Archive for April, 2012

I promise to start writing real posts again soon.  Right now my focus is on getting ready for the cruise … finishing a slide show for the roast, rehearsing, making sure we have our travel arrangements all set, etc.   These things were a lot easier when I wasn’t also working full-time outside the home.

Chareva’s parents are arriving Thursday to stay at the house and take care of the girls, dogs, chickens, garden, etc. while we’re gone, so this will be my last post until after the cruise.  We’ll fill orders for DVDs and t-shirts until Friday, but any orders that come in while we’re gone will have to wait until we get back.

The Older Brother has agreed take over the Fat Head chair starting on Thursday and write some posts while we’re gone.   In the meantime, here are two more episodes from the UCTV series “The Skinny on Obesity,” featuring Dr. Robert Lustig.


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This topic generated what was probably a record number of comments in the Fat Head Facebook group awhile back, so I thought it was old news.  Apparently not, since several readers sent me links to a news article this week:

State Threatens to Shut Down Nutrition Blogger

The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is threatening to send a blogger to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.

Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without a license. According to the law, “practicing” nutrition includes “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups” and “providing nutrition counseling.”

Steve Cooksey has learned that the definition, at least in the eyes of the state board, is expansive.

Cooksey, who was hospitalized in 2009 for complications of diabetes, created his Diabetes Warrior blog after a low-carb paleo diet proved so effective, he was able to stop taking insulin and other drugs.  In other words, he did what a lot of us have done:  after discovering a diet that worked, he decided to share the good news online.  That’s the Wisdom of Crowds at work.  Bloggers like Cooksey have probably saved more lives than all the dietitians in the country combined.

That’s exactly the problem, of course.  As I recounted in my Crisis in Nutrition speech, more and more people are turning away from doctors, nutritionists and dietitians and seeking information on the internet because they’re tired of following advice that doesn’t work.  The nutritionists and dietitians don’t like the competition.  So at least in this case, they’re trotting out ridiculous licensing laws in hopes of keeping their monopoly.  As I wrote in a recent post, that’s often the true purpose of licensing laws:  stifling competition.

The article doesn’t say who exactly decided to go after Cooksey, but it does provide us with enough information to make an educated guess:

Jan. 12, Cooksey attended a nutrition seminar at a church in Charlotte. The speaker was the director of diabetes services for a local hospital.

“She was giving all the wrong information, just like everyone always does — carbs are OK to eat, we must eat carbs to live, promoting low-fat, etc.,” Cooksey said. “So I spoke up.”

After the meeting he handed out a couple of business cards pointing people to his website. Three days later, he got a call from the director of the nutrition board.

“Basically, she told me I could not give out nutritional advice without a license,” Cooksey said.

Now why is that, exactly?  Cooksey hasn’t claimed he’s a doctor or claimed he holds degrees he doesn’t.  Far from it, in fact:

Cooksey posts the following disclaimer at the bottom of every page on his website:

“I am not a doctor, dietitian, nor nutritionist … in fact I have no medical training of any kind.”

That means the people who seek his advice know exactly what he is – and what he isn’t.

[Board director Charla] Burill said the disclaimer may not protect a nutrition blogger from the law.

“If I’ve given you reason to not worry that I don’t have a license because I have all these other reasons I’m an expert, you could still harm the public,” she said.

And what harm would that be, Ms. Burill?  How exactly are diabetics going to be harmed by following Cooksey’s advice and restricting carbohydrates?  The only potential harm here will be to the bank accounts of dietitians, who may find there are fewer people willing to pay them to be harmed by their crappy advice.

I’ve seen plenty of books in bookstores that offer nutrition advice, but weren’t written by people with degrees or licenses.  If any of those authors live in North Carolina, will the state’s dietetics and nutrition board be going after them next?  Are those of us who don’t live in North Carolina going to be threatened with fines or jail, since we have readers in North Carolina?

Burill told Carolina Journal she could not discuss the details of Cooksey’s case because his website is still under investigation, but agreed to talk about the law in the hypothetical.

It’s not necessarily against the law to give your sister or your friend nutritional advice, she said.

Not necessarily against the law?  You mean it could be?

And it’s not necessarily against the law to use a blog to tell people what they should eat.

Where it crosses the line, Burill said, is when a blogger “advertises himself as an expert” and “takes information from someone such that he’s performing some sort of assessment and then giving it back with some sort of plan or diet.”

So you can give advice to your friend or sister … well, what about a co-worker?  A co-worker of mine recently asked me for advice about his diet because his triglycerides are way too high and the low-fat diet he was advised to follow isn’t helping.  (Duh.)  He gave me a copy of his lab report and a list of his typical meals.  I’d say that means I performed an assessment. If we were in North Carolina, could I get around the law by declaring that I consider the co-worker a friend?  Would we need to submit pictures of ourselves having drinks together after work to prove we’re friends?

