I’ve been predicting for years that the instigators of arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria would back away from their lousy advice one baby step at a time.  That seems to be true of the USDA.  In their most recent guidelines, they removed the limits on total fat intake and declared that cholesterol is “no longer a nutrient of concern.”  The guidelines are still a steaming pile of nonsense, but slightly less steaming.

The American Heart Association, on the other hand, isn’t stepping backwards.  In fact, they just doubled down on arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria.  You’ve probably seen headlines like this one from the New York Post:

Coconut oil is actually worse for your heart than butter: study

Some quotes:

Coconut oil is worse for your heart than butter and beef, a new study claims.

The thought-to-be healthy oil is 82 percent saturated fat — while butter contains just 63 percent, according to The Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory.

The artery-clogger is also more likely to send cholesterol levels through the roof than beef, which is 50 percent saturated fat, and pork lard, which contains 39 percent of the “bad” fat, according to the report, which was published Thursday.

Artery-clogger!  Cholesterol levels through the roof!  Yup, that’s some fine, objective reporting.  Like many media outlets, the Post swallowed the AHA’s nonsense hook, line and sinker.

Frank Sacks, lead author of the new study, advised people to boost heart health by cooking with less saturated fats.

I wasn’t surprised to see that Frank Sacks was the lead author.  But we’ll come back to him.  The immediate question is, why is the American Heart Association doubling down on arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria when so much recent (and recently discovered) research has pointed the other way?

Well, as some mysterious character in a movie once said, follow the money.  Yes, the AHA is a charity, but that doesn’t mean we’re talking about pass-the-hat sums.  Far from it.  According to Forbes Magazine, the AHA’s revenues in fiscal year 2014 were $774 million.  And according to Charity Watch, the organization’s CEO was compensated to the tune of $1.3 million in fiscal year 2016.

This is major-league money at stake, folks.  And where does it come from?  Let’s just say I’m pretty sure the AHA walk-a-thon sponsored by the company where I work didn’t account for much of it.

As I explained in Fat Head, the AHA takes in millions for licensing its Heart Check logo.  To qualify for the logo, foods must be low in total fat and very low in saturated fat.  (The AHA finally wised up and added a low-sugar requirement as well, which means they’re no longer in the embarrassing position of having the Heart Check logo on boxes of Cocoa Puffs and other sugary junk.)

Corporate sponsors of the AHA are a Who’s Who in Big Pharma and Big Food.  Big Pharma, of course, just loves the AHA’s warnings that high cholesterol causes heart disease – because that encourages people to take statins.  Big Food loves AHA’s hearty approval of grain-based, low-fat foods – because those are industrial foods.

When I listen to the radio, I occasionally hear a public service announcement in which a mom decides that instead of cooking with butter, she’ll use a “heart-healthy” oil like canola.  An announcer chimes in, “You’re a genius!”  At the end of the PSA, we’re told the Canola Council is a proud sponsor of the American Heart Association.

Well, of course they are.  The AHA tells people to buy their industrial oil to protect their hearts.

So here’s the bottom line: The American Heart Association has painted itself into a corner.  No matter what the emerging (and rediscovered) science says, the AHA can never, ever change its position.  It can never, ever be an objective observer and reporter of the science.

Take away the donations by the makers of cholesterol-lowering drugs, industrial “vegetable” oils and low-fat grain foods, and there’s no American Heart Association.  Its very existence depends on people believing that natural saturated fats will kill them, while industrial oils, processed grains and statin drugs will save them.  The bigwigs at the AHA can’t possibly admit they’ve been wrong about saturated fats and cholesterol.  That would be financial suicide.

But of course, suicide isn’t the only way to die.  A major shift in the public’s beliefs could be just as lethal.  That shift is already happening.  More and more people are returning to full-fat dairy products.  More and more people are buying coconut oil.  More and more people are ditching the grain foods.  In other words, more and more people are ignoring the American Heart Association’s outdated, lousy advice.

And so – surprise, surprise! – the AHA produces a new analysis that declares they’ve been right along.  Yeah, I’m sure the study was the result of an objective search for scientific truth.

Gary Taubes wrote a long critique of the AHA study that I’d encourage you to read. I don’t want to repeat all his points, so here’s the very brief summary: Sacks and the other researchers looked at all the studies on saturated fat and heart disease, and by some eerie coincidence, the only four that met their strict criteria for inclusion just happened to support the notion that saturated fat causes heart disease.

Keep that in mind the next time some idiot nutritionist claims (as I once saw on TV) that “thousands of studies” have proven that saturated fat causes heart disease.  Even the people who most want that to be true can only come up with four.  And those four are flawed studies, as Taubes points out in his critique.

The name Frank Sacks jumped out at me right away when I saw him listed as the lead author.  I’ve written about his studies before.  In fact, I wrote my very first post about a study in which Sacks declared that a low-carb diet was no more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet.

Just one little problem.  His definition of “low carb” was 35% of calories.  If you’re consuming 2000 calories per day, that’s 175 carbs per day.  Just like Dr. Atkins recommended, eh?  Anyone remotely familiar with low-carb diets knows that the idea is to start at less than 50 grams per day to drastically reduce insulin levels.  In other words, Sacks decided to test a “low carb” diet that wasn’t actually a low-carb diet so he could say low-carb diets don’t offer any particular benefits for weight loss.

Later, Sacks pulled the same stunt again … only this time the “low carb” diet was 40% of calories.  Once again, just like Dr. Atkins recommended, eh?

Sacks was also the lead author on a salt-restriction study I poked fun at in my Science For Smart People speech.  He had one group of people eat a “typical” diet full of processed junk, and another group eat a Mediterranean “healthy” diet.  Then over a period of weeks, he reduced their sodium intake by 75%.

