Archive for March, 2011

As some of you already know, I occasionally receive messages from “Fat Throat,” a high-level researcher who works behind the The Ivy Wall.  I receive these messages on the condition that I don’t reveal his name or the organization that employs him.  (He refers to that organization as The Committee to Re-Erect The Pyramid, a.k.a. CREEP.)

Fat Throat alerted me to a recent article on WebMD (which is basically bought and paid for by Big Pharma) bashing the Atkins diet.  Same old, same old … you need carbohydrates for energy and brain function, all that fat might kill you, blah-blah-blah.  You can read the full nonsense here.

Anyway, in reaction the WebMD article, Fat Throat sent me the following email.  Truth is, I don’t know anything about the doctors he mentions in the email, but obviously he does and isn’t impressed:

WebMD recently published an examination of the Atkins diet with commentary by notable scientists with final facts checked by the well-known medical expert Dr. Jonathan L.Gelfand.  The following true-or-false quiz is part of CME credits offered for this article.

1.  The Atkins Diet requires that you be in ketosis for a long period of time (T/F).

False. Ketosis is recommended only for the first two weeks but it is not necessary to be in ketosis to obtain benefits of the carbohydrate restriction.

2.  Dr. Jonathan Gelfand is an expert on metabolic diseases (T/F).

False. Dr. Gelfand’s specialty is pulmonary medicine.

3.  The Atkins diet requires high fat consumption (T/F).

False. The Atkins diet specifies only low carbohydrate and most patients do not increase the amount of fat.  Shown as early as 1980 and borne out by recent studies.  The diet is higher in fat than that recommended by health agencies but that is also true of the American diet before the epidemic of obesity.

4.   The WebMD Article did not interview any physicians who actually used the Atkins diet.

True.

5.  Dr. Gelfand is an expert on pulmonary asbestosis (T/F).

False. Dr. Gelfand testified in a case in Pennsylvania that an auto mechanic had died of asbestosis but it turned out that what looked like pleural thickening was really sub-pleural fibrosis and the jury found for the defense.

6.  The Atkins diet severely limits food choices (T/F).

False. Numerous cookbooks, online recipes for low-carbohydrate dieters now number in the thousands.  The diet is less restrictive than those limiting fat.

7.   Dr. Gelfand, Dr. Eckel and other physicians quoted in the article never took a course in nutrition (T/F).

True. Physicians do not study nutrition.

8.  Higher protein diets do not pose any health risk for people with normal kidneys (T/F).

True. This has been shown by many studies.

9.  Dr. Gelfand was recently seen on Dateline’s To Catch a Predator but was later exonerated.  (He was actually making a house call).

False. This a rumor of unknown origin.

10.   Dr. Robert Eckel, former head of the American Heart Association and quoted in the article is a well-known creationist (T/F).

True.

11.   The Atkins diet is the most effective method of lowering triglycerides and one of the best for raising HDL (“good cholesterol”) (T/F).

True.

12.   WEbMD provides accurate reliable content (T/F).

False. WebMD, its licensors, and its suppliers make no representations or warranties about accuracy, reliability, completeness, currentness, or timeliness of the content on or through the use of the WebMD Site or WebMD.

13.    In most clinical trials to date the Atkins diet does as well and generally better than low-fat diets for weight loss, glycemic control and markers of cardiovascular disease.

True.

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Here’s why it’s important to teach your kids about good nutrition while they’re still young:

My wife is in Chicago to attend a funeral and then spend a couple of days with her family. This means it’s now my job to make breakfast for the girls, pack their lunches for school, and cook dinner when they get home.

Perhaps believing I was on the verge of cracking under the pressure, my daughter Sara informed me yesterday that if I happen to drop dead while Mommy is gone, she’s perfectly capable of feeding herself and her little sister and getting them off to school.

She explained that she knows she’s not allowed to use the gas stove to fry eggs, but there’s plenty of sausage in the freezer, so she’ll just microwave some links each morning. She promised to pack lunches including turkey or ham slices, nuts, cheese sticks, and apple slices. If need be, they could eat the same combination for dinner after the school bus brings them home, or perhaps put more sausages in the microwave.

She’s willing to do all this, you understand, even though the easy solution would be to simply remove $20 from my wallet and buy the sugar-and-starch-laden meals served by the school cafeteria every day until my wife returns home.

At no point in her detailed explanation of how she’d maintain a good diet in the event of my sudden death did she mention anything about calling 9-1-1 to consult with professionals who could confirm that I’m actually dead and not just, say, in a bit of a coma. So apparently, she would be stepping around my body to prepare high-protein, low-carbohydrate meals for herself and her sister.

