A group of nutjobs — sorry, I mean activists — has called upon Ronald McDonald to retire so we can finally put a stop to childhood obesity. Curious about Ronald’s reaction, I called him up and asked for an interview, and he graciously agreed. I’ll get to the interview shortly, but first, some background:
Ronald I became good friends during the production of Fat Head. The film is advertised and promoted as an independent production, but as some of Morgan Spurlock’s die-hard fans have long suspected, the whole thing was originally Ronald’s idea. He wanted to write, direct, and star in the film himself, but after test-marketing a trailer on some focus groups, the bigwigs at McDonald’s concluded that the public wouldn’t consider Ronald an impartial documentarian.
Frustrated, but still determined to bring his vision to the small screen, Ronald began a nationwide search for a stand-in … preferably someone who had never made a film before and could add the amateur touches that give an independent film a certain “feel.” He discovered me during one of my infrequent guest spots at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena. As he told me later, he immediately felt a certain kinship: we share a similar fashion sense, we have approximately the same skin tone, and we’re equally likely to walk into a glass door.
Naturally, I was reluctant to take on the project … partly because Ronald had already written the script and made it clear he wasn’t open to any independent thinking on my part, and partly because all the good books on story structure say the protagonist should start out reluctant but change his mind in the face of new information. In my case, the “new information” came in the form of Ronald’s personal check for $10 million, plus $160 in McDonald’s gift certificates. There was also a note in the envelope:
Do not use this money to create a slick-looking film. It must appear to be an independent documentary produced on a shoe-string budget. Take out a second mortgage to pay the post-production expenses in case any of Morgan Spurlock’s fans ever dig into the film’s financial records.
So we began shooting the film, with Ronald telling me exactly what to say and do. I had so little creative input, I received a membership card from the Screen Actors Guild. The production days were long and tiring, but nonetheless, Ronald and I enjoyed working together and became friends. He made a personal appearance at my daughter’s fourth birthday party, and my wife and I even joined Ronald and Mrs. McDonald for a few black-tie social occasions. (That’s the missus in the picture. She’s a part-time model.)
So with the full disclosure out the way, here’s my interview with Ronald:
A group called Corporate Accountability International has called upon you to retire. How do you plan to respond?
Excuse me? You’re not serious.
I’m afraid so. If they were just another bunch of anti-capitalist kooks looking to blame an easy target for a complex societal problem, I’d probably ignore them. But I saw in the news stories that they’re actually a collection of health professionals, parents, and corporate responsibility advocates. The media never gets those descriptions wrong. So I’ve done some soul-searching. It’s time to come clean.
But … you’ve been the public face of McDonald’s since 1963.
Well, think about that. I was already an adult in 1963. They didn’t hire me as a baby, you know. Here, check out this picture. That’s me as a baby.
Cute. But I don’t see what that has to do with–
The point is, I’m 70 years old. I’m tired of jumping around in those big shoes. My ankles hurt. The Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Birdie the Early Bird, they’re all in nursing homes now. The Hamburglar steals little cups of pureed vegetables from the other residents. It’s really sad. It’s time for me stop working and enjoy the time I have left, and I want to do the right thing before I go.
Boy, you sure look good for 70.
I dye my hair. But don’t print that.
I promise. But my point is, you were around at least two or three decades before everyone was talking about an obesity epidemic, so it’s kind of obvious you didn’t cause it.
No, I caused it.
Before he died, Ray Kroc sat down with me over a couple of Happy Meals and said, “Ronald, I have a confession to make: I hate kids. I want to see them all get fat and sick.” Then he laid out the master plan for me.
You mean selling them hamburgers and french fries? Come on, my parents went out for burgers and fries when they were dating. They told me about it. They weren’t fat.
You’re not looking at the big picture. They went out for burgers and fries, but their parents didn’t take them out for burgers and fries instead of cooking dinner at home. We fixed that.
First we lobbied Congress, the state governments, and the local municipalities to keep slowly increasing taxes so the total average tax bite went from 25 percent to almost 50 percent. We knew if more and more families needed two paychecks just to get by, we’d do a lot more business. Who wants to cook when you’ve been at the office all day?