The results were not impressive.  In the “healthy” group, the drastic reduction in sodium shifted the average blood pressure from 127/81 to … wait for it … 124/79.  That’s right, a measly three-point drop –after cutting sodium by 75%.  Not exactly the slam-dunk the anti-salt warriors (including Sacks) were hoping to produce.

But heck, no problem.  Sacks simply compared people on the high-salt junk diet to people on the low-salt Mediterranean diet and found a 12-point difference in blood pressure.  That’s like comparing the livers of people on a high-whiskey, high-salt diet to the livers of people on a low-whiskey, low-salt diet and declaring that reducing salt clearly prevents liver damage.

Here’s what Sacks wrote in the study:

The reduction of sodium intake to levels below the current recommendation of 100 mmol per day and the DASH diet both lower blood pressure substantially … Long term-health benefits will depend on the ability of people to make long-lasting dietary changes and the increased availability of low-sodium foods.

Would that be your conclusion if reducing sodium intake by 75% produced a measly three-point drop in blood pressure? I sincerely hope not.

So let’s just say I haven’t been impressed with the scientific integrity of Dr. Frank Sacks.  Some researchers use the tools of science to seek the truth, while others use those tools to design studies that will tell them what they want to hear.  And if the studies don’t tell them what they want to hear, they hear it anyway.

When the “we were right about saturated fat all along!” study hit the news, I went looking to see if Sacks had any previous affiliation with the American Heart Association.  Yup, he sure did.  Here are some quotes from a biography:

Dr. Sacks was Chair of the Design Committee of the DASH study, and Chair of the Steering Committee for the DASH-Sodium trial. These multicenter National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute trials found major beneficial additive effects of low salt and a dietary pattern rich in fruits and vegetables on blood pressure.

For crying out loud!  Once again, how does a three-point drop in blood pressure count as a “major beneficial effect” of a low-salt diet?!  It was clear from the study data that the benefit was in dumping processed junk foods, not restricting salt. Liar, liar, pants on fire.  Anyway …

He is Past Chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, which advises the AHA on nutrition policy.

Got that?  Dr. Sacks was head of the AHA’s nutrition committee.  That means he was one of the people pushing the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! theory all along.

So here’s the situation: with more researchers and more common folks rejecting the belief that saturated fats cause heart disease, the American Heart Association basically said, “Hey, Frank!  Go conduct a fine, objective, strict-criteria study to determine if the theories you’ve been promoting for years are actually correct.  And hey, if it turns out you were partly responsible for us giving out bad dietary advice to millions of people, no problem.  It’s not like admitting we got it all wrong would sink us financially or anything.”

That’s the backdrop.  In my next post, we’ll look at the (ahem) “science” behind the AHA’s announcement that they were right all along.


Comments 35 Comments »

A reader thought I might get a kick out of this photo:

Fake tuna fish.  Boy, that sounds awesome … especially if you look up the ingredients:

Pea protein, pea starch, water, olive oil, potato starch, sea salt, seaweed powder, organic agave nectar, organic apple cider vinegar, konjac powder, ginger.

How the heck does this stuff end up tasting like tuna?! I asked myself.  According to the Amazon reviews (which average two out of five stars), it doesn’t.  Here are some quotes:

One of the worst vegan products I’ve ever tried. It looks smells and tastes like cat food. It’s utterly disgusting and even the thought makes me want to vomit.

Dog food. This was seriously the worst product I’ve tried since becoming a vegan. Looks like dog food, smells like dog food, tastes like…I don’t know.

This stuff is awful, so oily and salty, and the smell… Couldn’t even finish my lunch.

Okay, it’s oily, it stinks, and it tastes like something you’d feed a dog or a cat.  But it’s plant-based, so it will save your life!  I know that, because the apostles of the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet are always telling us as much.

In fact, while organizing all my blog ideas, study links, study papers, etc., into Microsoft OneNote recently, I came across a Nutrition Update for Physicians that promotes the Holy Plant-Based Diet.  I think it’s a fine example of how the Holy Plant-Based Diet produces miraculous improvements in health, so let’s take a look:

Despite the strong body of evidence favoring plant-based diets, including studies showing a willingness of the general public to embrace them, many physicians are not stressing the importance of plant-based diets as a first-line treatment for chronic illnesses. This could be because of a lack of awareness of these diets or a lack of patient education resources.

Or it could be because the physicians have gotten a whiff of Vegan Toona.

National dietary guidelines for active living and healthful eating are available at www.ChooseMyPlate.gov.

Well, if they’re pushing MyPlate as a guide, we already know what great experts we’re dealing with.

The goal of this article is to review the evidence supporting plant-based diets and to provide a guideline for presenting them to patients.

Here’s how I’d suggest you present plant-based diets to patients: give them a free can of Vegan Toona.

We start with a case study …

A 63-year-old man with a history of hypertension presented to his primary care physician with complaints of fatigue, nausea, and muscle cramps. The result of a random blood glucose test was 524 mg/dL, and HbA1C was 11.1%. Type 2 diabetes was diagnosed. His total cholesterol was 283 mg/dL, blood pressure was 132/66 mmHg, and body mass index (BMI) was 25 kg/m2. He was taking lisinopril, 40 mg daily; hydrochlorothiazide, 50 mg daily; amlodipine, 5 mg daily; and atorvastatin, 20 mg daily.

A glucose reading of 524?!!  Okay, this poor guy was a mess.  He was a type II diabetic with screamingly high blood sugar.  (And for the internet cowboys who insist insulin resistance is caused by getting fat, please note that his BMI was only 25.)

