Letters From Readers

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I have to spend tonight fixing an issue for a software client, but I received a couple of interesting emails over the weekend I wanted to share.  The first is from a woman named June:

I had two moments last week where I truly wanted to just bang my head against something.

I’ve been doing low carb, lost about 12 pounds since January eating all those nasty eggs and bacon and steaks and green veggies. Loving every minute of it. I’ve got another 70 pounds to go, and I’m  looking forward to summer and the local farmer’s markets where I can get grass-fed beef and all those fresh veggies.

I work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and they frequently have guest lecturers on different topics. Last Wednesday the lecture was “The Obesity Epidemic: How Have We Failed.” Now, I wasn’t expecting that they would come out and admit that the whole low-fat thing has been a bust, but I did want to see what would be presented.

The gist was “Everybody’s fat, we don’t know why, we need more research.” There was the usually finger-pointing at fast food.  But there was one part of the lecture that really got to me. The presenter showed a slide showing the obesity rates in the US going up-up-up. He later had a slide showing beef consumption in the US. There was an upturn, but then beef consumption rates just plummeted.

So, obesity rates rising, beef consumption plummeting. No correlation, right? Maybe  a negative correlation?

Oh no! Even though the presenter had to admit that there was a decline in beef consumption along with the rise in obesity rates, we still eat more beef in the US than they do in Japan and obesity rates are lower in Japan, so we should eat even less beef. This reasoning was being presented in the National Institutes of Health, the “Premier Research Center” in the United States.

I wanted to bang my head against something, but I’m pretty sure if I banged my head against the seat in front of me I would have freaked out the person sitting there, so I just sat through the rest of the lecture. Oh, and, no, there wasn’t any slide plotting carb consumption against the obesity rates. Wonder why.

Yup, I think we know why.  This is the same twisted logic the anti-cholesterol hysterics employed when a study showed that people with normal or low cholesterol suffer 3/4 of the heart attacks.  Why, uh, ya see, that just means we need to set the targets even lower!

On to the rest of June’s email:

Next, I was watching a show on The Cooking Channel called “The Supersizers Go…” This is a show from England showing two people, Giles Coren and Sue Perkins, who pick a period of time from the past and try to eat like people of that time would have for an entire week. They are very funny (they dress in period costume) and are very honest about what they do and do not like.

The show starts with them going off to the doctor for a check-up and predictions of all the terrible things that are likely to happen to them during the week. They then spend the week sampling what people of different social classes would have dined on, with a nod toward the upper classes. Then when the week is over it is back to the doctors to see what damage has been wrought by their horrible diets. They have done Ancient Rome and Victorian and Edwardian and several others. Usually they go back to the doctor having gained weight and their cholesterol skyrocketing and other lab values wacked-out and it is all blamed on all the meat and fat they were eating.

So, last week, they went Elizabethan. They were eating almost nothing but meat, meat, and more meat except for the one day they ate fish, fish, and more fish. There was narry a veggie in sight, but they did eat a lot of organ meat. They ate bread and pastry crust from meat pies and they drank a lot of beer and sugar was fairly abundant,  but mainly, it was wall to wall meat.

Now, when they went to the doctor at the beginning of the week they had their BMI calculated. Sue was at the very low end of normal and Giles was just in the range considered obese. As you probably can guess, no one would look at Giles and consider him to be overweight, let alone obese. The doctor duly voiced his concerns over all the protein they would be eating and what horrors that would do to their health.

As the week went on, their main complaint was that coffee and tea were not available to them, as these hadn’t made it to England yet.  At no time did either Giles or Sue complain about feeling tired or having digestive problems and they looked as energetic at the end as they did at the beginning. Their only complaint was that there was no tea or coffee.  They had huge meals, one or two banquets, and Giles even ate at a tavern to see what was available to the common folk.

So at the end of the week, back to the doctor. And what happened after this week of ‘unhealthy’ eating? They both lost weight. Giles lost about 5 pounds, but Sue lost over 10 pounds. The doctor was even surprised that Sue had lost so much weight in only one week.  There was no mention of lab values, so we can assume that their blood work at worst didn’t change and at best actually improved, and both of them had blood pressure within normal range.

