This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
When people use the contact form on the bottom of this site, maybe they should take a few seconds and think about two things I don't tolerate very well, which are
Maybe don't send me that stuff, because I will post about it, and I will criticize it. Or maybe on the latter case, just leave the historical narrative out of your spiel if you can't waste more than an hour thinking about what it might actually imply.
One thing I really regret is when I first got healthy by eating a paleo diet, I thought that if everyone just ate like me, they could have a slim body like mine. It didn't seem that hard to me. So I became a zealot about it. But that process of being a zealot forced me to talk with a wide range of people about their experiences with food and health- from relatives to people I met at paleo meetups in real life. What shocked me were the people who ate like me, some of them ate "better" than me, and yet they were struggling with their weight. I even met people who gained weight on diets like mine. It was eye-opening.
And then there was the process of me discontinuing my strict diet, once when I moved to Europe, and next after I was having low blood pressure issues. I was talking to a friend who lost a lot of weight on paleo successfully and now works...making pizza. We were both joking how we have worried that we were going to suddenly gain a bunch of weight. But it never happens. It's not like we returned to a junk food diet, but I'm not going to turn down some ice cream or homemade pizza. And yet there are people right now turning down the kinds of things who can't seem to slim down. And then there are are fair number of people who slim down on diets full of paleo demonized foods like legumes and whole grains.
Some of them realize that health is about more than being slim, and while gaining weight might be a bad sign, the fact that they can lose a little and feel healthier is more than satisfying. Others however give up, disenchanted with the promises of a slim figure, dismissing it as just another fad diet.
Recently Jonathan Bailor sent me a contact email not once, but twice with his new "Slim is Simple" video to celebrate the creation of a non-profit devoted to distributing his educational material on healthy eating. I was surprised that so many got excited by this video. I criticized it on Twitter and some people were upset by that, saying it was a great educational tool and we need more such "simple" tools. No reason to be obsessed with scientific accuracy. Now I don't think I have that problem- I have recommended books that are quite imperfect on this blog many times from The Primal Blueprint to The Paleo Solution, but I don't recommend something unless I feel it has a useful and correct core.
Luckily I wasn't the only one who saw right through this video, Beth at Weight Maven, also posted a skeptical take on it. Evelyn has also written about Jonathan's other work before. I won't even get into his questionable calorie math that doesn't seem to bother with the fat that the correct equation takes maintence, which depends on body size, into account.
But I also would love to see more books that simplify eating without bordering on inaccurate propaganda like this video. I felt like I was watching a cult indoctrination film. Not only that, but it would seem its bolsters didn't even notice he's recommending a diet that is pretty different from the one they recommend- a diet based on three pillars of protein, fiber, and water. Eat as much as you want of those three things (maybe it helps that if you eat too much of the first two, you'll get diarrhea).
That's right- have as much protein as you want on this diet, have twice as much as normal, you'll be so satiated you'll supposedly forget about ice cream.I think this is exactly the kind of diet I coined the term "faileo" to describe (though sadly I feel this eventually contributed to a culture that somehow thinks you can guzzle as much coconut oil and bacon fat as you want, when I was kind of just trying to get people on board with more reasonable things like lamb shanks). The language is also exactly what many of us have tried to get away from, like the idea that we are "designed" for certain "clean" (an excessively moralistic word reminiscent of Kellogg and other health puritans) foods. Other foods, like starches and sugars (including most fruit- only citrus and berries are given a pass), will "clog our body."
But then I gets weird, because he says "almost everyone stayed healthy and fit without even trying until very recently" and the visuals for this are very interesting:
So we have an early bipedal ancestor, and than an Egyptian, and Pioneer, and someone who looks like they are from the 40s or 50s. Oh and a rather curvy person, who we presumably don't want to be...if only we knew what those Egyptians did. But Egyptians ate diet rich in bread and beer. Wait, I thought all these foods were the ones the video describes as "unnatural" and are responsible for our modern "clogs"? Hmm, well maybe we'll see about the pioneer woman. American pioneers had access to much more meat and fat than the average Ancient Egyptian, but they also ate things like biscuits and hoe cakes. 40s to the 60s? Well I collect cookbooks from those eras and they are certainly not full of an austere cuisine of protein, fiber, and water. Even if he had used the typical types of people that paleo dieters hold up as examples- the Hadza, The !Kung, the Kitavans, and other modern peoples who still live foraging lifestyles and remain very healthy, it would not make sense, because their diets contain a large amount of starch and even simple sugars.
