Character vs. Chemistry, Part Six

      53 Comments on Character vs. Chemistry, Part Six

Many moons ago I got into an online debate with a bodybuilder I nicknamed “Cliffy” because his know-it-all attitude reminded me of the mailman from Cheers.  As someone who’d never been fat, Cliffy was convinced fat people are simply weak-willed — unlike, say, Cliffy.  In other words, they’re fat because of a character flaw.

I pointed out that there’s been a sharp rise in the number of kids and even babies who are obese and asked Cliffy if it’s because kids these days lack the discipline of kids from previous generations.

Blame the kids?  Gosh no, Cliffy wouldn’t do that.  After explaining that I’m a fat, lazy old man, Cliffy insisted that kids these days are obese because their parents are feeding them too much.  It’s the parents who have the character flaw.

I pointed out that my girls are both lean and healthy, thus proving that my wife and I are good parents of fine character.  We obviously don’t feed the girls too much, and that’s why they’re lean.  So how do we accomplish this feat of parental responsibility?  Do we calculate how many calories they burn per day and feed them accordingly?  Nope.  I have no idea how many calories they burn in a day.  I have no idea how many calories they consume in a day.  We keep our girls lean and healthy by feeding them as much as they want to eat every time they tell us they’re hungry.  Every. Single. Time.

When Alana was having growth spurts, she’d sometimes get out of bed after midnight and tell me (because I’m the family night owl) that she was hungry.  So I’d feed her.  If she was still hungry, I’d feed her more.  But most of the time, the girls don’t eat all that much.  They usually walk away from the dinner table with food still on their plates.

While out grocery shopping a couple of years ago, Chareva and I ran into a mom whose son was in Sara’s class.  The mom, who struck me as a nice lady, told us she was going to push her son to play more outdoors during summer vacation because he was getting fat.  So of course I sneaked a peek in her grocery cart.  You can guess what I saw:  skim milk, jugs of apple and orange juice, bread, noodles, Cheerios, fat-free yogurt cups and plenty of other food-like products with “LOW-FAT!” stamped on the label.

This wasn’t a careless mom.  This was a mom trying to do the right thing, buying products she’d been told were good for her son’s weight and health.  But he was getting fat.  That’s chemistry, not character.  The boy was living on foods that made him hungrier than he needed to be.

Our girls were (and are) living on meats, eggs, seafood, fruits, green vegetables, nuts, olives, full-fat dairy foods, eggplant, sweet potatoes, squash and some rice now and then.  Their appetites are naturally controlled by a diet rich in nutrients and low in refined carbohydrates.  They’re only as hungry as they need to be.  Once again, it’s a matter of chemistry, not character.  There’s no discipline involved.  They don’t restrict their calories to stay lean, and we don’t have to push them to play outside.  Sara decided to talk a walk today and carry fresh water to the chickens even though it was only 20 degrees outside and school was canceled because of an ice storm.  When I asked why she volunteered for the duty, she replied, “I just felt like it.”

(The same ice storm knocked out our internet service, which is why this post is late.)

When I started this series in January, I wrote that most of the weight-loss plans we impose on ourselves and others try to impose on us are doomed to fail because they’re based on the notion that losing weight is a matter of character.  By impose on us, I’m of course talking about the brilliant ideas that come from various governments.  Setting aside my libertarian belief that (as libertarian writer Jacob Sullum puts it) the size of your butt is none of the government’s business, would those brilliant ideas work?

I hardly think so.  Let’s look at a few of them.

This official from the U.K. health system floated the idea that doctors need to stop pussyfooting around with the language and just tell fat patients that they’re too fat.  A professor of ethics in the U.S. stepped it up a notch and insisted we need to start shaming fat people.

Riiiiiiiight.  Because fat people don’t know they’re fat and aren’t properly ashamed of themselves.  If we just shame them enough, they’ll develop some character and stop eating too much.  It’s not as if appetite and energy balance at the cellular level figure into this or anything.

I’ve got news for both of these dunces:  fat people know they’re fat, and most of them hate it.  Most of them have tried over and over to lose weight, but failed because they were given bad advice on how to do it.  To put it in terms of my last post, they expended plenty of effort, but the effort wasn’t effective.

If we start shaming them, we won’t end up with fewer fat people … but we will end up with more fat people who are depressed or neurotic.  Fewer of them will visit doctors for checkups or to find out what that funny-looking lump is.  They’ll avoid doctors to avoid the lectures and the shaming.  That already happens, in fact.  And by the way, raising their cortisol levels by shaming them won’t help the weight-loss efforts one bit.

Okay, so let’s skip outright shaming in favor of the kinder, gentler form of government meddling favored by CSPI and plenty of other do-gooders:  calorie-count menu boards and can’t-miss calorie labels on food packages.  In that case, we’re not assuming fat people are remorseless gluttons who need to feel ashamed.  Nope, now we’re just assuming they’re stupid.

