Here’s the short review:

Undoctored, the terrific new book by Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis, covers pretty much everything I’ve been saying on this blog about how the Wisdom of Crowds is crowding out conventional (but lousy) health advice, then adds a heckuva lot of good step-by-step advice on how to monitor and improve your own health — partly by leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds.

Now for the longer review:

A couple of years ago, when I was kicking around the idea for the Fat Head Kids book and film, I drove to Wisconsin to interview Dr. Davis on camera.  We ended up conducting the interview in a downstairs reading room because the desk in his upstairs office was piled high with stacks of research.

Over dinner later, he told me the research was for a new book.  But before he described the contents of the book, he told me why he felt compelled to write it:

Dr. Davis grew up as a dirt-poor kid in New Jersey.  After rising from such humble beginnings, working his way through medical school and becoming a cardiologist with a busy practice, he felt a sense of pride in what he’d accomplished.  For most of his adult life, he enjoyed his status as doctor.

But that was then.  Nowadays, Dr. Davis views the health-care system as little more than an industry designed to shuttle people through a series of expensive drugs and procedures.  Actual health isn’t the priority.  The movers and shakers have no interest in, say, preventing or treating type II diabetes with diet, because they view diabetes as the gift that keeps on giving.  Diabetics are paying customers for life.

As a result, he explained, he hesitates to tell people who don’t already know him that he’s a doctor.  He doesn’t like being associated with the modern medical industry.

So the new book (which was untitled at the time) would include two major sections:  The first section would explain to readers why the “health-care” system is more interested in their dollars than their health.  The second section would arm readers with the knowledge and tools to monitor and improve their own health, and thus avoid ending up in the belly of the health-care beast.  With all the bad advice coming from the medical establishment, people need to do their own research and direct their own health instead of relying on doctors to do it for them.

That, of course, led to a long discussion about the Wisdom of Crowds effect.

You can gauge a doctor’s opinion of the general public by his or her attitude towards the explosion of health information available online.  In a post last December, I pointed out that Dr. David Katz – a big-time promoter of arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria whose idiotic NuVal system ranks sugar-laden soy milk as far healthier option than a turkey breast – sees social media as a danger.  An essay Katz wrote for the Huffington Post basically boils down to this:  Dangit!  All those bloggers and podcasters and health discussion groups online are causing the stupid, gullible public to question true experts like me!  This is very, very bad!

Let’s just say Dr. Katz doesn’t believe in the Wisdom of Crowds effect.  He believes we should all bow before the superior expertise of The Anointed – himself included, of course.

Compare his attitude to the attitude expressed by Dr. Davis in the introduction of Undoctored:

I propose that people can manage their own health safely and responsibly and attain results superior to those achieved through conventional healthcare – not less than, not on a par with, but superior.

And later:

Self-directed health is a phenomenon that will stretch far and wide into human health.  It will encompass preventive practices, diagnostic testing, smartphone apps, and therapeutic strategies.  It puts the astounding and unexpected wisdom of crowds to work, providing you with a depth and breadth of collective information and experience that far exceeds that of any one person, no matter how much of an expert.

Just a wee bit different, eh?  Dr. Davis thinks it’s perfectly okay for you to do research online and question your doctor.  In fact, he WANTS you to do research online and question your doctor.  He says so over and over in the book.  That’s because unlike Katz, Dr. Davis believes people have brains and are capable of using them to find the advice that works and ditch the advice that doesn’t.

Undoctored offers plenty of specific advice on how to gather information about your own health and leverage the wisdom of crowds:  sites for exchanging ideas and data with other people, places you can go to order your own lab tests, sites that help you interpret the lab tests, and so on.

But that’s a bit later.  First, Dr. Davis gives the modern medical industry the blistering it deserves.  Here are some choice quotes:

There’s no ham in hamburger, Grape-Nuts don’t have grapes or nuts, and health does not come from healthcare.

There is a continual push to medicalize human life.  Shyness is now “social anxiety disorder” to justify “treatment” with antidepressant medication; binging in the middle of the night is now “sleep-related eating disorder” to justify treatment with seizure medication and antidepressants; obesity, declared a disease by the FDA, justifies insurance payments for gastric bypass and lap-band.   Don’t be surprised if sometime soon, bad dreams, between-meal hunger and excessive love of your cat are labeled diseases warranting treatment.

I was reminded of what Dr. Malcolm Kendrick wrote in Doctoring Data:  normal human conditions are now classified as diseases just in time to be diagnosed and treated with a new wonder drug.

