weight, you can add back in some calories to attain an equilibrium. This is apparently the one thing the author didn’t try. He did try the South Beach diet, but it is only moderately low-carb and unfortunately is also low-fat, a bad combination — this diet, for example, recommends low-fat milk which is not only eliminating the needed fats but also the fat-soluble vitamins, especially in the form of dairy from cows that are pastured/grass-fed.
The author is trapped in the dominant paradigm. He doesn’t need to “Eat less and exercise.” And he recognizes this is bad advice, even as he can’t see an alternative. But he should look a bit further outside the mainstream. On a ketogenic diet, many people can lose weight while eating high levels of calories and not exercising. It’s more of a matter of what you eat than how much, although in some cases where there are serious health problems as is typical with lifelong obesity more emphasis might need to be given to exercise and such. But the point is to find foods that are satisfying without overeating, which generally means healthy fats. Your body gets hungry for a reason and, if you don’t feed it what it needs, it will remain hungry. Calorie counting and portion control won’t likely help anyone with long term weight issues. It will just make them frustrated and hangry, and for good reason. But when the old patterns repeatedly fail, it is best to try something new. Sadly, the author’s conclusion is to more fully commit to the old way of thinking. His chances of success are next to zero, as long as he continues on this path.
It’s an obesity mindset. The individual blames himself, rather than blaming the bad advice. He just needs more self-control and less gluttony. This time, he tells himself, it will work. I doubt it. I hope he doesn’t spend the rest of his life on this endless treadmill of self-defeat and self-blame. Life doesn’t need to be so difficult. Rather than losing weight, he should focus on what it takes to be and feel healthy. But it is hard to convince someone of that when their entire identity has become entangled with obesity itself, with their appearance as judged by the same society that gave the bad advice.
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The Weight I Carry
What it’s like to be too big in America
by Tommy Tomlinson
I remember the first time carbohydrates were bad for you, back in the 1970s. The lunch counter at Woolworth’s in my hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, sold a diet plate of a hamburger patty on a lettuce leaf with a side of cottage cheese. My mom and I stared at the picture on the menu like it was a platypus at the zoo. We pretended to care about carbs for a while. Mama even bought a little carbohydrate guide she kept in her pocketbook. It said biscuits and cornbread were bad for us. It didn’t stay in her pocketbook long.
I’ve done low-fat and low-carb and low-calorie, high-protein and high-fruit and high-fiber. I’ve tried the Mediterranean and taken my talents to South Beach. I’ve shunned processed foods and guzzled enough SlimFast to drown a rhino. I’ve eaten SnackWell’s cookies (low-fat, tons of sugar) and chugged Tab (no sugar, tons of chemicals, faint whiff of kerosene). I’ve been told, at different times, that eggs, bacon, toast, cereal, and milk are all bad for you. I’ve also been told that each one of those things is an essential part of a healthy diet. My brain is fogged enough at breakfast. Don’t fuck with me like this.
Here are the two things I have come to believe about diets:
1. Almost any diet works in the short term.
2. Almost no diets work in the long term.
The most depressing five-word Google search I can think of—and I can think of a lot of depressing five-word Google searches—is gained all the weight back. Losing weight is not the hard part. The hard part is living with your diet for years, maybe the rest of your life.
When we go on a diet—especially a crash diet—our own bodies turn against us. Nutritional studies have shown that hunger-suppressing hormones in our bodies dwindle when we lose weight. Other hormones—the ones that warn us we need to eat—tend to rise. Our bodies beg us to gorge at the first sign of deprivation. This makes sense when you think about the history of humankind. There were no Neanderthal foodies. They ate to survive. They went hungry for long stretches. Their bodies sent up alarms telling them they’d better find something to eat. Our DNA still harbors a fear that we’ll starve. But now most of us have access to food that is more abundant, cheaper, and more addictive than at any other time in human history. Our bodies haven’t caught up to the modern world. Our cells think we’re storing up fat for a hard winter when actually it’s just happy hour at Chili’s.
Even worse, when people succeed at losing a lot of weight, their bodies slam on the brakes of their metabolism. […] Other studies had already shown that the body’s metabolism slows down as people lose weight, which means they have to eat fewer and fewer calories to keep losing. But this study showed that, for the contestants who lost weight quickly, their metabolism kept slowing even when they started gaining weight again. Basically, however fat they had been, that’s what their bodies wanted them to be. […]
“Eat less and exercise.”
That’s what some of you are saying right now. That’s what some of you have said the whole time you’ve been reading. That’s what some of you say—maybe not out loud, but you say it—every time you see a fat person downing fried eggs in a diner, or overstuffing a bathing suit on the beach, or staring out from one of those good-lord-what-happened-to-her? stories in the gossip magazines.
“Eat less and exercise.”
What I want you to understand, more than anything else, is that telling a fat person “Eat less and exercise” is like telling a boxer “Don’t get hit.”
You act as if there’s not an opponent.
Losing weight is a fucking rock fight. The enemies come from all sides: The deluge of marketing telling us to eat worse and eat more. The culture that has turned food into one of the last acceptable vices. Our families and friends, who want us to share in their pleasure. Our own body chemistry, dragging us back to the table out of fear that we’ll starve.
On top of all that, some of us fight holes in our souls that a boxcar of donuts couldn’t fill.
My compulsion to eat comes from all those places. I’m almost never hungry in the physical sense. But I’m always craving an emotional high, the kind that comes from making love, or being in the crowd for great live music, or watching the sun come up over the ocean. And I’m always wanting something to counter the low, when I’m anxious about work or arguing with family or depressed for reasons I can’t understand.
There are radical options for people like me. There are boot camps where I could spend thousands of dollars to have trainers whip me into shape. There are crash diets and medications with dangerous side effects. And, of course, there is weight-loss surgery. Several people I know have done it. Some say it saved them. Others had life-threatening complications. A few are just as miserable as they were before. I don’t judge any people who try to find their own way. I speak only for myself here: For me, surgery feels like giving up. I know that the first step of 12-step programs is admitting that you’re powerless over your addiction. But I don’t feel powerless yet.
My plan is to lose weight in a simple, steady, sustainable way. I’ll count how many calories I eat and how many I burn. If I end up on the right side of the line at the end of the day, that’s a win. I’ll be like an air mattress with a slow leak, fooling my body into thinking I’m not on a diet at all. And one day, a few years down the road, I’ll wake up and look in the mirror and think: I got there.