Fat Head: It’s clear to me after reading your book that you jumped head-first into a lot of heavy-duty medical and biological science while educating yourself about health. Was that intimidating, or did you find the science fairly easy to grasp?
Angelucci: I think my interest in science started when I first discovered Star Trek at age five! I was a science fiction geek most of my young life, and my passion for sci-fi spawned an interest in real-world science and medicine. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that I migrated in the direction of science, academically and professionally.
Fat Head: One of the reasons I recommend the book is that you explain the science clearly to a lay audience. Does that come naturally to you? Did your background prepare you to interpret science for non-scientists?
Angelucci: I’ve always enjoyed learning a complex subject and then conveying it to others. My background is as a technical writer in various fields, including biotech, medical devices, nanotechnology, and software. I studied the life sciences at the University of Maryland in my younger days and more recently have been studying mathematics at the University of Texas.
Fat Head: Don’t Die Early is about more about health than weight loss, although you cover weight loss in one chapter. At 20% body fat before you changed your diet, you weren’t exactly a fat guy. Were you motivated to lose weight after the heart-arrhythmia incident, or was the weight loss more of a side-benefit of becoming healthy?
Angelucci: I certainly wasn’t trying to lose weight. The weight loss was purely a positive by-product of a healthier lifestyle. That’s part of the message I convey in Don’t Die Early: don’t fixate on weight—just adopt a healthier lifestyle and eat the proper foods and your body will achieve a consistent weight.
Fat Head: You fly from Texas to Milwaukee once per year so Dr. William Davis, the author of Wheat Belly, can be your cardiologist. That’s quite a trip. Why is it worth the travel to see him specifically?
Angelucci: I first found Dr. Davis through his blog, then got to know his attitudes better through my interactions with him on the Track Your Plaque forum. After realizing that my cardiologist in Dallas seemed uninterested in taking an investigative, detailed approach to cardiac care, it was an easy decision to make the trip. Dr. Davis, more than any other cardiologist I’ve encountered, focuses on root cause and prevention. Most of my visit with Dr. Davis entails spreading a year’s worth of lab tests and self-collected data across the exam table while we look for patterns, anomalies, and opportunities for further improving my cardiac health. It’s worth far more than the price of a plane ticket and a day’s vacation to know that I’m seeing such an engaged, prevention-minded cardiologist. Not to mention that I get a perverse thrill out of having a cardiologist who advises me to eat more fat!
Fat Head: You recount in the book how your health markers have dramatically improved since you changed your lifestyle. That’s great, of course, but how about the benefits we don’t measure? How do you feel? What improvements have you seen in your life besides lower triglycerides, reduced coronary plaque, etc.?
Angelucci: The less tangible benefits were plentiful. Eliminating wheat from my diet caused my decade-old acid reflux disease to disappear in a matter of weeks. That was remarkable. Gone, too, was my frequent congestion and malaise, leaving me with more energy during the day.
Perhaps the most amazing change is my relationship with food. Previously, if something delayed lunch or dinner for an hour or two, I was miserable, focusing only on my gnawing painful hunger and wondering when I could finally break away and eat something. That has all changed now. Food is no longer the demanding taskmaster that it once was because skipping a meal, or even multiple meals, is a trivial inconvenience. Most importantly, I now enjoy eating for the pleasure that delicious, real food brings. I’ve become more of a foodie than I ever was before.
Fat Head: I’ve had the experience of friends and acquaintances basically deciding that since I’m not a doctor and their doctors are still telling them to eat low-fat meals with plenty of whole grains, I must be wrong. Have you had the same experience?
Angelucci: Absolutely. I’m constantly reminded of the “Marcus Welby” halo effect that causes so many people to follow medical advice unquestioningly, while so quickly rejecting even the most well argued opinions from people like us who are not “experts.” If our health improves on this unsafe, low-carb diet it’s because we’re an anomaly. Thousands upon thousands of us reporting better health absolutely must be an anomaly because, dammit, grains are good for us!
Even in the face of considerable contrary evidence, I think it’s human nature to believe that our physicians have the correct information and know exactly how to do what’s best for us. Unfortunately, a trivial amount of research reveals many examples from present day back through history where an accepted medical opinion was blatantly wrong, caused untold deaths, and took a decade or more to change. Recognizing the fallibility of the medical system, and the individuals within it, is an important part of being a thoughtful and critical advocate of one’s own healthcare.