I see. But —
Then we put a special hormone in our burgers to make people unhappy so we could drive up the divorce rate. Our research showed that single parents are more likely to pick up a meal to go.
Okay, okay, but we’re still talking about burgers. I lost weight eating double-quarter pounders and Sausage McMuffins. If anything started an obesity epidemic, it was our own government scaring people into giving up fat and eating more carbohydrates.
Yes, I know. We did that one too.
Oh come on, Ronald! You sell red meat. High-fat foods. All the things the experts tell us not to eat.
Exactly. That was Ray Kroc’s genius. First he bribed the McGovern committee to announce that fatty foods cause heart disease, so people started going on those stupid lowfat diets. You remember how you felt when you tried living on lowfat meals?
Yeah. I felt lousy.
Exactly. And what were you really craving the whole time?
Meat. Cheese. Saturated fat. But I never bought those foods at the grocery store, because I was trying to … wait a minute!
Can you say “two double-cheeseburgers for two bucks?”
Yup. I bet when you finally broke down, we saw you at the drive-up window.
Well, there was a McDonald’s two blocks from my apartment in Chicago, so– wait a second. Burgers don’t make people fat. Sugar makes people fat.
Exactly. Ray realized we’d been selling desserts for a lot of years, but people didn’t order that many of them because they knew sugar was bad. So he conspired to turn us into a nation of sugar addicts.
After working with McGovern to start the low-fat diet fad, he bribed a bunch of other congressmen to start heavily subsidizing corn. Once high fructose corn syrup became dirt cheap, it started showing up in everything. And who cares, right? After all, they’re low-fat foods. So people got addicted to the stuff.
So now you sell more desserts?
Come for the juicy burgers, stay for the sodas and desserts. I’m telling you, Ray planned the whole thing.
And where did you come in?
Me? I’m irresistible. The only person recognized by more people around the world is Santa Claus, just like the people at Corporate Accountability International said. Kids see me, they go bonkers. They scream to go to McDonald’s.
But look, Ronald, I wanted to go McDonald’s all the time when I was a kid, too. But I had this other person named Mom making the decisions, and she used this special word called NO.
That’s why we started the hypnosis.
See this outfit? The crazy colors? The stripes? Ever notice how I wave my arms around all the time in the TV commercials? I’m actually hypnotizing the parents. I take away their power to say no.
I know. I told you, I’ve done some soul-searching. That’s why I’m retiring.
Uh-huh. Before you disappear into the sunset, any chance you’ll try to undo the damage? Maybe work on convincing the government to stop pushing the lowfat diet theory and scaring people away from saturated fats?
How am I going to do that? Get a job with the USDA? Run for congress?
Maybe. You’ve got the name recognition.
There are enough clowns in the government as it is.
My, how time flies. It occurred to me this afternoon that I’ve been doing this for awhile now and I must have a blog anniversary coming up. So I went into the WordPress control panel to check. As it turns out, the anniversary of my first blog post is …
Five days ago. I forgot my own anniversary. I’m very upset with myself for not caring enough about my anniversary to write it down or put in my Outlook calendar, so I’m ordering myself to sleep on the TV-room sofa tonight. (My tenth wedding anniversary is coming up this summer … I’d really better not forget that one.)
So here I am, scrambling around looking for a suitable anniversary present, kind of like the guy who rushes into 7-11, praying they sell roses and some nice chocolates. If I’d been thinking ahead of time, I would’ve asked someone like Jimmy Moore to conduct an anniversary interview. It’s a bit late for that, so I’m going with the 7-11 present: I’m going to interview myself. Here goes:
There are approximately a trillion blogs on the internet now, with another two trillion expected to come online in the next 10 years — although the Congressional Budget Office insists on estimating the figure at 984 billion. Why, for Pete’s sake, did you think the world needed one more blog?
It was my wife’s idea.
Uh-huh. Could you maybe expand on that a bit?
Sure. We had a FatHead-Movie.com site set up a little while before the film was released, but it was static … pretty much just a brochure of sorts for the film. I was completely burnt out after producing the film and didn’t want to look at anything having to do with health or nutrition for awhile. Then I made the mistake of reading some health articles online and started getting angry all over again at how much bad information is out there.