That’s how ridiculous these issues can become.

It’s a fine line between what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to talking about nutrition.

“Anyone can talk about anything they want,” Burill said. “That’s a First Amendment right, so to speak.”

So to speak?

For example, a person could write a blog advocating vegetarianism, she said.

I’ve heard that could happen.

“Now if you advertised that you’d taken classes in nutrition, you’ve worked at [the federal government’s Food and Nutrition Service] for three years, and you say ‘I believe everyone should be a vegetarian, and I’m here to help you if you want to change your diet’ [that could be crossing the line],” Burill said.

No, you flippin’ idiot, the “crossing the line” part would be advertising that you’ve taken nutrition classes or worked for a federal agency if you haven’t.  That’s called fraud.  Prosecuting fraud is a legitimate function of government.  Prosecuting people for stating their opinions about what constitutes a good diet isn’t.

“A vegetarian diet would be a little bit harder [to prosecute] because a vegetarian is not really like a medical diet.”

True, a vegetarian is not really like a medical diet.  A vegetarian is more like a person who doesn’t eat meat.  But plenty of vegetarians write online about the wonders their diet has done for their health, and plenty of them offer advice too.  What the @#$% is the difference?

Declan McCullagh, a correspondent who writes about online free speech, says the board probably is violating Cooksey’s First Amendment rights.

“In general, I think that as long as someone is very clear that they’re not a licensed dietician, state officials can probably find better uses of their time,” he said.

You’re right about the First Amendment, Mr. McCullagh.  But as for state officials finding better use for their time … naw, I don’t think so.  This is exactly the kind of petty nonsense they live for.  To make better use of their time, they’d have to leave government and get a real job.


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I’ll be spending the evening attempting to finish up my bits for the roast I’m doing on the low-carb cruise.  Can’t believe it’s coming up so soon.


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Odds and Ends from the news and reader emails:

The tube diet

Here’s a novel idea for losing weight rapidly:  drip some protein and fat into your stomach through a tube in your nose.  Apparently this is now popular among brides-to-be who want to walk down the aisle wearing a dress they’ll never fit into again.

The K-E diet, which boasts promises of shedding 20 pounds in 10 days, is an increasingly popular alternative to ordinary calorie-counting programs. The program has dieters inserting a feeding tube into their nose that runs to the stomach. They’re fed a constant slow drip of protein and fat, mixed with water, which contains zero carbohydrates and totals 800 calories a day. Body fat is burned off through a process called ketosis, which leaves muscle intact, Dr. Oliver Di Pietro of Bay Harbor Islands, Fla., said.

“It is a hunger-free, effective way of dieting,” Di Pietro said. “Within a few hours your hunger and appetite go away completely, so patients are actually not hungry at all for the whole 10 days. That’s what is so amazing about this diet.”

I have to admit, I’m curious as to why they’re not hungry on 800 calories per day.  Sure, a ketogenic diet can suppress appetite to an extent, but those are semi-starvation rations.  Is it because they don’t smell or taste the food?  Would they be hungrier if they consumed 800 calories of fried eggs instead?

Di Pietro says patients are under a doctor’s supervision, although they’re not hospitalized during the dieting process. Instead, they carry the food solution with them, in a bag, like a purse, keeping the tube in their nose for 10 days straight. Di Pietro says there are few side effects.

Maybe having a tube up your nose for 10 days is an appetite suppressant.  I’d try some self-experimentation with that, but people at work already think I’m odd because I eat sandwiches with no bread.

“The main side effects are bad breath; there is some constipation because there is no fiber in the food,” he said.

“William, do you take this malodorous, constipated woman to be your bride, to have and to hold her, to love and respect her, forsaking all others, until death do you part?”

“Uhhh …”

“William?  WILLIAM!”

Scientists are freakin’ liars

I occasionally receive emails from people who were offended by the “scientists are freakin’ liars” line in my Science For Smart People speech.  Those emails usually include some variation on Who are you to say scientists are liars?  Huh?  Huh?

I’m a guy who can read, that’s who.  Check out this article from the New York Times:

In the fall of 2010, Dr. Ferric C. Fang made an unsettling discovery. Dr. Fang, who is editor in chief of the journal Infection and Immunity, found that one of his authors had doctored several papers. It was a new experience for him. “Prior to that time,” he said in an interview, “Infection and Immunity had only retracted nine articles over a 40-year period.”

