I was swamped with work recently, so I just now got around to reading Richard Nikoley’s excellent new e-book Free The Animal: Lose Weight & Fat With The Paleo Diet. (Sorry, Richard … would you consider labeling me fashionably late?)
The “e-book” part is important. I don’t own a Kindle or other digital reader because I enjoy the feel of an old-fashioned paper book in my hands, but I have a digital copy of this one stored on my computer, and I’m glad I do. Throughout the book, Nikoley cites blog posts (from his own blog and many others), online articles and YouTube videos as resources and –- you’ve got to like this –- embedded links to those resources right there on the page.
Great feature. As much as I believe in tracking down sources, sometimes I don’t feel like glancing back and forth between a bibliography and my computer screen while trying to accurately type in a URL that’s 75 characters long. With the e-book, I just click the link.
(For those who buy the paperback book, Nikoley provides the URL of a web page with all the same links, by the way.)
But enough about the joys of hyperlinks. I enjoyed this book because it’s Richard Nikoley being Richard Nikoley: analytical, humorous, encouraging, provocative and — as you know if you read his Free the Animal blog — occasionally pissed off!
Weaving together strands of evolutionary logic, findings from research, and personal experiences, Nikoley argues the case the book’s title suggests: the key to lasting weight loss and superior health is to stop following the advice peddled by the anti-fat hysterics and to eat like our paleo ancestors:
Good health is natural. It’s not something that needs to be industrialized or drug-induced. By eating natural foods available to us, humans can enjoy good health and longevity. Technology should not separate us from or destroy the natural or man-made habitats we and non-human animals need to live and thrive in good health. The key to being lean, strong, and healthy is in your head. Use your intuition, just like animals do… The burden is squarely on you. Modern institutions only want to sell you stuff. They don’t care about your belly or health. They care about their bottom line and your spending.
Free The Animal: Lose Weight & Fat With The Paleo Diet is an easy read (you can tackle it in an afternoon), but covers a lot of ground. The easiest way to describe the topics covered is to list the chapter titles:
- The Paleo, Primal, Ancestral Lifestyle
- Your Inner Animal
- The Standard American Diet And Other Diet Health Disasters
- Fat Is King
- The Cholesterol Con
- Natural Disease Prevention
- Eat Like A Caveman
- The Power Of Fasting
- Evolutionary Exercise And Fitness
- A Primal Weight Loss Plan
- Recipes And Supplements
- Success Stories
Before describing what a paleo diet is and why you should be living on one, Nikoley explains what’s wrong with the diet the “experts” keep pushing on us. Did I mention that he gets a little hot under the collar now and then? Well, here’s why:
… Another reason grain is said to be healthier than animal fat—the real reason, in my opinion— is that if you do a little research, you’ll find that the ADA is in the pay of the world’s leading companies promoting and profiting from obesity and ill-health by producing cheap, highly processed “food.” You have to dig deep, but if you look at the fine print of any alphabet soup “health” institution website, you can usually find who’s paying them to admonish you with unhealthful advice. The American Dietetic Association is sponsored by Aramark, Coca-Cola, Hershey, National Dairy Council, Abbott, CoroWise, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Pepsico, Unilever, Soyjoy . . . you get the idea. The American Diabetes Association’s list of sponsors is essentially the same, with the big drug companies thrown in. Do you think these companies are paying the ADAs to diss sugar-water drinks, processed foods and other sources of carbohydrate overload? And if not, how kindly are the ADAs going to take to having its affiliated dietitians and nutritionists contradicting ADA guidelines and policy?
… Think about it: fatty meats and eggs are wonderful, nutritious foods with literally millions of years of evolutionary credentials, not to mention the visceral pleasure almost anyone in their right mind gets from eating them. Yet they get tossed aside by self-important minions. And who are the self-important minions? The experts who have been telling us for years that fat is unhealthy, that’s who. The ones who have blood on their hands, as far as I’m concerned. They have, through their arrogant ignorance and disregard for the unassailable logic of human evolution, condemned millions upon millions to moribund lives of physical unattractiveness, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and the list goes on. As we can see by looking around or looking it up, the statistics get worse year after year, in the very face of the experts’ changing advice. But do they ever show humility? No, the best we get is more authoritarian arrogance. “You eat too much. You don’t exercise enough. You haven’t been listening to us and you’re not properly following our diktats.”