I’d read about some awful study and yell, “Honey, look at what a load of nonsense this is!” and then explain the nonsense in great detail. She’d say, “That’s very interesting. Maybe you should write some of this down.” Later I’d read about a city passing a law requiring calorie counts on fast-food menus and explain to her, in great detail, why those laws are stupid and don’t work anyway. She’d say, “Good points. Maybe you should write them down.” Then I’d see Meme Roth interviewed on TV and explain to my wife, in great detail, why Meme Roth has no idea what she’s talking about, and my wife would say, “I’m trying to sleep! Go downstairs and start a blog already!” So I did.
Sounds like a terrific lady.
She is. Very supportive.
So you started the Fat Head blog. Did you have any specific plans for it, any particular point of view?
The film was a mix of factual information and humor, so I decided I should try to recreate that on the blog, make it my niche. Jimmy Moore already does the regular-guy thing very well, along with the podcasts and YouTube bits. I’m not afraid to do research or pick apart a study, but I’m not in the same league with Dr. Mike Eades or Stephen Guyenet or Peter at Hyperlipid when it comes to evaluating the science. So with my background as a comedian and humor writer, I thought the wise-guy approach would work well for me.
Did you have any fears about starting a blog?
Yup. I was afraid by the third or fourth month, I’d have to put up a post that said: I’ve officially run out of things to say. Thanks for reading. Goodbye.
But that hasn’t happened.
No, it’s been the opposite. My favorite topics are bad science, bad reporting, and stupid regulations, and the people in charge keep supplying me with material. Readers send me links all the time too.
Your normal schedule is to post on Mondays and Thursdays. How did you settle on that schedule?
I think originally it had something to do with which nights the good TV shows were on, but I don’t remember exactly. I chose twice per week because I’m still a software programmer and I don’t have time to write every day, but I wanted to commit to a schedule that would put some pressure on me. Plus, I figured if I just pop off once in a blue moon, when the mood strikes me, people won’t be coming around very often.
So, how’s that pressure working?
It works, and I’m glad I’m writing for print again. I did some freelancing in my 20s, sold some humor bits to Newsweek, OMNI, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times. Then I got into standup in my 30s, moved to Hollywood when I was almost 40, got married, had kids, did some plays, did some sketch shows, performed on cruise ships, then finally made Fat Head. When I started this blog, I realized I hadn’t written anything for print in almost 20 years.
This isn’t print.
No, but people are reading the words instead of listening to me talking. What’s funny in print and what’s funny to hear spoken aloud aren’t the same thing. They’re two different styles. I found that out the hard way when I first started trying standup comedy.
Speaking of styles, you seem to use a lot of these in your posts: …
Yes. Sorry, I didn’t know the word.
Well, yes, I use those. That’s sort of a timing thing. It’s a bit like a pregnant pause when you’re speaking. Sometimes it’s for comedic effect, as in: Take my wife … please. If you just write: Take my wife, please … well, that’s not funny.
How long does it take you to put together a typical post?
It varies wildly. I’ve always been a fast writer, so that helps. I was the guy who could bang out a paper in a day in college. But sometimes I spend hours looking up information online, trying to cross-reference articles or find some particular piece of data. If I know my topic and I’ve got the information handy, I’d say it’s 2-3 hours to write a post.
When do you feel really good about a post? What makes you sit back and say, I like this one?
I’m happy when I can take an ordinary topic and make it amusing, or take a complicated topic and explain it simply so people get it. My college physics professor could’ve explained physics to a six-year-old, I swear. I always admired that about him.
Do have any particular favorites among your posts?
Hmmm … the one on pouring saturated fat down the drain was fun. Jane Brody’s adventure trying to lower her cholesterol was fun. Becoming French to avoid heart disease was fun. Going after Meme Roth is always fun because she’s so stupendously annoying.
If you could meet Meme Roth, what you say to her?