Fat Head: How do you deal with it?
Angelucci: At first I wanted to stand on a soapbox with a megaphone and just start shouting, “Eureka! I’ve found the answer! The experts are wrong! We don’t have to be unhealthy any more.” But I quickly realized that would just scare people, get me arrested, and cause me to miss a bunch of work. After a period of frustration, I realized that there are enough people in the world who are receptive that I’d rather focus on them and not spend time shouting at the rest.
Fat Head: One of the sections in Don’t Die Early is titled Prepare To Be An Outcast. How much of an outcast are you in your social group?
Angelucci: Two years ago I would have said I was a complete outcast. After Don’t Die Early was released and I guilted my friends into buying it, 75% of my closest friends have now adopted a healthier lifestyle and are raving fans. At work, however, where I’m compelled to be far more restrained, I’m still largely an outcast, surrounded primarily by two groups: the “healthy” low-fat, whole grain crowd and the younger ones who still think they’re immortal and don’t even think about preventive health yet.
Fat Head: Don’t at least a few people see how much better you look and feel and think, “Maybe this guy’s onto something”?
Angelucci: Some have approached me after seeing the “strange” way that I eat or after hearing through the grapevine that I’ve written a book on preventive health. I think that no matter what evidence is available, each person needs to reach a personal tipping point where he or she is compelled to change. Until a person realizes that there’s a better path for them and truly wants to change, it’s little more than interesting conversation.
Fat Head: Don’t Die Early focuses a great deal on testing, assessing for heart disease, and reducing inflammation. It seems to me it’s mostly we middle-aged types who care about those issues. Why would, say, a 25-year-old want to read this book?
Angelucci: Don’t Die Early has something for everyone, whether they’re 40-something and wanting to understand or prevent diseases or a 20-something who is interested in knowing why a certain lifestyle makes the most sense for optimum future health. By focusing on the science of a healthy lifestyle, instead of just preaching my opinion of what’s healthful and what’s not, I give the reader the tools to refute the hype and chart a personally tailored path towards optimal health. Even if you’re 18 years old, eating Paleo, and on your way to a 110-year lifespan, you can still buy the book for your parents, who have probably been following well meaning, but misguided, advice for the past 30 years.
Fat Head: Suppose you meet someone in a social setting who’s interested in becoming healthier, but you’ve only got a couple of minutes to give advice. What would you tell that person?
Angelucci: One look at today’s rapidly advancing healthcare costs and at the skyrocketing rates of modern disease and it’s obvious that we are not spending our way into becoming a healthier nation. More than ever, busy physicians, pressured by frugal insurance companies, are focusing on treating symptoms, not on prevention. If you want make sense of the confusing, conflicting medical and nutrition advice that bombards us daily, and truly understand what being healthier means, read my book. Don’t Die Early will help you understand how a loved one can be facing a heart attack or a stent, even though the checkups and stress tests were normal. Don’t Die Early will help you understand why more of us are diabetic than ever before, yet the tools to predict and prevent diabetes are cheap and easy to use. If you want to assess your health and optimize your lifestyle using objective tests and real data instead of generalizations and hyperbole, read my book.
And while you’re waiting for the book to arrive, watch Fat Head. It’s by far the best overview of what has gone wrong with nutritional advice over the past 50 years.
Fat Head: What kind of response is the book receiving? Is the word getting out?
Angelucci: It’s early in the book’s life but I’m thrilled at the response so far. The Amazon reviews are very positive and the direct feedback I’m receiving from readers is that the book conveys a lot of information in an easy to understand, enjoyable way.
Fat Head: One of the real joys for me after releasing Fat Head was receiving emails from people who told me that the film changed their lives. Have you heard from people whose lives were changed after reading your book?
Angelucci: I have and it’s immensely rewarding. To see that x number of people have bought my book is nice, but when I receive an email saying that someone used my book to change his or her life, that’s priceless and the ultimate motivation for writing the book.
Fat Head: So what’s next? Any plans for a follow-up book or another related project?
Angelucci: I’m working on a more interactive version for the iPad but my primary focus right now is spreading the word about Don’t Die Early!
Fat Head: Thanks for taking the time for the interview, Rocky. Don’t Die Early is an excellent read, and I hope you sell a million copies.
Angelucci: Thank you, Tom, for being such an incredible beacon of sanity in the crazy world of nutrition advice and for your support of Don’t Die Early.