“Sara, what’s wrong with Daddy?”

“I don’t know.  I think he might be dead.  Do you want Swiss or cheddar on your turkey rollup?”

Whether I was in the next world or clinging ever-so-slightly to this one, I would of course be proud she wasn’t using my unfortunate fate as an excuse to indulge in sugar and starch. That’s why you have to teach ‘em young.

 

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Old Macdonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O
And on his farm he had some carrots, E-I-E-I-O
With a … with a …

Well, there’s the problem:  we don’t know what noise carrots make.  If we’re going to turn fat kids into skinny kids by having them sing about carrots instead of pigs, we need to come up with a fun sound for carrots.  I’m open to suggestions on that one.

On the other hand, I’d say it’s pretty unlikely changing the lyrics to “Old Macdonald” is going to do diddly about childhood obesity, but apparently a school district in Philadelphia is giving it a shot, along with some other ridiculous initiatives:

The gym teacher, Beverly Griffin, teaches healthy eating using a toy model of the federal food pyramid and rewritten children’s songs. “And on his farm he had some carrots,” Tatyana, a first grader, belted out one recent morning, skipping around the gym with her classmates.

Ah, so that’s why the Food Pyramid has been such a colossal failure:  we forgot to produce toy models of it for the kids to play with.  A good toy trumps the biological need for quality protein and natural fats every time.

“Mrs. Griffin, I’m hungry!”

“You already had some whole-wheat toast with margarine and cup of skim milk, dear.”

“I know.  But I’m really, really hungry!”

“Well, uh … here, play with these plastic loaves of bread.  You’ll feel better.  And when you’re done, remember they belong on the base of the food pyramid.”

The Philly school is, of course, engaging in all this nonsense to bring itself into alignment with the federal government’s nonsense:

With 20 percent of the nation’s children obese, the United States Department of Agriculture has proposed new standards for federally subsidized school meals that call for more balanced meals and, for the first time, a limit on calories. The current standard specifies only a minimum calorie count, which some schools meet by adding sweet foods.

The Agriculture Department wants to change the content of federally subsidized school meals — 33 million lunches and 9 million breakfasts a day — by the fall of 2012. Beyond the calorie cap, the new standards would emphasize whole grains, vegetables and fruits and set tighter limits on sodium and fats.

Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the Philadelphia School District, said schools were meeting the new federal meal proposals by using more dark green and orange vegetables, as well as fruits, whole grains and legumes.

Great.  Awesome.  Fabulous.  So we’re going to give kids calorie-restricted meals full of fruits and grains, but low in fat.  I tried that type of diet back when I didn’t know any better, and all it did was make me hungrier.  An email I received today from a recent Fat Head viewer sums it up pretty well:

I had always wondered why eating a big bowl of Cheerios for breakfast at 7:30 left me starving by 10 am, while I could get by until 10:30 on nothing but a mug of tea.  Oatmeal has me jonesing for lunch by 11, while a cheese omelet sees me through dinner.  This morning I set aside my usual two slices of wheat toast with jam and ate two hardboiled eggs instead.  I feel rather awesome, not hungry at all.  And ALERT!

Well, heck, we don’t want schoolkids feeling satisfied and alert.  We want them so light-headed and hungry, they’ll happily run around singing songs about carrots.  Then when their blood sugar crashes because they didn’t eat enough fat to provide real fuel for their bodies, they’ll run out and grab the first sugary snacks they can find.

But no worries.  The school and some parents who don’t know any better are attempting to fix that problem with a new program called Hassling Local Businesses:

Tatyana Gray bolted from her house and headed toward her elementary school. But when she reached the corner store where she usually gets her morning snack of chips or a sweet drink, she encountered a protective phalanx of parents with bright-colored safety vests and walkie-talkies.

“Candy!” said one of the parents, McKinley Harris, peering into a small bag one child carried out of the store. “That’s not food.”

The parents standing guard outside the Oxford Food Shop are foot soldiers in a national battle over the diets of children that has taken on new fervor.

Good grief.  Nothing like recruiting parents to act as Food Fascists in that national battle over the diets of children.  The vest-and-walkie-talkie brigade was apparently the brainchild of the school principal, who has decided convenience stores are part of the problem:

To match the efforts inside the school, one of Ms. Brown’s first acts as principal last August was to ask owners of nearby corner stores to stop selling to students in the morning.