I’d try to explain the concepts of energy balance and homeostasis, which she obviously doesn’t understand. Then I’d look for some physical trait I could zero in on and criticize to make her feel insecure and unacceptable. Fair is fair.
What’s been the best thing about blogging?
Probably feeling a sense of community, even though I’m doing this from a desk in my home office. I don’t even have co-workers, except for when my wife does graphics and web stuff for me. But by the time I go to bed at night, I’d swear I’ve spent part of the day talking to people.
And these conversations with imaginary friends don’t concern your wife?
No. Plus I’ve made real friends. By the time I actually met people like Jimmy Moore and Amy Dungan and Fred Hahn in person, I felt as if I already knew them. Which, in a sense, I did.
What’s the worst part of blogging?
Dealing with WordPress. It’s an okay blogging environment, but putting up graphics and links and editing and formatting text in a little window can get tedious.
I’ve noticed you get some totally inappropriate Google ads showing up now and then. Ads for cholesterol-lowering diets, Dr. Oz’s programs, lap-band surgery — people and products you criticize.
Yeah, but that’s all Google’s software placing the ads. I don’t pick ’em.
How’s Google working out financially?
I don’t want to talk about it.
Then why did I even ask me the question?
I don’t know. Maybe you secretly wish you were on 60 Minutes.
So what are your future plans? Anything besides blogging? Another film?
I won’t do another film unless someone else bankrolls it, but I’m putting together some lectures. I don’t do much standup anymore, but if I can take what I’ve learned about health and nutrition and mix it up with some humor, I think that will be just as much fun.
Thank you for sitting down with me for this interview.
My pleasure. Now get out of my chair.
Thanks to all of you who supported the film and read this blog. Happy blogiversary.
When I first began doing research for Fat Head, my friend Tom Monahan (also the film’s composer) suggested I read Dr. Uffe Ravnskov’s book The Cholesterol Myths. So I did. To call the book an eye-opener would be an understatement. I highlighted so many paragraphs, the ink started bleeding through.
I knew from my own experience that something wasn’t quite right with the Lipid Hypothesis — my own cholesterol had dropped when I gave up my vegetarian diet and started eating more meat and dairy products, for example — but until I read Dr. Ravnskov’s book, I didn’t realize how much utter trash posing as science was involved in proposing and supporting the notion that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease.
When The Cholesterol Myths was published in 1991, the experts treated it like any other threat to conventional wisdom: they ignored it or mocked it, without ever bothering to actually dispute the arguments presented in it. Editors of medical journals simply asked the established health authorities if Ravnskov was correct; when the authorities said no, the editors wrote him off as a lone kook. In Finland the experts actually burned the book on live TV. I suppose Ravnskov should be grateful that putting heretics on a rack is frowned upon in modern societies.
I was able to buy The Cholesterol Myths at the cover price from Amazon a few years ago and listed it on our Recommended Reading page as soon as this site went up. I didn’t realize it has since gone out of print. Yes, you can still buy the book … if you’re willing to pony up $44.72 for a used copy, or between $185.00 and $653.28 for a new one. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Dr. Ravnskov has written a new book titled Fat and Cholesterol Are Good For You, and you can order it from Amazon for about $26. The really good news is that because The Cholesterol Myths is out of print, he’s included many of the same chapters in this book (shortened and simplified, according to his foreword), along with quite a bit of new information.
As in his previous book, Dr. Ravnskov describes what cholesterol actually is and takes us on a tour of the “science” that identified it as the villain in heart disease. Using two of my favorite tools — logic and math — he simply shreds the Lipid Hypothesis, often using the proponents’ own data against them. In fact, that was one of the major revelations for me when I read The Cholesterol Myths: not just that the Lipid Hypothesis is wrong, but how much manipulation and flat-out dishonesty have gone into supporting it, from Ancel Keys on down. The lipophobes fell in love with their theory and simply aren’t willing to let it go. How else do you explain the theory’s longevity when Dr. Ravnskov — and anyone else who cares to look — can dig up the facts he cites in this book:
Thirty years after the start of the Framingham project, the researchers again asked themselves what had happened. This time, a few more of those with high cholesterol had died. I use the word “few” for a reason: On average, one percent of all men with high cholesterol had died during the 30 follow-up years.