But of course, eating meat doesn’t cause high blood sugar.  So how did switching to the Holy Plant-Based Diet help this guy with his diabetes?  Here’s how:

He was prescribed metformin, 1000 mg twice daily; glipizide, 5 mg daily; and 10 units of neutral protamine Hagedom insulin at bedtime.

The first order of business was insulin and other drugs that lower blood sugar.  Makes sense, given the screamingly high glucose reading. But what about that plant-based diet that was responsible for all the magic?

His physician also prescribed a low-sodium, plant-based diet that excluded all animal products and refined sugars and limited bread, rice, potatoes, and tortillas to a single daily serving. He was advised to consume unlimited non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and beans, in addition to up to 2 ounces of nuts and seeds daily.

Let’s read that one more time with a slight edit and some emphasis added:

His physician also prescribed a low-sodium, plant-based diet that EXCLUDED REFINED SUGARS AND LIMITED BREAD, RICE, POTATOES, AND TORTILLAS TO A SINGLE DAILY SERVING.

Now wait just a @#$%ing second!  You’re presenting a miracle performed by the Holy Plant-Based Diet, and part of the protocol was to limit bread, rice, potatoes and tortillas to one serving per day?  THOSE ARE PLANT FOODS!  If it’s the meat and eggs that were turning this poor old dude into a diabetic, why the flippity flip was he told to cut out sugar and bread?

Back to the article:

Over a 16-week period, significant improvement in biometric outcome measures was observed. He was completely weaned off of amlodipine, hydrochlorothiazide, glipizide, and neutral protamine Hagedorn insulin. Follow-up blood pressure remained below 125/60 mmHg, HbA1C improved to 6.3%, and total cholesterol improved to 138 mg/dL.

The presented case is a dramatic example of the effect a plant-based diet can have on biometric outcomes like blood pressure, diabetes, and lipid profile.

Yes, indeedy.  In this paper, ladies and gentlemen, we present the case of a guy whose blood sugar was totally whacked.  He was told to cut out meat and eggs, even though they don’t raise blood sugar more than a smidge.  He was also told to limit bread, rice, potatoes, tortillas and other plant foods that jack up blood sugar to a single serving per day.  And looky there, his glucose level plummeted – which proves how wondrous the Holy Plant-Based Diet can be.

Head. Bang. On. Desk.

This is, of course, the bait-and-switch the plant-based apostles pull all the time.  I call it the Ornish Two-Step.  Take people eating total crap diets full of processed sugar and starch, get them to eat whole foods while cutting out all the processed sugars and starches – oh, and meat and eggs, too – and when their health improves, claim you’ve just made a solid case for eliminating meat and eggs.

The improvement in blood pressure observed over a 4-month period with few medications is also rarely encountered in clinical practice and is likely related to a low-sodium diet and the avoidance of red meat.

Uh, no.  In clinical studies, reducing sodium intake has failed rather spectacularly as a treatment for high blood pressure.  And as for red meat causing high blood pressure, here’s the conclusion from a recent meta-analysis at Purdue University:

Consuming red meat in amounts above what is typically recommended does not affect short-term cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

However, several studies have demonstrated that a high sugar intake will raise blood pressure.  So remind me: wasn’t the guy in this case study told to eliminate sugar from his diet?  And isn’t sugar a plant food?

If people want to adopt plant-based diets for ethical reasons, fine, I don’t care.  But I do care when apostles of the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet blame meat and eggs for the sins committed by sugar and other processed carbohydrates.  Part of the reason it annoys me so much is that it’s clear the apostles KNOW it’s the processed carbs doing the damage. They toss meat and eggs in the same basket as sugar and white bread simply because they don’t want people to eat meat.

If the apostles really and truly believed animal foods are the primary drivers of disease, they’d conduct studies where the only change in a crappy diet is to substitute tofu for meat.  And they’d encourage physicians to offer counseling to patients that goes something like this:

“Well, I’m afraid your labs are awful.  Your blood sugar is through the roof and you’re obviously a type II diabetic.  We need to switch you to a plant-based diet.”

“Wait, Doc, you mean no more meat and eggs?”

“That’s right.”

“Bummer.  But I can still eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast, right?”

“Of course.  Pop-Tarts are made from wheat, sugar, soybean oil, dried berries and corn syrup.  Those are all plant foods, so they won’t hurt you.”

“Hostess Ho-Ho’s okay for lunch?”

“Sugar, wheat flour, corn syrup, and hydrogenated palm oil.  No animal ingredients, so they’re fine.”

“Awesome.  But what about dinner?  My wife likes to make casseroles.”

“No problem.  The makers of Vegan Toona say it makes a terrific ‘toona’ casserole.”



Comments 31 Comments »

Hey Fatheads!

I know I usually do the right thing and disappear for a few months after commandeering The Big Chair, but this was too good not to share.

I was perusing the local paper of record Monday and there was a story headlined “BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS: Free services offered to children with skill deficits.” It was about a”new intensive feeding clinic” developed by the Southern Illinois University’s Child Behavior Research and Training Lab. Its mission is to help parents use “Applied Behavior Analysis” (ABA) to overcome the dread “picky eater” crisis that’s sweeping the nation.

I’m assuming it must be a crisis, anyway, since one of our main public universities — in a state that is hundreds of billions behind on pension funding, hasn’t passed a budget in over two years, and has put half of the NFP social service agencies out of business — is devoting resources to it and running the program at no charge.

They’re applying some of their expertise from other areas of child behavior. One example, for instance, was how to avoid your kid having a tantrum in the store because you won’t buy them Skittles. So the solution offered by the expert is to give them one Skittle per minute while shopping.

Seriously. These are experts.