Dr. Davis goes on to describe how Big Food and Big Pharma have corrupted the healthcare system from top to bottom, from the research, to the health advice, to the treatments when the advice doesn’t work.  Your doctor may mean well, but her (ahem) knowledge of what to diagnose and treat often comes from seminars sponsored by Big Pharma.  Prevention, of course, isn’t on the agenda.

Despite the book’s title, Dr. Davis isn’t suggesting people never visit a doctor again.  He lists a number of conditions that absolutely, positively require medical attention.  He wants doctors to treat what they treat well.

But he wants you to take control of your own health by leveraging the wisdom of crowds and the experiences of others.  If you do that, there’s a good chance you’ll become what Dr. Davis calls undoctored … meaning you only need to see a doctor for actual emergencies and perhaps a bit of monitoring, not for conditions you shouldn’t develop in the first place.

Reading that, I was reminded of when I went in recently for a dermatology checkup.  (I had a skin cancer removed from my back 15 years or so ago, so I get called in for occasional checkups.)  Part of the conversation with the nurse went something like this:

“Who’s your primary-care physician?”

“Uh … sorry, I don’t remember his name.”

“You don’t know your doctor’s name?”

“I’ve lived in Tennessee for seven years and I’ve seen the guy once.  That was because I decided to have a checkup when I turned 55.”

A big part of becoming undoctored is, of course, adopting a diet that enhances health instead of breaking it down.  You won’t be surprised that the Wheat Belly doctor prescribes a diet devoid of grains.  And sugar.  And industrial oils.  And almost all processed foods.  To make it easier to adopt the diet, the book lists several weeks’ worth of recipes.

But there’s more to it than diet alone.  Dr. Davis refers to the whole program as Wild, Naked and Unwashed.  No, that’s not the description of a fraternity party.  It’s a reference to the lifestyle of our paleo ancestors.  We don’t have to actually forgo bathing and run naked in the woods to be healthy, but we do need to recognize that our genes were coded for an environment very unlike the modern industrial world.

With that in mind, Dr. Davis spends the next few chapters describing the nutrients that civilized humans rarely ingest in sufficient quantities, including magnesium and vitamin D.  He also gives specific instructions on how to monitor blood levels of essential nutrients (vitamin D included) using direct-to-consumer tests.  He offers similar advice for checking thyroid health.

The book also includes an entire chapter on the importance of bowel flora (a subject he talked about at length when I interviewed him).  He explains how to obtain at-home test kits, and which specific supplements to take if necessary.  He also provides dozens of recipes for prebiotic shakes using ingredients such as green bananas, inulin and bits of raw potato.

I don’t find the “Appendix whatever” sections of most books particularly useful.  Undoctored is an exception.  In fact, I suspect these final pages will become dog-eared.

Appendix A lists several common ailments – from constipation to fatty liver – with a protocol for identifying and correcting the source of the problem.  Appendix B lists hidden sources of wheat and gluten.  Appendix C describes how to ferment your own vegetables.  Appendix D offers a list of sites where you can exchange ideas, do research, order at-home lab tests, etc.  It also lists the brands of supplements Dr. Davis considers high-quality.

Like I said, this is a terrific book.  With all the junk advice being handed down by doctors, government agencies, and organizations like The American Heart Association, it’s also a very necessary book.  Readers of this blog don’t need to be convinced that a huge chunk of what passes for health advice these days is garbage, but plenty of other people do.  And fairly or not, a lot of them will need to hear it from a doctor before they’ll believe it.

Dr. Davis took on the grain industry in Wheat Belly.  He takes on pretty much the entire medical establishment in Undoctored.  I’ve asked him to please stay out of dark alleys and to consider using a stunt double for public appearances.

Kidding, of course.  Well, half-kidding.  We need Dr. Davis to stick around for many more years and continue writing books like this.


Comments 77 Comments »

With all the hubbub of reviews and podcasts — not to mention the hours I’m putting in on the film — I nearly forgot to post chapter one of Fat Head Kids.  I’m addressing that oversight now.

Again, I can’t recreate Chareva’s two-page layouts in a blog format, but all the text and most of the graphics are included.

Stuff I wish I knew when I was your age:
Getting Fat Isn’t About Character

Since much of this book is about why kids get fat, I’m probably supposed to stop here and show some charts to prove that childhood obesity is a big problem. I’m not going to do that, and here’s why: I went to school in the 1960s, and yes, things were different then. We had maybe one or two fat kids in each class. And you know what? After I became one of them, I never once got together with the other fat kid in class and said:

It’s no fun being a fat kid, period. If you’ve been getting fat, I know you want to change that. And I’ll bet at least a few people have already told you why you’re fat and what to do about it — like the classmates who explained it to me.