Another use of history offender is Dr. Lustig in his new book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. Others are more qualified to comment on the biochemistry errors in this book, but the food history in this book is so inaccurate that I wonder if publishers even bother to employ fact-checkers any more. His take on food history involves dividing ancient people into "hunters" mythic fat-burning intermittent fasting meat-guzzlers who "didn't know what a carbohydrate was and they didn't need to." The modern remnants are the Maasai and Inuit. Then there were the "gatherers" who ate carbohydrates and protein in the form of fruits and vegetables, "this is the basis for today's vegan diet. It is practiced in multiple cultures around the globe, because if you grow your own food, that's what's available." Yes...the vegan tribes of India, oh wait, there is no such thing. And has Lustig ever raised his own food or visited a farm? Where do you think most farmers are getting fertilizer from? Hint: it's not vegan.
And the Maasai, while they may sometimes be fat burners, are not a low-carb culture. As for ancient foragers, there is a reason they have been called hunter-gatherers, not hunters AND gatherers. In fact the vast majority of foraging peoples in the Ethnographic Atlas eat fairly mixed diets, the people who are primarily hunters or gatherers are exceptions.
But Lustig has to make up this false narrative so he can get to his all-encompassing theory of all our problems (and also because for some weird reason he wants to pander to both the Atkins and plant-based folks, a weird thread in this book), which is the "Omnivore's Curse"- "it wasn't until we became gourmets, eating fat and carbohydrate in the same meal, that our cells first felt the wrath of mitochondrial wear and tear." Apparently, with the advent of farming we started mixing fat and carbohydrates together in meals and thus we became diseased, because in nature there are no foods that have both things, which means somehow that we should take our lessons and cease our evil cooking of potatoes in butter. "This accounts for the appearance of metabolic disease with the advent of trade in the early seventeenth century; before that, food was still a function of what you killed or you grew yourself. Eventually, we became gourmands, eating fat and carbohydrate in the same food."
Reminds me of my maxim not to take advice on food from people who don't actually seem to like it very much. My friends and I have a historical eating club and this Saturday is our dinner based on ancient Mesopotamia. I still have some mead (liquid carbohydrates mmm) left over from our Viking dinner, though we might have some ancient beer as well. For dinner I am making lard-rubbed goat leg with cumin, mastic, coriander, mint, and ginger. There will be sides of roasted barley and roots. Yes, I will be mixing carbohydrates, fat, and protein in one meal, which presumably people have been doing since they have been cooking. Pottery dates well into the Paleolithic, and before that people probably used other containers to mix things together. We know they were cooking because they left residues of grease and boiled fruits and all sorts of other things. Because humans are curious creatures and some of us really do like to play with our food (though as Gary Nabhan has pointed out, there may be some evolutionary reasons some cultures adopted things like spices).
Some people cook less than others- for example the Hadza don't seem to cook very many "recipes" though they do mix baobab (which contains both fat and carbohydrate) with honey for a drink sometimes. It's funny that Lustig later mentions that Ancel Keys in his heart disease study left out populations like those in Tokelau- in Tokelau their diet is starch and coconut. If mixing fat and carbohydrate were an issue, we would have been the way we are now for a very long time. Not that I think ancient people were perfectly healthy- for example, both Egyptian and Inuit mummies show atherosclerosis, though back then it may have been caused by constant infections and cooking smoke inhalation rather than food and there is no evidence it caused any mummy's death. Lustig does also make a good point that heart disease was a problem in the 1930s, back before the "obesity epidemic".