In the chapter on Natural Disease Prevention, he relates a personal story about the power of paleo diets to overcomes diseases –- one that’s similar to hundreds of personal stories I’ve heard from Fat Head fans:
My mom, in her early 70s, is a Type 2 diabetic. I have witnessed that the “help” she used to get from the medical establishment went beyond malpractice. When she was diagnosed some years ago, there was considerable confusion about what she ought to eat. She was aware of the low-carb advice, but her doctors were telling her to eat low-fat—advice that is pervasive throughout the medical community. As we all know, it is very hard to maintain a low-carb diet that’s also low in fat. You have to eat something. Making up the difference with protein can get very unpleasant. Just in terms of sheer mass, fat is more than twice as energy efficient as either protein or carbs. On this recommended low-fat diet, my mom’s blood glucose levels kept creeping up. She’d have huge swings, with spikes well over 200 and more.
To put that in perspective, a normal pancreas will release enough insulin to keep blood glucose no higher than about 145 mg/dL as an absolute spike; normal is in a range of about 80–100. Finally, the doctors determined she had to go on the self-administered shots. She’s no dummy. She could see the downward progression. Type 2s always get worse and worse.
Then my mom went on a super low-carb diet, with no concern for how much fat or protein she ate. She consumed no grains, no grain products, and very limited fruit. Her blood glucose quickly stabilized between 85 and about 105 most of the time. She had been used to shooting two types of insulin, a fast-acting and a time-release; a few weeks into the new diet, she was able to drop the fast acting one. Then, she and my dad hitched up the 5th-wheel trailer for a camping trip. She forgot her insulin at home. They were only a couple of hours away, so it could have been acquired, but she decided to just monitor her blood glucose level closely instead of going home. It stayed in the healthy range: she went the whole weekend without a shot.
One of the reasons I enjoy Nikoley’s blog is that (like yours truly) he’s a libertarian who believes in providing information and then encouraging people to experiment and find their own path. He doesn’t expect people to follow orders, and he doesn’t issue any. There’s no “do exactly what I say or you’ll stay fat and then die” nonsense here. He spends part of one chapter explaining the benefits of grass-fed beef and organic foods, but then writes this:
However, I want to be as inclusive as possible. You can reap the benefits of Paleo by buying food from grocery chains. I also don’t want to discourage someone from the Paleo scene because they feel they don’t measure up if all they can reasonably source is grain-finished meat due to budget or other considerations. It’s a personal choice. Your emphasis should be on getting results first.
I don’t force myself to be a Paleo “purist.” I go out to eat, attend dinner parties at vegetarian friends’ houses, and indulge a little during the holidays. But concentrating on real food and passing on processed carbohydrates has resulted in 60 pounds of fat loss, massive reduction in blood pressure, cessation of prescription medications, fabulous lean muscle and strength gains, and a host of other lifestyle improvements.
I first learned about the benefits of intermittent fasting from Nikoley’s blog. (I just finished a 24-hour fast last night, in fact.) If you’ve never tried it, he describes how to get started in the chapter titled The Power Of Fasting. Trust me, once you’ve fasted a few times, you’ll wonder why you ever thought you had to eat three or four times per day, day in and day out.
The chapter on exercise is good too. Like me, Nikoley used to walk for miles and miles, then wonder why he didn’t lose weight. (He actually gained 25 pounds over a few years, despite walking thousands of miles.) I still walk for pleasure, but I’ve learned from people like Nikoley, Fred Hahn and Dr. Doug McGuff that the best exercise for health and weight control is brief, intense exertion. That’s the method that allowed Nikoley to lose more weight and vastly increase his strength — at age 50.
One of the real pleasures of being a blogger is hearing from readers who’ve made dramatic improvements in their health. Nikoley passes on some reader success stories in the last chapter (complete with before-and-after pictures), but finishes the book by pointing out what more and more of us have realized: sure, it’s great that overweight and sick people can re-claim their health and vitality, but it didn’t have to be this way. If not for the misguided “experts” out there, we wouldn’t have needed to find a road to recovery:
Every single day in this country and around the world, people are subjected to conventional “wisdom” and advice from the likes of Oprah, Dr. Oz, the medical and drug company establishment, the government-institution establishment, the industrial-agriculture food establishment, the talking heads in the media establishment, and health columnists. What kind of advice? Advice that keeps people in their 20s and 30s, and even children, in many cases, obese, immobile, and sick. What’s worse, it keeps them dependent on a system constructed for others’ profit.
And isn’t that what it’s really all about, at the end of the day? The authorities don’t want you using your own mind. They want nothing to do with your reasonable and rational self-experimentation on your own body. No, what they want is for you to recognize their “superior” intelligence and privileged access to information only they know how to properly interpret. They want you to need them—to always look to them for your answers.
They want you to be skeptical—but only towards information that contradicts their diktats. They want to be the authority, the last and final word, always and forever, and they aren’t going to give that up without a fight.
Well, they’ve got themselves a fight.
Damned right they do.
Keep fighting, Richard. You’re one of the reasons we’re going to win.