Gladys Tejada, who owns the Oxford shop, said, “It’s a good thing, what they’re trying to do, but I can’t control who comes in.” Nor can she control what they buy. “They like it sweet,” she said. “They like it cheap.”

Bingo.  Ms. Tejada is running a store, not a diet center.  Unless she’s giving away snacks for free, the kids are spending money given to them by their parents.  It’s not Ms. Tejada’s job to be a substitute mommy and control what these kids eat.  That’s a job for their own parents.

If schools are prohibited from serving whole milk but allowed to serve chocolate skim milk, juice boxes, and peaches in syrup, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we’re raising a generation of sugar addicts.  Convenience stores -– like all stores –- can only sell what people are willing to buy, as I pointed out in a recent post.  For some reason, do-gooders can’t seem to grasp this basic principle of economics … which explains programs like this:

Since 2001, a Philadelphia organization called Food Trust has worked to get corner stores to offer healthier foods, including fresh fruit, vegetables and water, as well as products with reduced sugar, salt and fat. But just 507 of the city’s estimated 2,500 corner stores have signed on.

So only about 20% of the stores signed on, hmm?  I wonder why the other 80% aren’t jumping in there and doing their part to battle childhood obesity by offering more fruits and vegetables?

Jetro Cash and Carry, which supplies many corner stores, joined the effort. But Jack Sagen, a Jetro sales and marketing director, said he recently lost $500 buying several dozen cases of 15-cent bags of sliced apples that perished before they could catch on with the stores.

Well, obviously the 15-cent price tag was a major deterrent for all those kids clamoring for apples.  Thank goodness the federal government is spending $400 million to make fruits and vegetables cheaper and more available in “under-served” urban areas.

But after several weeks of parent intervention, Ms. Brown said more children were skipping the corner stores, showing progress against the pull of sweet snacks.

I would of course love to see kids stop eating so many sweet snacks.  But I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) those kids are just finding the foods that feed their sugar addiction somewhere else.

“It does what they need it to do for that moment,” she said of the snacks. “It hits them in the stomach. They feel full. It’s cheap and fast.”

Here’s a crazy idea:  maybe those USDA-approved school breakfasts and lunches should include more protein and animal fats.  Then when the kids head home from school, they’ll already feel full.

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Two new interviews are available online.  The first is a written interview with a blogger who calls her site Life As Bryan’s Wife.

The second is a radio interview with the Homeboys Radio Show on KCAA in Southern California.  Sean and Gregg, the hosts, happened to stumble across Fat Head on Netflix and invited me on the show to talk about it.  Sean changed his diet after seeing the film and has already lost 15 pounds.  If you download the MP3 file of the show, my segment starts at the 1:20 mark.

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When I was a junior in high school, I was 5’9” and weighed around 155 pounds.  That would put my BMI at 22.9, which is near the center of the “normal” range.  Man, I must’ve been in some kind of good shape, right?

Wrong.  I weighed 155 pounds because I had a 35-inch chest, skinny arms, and skinny legs.  I also had a belly, love handles, and boy boobs.  I was a skinny-fat guy.

I occasionally played pick-up basketball (not especially well, mind you) with a classmate named John, who was on the football team.  John had six-pack abs, and the veins popped on his muscular arms and legs.  He was about 5’8” and weighed around 180 pounds.  That would put his BMI at 27.4, which would classify him as overweight.

If anyone had seen us side-by-side with our shirts off and was told John was overweight but I wasn’t, I’m pretty sure the reaction would’ve been a big chuckle.  BMI is laughable as a measurement of who’s fat and who isn’t.  Unfortunately, busybodies in government still take it seriously, including Michelle Obama:

In an exclusive post published on Shine today, First Lady Michelle Obama offers some advice, drawn from her own experience, about the Affordable Care Act and how parents can get the most out of visits to the pediatrician. One of her suggestions: Learn about your child’s BMI.

The First Lady was surprised to learn that her daughters’ BMI numbers were “creeping upwards.” “I didn’t really know what BMI was,” she writes. “And I certainly didn’t know that even a small increase in BMI can have serious consequences for a child’s health.

Yes, I remember how unhealthy my classmate John was, thanks to his high BMI … although now that I think about it, his height-to-weight ratio did cause some serious damage.  In a playoff game, a punt-returner from the opposing team neglected to call for a fair catch as John was bearing down on him.  A few seconds later, one of our players had recovered the fumble for a touchdown, and the punt-returner was flat on his back, unconscious.