What these helpful young men were telling me is that people get fat because of a flaw in their character: They like to eat, so they eat too much, and then they get fat. So to lose weight, they just need to apply some willpower. Eat a little less, exercise a little more, or both.

Now … let’s suppose these guys grow up and become doctors, or dieticians, or personal trainers — and they learn it’s not polite to make fun of fat people. They’ll probably still give the same advice, especially if they’ve never been fat. Only now that advice will sound almost like science:

It’s kind of strange if you think about it. Fifty years ago, very few Americans were overweight, but almost nobody counted calories. In fact, the calorie labels you see on food now didn’t even exist until the 1990s. Nowadays we have lots of fat people, and everyone seems to be talking about calories. Cut the calories, cut the calories, cut the calories! So what’s a calorie?

To understand calories, let’s forget about food for a minute and talk about something you wouldn’t eat unless you’re a termite: wood.

If you had a nice piece of wood, you could chop it into pieces and build something useful, like a chair. Or you could store the wood for later. Or you could toss it in a fireplace and burn it to produce heat. How much heat? Well, there are different units for measuring heat, but the common ones are BTUs (British Thermal Units), joules, and … calories. So technically, a calorie is a unit of heat.

But heat is also a form of energy, and in our world, energy makes things happen. Back in the Old West, people burned wood to boil water to make steam. The steam could turn an engine big enough to move an entire train. So we could say the energy to move a train came from the calories in wood.

It’s the same with food. To determine the calories in food, scientists burn it in something called a calorimeter and measure the heat. No, they’re not trying to figure out how many pizzas you should burn to keep your house warm. They’re measuring how much energy the food would produce if you burned it all for fuel.

But you don’t burn all your food for fuel. Some of what you eat is broken down into building materials for the rest of your body. Some of it is converted to fat and stored in your fat cells. That way your body can burn fat for fuel between meals. If you couldn’t store calories in your fat cells, you’d have to spend most of your life eating.

Because your body can store calories as fat, a lot of so-called experts (like my helpful classmates) think your body works like a savings account. I call that The Piggy Bank Theory, and it looks like this:

Every time you eat, you deposit calories in your body. Some of the food goes into your body’s Building & Repair Fund, and some goes to pay your daily energy bill — the energy your body burns just to stay alive. But if there’s any extra food left over, those calories are automatically converted to fat and stored in your fat cells — like saving money in the Piggy Bank.

With a real piggy bank, it’s easy to control how much you save. If you deposit $50 every week and withdraw $40, your piggy bank will grow by exactly $10 each week. If you deposit $50 every week and withdraw $60, your piggy bank will shrink by exactly $10 each week. It’s a simple matter of calculating dollars in vs. dollars out.

According to The Piggy Bank Theory, losing weight works by the same simple math. To shrink your fat cells, you just deposit fewer calories by eating less. Or you spend more on the energy bill by exercising. If you do either one, your body has to withdraw calories from the piggy bank, so you lose weight. It’s a simple matter of calculating calories in vs. calories out.

People who believe in The Piggy Bank Theory will do things like drive to a gym, take an elevator to the workout room, then spend an hour on a treadmill walking nowhere. Or they write articles offering simple advice like this:

If you cut just one pat of butter from your daily diet and walk for just 20 minutes every day, you’ll lose 20 pounds of fat in a year!

Well, that sounds easy, doesn’t it? So according to these people, if you’re fat, it’s because you’re not willing to eat just a little less — which means you’re a pig. Or you’re not willing to exercise just a little more — which means you’re a lazy pig.

But does that really make sense? Most fat people hate being fat. They spend billions of dollars on gym memberships, weight-loss clubs and weight-loss drugs. Are we supposed to believe they’d rather be fat than give up one pat of butter per day?

If people get fat because of their character, why are there more overweight babies now than 30 years ago? Did babies in previous generations drink less mother’s milk so they wouldn’t get fat? Did they go to baby-aerobics classes?

If your body works like a bank account, how do we explain naturally thin people, like my wife? They have no idea how many calories they consume and eat whatever they like, but never gain weight. That’s like making lots of deposits and withdrawals at your bank, without ever bothering to add them up … and yet every time you check your balance, it’s exactly 2,000 dollars.

Here’s something else The Piggy Bank Theory can’t explain: We have two big dogs named Misha and Coco. They’re sisters, and we feed them exactly the same meals. Coco is bouncier and more active than Misha, so she ought to burn more calories, right? But Coco is 18 pounds heavier. In human terms, if Misha weighed 180 pounds, Coco would weigh 212 pounds. When we bought them as puppies, the breeder told us Coco would be bigger. She never mentioned calories.