I’m accustomed to such credentialed idiocy (as are most Fat Heads, I believe), but another line regarding a predecessor program being used as a template for the picky eater solution had me howling out loud:

“Earlier this spring, Hirst rolled out an intensive, one-day potty training program that incorporates a mix of evidence-based procedures. “

Yep, there it is kids. Pre-adolescent turd disposal has joined the elite ranks of all things evidence-based. So if any of you still thought “evidence-based” had any real meaning, that swishing sound you hear is the last shred of any of the term’s rhetorical value swirling around the bowl.

Don’t worry, Mom — it’s evidence-based!

We now return to our regular programming…


The Older Brother


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During the big push to get the film ready for the cruise, I forgot to post chapter two of Fat Head Kids. So here it is.

I had to shrink some of the graphics to fit inside a post, and of course I can’t recreate Chareva’s two-page layouts or the flow of text around pictures. But you’ll get the idea.

I posted chapter one back in May, in case you missed it.


Stuff I wish I knew when I was your age:
Getting Fat is About Chemistry

As fans of The Piggy Bank Theory like to remind us, there are 3500 calories in a pound of fat. So HOW we get fat can be explained by simple math that looks like this:

calories in – calories out = change in weight

But WHY we get fat isn’t about math. It’s about chemistry, which looks like this:

Don’t worry; you don’t need to understand all that chemistry. In fact, very few people understand all of it. What you need to understand is this:

Even when you’re just sitting, your body is incredibly busy. Your lungs are breathing air. You heart is pumping blood. Your digestive system is breaking down food. Your muscles, organs and bones are generating millions of new cells. Your entire body is generating heat to keep you warm. And that’s just a tiny fraction of what’s going on inside of you right now.

Everything that happens in your body is triggered by chemical reactions, and those chemical reactions all use energy. Even the chemical reactions that convert food to energy burn energy. If we look at all the chemical reactions together (just a few are shown in the scary chart), they make up what scientists call your metabolism.

Your metabolism doesn’t work like a piggy bank. Not even close. If anything, it’s more like a super-complicated software application. So to understand how your body works, you need to understand how software works.

If you’re like most kids these days, you already have some favorite software applications … only you probably call them apps. My daughters love their apps, and I have to admit, some of them are pretty cool.

But even the coolest apps can only do what they’ve been programmed to do — not what you want them to do.

For example, when I’m playing Frisbee Golf on our Wii, I can’t just decide I’m going to reach the green on the 17th hole with one throw. That’s how I want the app to work, and in my opinion, that’s how it should work. But an app doesn’t know or care how we want it to work.

When you click a mouse, type on a keyboard, touch a screen, or work a remote, you send the app a message, otherwise known as a command. The app responds to the message by following the instructions that are written into its code — every single time. That’s how all apps work.

To create apps for tablets and computers, software programmers (like me) write code in a language like C+ or Java. Your body is like a huge collection of biological apps. But these apps are programmed by Nature, and the code is written in chemistry. Everything about you — from the color of your eyes, to the sound of your voice, to the size of your belly — is the result of your body following instructions written into its chemical code.

So to understand WHY we get fat (and the other topics in this book), we need to forget about piggy banks and the stupidly simple math of calories in vs. calories out. Nothing in the human body is simple.

Instead, I want you to think of your body as a biological starship — one that’s waaaay cooler than The Enterprise, The Millennium Falcon or any other starship you’ve seen in the movies. We’ll call our starship The Nautilus.

Introducing … The Nautilus!

The Nautilus is the amazing vehicle that carries you through the universe as you explore new worlds, save friendly creatures from the forces of evil, and occasionally get into trouble with your parents. You’re in the captain’s chair, so you can operate many of the ship’s controls. You can decide where The Nautilus will go and what missions it will try to accomplish.

That’s the good news. Now here’s the not-so-good news: you can’t change how The Nautilus works. It isn’t like a modern aircraft that humans designed and can re-design when they need to. The Nautilus was designed and programmed by Nature at the dawn of time, and it’s at least a thousand times more complicated than anything built by NASA. The best we can do is try to understand how it works.

Mr. Spot, the ship’s science officer, has been studying The Nautilus for decades. So has Dr. Fishbones, the ship’s medical officer. In spite of all their research, there’s a lot they still don’t know. But lucky for us, there’s plenty they do know.

That’s correct, Captain. We know that The Nautilus depends on a super-computer we call The Brain. We know this super-computer is connected to the ship through a network called The Nervous System. We also know that the crew members are actually biological software applications — or what your Earth children call apps. They perform most of the ship’s work automatically.


Thanks for that dry, scientific explanation, Spot. Here’s what you need to understand, Captain: life aboard The Nautilus is only possible because of how the crew members work together. Our crew is fantastic. Amazing. Stupendous. They’re all that and a side of moonbeams, as your Earth children might say.

I’m pretty sure my Earth children wouldn’t say that, but Dr. Fishbones is right about this: your body’s biological apps are fantastic. No human programmer could create apps as brilliant as the ones that keep The Nautilus flying. But they’re still apps — which means when they receive a message, all they can do is follow the instructions written into their code.

When you become a wizard with your favorite app, it means you’ve learned to send the right messages at the right time. It’s the same with The Nautilus. The only way to improve your starship’s performance is to change the messages you send to the crew. And guess what? Everything you eat sends a chemical message.

You have to eat, of course. As The Nautilus explores the universe, it burns a lot of fuel. It also requires daily rebuilding and repairs, which means it constantly needs new building materials. Fuels and building materials are both delivered through a single hatch, so we’ll give them both the same name: FUD.

As the captain, you can choose what kind of FUD goes through the hatch. That’s the good news. But once again, here’s the not-so-good news: you can’t decide what The Nautilus will do with the FUD. Those decisions are made by the ship’s chief engineer — an absolutely amazing app we’ll call Marty Metabolism, or just Marty for short.