Now to the interesting point. For men above age 47, their cholesterol made no difference. Those who had high cholesterol at age 48 lived just as long or longer as those with low cholesterol … I have never met any supporter of the cholesterol campaign who has ever raised an eyebrow when confronted with this astounding fact.
[Marmot] demonstrated that is was not the food that raised the cholesterol of the Japanese immigrants, nor high cholesterol that increased their risk of heart disease. He found that if they maintained their cultural traditions, they were proteted against heart attacks, even though their cholesterol increased as much as in Japanese immigrants who adoped a Western Lifestyle and died from heart attacks almost as often as native-born Americans … immigrants who became accustomed to the American way of life but preferred lean Japanese food had coronary disease twice as often at those who maintained Japanese traditions but preferred high-fat American food. Thus, instead of supporting the diet-heart hypothesis, the Japanese study in fact showed that high-fat food is better than low-fat.
In the elderly, high cholesterol even seems to be protective. This was the surprising finding of Dr. Harlan Krumholz and his co-workers at Yale. They followed about 1000 elderly men and women living in the Bronx, NY. During a four year period, about twice as many of those with low cholesterol had a heart attack or died from one, compared to those with the highest cholesterol.
At a workshop held at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, researchers looked at every single study about the risk of having high or low cholesterol and came to the same conclusion: Mortality was higher for women with low cholesterol than for women with high cholesterol.
[In Finland] one-half of about 1200 more or less overweight male business executives with high cholesterol and high blood pressure were advised about smoking, exercise, weight reduction and diet; the other half were used as a control group. If cholesterol or blood pressure in the control group did not become normal, they were also treated with various blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering drugs. The experimenters were quite happy with the effects of their efforts on risk factors. But the improved risk factors did not lead to better end results: In the group that exercised, reduced their weight, ate less animal fat and more vegetable oil and quit smoking, there were twice as many heart attacks as in the control group.
Another finding that should cause some discomfort among proponents is that whereas high cholesterol is a risk factor in American men, it is not for men living in Canada. This conclusion was reached by Dr. Gilles Dagenais and his team in Quebec after having followed almost 5000 healthy middle-aged for 12 years. They explained away their results by assuming that more than 12 years were needed to see the harmful effects of high cholesterol.
Ah yes, explaining away the results we don’t like. As I learned from Dr. Ravnskov’s first book, it’s taken a lot “explaining” to keep this bogus theory alive. It’s also taken a lot of badly designed studies: comparing cholesterol levels and heart-disease rates without adjusting the data for smokers versus non-smokers (smoking raises your cholesterol), or without adjusting for age differences (cholesterol tends to go up as we age, and most heart attacks occur among the elderly). As Dr. Ravnskov explains, when you properly adjust the data, the only conclusion you can reach from some of these studies is that smoking is a bad idea … but we already knew that.
I’m not going to say this book is a simple read, because it isn’t. It’s not as scientifically dense as Good Calories, Bad Calories, but Dr. Ravnskov shreds the Lipid Hypothesis by applying critical thinking to the studies that claimed to support it, and he invites his readers to think critically as well. He explains — clearly — the scientific method that scientists are supposed to embrace, and walks us through clinical-research concepts such as randomizing a study population, limiting the variables, double-blinding, and distinguishing between an association and a cause.
(As you may recall, in a recent post I borrowed his chart showing an association between high tax rates and heart disease. Have any of the health authorities suggested lowering taxes to reduce heart disease? Should we oppose the new health-care taxes on the grounds that more people will suffer heart attacks?)
As a kid who liked science, I assumed scientific research was a wide-open quest for truth, with the best theories bubbling up to the top. I know better now, thanks in part to reading Dr. Ravnskov’s works. In addition to the manipulation of data he spells out, there’s a huge amount of selection bias in the health and nutrition field. Badly-designed studies that support the Lipid Hypothesis are 10 to 20 times more likely to cited in journals and academic papers than well-designed studies that dispute it.