When I think of my very slim (though probably wearing a corset) great-great grandmother pictured here, I don't think of diets based on protein, fiber, and water. I think of people who ate reasonable natural homemade food. The same food I eat now. I doubt she would have touched things like the Slim is Simple Peanut Butter Pie (which contains ingredients I actually do try to avoid: low-fat dairy, industrial whey protein isolate, and extremely high omega-6 peanut butter, cooked almond flour...he recommends leaving the honey out of the crust, which is funny because it's probably one of the healthier ingredients) with a ten foot pole.
She didn't count calories, and neither have I. As someone who eats made-from-scratch foods that are highly variable it would be pretty pointless for me to count calories, as it would be inaccurate. I know when I'm losing weight I have a calorie deficit though, even if it is going to not be possible to quantify it accurately. Some people find success with trying to do the math, but I always found it easier to try things that have been shown in studies to subconsciously reduce the amount of calories eaten. One of these is to eat a lot of protein, which is funny because that's one of Bailor's main strategies. Though it certainly never made me stop thinking of other foods, and I had significant energy issues when I was on the very high-protein, low fat, high fiber kind of diet Bailor advocates. Frankly, I felt sick and catatonic, but I guess his diet works for some people, and not for others, the same way some weight loss diets work for some and not for others. Because nothing to do with the human body is simple. Slim is not simple.
I'm perfectly comfortable with blood, guts, and that sort of thing. But when it comes to the food of simple Americans, I can be quite squeamish. There is nothing so horrible as things such as meatloaf, casserole, "hamburger helper," or lasagna. Add some steamed mixed frozen vegetables and I'm in Hell. I'll never forget the one horrible summer at camp in Wisconsin where I was served mac & cheese with pearl onions and pieces of boiled ham.
In a tiny bookstore in central Illinois I discovered that this sort of horrible cuisine devoid of true flavor has been adapted for the low-carb lifestyle. I unfortunately neglected to record the name of this dread Necronomicon placed upon the dusty shelves of Jane Addam's of Champaign. But this recipe will live in my nightmares forever:
Busy Day Cake
1/3 cup coconut oil or butter. Hmm sounds OK...
1/3 cup soy protein isolate OH GOD
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten flour NOOOOO
1 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon SteviaPlus
6 packets sucralose
1/2 cup cream thickened with water
I won't record the exact specifications of this miserable recipe for fear of what innocent souls might encounter if the instructions were to be followed. The victim might think they were following a healthy diet because it is low in carbs and be mystified when they feel like crap and accidentally eat the whole thing despite a complete lack of true culinary virtue. Don't worry, paleos" are victims too. I once ate half a tray of "paleo" cupcakes. Baked goods of any sort are really not a good idea for anyone, no matter what they are made of. Reminds me of what I feel are the habits of highly ineffective dieters:
- Candy cigarettes: sorry "paleo cupcakes" are still cupcakes and are not healthy food
- Low quality food
- Foods of neolithic invention such as breaded and deep-fried foods.
- Food that is engineered by food scientists to taste good. Be very suspicious of anything made in a lab.
- Liquid calories.
- insipid food. I part ways with Stephan here in that I don't think blandness is key. I think very bland food is very satiating, but so is very complex food with many spices, fermented sauces, bitter and unusual flavors.
I think the meal Chris and I had after we went to the bookstore illustrates this. Portions were very small at Bacaro, but we left satisfied. Flavors like black truffle in risotto, liver-based sauces, and olive oil gelato walk the line between grotesque and delicious that puts you in a state of culinary satisfaction without incitement to overeat.
We also had an incredible lunch at Blackbird in Chicago. The portions here were also very small, but the flavors were unlike anything I'd ever had. Smoked ham hock with sturgeon, lamb with lavendar and broccoli, and licorice root for example. My new goal is not to eat out unless it's something really good like this.
Perhaps this jives with Seth Robert's set-point theory:
3.6.2. Birth of the idea. In June 2000, I visited Paris. The food was excellent. I wanted to eat three meals per day but to my surprise and disappointment I had little appetite, even though I felt fine and was walking a lot. I realized that the new weight-control theory suggested an explanation: It had been hot and I had drunk two or three sucrose-sweetened soft drinks each day, about 630 kJ (150 kcal) each. All of them had been new to me because they were brands not available at home. The novelty meant that their flavors were not yet associated with calories and therefore would not have raised my set point. They had been sweet, of course, a familiar flavor that presumably was associated with calories. But maybe sweetness was effectively a weak flavor, I thought, and what I had observed was another instance, similar to Example 9 (sushi), of bland food reducing the set point.