Marty is probably the most important member of the entire crew. We’ll let Dr. Fishbones explain why.

Marty’s responsibilities are enormous. He’s in charge of all the building and repair projects. He keeps the engines running. He controls the heating system. He monitors and manages the fuel supply. And he has to do all those jobs at the same time, every hour of every day. We couldn’t do anything without him. He’s amazing.

You may have heard that some people have a fast metabolism, while others have a slow metabolism. So what exactly does that mean?

I’ll explain, Captain. Suppose The Nautilus lands on a cold planet with strong gravity, and Marty believes the ship is too heavy to take off again. The logical solution is to burn away some of the stored fuel. So he opens the windows to let in cold air, then turns up the heating system. He turns on all the lights and monitors. He orders his building crews to tear down and rebuild sections of the ship, using power tools that require energy. The ship is now burning fuel at a high rate, so we would say it has a fast metabolism.Now suppose instead that Marty is concerned we won’t have enough fuel to reach our next destination. So he closes the windows, turns off the lights and monitors, stops all the repair work, and turns the thermostat down to 60 degrees. When Dr. Fishbones complains of being cold, Marty gives him a big, ugly sweater to keep warm. The ship is now burning fuel at a much lower rate, so we would say it has a slow metabolism.

Your job as the captain would certainly be easier if you could just send orders directly to Marty, like this:

Unfortunately, that’s not how The Nautilus was programmed. As an app, Marty doesn’t know or care how you want him to do his job. He simply responds to what’s happening inside the ship and to messages from the rest of the crew.

The Brain and the crew send alerts and commands to each other through chemical messengers called hormones. When Marty receives a message, it’s often a command, such as GET TALLER, or BUILD BIGGER MUSCLES, or STORE MORE FAT.

To follow those commands, Marty has to adjust how much FUD the ship burns for energy, how much it stores as fat, and how much it converts into building materials. In other words, he has to adjust the difference between calories in vs. calories out.

That’s why The Piggy Bank Theory doesn’t work in real life. It assumes your metabolism stays the same unless you raise it by exercising. But in fact, Marty can speed up or slow down your metabolism quite a bit — and he will, depending on the messages he receives.

Here’s an example: one of the instructions programmed into The Nautilus is to keep building a bigger ship for the first 15 to 20 years. So if you’re not an adult yet, you’re growing taller. To grow taller, you have to consume more FUD than you burn, then convert the leftover FUD into building materials.

If we applied The Piggy Bank Theory, we would explain growing taller like this:

Wow, wouldn’t that be great? If you were on the short side, you could just keep eating and eating until you were nine feet tall, then go play in the NBA. But of course, that’s not how it works.

Correct, Captain. The Nautilus grows taller because The Brain triggers what we call the Get Taller! program. This program sends chemical messages to Marty that instruct him to build bigger bones, muscles and organs. To make sure he has the extra building materials, Marty triggers what we call the Get Hungry! program. This program sends messages that instruct you, as the captain, to deliver more FUD through the hatch.

The Get Taller! program is the reason teenagers are known for their amazing appetites. They need the extra building materials to grow into their adult height. But they don’t grow taller because they eat more. They eat more because they’re growing taller. Consuming more calories than they burn is HOW they grow taller. But the Get Taller! program is WHY they grow taller.

If you’re still confused about calories and body size, think of it this way: suppose your dad is six-foot-five, and he’s always complaining about having to squeeze himself into those stupid little seats on airplanes. To grow as tall as he is, your dad had to consume more calories than he burned. So according to the Piggy Bank Theory, you could avoid growing as tall as your dad by eating a little less than he did. Would that work?

Of course not. Like all important apps, Marty’s code includes something called redundancy. That’s a programmer’s term that means if one block of code doesn’t work, the program switches to another … and another, and another, until the command is obeyed.

If your body is running the Get Taller! program and you decide to eat a little less, Marty will simply slow down your metabolism to burn less FUD for fuel. Then he’ll convert the leftover FUD into building materials.

That’s what Marty is programmed to do. He follows commands by constantly adjusting how he uses calories.

That’s why naturally lean people can eat 56,000 extra calories in eight weeks and barely gain any weight. That’s why people like my wife weigh exactly the same, year in and year out, without ever thinking about calories. When they eat more, Marty speeds up their metabolisms to burn the extra calories. Their version of The Nautilus was programmed to avoid getting fat — and that’s chemistry, not character.

Getting fat is also about chemistry. It begins when those chemical messengers called hormones tell Marty to run the Get Fatter! program and store more fat. It actually works a lot like the Get Taller! program … but the extra calories are converted into fat instead of building materials. That’s WHY you get fatter.

Since Marty is under orders to store more fat, he’ll trigger the Get Hungry! program to make you eat more. But if that doesn’t work, he’ll slow down your metabolism to burn less fuel. Either way, you end up consuming more calories than you burn. That’s HOW you get fatter.

The commands from hormones are so powerful, Marty can’t just ignore them. Perhaps Mr. Spot can give us an example.

Certainly, Captain. In one experiment with rats, researchers performed a surgery that triggered the Get Fatter! program. The rats began eating in a manner you Earthlings would call “pigging out” and became very fat.

Aha, that must mean The Piggy Bank Theory is correct! The rats ate too many calories, and that’s WHY they got fat.

That is incorrect, Captain. Later the researchers performed the same surgery on an identical group of rats, but did not allow them to eat more. Those rats became just as fat, just as quickly. Since they couldn’t eat more, the rat version of Marty drastically slowed their metabolisms instead. Once again, they consumed more calories than they burned and became very fat. In both cases, it was the Get Fatter! program that made them fat.