Dr. Ravnskov’s letters and papers critical of the Lipid Hypothesis have been turned down by medical journals over and over, often with some ridiculous explanations. (I’m on the email list for THINCS, the International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics, and I’ve read quite a few other letters from members that were sent to medical journals but never published.)
Why the bias? I’m sure you can guess. Follow the money.
Large, well-controlled studies are expensive, so much of the funding comes from pharmaceutical companies that sell statins. They run the studies, they gather the results, and they crunch the numbers. If they don’t like the numbers, they crunch them again. As Dr. Ravnskov discovered, they’ll even divide subjects into “subgroups” after the fact to produce statistics they like. And of course, they also provide a lot of revenue for the major medical journals.
The other 800-pound gorillas of funding for heart-disease research are two organizations that fully support the Lipid Hypothesis: the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association. As Dr. Ravnskov says, “Researchers critical of the diet-heart idea have little chance of obtaining financial support.” Or as Dr. Mary Eades put it to me: “They live by their grants. No grants, no work, no job.”
To give you an idea of just how militantly these organizations protect the Lipid Hypothesis, consider this fact from the Framingham Study: After 30 years, the data showed that those whose cholesterol dropped as they aged ran a greater risk of dying than those whose cholesterol increased. Specifically, for each 1% drop in cholesterol, there was an 11% increase in total and coronary mortality.
Still with me? Good. Now here’s how the NHLBI and AHA reported the findings:
The results of the Framingham study indicate that a 1% drop of cholesterol corresponds to a 2% reduction in CHD risk.
That must’ve been some very interesting number-crunching.
As you might expect, Dr. Ravnskov is highly critical of statins. He notes that they do appear to reduce heart disease (very slightly) in a small fraction of the population — middle-aged men who have existing heart disease — but cites some interesting statistics to suggest that they also produce cancer. And data from the pharmaceutical companies’ own research indicates that they don’t do diddly for people who don’t have heart disease but are merely “afflicted” with high cholesterol.
Think about that for a moment. Millions of people are prescribed statins simply because their cholesterol is above some magic threshold: 200, or 220. Doctors aren’t treating heart disease; they’re treating a cholesterol score. And in the process, they’re prescribing a drug that can also produce muscle weakness, memory problems, susceptibility to infections, sexual dysfunction and perhaps cancer.
It’s infections that Dr. Ravnskov covers in the last part of the book. Far from being the villain we’ve been led to believe, Dr. Ravnskov believes LDL fights infections. A century ago, when infections killed more people than heart disease, people with high cholesterol — even those with the genetic disorder that leads to very high cholesterol — lived the longest on average. In fact, Dr. Ravnskov proposes a new hypothesis (which he fully admits is just a hypothesis) for heart disease in this book: plaques begin as the result of microbial infections.
Briefly as I can summarize it, the theory goes like this: LDL is part of the immune system and attacks infections. If the structure of the LDL is changed after attacking a microbe, it will in turn be treated as a foreign substance and swallowed up and oxidized by macrophages — white blood cells within tissues — producing the inflammation that’s common in heart disease. If the immune system works well, the infection is destroyed and HDL carries away the oxidized LDL.
However, if the immune system is weak, too many of the oxidized LDL particles clump together and become stuck in the capillaries that feed the coronary arteries. Part of the arterial wall dies, and something like a boil is formed — what Dr. Ravnskov calls a vulnerable plaque. If the plaque bursts, a clot can obstruct the artery. Now you’ve got a heart attack on your hands.
Again, it’s just a theory, although Ravnskov cites a lot of evidence to support it. Up to half of all heart-attack victims, for example, have recently had an infection of some kind. Either way, it makes a lot more sense than the notion that our bodies are stupid and produce so much cholesterol, it ends up clogging our arteries.
If you’re interested in the science — good and bad — behind fats, cholesterol and heart disease, I urge you to get a copy of this book. (No, I’m not getting a commission.) Better yet, buy a copy for yourself and another one for your doctor. Perhaps you can prevent a few needless prescriptions for Lipitor.
Dr. Ravnskov has generously agreed to answer some questions in an upcoming post. I’ve already got several of my own, but if you’d like ask a few as well, put them in a comment with @Ravnskov at the beginning. I’ll select from those without publishing them.