The journal wound up retracting six of the papers from the author, Naoki Mori of the University of the Ryukyus in Japan. And it soon became clear that Infection and Immunity was hardly the only victim of Dr. Mori’s misconduct. Since then, other scientific journals have retracted two dozen of his papers, according to the watchdog blog Retraction Watch.

Oh, well.  Probably just one bad apple.

Dr. Fang became curious how far the rot extended. To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem — “a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,” as Dr. Fang put it.

Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct.

In other words …

No one claims that science was ever free of misconduct or bad research … But critics like Dr. Fang and Dr. Casadevall argue that science has changed in some worrying ways in recent decades — especially biomedical research, which consumes a larger and larger share of government science spending.

In October 2011, for example, the journal Nature reported that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade, while the number of published papers had increased by just 44 percent. In 2010 The Journal of Medical Ethics published a study finding the new raft of recent retractions was a mix of misconduct and honest scientific mistakes.

Do we have more  bad scientists now than before?  I don’t think so.  The article gives a possible explanation for the 10-fold rise in retractions that I believe has rather a lot to do with it:

Several factors are at play here, scientists say. One may be that because journals are now online, bad papers are simply reaching a wider audience, making it more likely that errors will be spotted.

Indeed, it’s not just other scientists busting bad science anymore.  The so-called “pajamas media” has gotten involved as well.

But other forces are more pernicious. To survive professionally, scientists feel the need to publish as many papers as possible, and to get them into high-profile journals. And sometimes they cut corners or even commit misconduct to get there.

To measure this claim, Dr. Fang and Dr. Casadevall looked at the rate of retractions in 17 journals from 2001 to 2010 and compared it with the journals’ “impact factor,” a score based on how often their papers are cited by scientists. The higher a journal’s impact factor, the two editors found, the higher its retraction rate.

So it’s the journals most cited by other scientists that are most likely to publish bad science.  Or it could be that those journals, because they are more prestigious, feel the most pressure to issue a retraction.

Either way, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

They’re not fat because they don’t have access to vegetables

One of recommendations listed in the 2010 USDA’s Dietary Goals report was to make fresh fruits and vegetables more available in poor neighborhoods – in other words, they want politicians to take your money and use it to subsidize fresh produce and the people who sell it.  Because ya know, if only we could get more broccoli and carrots into poor neighborhoods, poor people wouldn’t have such high rates of obesity.

Recent studies disagree:

It has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But two new studies have found something unexpected. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.

Even if we’re talking about neighborhoods where there truly aren’t as many vegetables being sold, people get the causality backwards.  The local residents aren’t fat because they don’t have access to vegetables.  The vegetables aren’t available because people don’t buy them.

Some experts say these new findings raise questions about the effectiveness of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods. Despite campaigns to get Americans to exercise more and eat healthier foods, obesity rates have not budged over the past decade, according to recently released federal data.

Duh.  That’s largely because the government’s definition of “healthy foods” is all screwed up.  Nothing wrong with fruits and vegetables, of course, but as long as they keep pushing low-fat diets based on breads, cereals and pasta, they can open a subsidized vegetable stand next to every poor person’s residence in the country and it won’t make any difference.

Advocates have long called for more supermarkets in poor neighborhoods and questioned the quality of the food that is available. And Mrs. Obama has made elimination of food deserts an element of her broader campaign against childhood obesity, Let’s Move, winning praise from Democrats and even some Republicans, and denunciations from conservative commentators and bloggers who have cited it as yet another example of the nanny state.

Speaking in October on the South Side of Chicago, she said that in too many neighborhoods “if people want to buy a head of lettuce or salad or some fruit for their kid’s lunch, they have to take two or three buses, maybe pay for a taxicab, in order to do it.”

Here’s what people like Mrs. Obama can’t seem to grasp:  if enough people in those neighborhoods wanted lettuce and fruit in their kids’ lunches, plenty of greedy capitalists would happily move in to sell them.  In a previous post, I wrote about a chain of stores that tried selling 15-cent bags of apple slices in a poor neighborhood.  The apple slices had to be thrown away because they didn’t sell.

Mrs. Obama has also advocated getting schools to serve healthier lunches and communities to build more playgrounds.

Her office referred questions about the food deserts issue to the Department of Agriculture. A spokesman there, Justin DeJong, said by e-mail that fighting obesity requires “a comprehensive response.”

No problem then.  The government’s on the job and planning a comprehensive response.  That of course means a really expensive and ultimately futile response.

Farm News:  Guineas Gone

Well, we knew we’d make a few mistakes when we took up farming.  The result of our first mistake is that our guinea fowl are all gone.