The same thing can happen to people. A documentary I saw called The Science of Obesity featured a woman who was lean until about age 35. Then she suddenly started getting very fat. She cut her calories to just 1500 per day and still got fatter.

So, was she consuming more calories than she was burning? Yes, absolutely. That is always HOW we get fat. But was consuming too many calories WHY she got fat?

That is highly illogical, Captain. She was eating far less than most adults, but still gaining weight.



A doctor finally figured out WHY she kept getting fatter, Captain. She had a small tumor on her brain that was triggering the Get Fatter! program. Marty was under orders to store more fat, and he can’t just ignore his orders. So every time she ate less, Marty responded by slowing down her metabolism.

If you’re getting fat, I’m not suggesting you have a brain tumor. That’s a very rare condition. But something in your body is telling Marty to run the Get Fatter! program. Consuming more calories than you burn isn’t the cause of the problem. It’s the result of Marty following his orders.

By now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Okay, I understand Marty can slow down my metabolism if I eat less. But if I keep cutting my calories, I have to lose weight eventually. After all, Marty can’t slow the ship’s fuel use down to nothing.”

That’s true. If you’re willing to starve yourself, at some point Marty has to convert stored fat into fuel to prevent The Nautilus from shutting down. But starving yourself to become thin is a terrible idea, and it almost always fails in the long run.

If you watch shows like The Biggest Loser, you’ve seen people lose a lot of weight by starving themselves. But here’s what The Biggest Loser didn’t show you: most of the contestants were miserable the whole time, and most of them gained back all the weight after the show was over. As Mr. Spot can explain, that’s no surprise.

Indeed, Captain. Studies conducted on former contestants from The Biggest Loser concluded that after starving themselves to lose weight, their metabolisms were permanently slower.  As a result, they can gain weight on fewer calories than before.

So why does that happen? If we want to lose weight by starving ourselves, why won’t Marty go along with the plan? The answer is that he’s simply trying to protect The Nautilus.

I recently read a book called The Happiness Hypothesis in which the author (a psychologist named Jonathan Haidt) explains that your body is like an elephant. Your conscious mind — the part of you that thinks and makes plans — is like a rider on top of the elephant. The rider likes to think he’s in control, and often it seems that he is. After all, he’s telling the elephant where to go.

But what do you suppose would happen if the rider tried to steer the elephant into a forest fire? I’m sure you can guess: The elephant would panic and run the other way, and suddenly the rider would learn he’s not in control after all.

It’s the same with The Nautilus. Long before you became its captain, Nature designed and programmed your starship to survive. If there’s one instruction coded into every living creature in the universe, it’s this: DON’T STARVE. You may think it’s a fine idea to go hungry for weeks on end to lose weight, but your body disagrees. When you fight your own body, you’re going to lose.

As the captain, you can think and make plans, but you can’t change the code that was written into your biological apps. Or as Dr. Haidt explained it, the rider cannot order the elephant around against its will.

Trying to lose weight by starving yourself is like trying to drag the elephant into a fire. The crew of The Nautilus doesn’t know or care that you want to look better in a swimsuit. The crew only knows that the ship is breaking down and running out of fuel. So they send distress signals to Marty that say Starvation Emergency! Fire up the survival program!

Marty will crank up the Get Hungry! program to make you eat more. But if you don’t, Marty will trigger other programs to help the Nautilus survive — and survival means keeping the reserve fuel tanks as full as possible. So depending on your version of Marty, he will:

  • Slow down your metabolism so The Nautilus burns less fuel.
  • Release chemicals that make you feel tired and depressed so you don’t waste fuel by flying around.
  • Break down your muscles and burn the muscle tissue for fuel.
  • Re-program the fuel system to make storing fat even easier than before — in order to survive the next Starvation Emergency!

Remember the mice who had their calories cut by five percent, but ended up with bigger fat cells? Their bodies interpreted less food as a Starvation Emergency! The mouse version of Marty responded by drastically reducing their fuel use and storing extra fat. In fact, he was so determined to store fat, he burned muscle tissue for fuel instead of fat. So the mice ended up with more fat and less muscle — all because cutting calories triggered the Starvation Emergency! program written into their biological code.

That’s why advice based on The Piggy Bank Theory can completely backfire. You try starving yourself, but the crew keeps blasting hunger alerts, Marty slows down your metabolism, and soon the ship starts wobbling and breaking down. As the captain, you may not know exactly what’s 
going wrong, but you know you feel miserable.

So you go back to eating just as much FUD as you did before … but remember, Marty slowed down your metabolism to save fuel. So you not only gain back the weight you lost, there’s a good chance you gain back more. You went from your normal diet, to a diet that made you feel hungry and cranky and tired, then back to your normal diet — and the result of all that misery is that you end up fatter than when you started.

And who do you blame? Probably yourself. Maybe with a little help from these guys.

If there’s one thing I hope you understand after reading this book, it’s this: if you tried to lose weight by following advice based on The Piggy Bank Theory and couldn’t do it, YOU didn’t fail. The advice failed. The diet failed. The Piggy Bank Theory failed. It failed because it’s based on simple math that works fine and dandy with a piggy bank, but not with human biology — because that’s not how our bodies are programmed.

The good news is that you can lose the extra weight. I’ve done it, despite spending most of my life as a fat guy, and so have millions of other people. But to burn away the fat and keep it off, you have to work with the code written into your body’s chemistry, not against it. You have to stop firing up the Get Fatter! program. You have to stop triggering the Get Hungry! program when you shouldn’t be hungry. And you absolutely, positively have to avoid triggering a Starvation Emergency!