A small increase in BMI does not produce serious consequences for a child’s health.  Getting fatter thanks to a lousy diet can certainly have serious health consequences.  Consuming a lousy diet without getting fatter can, too — just ask any of the thousands of skinny type 2 diabetics in the world.  When I was a senior in high school, I joined a Nautilus club and ended up putting on 10 pounds of muscle over the next several months.  My arms finally had a bit of shape to them, and my chest filled out.  My BMI went up, but I was healthier.

But as Dr. Susan J. Woolford explains, despite the medical jargon, BMI (Body Mass Index) is actually a very easy way to answer a very difficult question: Is my child overweight?

No, BMI is a very easy way to answer this difficult question:  What is the mathematical result of multiplying my child’s weight in pounds by 703, and then dividing that number by my child’s height in inches squared?  That’s all BMI will tell you.  The easy way to determine if your child is overweight is to look at him when he’s not wearing a shirt.  Is his belly protruding?  Is he developing love handles?  If so, he’s probably on his way to being fat.  If he’s got a flat belly with some definition around the abs, he isn’t.

If Mrs. Obama is going to start obsessing with her kids’ BMI scores, I feel sorry for them, but that’s her business.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Obama is now in charge of the latest federal effort to combat childhood obesity, which means she’s also making it her business to hand out advice to the rest of us.  Watch this interview with the chairwoman of Mrs. Obama’s taskforce:

So the taskforce is recommending the same old “eat less, move more, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables” blah-blah-blah nonsense.  It hasn’t worked for the past 30 years, but apparently it will work now.  Why? Because (as the First Lady explained) for the first time, they’re setting really clear goals and benchmarks!

Well, that ought to do it, then.  If the federal government says we’re going to reduce childhood obesity to 5%, then by gosh, it’ll happen.  I set a really clear goal of earning $500,000 this year.  I’m not actually doing anything to achieve that goal, but I’m pretty sure setting clear goals and benchmarks is all it takes.

Well, that’s not entirely fair; the task force is doing something:  they’re spending $400 million to bring fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods where people have already demonstrated they’re not particularly interested in buying and fruits and vegetables:

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will promote a range of interventions that expand access to nutritious foods, including developing and equipping grocery stores and other small businesses and retailers selling healthy food in communities that currently lack these options. Residents of these communities, which are sometimes called “food deserts” and are often found in economically distressed areas, are typically served by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little or no fresh produce.

Here’s a simple economics lesson:  businesses don’t determine what consumers will buy.  Consumer behavior determines what businesses will produce and sell.  If fast food restaurants thrive in poor neighborhoods while stores that sell fresh fruit and vegetables don’t, there’s a good reason for it.  Using tax dollars to bring more fruits and vegetables to areas where people don’t buy fruits and vegetables isn’t going to reduce childhood obesity.  It’s just going to lead to a lot of rotten fruits and vegetables.

Part of the federal taskforce’s plan for “empowering” parents to make better decisions for their kids is to require schools to record and report BMI scores for schoolkids.  Fabulous.

“Hello, this is the nurse from Lakewood Elementary calling to let you know we’ll be measuring your child’s Body Mass Index tomorrow.”

“I don’t want you measuring my kid’s BMI.  It’s none of your business.”

“But I’m afraid it’s required by law.”

“Oh.  Boy, I feel really empowered as a parent now.  Thanks for the call.”

Once schools start identifying kids with a high BMI, what exactly are they going to do about it?

“Johnny, your BMI score tells me you’re overweight.”

“Gee, Nurse Finkelstein, what should I do?”

“Well, uh … get some exercise and then go eat your USDA-approved lunch.  I believe today’s menu features chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, rolls, chocolate milk and some peaches in a sugary syrup.”

If Mrs. Obama is 1) convinced that BMI is a useful measurement, and 2) believes her task force knows enough about the biological mechanisms of weight gain and weight loss to justify making dietary recommendations and spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars to implement them, then here’s what I want her to do:

I don’t know Mrs. Obama’s BMI, but based on pictures of her, I’d be surprised if it’s 25 or below.

Don’t get me wrong … I think she has an attractive figure.  But she’s on the thicker, more muscular side of the curve, especially in the hips and legs, so it’s highly likely her BMI puts her in the overweight category.  I’d prefer she look at herself in the mirror, compare what her eyes are telling her with her BMI score, and then declare BMI a useless measurement.  But since she’s now extolling the virtues of BMI scores and supporting requiring schools to gather them, I want her to declare hers publicly.  Then I want her to follow the USDA dietary guidelines and show us how those guidelines helped her achieve a BMI of 24.  Prove the advice she’s handing out actually works.

