I finally finished Jimmy Moore’s newest book this week. I say “finally” because it’s 500 pages long and I made a Thanksgiving trip to Illinois in the middle of reading it. (I always take a book with me on trips home, but rarely get a chance to read more than a few pages.)
As you probably know already, Jimmy’s book is titled 21 LIFE LESSONS FROM LIVIN’ LA VIDA LOW-CARB. The easiest way to describe it is that it’s a lot like reading Jimmy’s blog (which you should, if you don’t already). The book is a mix of his personal experiences, correspondence with readers as well as the many authors and researchers he’s befriended, and (of course) summaries of scientific research on health and nutrition, all neatly packaged into 21 topics.
Since I only delved into the science of health and weight loss a few years ago, when I started researching Fat Head, I enjoyed those chapters the most — and I believe Jimmy did as well, since they make up the bulk of the book. In several chapters, he takes the usual warnings about low-carb, high-fat diets (“You’ll die from a heart attack! You’ll ruin your kidneys! You’ll turn stupid!”), sets them up like bowling pins, then knocks them down with my favorite bowling ball — facts. Yes, I enjoy hearing about his personal experiences — that’s partly why I read his blog — but it’s easy for the anti-fat hysterics to write those off as anecdotal evidence. It’s a bit tougher to dismiss controlled clinical research.
In fact, while reading the book I began to fully appreciate just how many studies Jimmy has read over the years, and how scientifically literate he is. (I wish more media reporters could be described that way.) He not only quotes a lot of excellent research; he knows how to recognize and shred the bad research and bad reporting on research as well. One of the chapters, LESSON #19: You can’t always trust or believe the negative studies on low-carb, should be required reading for health reporters. For example, he mentions a study that was reported in the media as evidence that sweets are good for your mood. After picking apart those conclusions on his blog, he received this email:
I am writing in response to your blog concerning the press reports on our work on sugar and stress. I am the principal investigator on the project. I want to note that, as is often the case, the press reports missed the point of our study. Our work indicates that eating sweets may be a form of ‘self-medication’ against stress; we feel that this is a physiologically maladaptive response to stress that is a likely contributor to our current ‘obesity epidemic’… In no way do we advocate carbs, sweets, etc. as a therapy for stress. I hope this clarifies the issue you raised.
I guess you’re doing something right when the principal investigator on a study feels compelled to reply.
Another chapter, however, recounts an episode in which Jimmy freely admits to being fooled: the Kimkins affair. As you may recall “Kimkins” was a woman who claimed she’d achieved astounding weight loss with her own modification of the Atkins diet — which she would teach others to follow for a membership fee. Believing her story and her before and after pictures, Jimmy helped introduce Kimkins to the world. Several major media outlets — with far more investigative resources at their disposal — bought her story as well. Later, she was revealed to be a fraud. The “after” picture was of a Russian model; the real Kimkins was an obese woman.
Other chapters describe the hate mail and love mail Jimmy has received since putting himself and his work out there for public consumption. Believe me, I relate. If you want to receive some serious hate mail, try telling the world Morgan Spurlock is a fraud whose math doesn’t add up. But of course, the letters of gratitude more than make up for the potshots. Jimmy has received more “thank you for changing my life” emails than he can count. The first time I received one of those — from a woman who was able to give up some nasty prescription drugs after Fat Head inspired her to drop her grain-based, lowfat diet — I knew the effort was worth it.
The most personal chapter is the last, LESSON #21: The early death of a brother or loved one may not be prevented. As you probably know, Jimmy’s brother Kevin died of heart disease at age 41, after years of being sick and morbidly obese, despite Jimmy’s efforts to encourage him to change his diet. What you may not know is that Jimmy and Kevin had a terrible childhood. Their mother and father were married and divorced three times each. Jimmy was dumped on his father at age 14, during what he thought was a visit. Over the next few years, he was often beaten and told he was worthless.
I didn’t know any of this either, until Jimmy and Christine spent a weekend with us a couple of months ago. Jimmy told me the stories as we watched a football game. I was stunned … not because I’m unaware awful parents exist, but because being around Jimmy, seeing him laugh and play and interact with kids, you’d never suspect his own childhood was traumatic. He’s an affable, caring, optimistic guy.
He’s also a guy who has educated and inspired thousands of people with his daily blog posts, his YouTube series, and his podcasts. I hope they all order a copy of his book … partly to enjoy reading it, and partly to say thanks for all the effort.
NOTE: I’m heading back up to Illinois this week for a standup gig. I’ll be performing in front of family, friends of family, high-school classmates, and even a few people who knew me in sixth grade. I’ll check comments, but I won’t have time for another post this week.