Every time you eat, you send chemical messages to the crew of The Nautilus. What you eat — and don’t eat — also determines which messages Marty sends back to you. If you’re not happy with your starship, the only way to improve it is to change the messages that trigger the ship’s code. It isn’t about character. It’s about chemistry.

So let’s talk about food … and why different foods trigger different programs inside The Nautilus.


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If you want a clear example of a big part of the reason we’ve become a nation full of fat diabetics, take a look at this video from the Wall Street Journal.

“The agency plans to update its definition of healthy for the first time in two decades.”

Yup.  So for at least two decades — and know it’s closer to four decades now — perfectly good foods like avocados and almonds have been labeled “unhealthy” while complete-garbage foods made from sugar and grains have been blessed with the “healthy” label because they’re low in fat.

In fact, of the agency’s five criteria — fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium (“unhealthy”) and beneficial nutrients (“healthy”) — they were dead wrong on four of them.

This video is a year old, but I haven’t heard anything about the FDA changing its definitions yet.  In fact, I just visited the FDA site out of curiosity and found this gem:

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. today. You can use the Nutrition Facts Label to compare foods and decide which ones fit with a diet that may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Choose foods that have fewer calories per serving and a lower %DV of these “nutrients to get less of”

Total Fat
Saturated Fat

Sugar still isn’t on the list.  Processed grains aren’t on the list.  Industrial oils aren’t on the list.

Same old, same old, at least for now.


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First, a big thanks to The Older Brother for putting up three thought-provoking posts that generated a lot of good discussion.  Those three posts match my output for … what, maybe the last two months?  I was, of course, going a little nutty trying to finish the film version of Fat Head Kids in time to premiere it on the cruise.

I didn’t quite finish, so premiere became preview.  We’re still working on some of the animations, and I want to add a lot more sound effects and some original music.  I had to settle for a quick-and-dirty sound mix, with the careful mix to come later.  But it was certainly close enough to final for a good preview.  I’ll put up some clips from the film on YouTube in the upcoming weeks.  I’ll also return to regular posting now that I’m not facing a hard deadline.

Anyway, on to the cruise report …

Wow, what a cruise.  After nine years of Caribbean cruises, the Low Carb Cruise committee decided to mix it up for the 10th anniversary and head to Alaska.  I was delighted.  Even before I started giving presentations for the low-carb cruises, I’d been on several Caribbean cruises during my standup days.  I’m kind of over the Caribbean.  I don’t even bother going ashore on port days.  Rather than see Cozumel or whatever for the sixth time, I stay on the ship and sleep late, catch up on my reading, etc.

Alaska is another story.  Sure, I did two Alaskan cruises during my standup days (and it was great to have the cruise line paying me instead of the other way around) but I could visit Alaska a dozen times and still not take all the excursions that strike my fancy.

So while I was still aboard last year’s cruise in the Caribbean, I signed the four of us up for Alaska to take advantage of the on-ship discount.  Then I called home from the airport to see if the Chareva and the girls actually wanted to go.  I was a bit surprised when Sara said she wasn’t sure.  Going on the Alaska cruise would mean missing the last few days of school, and thus missing her eight-grade graduation.

It’s not a good idea to try to push Sara into a making a decision she doesn’t want to make, so I offered a fatherly observation instead: I don’t even remember my eighth-grade graduation.  It’s really not a thing.  In fact, most adults I know can’t remember their eighth-grade graduation.  But I’ll remember Alaska forever.  The scenery is stunning, and pictures just can’t capture it.

She mulled it over and said, “You’re right, Dad.  I should go to Alaska.”  Now that she’s been there, she has no doubt she made the right decision.

We flew from Nashville to Seattle on Thursday.  Even though my work was more or less done – meaning I had a copy of the film on my laptop, another on a thumb drive, and a third burned as a blu-ray disc – I was still in go-go-go mode during the flight.  I’d had that internal engine cranking for 18 hours or so per day for so long, it didn’t want to shut off.  Plus I’d been up late the night before rendering the film, and up early to burn the disc, then back up all 300 gigs of data to a drive we could leave with Chareva’s parents in case the house decided to burn down.  We dropped it off at their house on our way to the airport.

Go-go-go mode continued when we landed in Seattle, because the pre-cruise dinner was scheduled to begin 30 minutes later.  We caught a shuttle to the hotel, checked in, dumped our bags in the room, and went downstairs just in time to join the line at the buffet.

Consequently, I didn’t start to feel truly relaxed until we were boarding the ship the next day.  In the photo below, I’m the one with the shiny head.

In the ginormous dining room later, we met our dinner companions for the week.  If you’ve never been on a cruise, let me describe the food options at dinner:  Name it.  With all the appetizer, soup, salad and main course options, you can easily eat low-carb, vegetarian, gluten-free, whatever.  The waiters quickly learn your preferences.  Our waiter, in fact, brought me an extra lobster on lobster-dinner night, even though I’d already eaten a lobster and a small steak.

On cruises, there are port days and at-sea days.  The at-sea days are when we all pile into a conference room for the presentations.  I won’t try to describe all the lectures – that would require a book.  If you want to see the list of presenters and the topics, Jimmy has them listed on this page.  He’ll also post the lectures online at some point.

I will, however, briefly mention three that stuck with me.  Dr. Lucia Aronica of Stanford works with Dr. Chris Gardner, the lead investigator on the now-famous A-Z study.  That’s the one that compared people on four diets and found that people on the Atkins diet lost the most weight and showed the greatest overall improvement in health markers.  (The low-fat Ornish diet didn’t fare so well, by the way.)  But those results were the average.  What fascinated Gardner was the variability among subjects.  Some people seemed to do better by cutting fat, while others did much better by cutting carbs.  So Gardner’s team, including Dr. Aronica, has been looking into the reasons some people do so much better on one diet vs. another.