If she does that, then she can worry about my kids’ BMI scores.

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I’ve received hundreds of emails since Fat Head went on Netflix. A few have been hate mails (one from a doctor who called me an ignorant American for not pronouncing “bologna” as it’s pronounced in Italy, then went on to berate me in sentences full of misused words and incorrect punctuation), but the vast majority have included a “thank you” in one form or another. Here’s a typical example from today’s inbox:

Your documentary has completely changed the way I think about food. I’ve nearly totally cut carbs from my diet, and as a result, I have more energy! I also don’t get that icky, lethargic, must-lie-down feeling after eating. I’ve suffered from IBS for 15 years, and after changing my diet over the past few weeks (since watching Fat Head), I finally think I know what it’s like to feel “normal.” Damn Dr. Oz for telling us all to eat so many whole grains!

Reading those emails provides me with some pleasant pat-myself-on-the-back moments. But it’s emails like the one below that remind me why I feel compelled to keep spreading the message that much of what we’ve been told about nutrition and health is wrong:

I’ve been ovo-lacto vegetarian for nearly 20 years. In fact, I received a “Certification” in Natural Hygenic Nutrition through the “Life Science Institute” by paying tuition to Marilyn and Harvey Diamond (of Fit for Life) and by taking a nearly 2 year course. I later found out the “Certification” was worthless and could not get me a job anywhere in the nutrition field.

Later in life, while looking for a way to lose weight, I came across Susan Powter. She screamed to “Stop the insanity” and urged everyone to eliminate fat from their diet. I can even remember her decribing how you could eat “bowls and bowls” of pasta and lose weight. I wanted bowls and bowls of pasta. It was then that I began my journey into vegetarianism, lowfat eating, PCOS and a 100 pound weight gain.

Over the years I tried everything. Weight watchers was particularly bad. Everyone thought I was cheating and eating too many points. For me, since there were no limits on what it was as long as the points were low, I loaded up on the carbs and gained weight while on the diet.

One time I went 6 months straight as a raw vegan. I only ate raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Admittedly, I felt better than I’ve ever felt in my life. I lost 50 pounds. It was tremendously hard to maintain. Meals were complicated and the clean up of all the gadgets was very time consuming. Then my husband came home from Iraq and ordered a pizza and I officially lost my mind. I don’t think anything in the world has ever tasted better than that first bite (well, maybe the second).

What I’m getting at is that I’ve been vegetarian for so long and I’ve been singing this same old song. No one could convince me different. Here I am… this morbidly obese (BMI of 47) 40 year old vegetarian. My typical diet is usually fruits, vegetable and CARBS. When my Endocrinologist asked me what I ate for dinner the night before, I told him I’d put some watermelon, a cored apple, the juice of a lemon, some ice and a massive handful of spinach in the blender. I blended it and drank it. He was horrified. Anyone else would have said how amazing my diet was. I should look like a supermodel. But it was all carbs. He asked me to consider where was the protein or fat. I’ve spent so long thinking I knew it all that it was hard for me to accept that eating fruits and vegetables was wrong. I even argued with him in the office as he told me I have: Dysmetabolic Syndrome X, PCOS, Insulin Resistance, Hypothyroidism and possibly Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis. It was no comfort to hear that it wasn’t my fault and that, if I did not take medication, I would continue to gain weight no matter what I do.

The full email was longer, but you get the idea. This woman ate what she believed was a wonderful diet — making sacrifices to follow the supposedly wonderful diet — and ended up obese and sick for her efforts.   She also has a son who suffers from autism, ADHD, ODD, OCD and Tourette’s syndrome.   She’s only recently learned this his problems are probably related to her PCOS and metabolic disorders.  I’ve received similar horror stories from other viewers as well.

As I explained in Fat Head, some people live on diets they know are lousy. They eat whatever they like, and to hell with the consequences. That’s their choice, and it’s okay by me.  But I feel terrible for people who actually try to take care of themselves, try to do the right thing, but end up with lousy health simply because they’ve been given so much bad advice.

I realized this morning that yesterday was my two-year anniversary as a blogger.  Emails like the one above remind me why I won’t be stopping anytime soon, and why I’m grateful for fellow bloggers like Jimmy Moore, Mark Sisson, Richard Nikoley, Dr. Mike Eades, Stephen Guyenet, Don Matesz, Gary Taubes, and many others.  We need to get the information out there to people who might learn something useful before the damage is done.

 

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