My weight loss definitely coincides with my growing interest in complex flavors. Of course it's very possible to get fat on Haute Cuisine; there are plenty of expensive restaurants serving baskets of bread and fried cheese balls (maybe a fancy cheese, but still very stimulating to the appetite).
When I was in college I was going to switch into food science. But then I took a bunch of food science classes and did some lab work. And I realized food science wasn't about food, it was about making combinations of absolute garbage taste addictively good. Most of the food science professors I had were former employees of Nabisco or Kraft. I couldn't believe how ignorant they were of nutrition and it showed. But the worst was the "taste lab" I participated in. What finally made me quit was when they were testing "breakfast" bars. They were beyond disgusting combinations of commercial breakfast cereals glued together with powdered milks and other crap. They were just plain nauseating. That was the end of my adventures in food science.
There has been a lot of talk about food reward lately. Stephan Guyenet has an excellent series up. I have been a fan of the concept for a long time, since I learned about Seth Roberts from Freakonomics. The concept was instrumental when I was battling binge eating. I do think there is just more than the addictiveness of the food that matters, that micronutrients and fatty acid imbalances play a role, but industrial food is the common thread here. Here is food that is designed to trigger overeating and is also devoid of nutrition. Whenever I forget about what this is actually like I just visit a blog called The Impulsive Buy, where they post reviews of such products. It takes me back to my days of telling myself I'd just eat ONE king cone and then eating the whole box. Some people can control themselves a little easier, I do have an addictive personality in general and there are lots of addictive disorders in my family. However, this is behavior that I have excised from my life by no longer bringing any food designed by food scientists into my house and also by keeping myself satiated with real foods.
Here are some lovely examples of what not to eat:
Don't those look gross? However, I know if I started eating them I would probably keep eating them.
Kettle Chips are the most evil though because they are not really as immediately gross-out as the Oreos. They actually seem kind of classy and healthy, until you eat the whole bag of PUFA-laced goodness.
Another rather devious product is Ben & Jerrys, because it also seems kind of natural. But they do employ food scientists there whose sole job is to make you shovel the gobs of sugar flavored sugar into your mouth. I make ice cream at home sometimes and I never overeat it the way I used to overeat this, despite the fact it tastes much better, it just doesn't have the triggering textures, flavors, and aromas.
Whenever the blogosphere is arguing about the health benefits or risks of bacon or potatoes, I just remember these are the kind of things most Americans, particularly children, are eating. And bizarrely, our society seems to think it's OK to serve this kind of food in schools...
Stephan's posts on food reward and obesity and my own efforts to write a paper over this weekend have caused me to muse on one thing I've had an issue: low appetite. In high school my mother would often come home from work on Saturdays at 4 and berate me for not having eaten. Chances are I was reading or playing video games instead. Late in high school my weight and appetite started to increase dramatically reaching its apex in college. I never figured out why. I would binge eat, but I would also eat excessively during meals. Some of it was probably social, but I'm sure much of it was the kind of food that made up my diet. In the college dorms all my friends ate really badly. I remember "Mexican night" which would start with two plates of tacos, then a plate of churros, and finally end with some ice cream and soda.
Once I removed myself from that situation, my appetite was lowered again. Maybe it was partially resolve to not eat things like that any more? Last year when my doctor told me my blood pressure was too low, I resolved to eat more. It was a constant struggle. Last night is a perfect example: I was working in the library and I kept finding interesting things. Dinner time came and went. I realized at 9:30 that I probably should eat, but I wasn't very hungry.
Then today I was working on the paper and just wasn't hungry. I ate some breakfast reluctantly. I forgot to eat lunch because I was too absorbed in reading. Right now I'm procrastinating about eating dinner. It baffles me that people can overeat on the sort of foods in my diet. I just can't imagine over-eating the roots, cheese, meat, or fish in my diet. Even this week when I made tamales at a cooking class, I certainly didn't want very many of them. I'm I an outlier? Many of the women in my family are under-eaters on both sides.