I intended to write about the low-carb cruise on Monday, but the cowardly attack on Lierre Keith was something I just couldn’t let go. So now, back to the fun stuff …
Jimmy Moore invited me to fill a speaker’s slot on this year’s low-carb cruise after one of the doctors had to cancel … James Carlson, I think, or perhaps it was Mike and Mary Dan Eades. To whichever doctor it was, a sincere thanks. I had a blast.
A big part of the fun was finally meeting people whose books or blogs I’ve admired for a long time — Dr. Mary Vernon, Dr. William Davis and Fred Hahn, to name a few. Even more satisfying was meeting so many people who supported Fat Head when it came out, and even bought extra copies later for their friends and family members. I finally got to say thank-you to real, live people. Here are a couple of them, Lynn Machemer Setliffe and Kim Workman Palmer, longtime friends who now live in separate states but met up on the cruise:
Our group took up several tables in one corner of the dining room, and both Jimmy Moore and Becky Gandy (the organizer) reminded us on the first night to forget about our specific table assignments and mix it up every night. Great idea. By the end of the cruise, everybody had met and talked to pretty much everyone else. And since the dinners were leisurely, two-hour affairs featuring multiple courses, there was plenty of time for conversation. Good wine, lots of well-prepared fatty food, a relaxed pace … if I’d had a mistress along, I would’ve felt positively French.
I’ve been on many cruises, but other than my honeymoon nearly ten years ago, always as a solo performer with rather a lot of free time on my hands between shows. (I wrote the first draft of Fat Head while cruising around Alaska during a gig.) It’s a whole ‘nuther experience being part of a large group. On the sea-travel days, we had presentations. On shore-trip days, we didn’t, but we still got together for lunches and other activities. Dinner every night, of course, and afterwards different groups headed up to the lounges or show rooms for entertainment.
Quite a few us ended up in the karaoke lounge every night. In case you didn’t already know, Jimmy Moore loves to sing. I haven’t sung in public in decades (I was a in band in my 20s), but I joined Jimmy a few times for a rendition of “Elvira.” I’m a bass-baritone, so I did the “Oom-papa-oom-papa” part.
I also managed to talk Amy Dungan’s husband John into joining me for “Luchenbach, Texas.” I was Waylon, he was Willie … as you can probably tell. We sang that song twice, on two separate nights, and both times a young lady who appeared to be in college (it was spring break) felt inspired to run up onto the stage and dance with us. I believe she was more than a little inebriated. John told me later this week he was humming that song at home and she showed up at his door.
Jimmy, his wife Christine, and cruise organizer Becky Gandy also performed in the talent show for the week. They were great. Enjoy.
Late at night, a few of us raided the 24-hour pizza bar — but of course we only ate the toppings. We got some strange looks, thanks to conversations like this:
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Okay, how many slices?”
“How many are in a whole pizza?”
“I’ll take four.”
If you read Jimmy’s blog, you know he even suspended his teetotaling ways one night and drank an adult beverage. I think this may have been the night:
It wasn’t all fun and games, of course. The presentations were merely fascinating. As someone who reads a lot of blogs and books about nutrition and health, I didn’t expect to learn much new. I’m glad to say I was wrong.
Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt came over from Sweden to talk about the low-carb, high-fat revolution going on there. A couple of years ago, two idiot dieticians decided to sue Swedish doctor Annika Dahlqvist for treating her diabetic patients with a low-carb diet — they wanted the Swedish government to take away her license. She fought back with actual scientific evidence and proved that she was helping her patients. The result is that Sweden is now having the national conversation about fat, carbohydrates and cholesterol that I wish we could ignite here.
Dr. Eenfeldt, by the way, is approximately eleven feet tall. He’s also handsome, well-built, highly intelligent, funny, a nice guy, speaks perfect English, has a lovely girlfriend (she was also on the cruise), runs a successful medical practice, and has one of the most popular blogs in Sweden. Other than that, he doesn’t have much going for him.