The belief here is that fat people go to fast-food restaurants and order a double cheeseburger, large fries and large soda because it’s never occurred to them that the calorie count might be too high for one meal.  So let’s pass a law mandating a calorie count right there on the menu board where they can’t miss it.   The menu board will then serve as a nagging parent, almost yelling “Hey, dummy!  Look at all the calories in that meal!  Order the chicken salad instead!”

During a talking-head-show debate about the calorie-count menu boards I saw awhile back, a skinny news anchor opined, “Well, if I see that the double cheeseburger meal is 1,000 calories and the chicken salad is 300 calories, I’m going for the chicken salad.”  Yes, of course you would, Miss Skinniness.  That would be a satisfying meal for you because that’s how your body chemistry works.  But if an obese person ordered that meal because the menu board shamed him into it, the end result would be that he’d eat more later to make up the difference.  That’s what the research shows.

Real-world studies have already demonstrated that confronting people with calorie counts doesn’t work, and it’s a wonder anyone believes otherwise.  Jacob Sullum (who appeared in Fat Head) once angered Yale professor Kelly Brownell during a debate by pointing out that Brownell is very fat.  Sullum’s a nice guy, and as he told me off-camera when I interviewed him, he wouldn’t normally make a point of someone’s girth.  But Brownell (a CSPI board member) is all in favor of mandatory calorie counts on menus, which means he thinks people are fat because they don’t have enough information to make smart choices.

And yet Brownell is morbidly obese.  Are we supposed to believe that a Yale professor doesn’t have enough information to make smart choices?  Are we supposed to believe that a guy who wants to use the power of government to (ahem) help obese people lose weight doesn’t care that he’s obese himself?  Are we supposed to believe that a Yale professor who wrote a book about obesity isn’t aware that even people who go out of their way to count calories rarely lose weight and keep it off as a result?  If calorie-counting doesn’t work for them, why the hell would it work for people who are merely confronted with calorie counts?  I’m not sure which bugs me more: the hypocrisy or the ridiculousness of believing in a theory that clearly hasn’t worked for Brownell himself.

When standardized food labels were mandated by the FDA in the 1990s, the media were full of rah-rah articles about how Americans would make smarter food choices as a result.  That was millions of new cases of obesity and type 2 diabetes ago.  So now the FDA is doing exactly what Thomas Sowell described in The Vision of the Anointed:  holding up failure as evidence that we need to do the same thing again, only bigger.  Look at these quotes from an article about the FDA’s newest labels:

The Food and Drug Administration for the first time in two decades will propose major changes to nutrition labels on food packages, putting calorie counts in large type and adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat.

Millions of Americans pay attention to food labels, and the changes are meant to make them easier to understand — a critical step in an era when more than one-third of adults are obese, public health experts say. The epidemic has caused rates of diabetes to soar, and has increased risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.

On Thursday, the Obama administration promoted the proposed labeling changes at an event at the White House. At an anniversary ceremony for her “Let’s Move” campaign aimed at reducing obesity, Michelle Obama talked about how hard it is to understand what is in packaged food, and how the changes were a way to demystify that.

Well, there you have it:  people are stupid.  They’re confused by the serving sizes, so they willy-nilly eat too much.  Oh, and they have bad eyesight, too — that’s why we need to put the calorie counts IN LARGER TYPE.  Appetite and biochemistry have nothing to do with it.  Clear up the confusion over serving sizes and list those calorie counts IN LARGER TYPE, and the dummies will finally eat less and lose weight, thanks to better information – the kind of information that helped Kelly Brownell look good in a swimsuit.

Offering de-confusing information AND LARGER TYPE is about all the government can do (for now) in the case of adults who are fat because they’re stupid and have poor eyesight.  But if we’re talking about kids … hey, now we’ve got a captive audience, at least for school lunches.  We can by-gosh impose some discipline on the little tykes by forcing them to put the magical fruits-and-vegetables-and-whole-grains on their plates and limiting their fat and calorie intake.

If you don’t believe the new-and-improved school lunches are an attempt by do-gooders to impose discipline on parents and kids who lack character, take a gander at some quotes from an editorial in the Springfield, Illinois newspaper my mom clipped and sent me:

We hope this is not the first step in an effort to significantly weaken or do away with existing school lunch nutritional guidelines – something some Republicans are hoping for on the grounds that the rules amount to government “overreach.”

Goodness, no.  Let’s not weaken guidelines that have done such wonders for kids’ waistlines and overall health in the past 30 years.

The healthy school lunch rules stem from the Obama administration’s 2012 initiative to reduce childhood obesity throughout the country.

And as we know, government programs always achieve their stated goals.  The Dietary Goals for Americans, to name just one example.