In my world, the only foods I'm in danger of over-eating are those industrial foods designed to encourage that behavior. I remember promising myself I'd only eat one Oreo and then eating all of them. In laboratories across the country there are scientists who specialize in creating the optimal aromas, textures, colors, and flavors that will make people eat more.
Do you eat a whole foods diet and have trouble with over-eating? Under-eating?
What involves the exposure of government health conspiracies, the realization that exercise doesn't make you thin, restricting calories doesn't work very well, and a take-down of low-fat diet foods?
If you are thinking Good Calories, Bad Calories you are right, but there is another community that accepts these things that's not really on the low-carb/paleo radar.
Because it's the fat acceptance community, sometimes known as Health At Every Size. Yes, you read that right. I bought Linda Bacon's book Health at Every Size because I was curious about the fat acceptance community's views. I heard about the movement because yes, I googled my own name, which I share minus one letter with fat acceptance blogger (among other things) Melissa McEwAn.
Now that NYC Paleo is doing beginner's workshops, I'll be fielding more questions than ever and dealing face-to-face with people interested in the diet. Besides that, I'm interested in overall compassionate approaches to human problems.
Some of those people inevitably will be interested in weight loss. Which is interesting for me because that's not how I got into evolutionary eating. I was really sick and looking to feel better. I was also pretty chubby, but that wasn't a huge priority for me.
Three years later I weigh thirty pounds less. But that's not why I'm happy with paleo. I'm happy with paleo because I don't have chronic pain, my digestion is good, my blood sugar is stable, and my inflammatory markers are low. For me, paleo is an overall health strategy, not a weight-loss gimmick. I think this is the philosophy of most successful long-term paleo dieters.
I would like the paleo community be about overall health and not about weight. So many skinny sedentary computer nerds have told me that they are glad they don't have to do anything like paleo because they aren't "fat."
I wonder if they'd feel this way if I told them that studies show that "overweight" people who are in shape have death rates lower than skinny unfit people and actually quite similar to "normal" fit people? In fact, some "fat" people are metabolically healthy, while some "skinny fat" people aren't. Appearances aren't everything.
What if paleo was the opposite of the vegan low fat movement which shames people into eating nutritionally bankrupt foods by calling them "fatties" in rude books like Skinny Bitch? Apparently they are so busy thinking themselves so compassionate to animals that they forgot about people.
The more I study weight the more I think we need this approach. Why do people weigh more than they used to? Why do people find it so hard to loose weight? We ain't in the paleolithic anymore and this is more complex than people not exercising enough or eating too much. Epigenetics, gut flora, pollution, and the complexity of metabolic set-points messed up early in life or with yo-yo dieting make weight a difficult issue.
And in the end…are we sure we know how much people in the paleolithic weighed? Pictures of tribal women show many with modestly round bellies. Is not being svelte a health risk? Consider that, on average, "overweight" people live longer than "normal" weight people. A study of angiograms shouldn't that for every 11 pound increase in weight there was an associated 10-40 lower chance of atherosclerosis.
I don't want people setting unrealistic goals. When people come up to me and tell me they are having a tough time meeting their weight goals on paleo, I look at them and think how great they look. They can run for miles, have glowing skin, feel awesome, and certainly aren't "obese". I tell them that it might be worth trying to adjust their diet, but that they should think about having more health-based goals like higher energy and vitamin-D levels.
I think emphasis on weight often leads people to nutritionally bankrupt diets like low-fat veganism, but also to excessive calorie restriction in general. This can be dangerous for most Americans, who are already pretty low in many nutrients. Lots of the studies on weight loss are also as flawed as those that show how saturated fat is evil. The evidence is that just losing weight doesn't fix many of the problems that doctors say it does.
So how does this effect my approach to paleo? What if you gave me 30 women who wanted to get healthier? They weigh more than they want to, but most importantly they have high inflammation, autoimmune conditions, and impaired insulin sensitivity.