Told you he’s tall … 6’7″ to be exact. (You’re looking at Fred Hahn, Dr. William Davis, Jackie Eberstein, Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt and Dana Carpender.)
Dr. William Davis is also a popular doctor-blogger, and since his blog is in English, I recommend you read it. He spoke at length about heart disease and emphasized how important it is to check your blood sugar an hour or so after meals to see what kind of reactions different foods produce. So now I own a blood-glucose meter. I’ve poked my finger so many times this week, I can water the houseplants by drinking a glass of water while holding my hand over them. I don’t want to try to explain Dr. Davis’ blood-sugar guidelines in this post, so check out his blog here.
The bad news for me: even a small potato spikes my blood sugar much higher than Dr. Davis recommends. I had one last night for St. Patty’s Day, along with some carrots, cabbage and corned beef. An hour later, the meter still showed 162. No more potatoes. My Irish ancestors will have to forgive me. By contrast, a meat-and-vegetables meal barely pushes me over 100.
Fred Hahn from Serious Strength spoke about the benefits of strength training, and also explained why most other forms of exercise won’t make you thin. He was mobbed with questions afterwards. That’s one of those strong beliefs that are hard to jettison — no, jogging won’t do much to help you lose weight. But I saw a few light bulbs go on as Fred answered the questions … one woman even realized her weight loss had stalled around the time she began pushing herself to run several miles per week. She was over-training.
Dr. Mary Vernon spoke about a condition she calls “normal-weight obese” … having the symptoms of metabolic syndrome without becoming fat. As she explained, she’s not all that concerned with how fat people are. She’s far more concerned with what kind of fuel they’re burning. She walked us through charts like this, but fortunately there were no quizzes afterwards.
As a parent, I especially took note when she spoke about an experiment in which kids were fed eggs, steel-cut oatmeal, or instant oatmeal for breakfast. As you’d expect, the instant oatmeal produced a blood-sugar spike, followed by an insulin spike, followed by a drop in blood sugar to below where it started. Later, blood sugar returned to normal. But the surprise to me was how the blood sugar returned to normal: the little tykes were pumping out high levels of epinephrine — otherwise known as the fight-or-flight hormone.
Yes, epinephrine will raise your blood sugar. That’s what it’s supposed to do, so you can fight or flee. But does anyone think it’s conducive to, say, sitting still and studying in school? I thought back to what my wife and I noticed on our cross-country trip: if we let the girls eat sugary snacks, they’d fight with each other or have a meltdown. No kidding … their bodies were telling them to fight or flee, and they couldn’t flee because they were strapped into their car seats.
I can’t cover all the presentations, or this post would go on forever. Low-carb cookbook authors Judy Barnes Baker and Dana Carpender both spoke, as did Jackie Eberstein, a nurse who worked with Dr. Atkins for 30 years. It was all great stuff.
Fat Head was the last presentation — always fun to finish up with a movie — and I gave a brief introduction. It’s tough for me to talk in public without turning the topic into a bit of a standup routine, so I did. If anyone on the cruise recorded it, I’ll post it. But the real thrill for me was hearing the reaction from a room full of people (and a partisan crowd at that). For all the times I had to watch the film in production, I’ve only had the privilege of watching it with a big audience twice: during the premiere party more than a year ago, and on the cruise. That alone made the whole trip worth it.
Overall the cruise was way big fun, and very informative. I hope to meet many more of you there next year.
Thanks to Amy Dungan, Debbie Cusick, and Kim Workman Palmer for snapping the pictures and putting them on Facebook.
The film follows Donal – a lean, fit, seemingly healthy 41 year old man – on a quest to hack his genes and drop dead healthy by avoiding the heart disease and diabetes that has afflicted his family.
Donal’s father Kevin, an Irish gaelic football star from the 1960s, won the first of 2 All Ireland Championships with the Down Senior Football Team in 1960 before the biggest crowd (94,000) ever seen at an Irish sporting event.
When Kevin suffered a heart attack later in life, family and friends were shocked. How does a lean, fit and seemingly healthy man – who has sailed through cardiac stress tests – suddenly fall victim to heart disease?
Can a controversial diet consisting of 70% fat provide the answers?