One of the factors, as it turns out, is genetics.  Actually, as we learned during her lecture, it’s a combination of genetics and epigenetics.  In other words, different diets turn different genes on and off in different people.  She mentioned a specific gene (sorry, I don’t remember what it’s called) that affects how much or how little insulin is required to slam the door shut on fat cells, which of course makes it difficult to burn away body fat.  People who do particularly well on low-carb diets are those whose fat cells are locked up by small concentrations of insulin.

Another lecture I enjoyed was delivered by Erynn Kay, a physician’s assistant who works with Dr. Jeffrey Gerber.  She spoke about the importance of feeding our good gut bacteria – a topic I don’t believe gets enough attention in low-carb circles.  Our hunter-gatherer ancestors weren’t gathering bacon, after all.  They were gathering plants with fibers that feed the gut microbiome.

I also enjoyed Dr. Adam Nally’s lecture on diet and testosterone … partly because the information was interesting, and partly because Dr. Nally is a gifted speaker who fairly crackles with energy and works a lot of humor into his speeches.

Chareva and I sat in the back of the room at a table, where we sold and autographed copies of the book.

Dr. Eric Westman, gracious man that he is, brought his copy by our dinner table later in the week and asked the girls to autograph it as well.

Speaking of the girls, they didn’t attend most of the lectures, but managed to keep themselves occupied during at-sea days.  The pool was heated, in case you’re wondering.

Saturday was the first formal night.  In the picture below, I’m the one with the shiny head.

We also previewed the film that night after dinner.  I gave a brief talk beforehand to explain that it’s not done, but close.  Chareva and I both answered questions at a Q & A afterwards.

Given that I was working feverishly on each section for several weeks, it was actually the first time Chareva and I saw the thing beginning to end.  I was already trimming little bits here and there in my mind while watching.  Chareva was already re-drawing a few sections in her mind.  We don’t need to return to pedal-to-the-metal mode, but we’ve definitely got some work to do before calling it done.

Our first port day was in Juneau. For our excursion, we visited a salmon hatchery and then the Mendenhall Glacier.  One photo of that excursion is at the top of the post.  Here’s another:

I saw this sign at the visitor center:

Yup, the glacier has been receding for more than 200 years … that is, since the end of the Little Ice Age.  So clearly, it’s all caused by humans driving cars and using light bulbs.

One of the biggest pleasures of the low-carb cruises for me is meeting people I only know from emails, comments and podcasts.  The guy with me in the picture below is Brian Williamson.  I was a guest on his podcast show last November and again in April.  I’m pretty sure I spent more time hanging out with him on this cruise than anyone else, largely because he has a wicked sense of humor that caused me to label him a “bad, bad man.”

Two of the women who work with Brian have lost an astounding amount of weight: 109 pounds for one, 199 for another.  This was after years of failed diets.   (So according to the internet cowboys, what happened was that by pure coincidence, they finally accepted the physics of calories-in vs. calories-out around the same time they switched to ketogenic diets and stopped eating too much.  Or something like that.  I’m pretty sure Dr. Aronica would disagree.)

Of course, I also spent time in the karaoke bar with Jimmy, who generated his own karaoke fan club during the course of the week.  I also did some duets with Dr. Westman, who enjoys singing almost as much as Jimmy.

The second port day was in Skagway.  It was the big excursion for us.  We started by watching a presentation on the sled dogs who compete in the Iditarod.  The presenter has taken teams of dogs along the 1,000-mile race six times.  He was great, very informative and quite funny.

The dogs were amazing.  When the presenter brought out a sled for a quick demo run around a training area, the dogs went nuts, jumping up and down in their cages and howling, as if to say “Pick me!  Pick me!”  When six of the dogs were hooked to the sled, they could barely contain themselves.  One kept attempting to leap forward and get things moving before the driver was ready.  At that point, the presenter told us that people from PETA somehow manage to show up at points along the race and hold up signs protesting the “torture” of the dogs.

“Now, I’m asking you,” he said, gesturing toward the dogs, “does it look like these dogs want to run or not?”  Uh, yeah, they want to run.  They’re athletes and don’t like sitting on the bench.

After the sled-dog demonstration, it was time to pan for gold.  I believe the girls scored nearly $11 worth of gold between them, so I can probably cancel that college-savings program.

The last part of the excursion was a train ride 24 miles into the wilderness.  I’ve said many times that pictures can’t capture the scenery in Alaska.  That’s true, but here are some pictures anyway:

Chareva did a bit of shopping afterwards.  Remember what I said about our bag being confiscated because someone thought it contained scissors?  So scissors aren’t allowed.  But Chareva was allowed to bring this souvenir onto the ship:

Now, I’m asking you:  if you wanted to cause serious damage to a guest, would you rather have a pair of scissors, or a big, sharp, curved blade with a handle?  Go figure.

For the second formal night, some formal-looking Vikings showed up.  That’s Debbie Hubbs, one the Low-Carb Cruise organizers, with her husband Don.

I slept in the next day, but the ship made a morning stop near another glacier.  No problem.  I saw it twice during my standup days.

Same goes for Victoria in British Columbia.  It’s a beautiful city, but I’ve been there twice, so I elected to stay on board and just chill.  Chareva and the girls walked around to see the sights.

If you haven’t been on a low-carb cruise yet, I’d encourage you to join us one of these years.  It’s a great group of people (more than 300 this year), the lectures are excellent, and there’s always a lot of after-dinner fun on the ship.

And if you’re not into after-dinner fun, you can just enjoy some quiet reading time in your room.


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