Felice Jacka Defends Boundaries of Allowable Dietary Thought

Felice Jacka is an Australian professor of epidemiology. In her official capacity as an expert, she made a public health warning from her Twitter account: “If your/an MD is advocating an extreme diet of any type, please understand that they may NOT be the best person to listen to.” In her other tweets that followed, it was made clear that doctors had no right to recommend any diet other than whatever is officially declared healthy by the appropriate government and medical institutions.

She made this statement after watching a video of Dr. Shawn Baker informally discuss the carnivore diet, as if in doing so he was a public threat and an immoral actor who must be publicly called out and shamed. Her professional assessment was that he wasn’t being scientific enough. Fine. If she wanted a more scientific analysis of the evidence, she could have turned to talks given by Georgia Ede, Zoe Harcombe, Amber L. O’Hearn, and Paul Saladino. Her damning indictment of the carnivore diet was rather strong after watching a single Youtube video of a casual talk. That doesn’t seem like a scientific response.

Or she could have checked out the informal survey that Dr. Baker himself recently did in exploring people’s experience with the carnivore diet. Her complaint was that his experience was merely anecdotal. Sure. But he isn’t alone, which was the purpose of the survey he did. Look at the carnivore groups on social media, some of which have hundreds of thousands of members.

Carnivore is not a minor diet. She calls it “extreme”. It’s no more extreme than veganism and certainly far less extreme than the modern industrial standard American diet (SAD). I’d also go so far as to say, in terms of history and evolution, carnivore is also not nearly as extreme as the diet advocated by the AHA and USDA, the diet that the data shows Americans have been mostly following and that has led to a disease epidemic.

It’s not only the carnivore diet Jacka targets. In her book Brain Changer, she has a small section on the ketogenic diet in relationship to schizophrenia. She writes that, “Until we have the evidence from such studies, however, we would definitely not recommend such a diet, as it’s extremely strict and demanding and requires close medical supervision.” There she goes again: “extremely” — as if she were talking about potentially violent political activists. Her language is consistent in talking about any diet that dares to cross the line.

Let me set one thing straight. No, the ketogenic diet isn’t extremely strict or particularly demanding. Those who go on it often find it to be the easiest diet they ever tried, as hunger and cravings tend to decrease. It still allows for a wide variety of animal and plant foods. If ketosis is all you care about, you don’t even have to worry about the quality of the food, as long as it is low enough in carbs. Go out to fast food and eat the hamburger but without the bun. And if you want snack foods, have a bag of pork rinds instead of a bag of potato chips. Plus, there are all kinds of prepared products now marketed as keto, from protein bars to cauliflower pizzas, and nearly all stores carry them.

So, why all this fear-mongering about alternative dietary approaches? In response to Jacka, Dr. Ara Darakjian tweeted, “This seems overly restrictive on a physician’s freedoms. Why should there be a gag rule? If a physician believes differently they have to stick to the party line? I’ve never recommended carnivore but I don’t think it’s wrong for other MD’s to advocate based on anecdotal evidence” That is a good point. Why not allow doctors to use their best judgment based on their own professional experience?

A light went off in my head when I saw that mention of a “gag rule”. The specific doctor she is criticizing, Dr. Shawn Baker, was the target of a witch-hunt that involved a several year legal battle and resulted with the state board temporarily taking away his license to practice. So, it seems like no accident that he still is being targeted. It turns out he was vindicated and his license was reinstated. Still, he was forced out of work during that time and, along with severe disruption in his life and his family, because of legal costs he lost his house.

His sin in that earlier situation, however, wasn’t about the carnivore diet. He was simply recommending lifestyle changes as a prevention for surgery. By the way, he doesn’t only recommend a carnivore diet but also keto and moderate low-carb, even plant-based in some cases. He treats his patients as individuals and seeks the best treatment according to his knowledge. Sometimes that involves a particular dietary approach or another, but according to Felice Jacka that should not be allowed, a powerful message considering the doctor she chose to use as an example.

When I first saw her tweet, I didn’t know she was Australian. It occurred to me to see where she was from. I wondered this because I knew some other major cases of witch-hunts. The moment I saw that she is employed at an Australian university, another light bulb went off in my head. One of the worst witch-hunts against a low-carb advocate sought to destroy the career of the Australian doctor Gary Fettke. I don’t know if she was involved in that witch-hunt or supported it in any way, but it seems likely she wouldn’t been on the side defending Dr. Fettke’s rights.

I also left some tweets in that thread she started. I brought up some criticisms of the field of nutrition studies itself. She defended her field of expertise since, after all, her authority rests upon it. She said to me that, “I don’t agree that there is (largely) not consensus among nutrition professionals and researchers. But it’s not the point I’m making. MDs are charged with practising evidence-based medicine. Whether or not you or they dont agree with the evidence for whatever reason.”

Responding back to her, I wrote: “Consensus from evidence-based medicine in a field suffering from one of the worst replication crises in scientific history is precisely part of the problem.” That was a tougher criticism than it might seem, since the main replication failure of nutrition studies has been epidemiology, Jacka’s sole area of expertise. After that simple comment, she blocked me. There was nothing else I said that was mean or trollish. The closest I came to being antagonistic was in saying that I’d rather trust the expertise of those who are world-leading experts in keto and low-carb diets: Benjamin Bikman, Jason Fung, etc; also, Tim Noakes (another victim of a witch-hunt, as shown in the documentary The Magic Pill, in Daryl Ilbury’s book The Quiet Maverick, and in Noakes’ own book Lore of Nutrition). She obviously is not in favor of open scientific debate and inquiry.

There are powerful interests seeking to maintain the status quo. A simple tweet might not seem like anything to be concerned about. Then again, Tim Noakes troubles began with a single innocent tweet that was used as evidence. He fought back, but it also took years and immense amounts of money. If he wasn’t such a brilliant and determined guy, the powers that be might have been successful. Still, the attack did effectively make Noakes into an example. Few people could have stood up to that kind of organized and highly funded onslaught. When someone like Felice Jacka complains about someone like Dr. Shawn Baker, there is always an implied threat. Most doctors probably remain silent and keep their heads down. Otherwise, the consequences might mean the ending of one’s career.