The first step I recommend is ditching processed foods and adding nutrient-rich foods into their diet. I think calorie restriction should come only after people are nourished. And most Americans, even if they look "over nourished," are vitamin, essential fatty acid, and mineral deficient.
It's possible that many of the studies cited in this book that show how bad calorie restriction can be have been done mostly on malnourished individuals. Because studies done on nutrient-emphasizing diets like intermittent fasting and CRON (link) show exactly the opposite.
Then I would target specific goals like improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing inflammation. I would do this by altering the quality of their diet, not the quantity. Once their systems aren't completely deranged I would recommend occasional intermittent fasting.
So about this book. There is a lot of useful information, particularly about the exercise myth and whether being "overweight" is really unhealthy. Some might find her self-esteem building chapters useful. But I find her dietary recommendations to be problematic. She basically says enjoy your food, don't feel guilty, but increase fiber intake dramatically and lower your meat/saturated fat intake. First part is good, but the rest is what happens when you drink only half the government-sponsored health recommendation Kool-Aid.
She says fiber is what makes you feel full and will prevent digestive difficulties. Which actually flies in the face of what scientists now know about digestion. It's not the fiber per-se that matters, but the bacteria in the gut. Where is the recommendation for probiotics? It's not there despite a few paragraphs on how "fat" people have different gut flora. Instead she recommends things like whole-grain toast. Maybe she hasn't seen the evidence that gluten is harmful for everyone because of its inflammatory effects. Not to mention the fact that wheat basically strips minerals from women's bodies.
As for fat it seems odd that she says the government scare-mongering about OMGFATPEOPLERUININGTHECOUNTRY is wrong, but their fat recommendations are right…hmmm. At one point she says weight and hunger are more complex than just leptin and then at another she warns that high-fat diets can reduce leptin. That study she cites used a low-carb diet of WHOLE WHEAT BREAD, commercial mayo (vegetable oil redux), margarine, and canola oil. She also fails to mention that high leptin levels might be bad.
The paleo diet gets a shoutout when she mentions that the wild game meat our paleolithic ancestors ate was different, but uses that fact to say eat less meat instead of eating the meat that's available that IS like what our ancestors ate. In fact, she doesn't mention the nutritional differences between wild/grass-fed meat/fish and factory-farmed crap at all!
I also agree the exercise is not the key to losing weight, particularly chronic cardio, which is unfortunately the method that most people use. I know lots of people who have lost weight with chronic cardio and none of them have kept it off. The benefits of exercise are far beyond weight loss, but it's important to do something that's a source of fun activity rather than a slog. I remember getting up at 5:30 AM as a freshman in college to run the treadmill. My weight never budged and I felt stressed and miserable all the time.
I agree with her that hate-mongering against "fat" people is bad. It leads to justification for ineffective government problems as well as dehumanization of human beings. She also exposes the tragic facts of bariatric surgery, a practice that kills people (7.5% of men who have the procedure!) or leaves them malnourished for life. It typifies the approach to weight in this country: malnourishment is AOK as long as you lose weight! I think in the future bariatric surgery will be considered similar to corsets and foot-binding.
I also don't like the idea of food consumption being a moral issue. I don't think some foods are good and others evil. Even high-fructose corn syrup is not evil. Inanimate objects cannot be evil. Demonizing, guilting, and self-punishment should not be part of a rational paleo diet. Some foods ARE bad for you. You should educate yourself about them and avoid them as best as you can. You should acknowledge that it will be hard and might take time to learn how to exclude things like gluten and processed sugar. In the end, you shouldn't be afraid to love food and enjoy it often. Luckily, unlike the low-fat diet, the paleo diet actually includes foods that are delicious and not just as "sometimes foods."
But according to some, the paleo diet excludes "normal" food. I guess it depends on your perspective, but in my view the paleo perspective is refreshing in that it's about foods, not numbers. There has also been a collective quashing on things that might lead to disordered eating like fat-restriction or quasi-religious food guidelines. One of the only problems I see is that some people try fasting before their bodies might be ready... and then they feel sick and post about it on paleohacks. Fasting should never make you feel unwell.