Adults who grew up in the ’70s, ‘60s and earlier most likely were subjected by their parents to such homemade dinnertime delights as liver and onions, tuna casserole, beef stroganoff, meat loaf, lima beans, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.  And what happened if children declined the dinner put before them?  Usually they remained at the table until they ate it, cold or not, under their parents’ careful watch.  No way were parents allowing finicky children to leave without eating what they considered a reasonable and nutritious meal.

Yet here we are in 2014, grappling with a troubling childhood obesity epidemic but allowing children to reject nutritionally balanced fruit-and-vegetable laden lunches that are designed to be filling and healthy.  No only are children rejecting the food outright, parents and schools are actually complaining to elected officials about the guidelines.

Oh, no!  You mean those stupid parents have the unmitigated gall to complain to their betters in government?! Heaven forbid.

The editorial goes on to wonder why kids and parents would complain about the fabulous fare being offered in the local schools.  Here are some lunch items they offer as evidence:  baked tater tots, chilled applesauce, whole-grain spaghetti, garlic bread, bananas, chilled pears, turkey corn dogs, soft-baked cookies.

And students can always get seconds on fruits and vegetables to help fill them up.  Sounds good, right?  Most adults would welcome such varied and nutritious lunches each day.

Fat adults who want to try yet another diet that won’t work no doubt would welcome those foods, yes.

As Dr. Mike Eades would put it, the dumbth is astounding.  Painful as it will be, let’s examine just those brief bits of a long-winded editorial written by nutritional ignoramuses.

The lunches are designed to be filling and healthy.  Yes, and a jackass is a racehorse designed by a government committee.  Newsflash, ignoramuses:  one of the biggest complaints kids have about those lunches is they’re still hungry after eating.  It doesn’t matter that the lunches were designed to be filling.  They’re not filling.

But we mustn’t let the kids decide if they’re satisfied … and we mustn’t let their parents (who have the gall to complain to elected officials) make that decision either, according to the ignoramuses who wrote the editorial.  Parents in the 1970s and earlier were responsible, you see.  They made their kids eat that nutritious food, broccoli and all, as the editorial writers reminded us.  They didn’t complain to their elected officials, either.  That’s why kids weren’t fat back then.

But today’s parents, unlike yesteryear’s parents, obviously can’t be trusted to decide what their kids should eat.  We know that because too many kids are fat.  So we need the wise folks at the USDA to step in and replace today’s parents as the responsible decision-maker.  In other words, we need government to impose discipline because today’s kids and parents lack character.

Here’s what different about today’s parents vs. parents from the 1960s:  parents in the 1960s hadn’t been told by government officials that fat and cholesterol are killers.  Parents in the 1960s didn’t believe chocolate-flavored skim milk is a healthier choice than whole milk – and neither did school officials.  More parents in the 1960s believed that sugar and refined starches make people fat, not dietary fat.  No parents concerned that their daughters were screaming themselves silly over the Beatles were also trying to limit saturated fat in their kids’ diets to 7% of total calories.

In other words, the “good” parents who served liver and onions, tuna casserole, beef stroganoff, meat loaf, lima beans, broccoli and Brussels sprouts didn’t have the same dietary beliefs as government officials who order schools to serve baked tater tots, chilled applesauce, whole-grain spaghetti, garlic bread, bananas, chilled pears, turkey corn dogs and soft-baked cookies. (With unlimited seconds on fat-free vegetables!)  Send a USDA official back to the family dinner table in 1960, and he’d chide the parents for serving too much beef and other high-fat food.  How the editorial writers failed to notice the contradiction is beyond me.

If they did notice the contradiction – or better yet, if officials at the USDA noticed the contradiction – then perhaps we’d get somewhere.  Perhaps the do-gooders would wonder why parents in the 1960s didn’t have to put their kids on calorie-restricted diets and push them to play outside to keep them from getting fat.  Perhaps they’d ask themselves if the types of foods parents served to their kids back then had something to do with it.  Perhaps they’d notice that in that old episode of The Andy Griffith Show I mentioned in my latest speech, Andy said he’d fill in the chinks with another bite of meatloaf while Barney told Aunt Bea he was being careful not to overdo the glucose and carbohydrates.

In other words, perhaps the idiots running the show would finally begin to realize that we have a problem with childhood obesity and diabetes because of chemistry, not character.


I think I’m done with this series.  Here are links to the other posts for those who asked:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five


53 thoughts on “Character vs. Chemistry, Part Six

  1. Tom Welsh

    By the way, aren’t liver, beef stroganoff and meat loaf simply loaded with saturated fat? Only asking… 😎


  2. rs711

    amen brother, amen!

    For a “lay” person you manage to highlight the issue in an admirable way, demonstrating great understanding by saying it’s about “chemistry, not character”.
    You ‘popularize’ the subject of nutrition and health in a tangible manner without using any more science than is strictly necessary (simple, but not oversimplifying). Many scientific journalists & researchers should take a page out of your book.
    Kudos 🙂


    Thank you.