Once they’d grown considerably and seemed determined to fly around the basement, we decided to move them out to chicken coop.  The theory was they’d bond with the chickens for awhile and get to considering the area their home, then we’d let them free-range.

They free-ranged, all right.  On Sunday we took the girls to see a Sondheim musical at a theater in downtown Franklin.  When we returned home, seven of the guineas were already out and about.  The girls tried to chase them down, which of course merely inspired them to flee.  For a couple of days, they hung around our property, usually waddling around in a pack.  They seemed fond of the creek, so we hoped they’d stick around.

Nope.  We haven’t seen them in two days now.  The other three wandered off as well.  The coop has a fence around it and a big net covering the fence so hawks don’t swoop down and fly away with our chickens, but there are gaps large enough for a determined bird to get out.

We’ll try again after making the area more escape-proof.

The Ace

This has nothing to do with diets, health, fitness or farming, but I feel the need to report it anyway:  I finally got a hole-in-one on my frisbee golf course.  The disc sailed towards the basket about 200 feet away, looked as if it would miss high and to the right, then faded left, hit the chains, and dropped into the basket.  I let out a self-congratulatory war whoop.

Unfortunately, I was out there playing by myself.  You get a hole-in-one, you want a witness.  Since I didn’t have one, I’m telling all of you.


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You may recall that Gary Taubes recounted some over-feeding studies in Good Calories, Bad Calories. The upshot was that naturally thin people don’t gain as much weight or extra bodyfat from over-consuming food as the “3500 calories equals a pound of fat” equation says they should.  Their bodies adjust.  The same works in reverse:  people who cut calories often don’t lose as much weight as the calorie equation says they should.  Their bodies adjust as well.  The calories in affect the calories out.

Someone on YouTube suggested I watch this BBC documentary about a researcher who conducted a similar experiment:  a group of naturally-thin young adults doubled their normal caloric intake for four weeks.  Sure enough, some gained about what you’d expect, but others gained significantly less.  One barely put on any extra bodyfat at all.

Most of them reported easily losing the weight they’d gained once they stopped the experiment — and no, they didn’t count calories.  They didn’t need to.   Their bodies are geared to resist becoming fat, so they just returned to their normal eating behaviors and dropped the weight.  That’s what happened to Chareva after both of her pregnancies.  A month after delivery, you’d never know she’d been pregnant to look at her.

As if to demonstrate just how pig-headed people can be about this topic even after the evidence from a controlled study is presented to them, some genius left this in the comments section for the documentary:

this is the most moronic documentary ever.

eat more than your body burns = gain weight, vice versa


The genius is probably one of those people who never gains weight and thinks it’s because of his superior discipline.  Or as I’ve put it before, he was born on the finish line and thinks he won a race.  (He no doubt believes he’s qualified to tell others how to win the race as well.  But enough about Dr. Oz.)

I trust you’ll come to a less simple-minded conclusion after watching.  Enjoy.


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The Dr. O Show

I was recently interviewed on the Dr. O show.  No, not that Dr. O.  This Dr. O actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to diet and health.

Some of you may recognize Dr. S. Andrei Ostric as a frequent contributor in the Fat Head Facebook group.  He’s a passionate and intelligent guy who recently decided to start producing his own Dr. O podcast show.  I hope he keeps at it and ends up on some national radio network.  We need people like him to offset the damage done by media doctors who push the same old anti-fat nonsense.

You can listen to our interview here.


Dr. Lustig featured in new seven-part series

Dr. Robert Lustig seems to be everywhere these days, including a recent appearance on 60 Minutes.  That appearance inspired at least one diabetic I know to seriously reconsider his diet.  (Fat Head apparently didn’t do the trick … oh well.)

The UCTV video channel is now featuring Dr. Lustig in a seven-part series on obesity.  Here’s the first episode:


Saturated Fat Praised on TV

In my recent speech, I explained why people are turning to the internet for alternative dietary advice that actually works.  It’s nice to see that stories about the benefits of a high-fat diet are also finding their way into more mainstream media, like this one from an Australian news channel featuring nutrition author Christine Cronau.

I couldn’t embed the video, but you can watch it here.

Naturally, we had to also see a dietitian warning the audience that tens of thousands of studies have linked saturated fat to heart disease and other diseases.

Tens of thousands?  Really?  I don’t know exactly how many observational studies anyone could find on that topic, but I doubt there are thousands.  If we did go through all the studies, we’d find that the supposed correlation is all over the place.  What matters are the clinical studies where researchers attempted to lower rates of heart disease with low-fat diets.  Those studies have been done, and they were all major flops.

I hope the people watching that news story see the kind of shape Christine Cronau is in and conclude that the dietitian is clueless … which she is.


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