When I think about how we treat people who aren't thin, I think of my grandmother who is healthy at over 90 despite not being thin according to government guidelines (by the way, the BMI system is pretty messed up). Would she feel comfortable at a paleo meetup? This book was part of a study where they took one group of "overweight" women and had them read a copy of this book and have consultations with the author. The other group followed conventional diet advice. The HAES women showed decreases in bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure, higher activity levels, and greater self-esteem.
What if a paleo-type program were included in that study? I think we'd do even better. Most paleo books are positive about health and don't spend much or any time on emphasizing weight loss. I think paleo wins hands down because it targets actual health problems (and let's be honest, most people who follow is DO lose weight). Linda Bacon falls into exactly the trap of conventional diet gurus when she doesn't look outside the box and see that specific foods might be more important than macro-nutrient ratios or calories.
As a important caveat, there are countless other health issues brought on by carrying excess weight that are not always metabolic (i.e. joint problems due to excess load, skin infections, etc.). Thus, it is often argued that despite being metabolically-healthy these individuals may still be far from optimal health.
My own opinion is that overemphasis on weight is a problem and that many people can't lose weight very easily, but that there really are real disadvantages associated with weight that have nothing to do with stigma. Unfortunately, weight is also more complex than "eat less, move more." In fact, it's even more complex than just "eat paleo, lose weight." YES, there are long-term paleo dieters that are "fat" by BMI standards. Their health has improved, but it's possible they might never be "thin." This new Taubes interview discusses how metabolic damage might not be completely reversible. It might be similar to crooked teeth. Yes, such problems are not present in societies eating traditional diets, but once they are there they are there. You could go 100% paleo for years and it's not going to make your teeth straight.
I think the obesity set point posts on Whole Health Source are a great starting point for exploring this topic. I'm not saying to give up. I'm saying that this is hard stuff and it's more productive to focus on holistic health. There are too many women and men out there waiting to lose weight to buy nice clothes or to enjoy life. Enjoy life now, eat some paleo foods, and enjoy the overall benefits of being outside.
Fit for Life was one of my first diets, too; I was probably 14.
I was raised vegetarian and so was vegetarian at the time, and I don’t lose weight easily so was restricting calories as well as following FFL. I believe the writers of the book were also vegetarian and made some minor encouragements in that direction.
I remember reading it one hungry day – I did most of my reading of diet books to remind me why I was staying hungry – and there was something about how “people aren’t really meat eaters: you don’t see a squirrel in a park and want to kill it and eat it.”
And I thought, oh, man, squirrel. I bet that would be delicious. If squirrel were a diet food and I’d feel less starving, I’d be out there with a trap.
That bugged me for a long time; it was the pinnacle of thin diet book writers with sufficient calories to their needs making pronouncements in cultural privilege.
An awesome comment on The Fat Nutritionist, which like Matt Stone's is a blog I enjoy reading despite the fact I don't agree with everything they say. But really they are a reaction to the fat-restriction "healthy" vegetarian and vegan deprivation diets that are so common these days. Such diets are heavy on emotional pronouncements and light on actual science.
Sure, some people lose weight on them. So? Losing weight should be a side effect rather than a goal. Do you want to eat up like Gwynyth Paltrow with her red-meat free healthy macrobiotic eating? It's so healthy that she is heading for osteoporosis.
I also totally agree that Fit For Life and other diet books that market vegetarian asceticism are examples of cultural privilege. My relatives have eaten delicious nutritious squirrels, turtles, and raccoons for hundreds of years.
I personally suspect whole grain-based diets work for weight loss sometimes because they are so hard to digest. When I was a whole-grain eating vegetarian it seemed like most of the grains I ate passed right though me without actually being digested....good for losing weight, but also a perfect path to malnutrition.
Matt Stone and Michelle are right- eat food, lots of it, don't leave yourself hungry. But I'd add that you should avoid foods that make you feel sick. Maybe there is someone out there who feels like a million dollars after eating cupcakes and pizza, but I'm certainly not that person.
Principle: you should NEVER be hungry. NEVER. If you are fasting and feeling hungry, stop fasting until your body is ready for it. And eat some damn bacon while your at it!