When asked about the weight loss, the doctor surmised that all that protein had suppressed their appetite so they just plain ate less, BUT he then quickly cautioned that he wouldn’t recommend anyone going on a diet like this for any length of time! And the episode ended with Sue happily going off to gain back the weight she had lost. I just banged my head against the back of my chair, which did scare the cat a bit.

June

Pardon me while I go bang my head against my desk …

… Okay, I’m back.  So the doctor concluded that extra protein supressed their appetites, but he doesn’t want people to go on a diet that suppresses their appetites naturally.  Nope, better they should be hungry and then just fight the urge to eat — for the rest of their lives.

Here’s another email that demonstates just how little some doctors know about nutrition:

Hi Tom,

I just watched Fat Head last night and I was very enlightened! Having a heavy dose of skepticism though, and seeing that you are a comedian, I’m wondering… are you pulling a fast one on us yourself?! I’m one of those overweight type 2 diabetics who is sick and tired of taking insulin, which is causing me to gain weight! So, I really hope your science is correct!

Which leads me to my next concern:  I’m told my triglicyerides are too high and when I asked my doctor to explain, he said that means I have too much fat in my blood and so I need to cut out as much fat as possible from my diet except for fish oil tablets, which apparently are “good fats.”

I’m soooo confused!!! Why are my triglyceride levels so high when for years I haven’t touched red meat, butter and drink only skim milk?  Oh, I’m depressed too and take medicine for that….

After watching Fat Head I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a try and went out and bought the best looking Porterhouse steak, cooked it for dinner, felt soooo happy, satisfied, content and not still hungry! I also forgot to take my Lexapro but didn’t feel the need!

I really feel better, but guilty somehow for eating “arterycloggingredmeat!!!”  So I hope you are telling the truth and could you please answer my triglyceride question?

Sincerely,
Sharon

Sharon, here’s why your triglycerides are so high:  you’ve been living on a low-fat diet.  Triglycerides are indeed a form of blood fat, but high fasting triglycerides are the result of fats being produced by your liver in response to carbohydrates.  For most of us, low fat = high carb = high triglycerides.

In study after study, people who go on low-carb diets have seen dramatic reductions in triglycerides, often ending up with fasting triglyceride levels well below 100.  Here are a couple of articles by doctors who (unlike yours) know what they’re talking about:

Dr. Mike Eades on diet and triglycerides.

Dr. William Davis on diet and triglycerides.

And Sharon, if you start eating steaks and find the depression going away, EAT MORE STEAKS.  Your doctor means well, but he’s just plain wrong.  Unfortunately, that puts him in the majority of doctors.

On a cheerier note, I received this email from woman who teaches English at a college right down the road from me:

Dear Tom,

I have taught Research and Argumentative Writing at Middle Tennessee State University for the past two semesters. Our course theme is food, which helps to ease students into the idea of looking at things critically, especially that which we do unconsciously. My students’ second assignment (which they are in the middle of writing) is an analysis of Super Size Me and Fat Head (which we finished watching this morning), in which they have to determine which film has a more rhetorically sound argument. My students always choose your film. Every student, every time.

Because I emphasize writing as a conversation between ideas, people, texts, etc., your film, as a response to Super Size Me, perfectly demonstrates this concept, as well as helps me to emphasize the critical thinking about that which we do automatically. Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me something so perfect to work with.

Also–I was delighted to see you live in Franklin. I grew up there (but moved to downtown Nashville about 4 years ago) and my parents still live there.

-Emily

Emily, you made my day.  Super Size Me appealed to people on an emotional level, not on a logical or common sense level, and I’m pleased to hear your students recognize that.

I plan to throw a big ol’ Fat Head party and cookout one of these days to celebrate getting the farm up to snuff.  Consider yourself invited.

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52 thoughts on “Letters From Readers

  1. Melissa Cline

    Yay middle TN. Hope you’re not too bad off in the storms right now! Put me on the list for the cookout!

    The big storms blew north and south of us. All we got was some rain.

    Reply
  2. Melissa Cline

    Yay middle TN. Hope you’re not too bad off in the storms right now! Put me on the list for the cookout!

    The big storms blew north and south of us. All we got was some rain.

    Reply

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