Obviously, there’s something wrong with The Piggy Bank Theory. Plenty of doctors and researchers have known that for years.

In a study from the 1960s, researchers wrote about obese patients who were locked in a hospital and fed just 600 calories each day. That’s about one-fourth as much as most adults eat. And yet the obese patients didn’t lose weight. Is that because of a flaw in their character? Should they only eat 300 calories per day? Or 200?

In an experiment at the Mayo Clinic, researchers had a group of volunteers eat an extra 1,000 calories every day for 56 days. According to The Piggy Bank Theory, those 56,000 extra calories should have made everyone 16 pounds fatter. But some people gained 10 times more body fat than others. The naturally-thin people barely gained any weight at all.

In another experiment, researchers took a group of mice and reduced their daily calories by five percent. That’s the mouse version of cut just one pat of butter per day from your diet. They also used special lab equipment to make sure the mice were just as active as before.

Let’s apply The Piggy Bank Theory and predict what happened:

  1. They were eating less, so they made smaller deposits.
  2. They were just as active, so their daily energy bill should have stayed the same.
  3. Therefore, according to The Piggy Bank Theory, the mice had to withdraw calories from their fat cells to pay part of the energy bill. So their fat cells had to shrink.

But that’s not what happened. When the mice were given less food, their fat cells got bigger, not smaller.

No wonder one scientist wrote this in an article about obesity:

The commonly held belief that obese individuals can ameliorate [improve] their condition by simply deciding to eat less and exercise more is at odds with compelling scientific evidence.

If your goal is to lose weight, let me ask you a question: Would your school hire a football coach who lost 97 percent of his games? Would your parents hire a piano teacher if 97 percent of her students never played any better … and some ended up playing worse?

Of course not. But year after year, millions of people try to lose weight by following The Piggy Bank Theory. And year after year, 97 percent of them fail. In fact, many end up fatter than before.

People who believe in The Piggy Bank Theory argue that it’s based on the Laws of Physics. Matter and energy can’t just disappear or be created out of nothing. So to get bigger, you have to consume more calories than you burn.

That statement is true. But for explaining why people get fat, it’s also meaningless. It’s like saying Donald Trump is rich because he deposited more dollars in the bank than he spent. It’s like saying if your toilet overflows, it’s because more water went into the bowl than went out.

Yes, of course more water went into the bowl than went out. But that only explains HOW the toilet overflowed. It doesn’t tell us WHY the toilet overflowed. The WHY in this case would be a clog in the drain pipe.

To fix a problem, you can’t just describe HOW it happens. You also have to understand WHY it happens. We’ll begin looking at WHY we get fat in the next chapter.


Comments 50 Comments »

Well, one of the nice things about having a book released is that I get to be a return guest on podcast shows I enjoyed the first time.

Back in November, I had the pleasure of talking to Brian Williamson on his Ketovangelist podcast show.  The book was rounding the bend towards completion at the time, so he invited to come back after the release.

You can listen to the new episode here.


Comments 2 Comments »

Last month I was a guest on the Cameron J. English podcast show.  We of course talked about the book, but I don’t believe Cameron had a copy at the time.

He has a copy now, and he wrote a review that provides an excellent summary of the book, both the content and the tone.  Here’s a quote:

The quality I like most about this book is that the Naughtons don’t condescend to their young audience. To be sure, there are colorful graphics and helpful characters (like Mr. Spot and Dr. Fishbones, the science officer and medical officer of the Nautilus, respectively) who help make the subject of the book more comprehensible. But as a science writer, I say without hesitation that the nutrition and food chemistry covered in Fat Head Kids is more comprehensive than anything you’d read in a typical New York Times editorial about obesity–or even many undergraduate nutrition textbooks.


Comments 4 Comments »

Well, this is a great way to start a Friday …

Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis posted a very nice review of Fat Head Kids on his Wheat Belly blog.  Here’s a bit of the review:

Even though intended for kids, this book is also perfect for any adult who also wishes to understand why we persist in hearing such dietary fictions such as “Move more, eat less” or “Cut your fat and cholesterol.” Anyone who reads Fat Head Kids will come away with a clear understanding of healthy eating and why following advice like the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a recipe for disaster. Imagine Tom’s book became required reading in school–you might just witness a marvelous transformation in their health, appearance, weight, and learning.

Since the book slams the USDA dietary guidelines, I doubt it will ever be required reading in schools.  But we can dream …


Comments 23 Comments »

I was the guest recently (very recently … as in yesterday evening) on Dr. Ron Hoffman’s Intelligent Medicine podcast show.  The episode is available here.

We talked about the book, the Tim Noakes witch-hunt, and other stuff.  Enjoy.


Comments 3 Comments »