  3. Firebird7478

    “But if an obese person ordered that meal because the menu board shamed him into it, the end result would be that he’d eat more later to make up the difference.”

    This is what I call “calorie shifting”. The theories of intermittent fasting, eating 6 smaller meals a day, 2 meals/day, no eating after 6 PM, etc. are nothing more than calories shifting. It doesn’t matter, IMO when you eat or how often, you will get the calories you need.

    That is why I don’t intermittent fast, as people have suggested. I know that if I skip lunch, I’m only going to either A) eat more than normal at dinner or B) eat a normal dinner then go right back 2-3 hours later for a snack, and that snack will be in the 500 calorie range.

    I engage in some intermittent fasting, but it’s to increase insulin sensitivity, not to cut calories.

    1. Mark.

      My own experience with intermittent fasting is that I do seem to end up eating less. Seem to. But I never found fasting bearable until I started eating less starch and more fat. Also I’m a type 1 diabetic and when I fast I take much less insulin. I’m an odd case perhaps. I’m seriously considering going from two meals a day (skipping lunch most days has not caused much weight loss, so there may be something to this calorie-shifting idea) to one for Lent, just to see if I can do it and if I’m satisfied with one (not too vast) meal a day at dinner time.

      1. Lori Miller

        Fasting just makes me feel like going on a bender when I’m done. I had many symptoms of hypoglycemia before LC, so I probably just don’t make much blood sugar on my own. (It’s easy to fast when I have a cold–your blood sugar rises when you’re sick.)

        I did a fat fast for two days last year for gastritis and celebrated with a lamb chop and LC ice cream when it was over. God, how does anyone stick to 1,000 calories a day on a balanced diet?

  4. Kathy from Maine

    Thank you for this series. My doctor is of the naturally lean camp (and loves statin drugs). Tall, thin, and a runner. Trouble is, he just went in for quintuple bypass, despite the fact he had “no symptoms.” My guess is he has been taking statins for years, so his lipid panel has always been good, plus the fact he’s lean … must be healthy, right?

    The thing is, I’m neither male nor am I in the naturally lean camp (in fact, I’m post-menopausal, with all the “joys” that brings). He doesn’t understand that my body doesn’t work the way his body works. I should mention that the one thing we do have in common is our ideal lipid panel, though his comes at the cost of statins while mine comes benefit of my diet.

    At my last physical, he mentioned that I had gained weight since my last visit (gee, doc, thanks, I hadn’t noticed). He told me “we all overeat, so when we do we just need to up the exercise a bit to compensate.” GRRRRRRRR. I tried to explain to him that I eat whole foods, rarely touch processed foods, and 99% of the time don’t eat grains, sugar, or starch. I do yoga once or twice weekly and work out with weights. He just grinned as he was inputting my “claims” on his computer. I know he didn’t believe me.

    And now I have this year’s physical coming up at the end of the month. You got it, I’ve gained 10 pounds since last year, despite redoubling all my efforts. I’m seriously considering postponing the appointment, as I don’t think I can bear another lecture. I’ll either go ballistic or break down in a puddle of tears.

    At least this time I have the comeback, “It’s chemistry, not character!!!!!”

    We’ll see if he believes you. Sounds like another example of someone born on the metabolic finish line who thinks he won a race.

    1. Pierson

      Kathy, perhaps you should add some sugars back into your diet? Really, healthy sugars in the form of organic non-starchy fruits, honey, full-fat dairy, and chocolate (especially chocolate!) are plenty nutrient dense, and may help to ease whatever metabolic stress\nutrient deficiencies are causing your weight gain. You seem pretty active as well, so they’ll probably help your workouts

      1. Kathy from Maine

        Pierson, thanks for the advice. I also see an NP for female stuff (bio-identical hormones for menopause). She has been the only one to really listen to me and take me seriously regarding issues I’m having with sleep (10 hours a night, and still terribly sleepy and dragged out during the day), weak muscles, weight gain, and general malaise. Back in December she urged me to have some nutritional tests done.

        Turns out I’m hardly absorbing any of the B vitamins, and am on the verge of protein malnutrition (despite the fact that I eat 100+ grams of protein daily). So now I’m on a regimen of mega doses of B vitamins, amino acids, digestive enzymes, probiotics, and other supplements. I’m supposed to drink 2 protein shakes a day in addition to my 100+ grams of protein in meals. I’m also not metabolizing vegetables or fruits well, either.

        My own theory about all this is that since I’m not digesting/absorbing/metabolizing much of anything, I suspect that much of what I eat is simply being shuttled off to be stored as body fat rather than being used for fuel. It’s the only thing I can think of for slowly but surely gaining weight despite eating good whole foods in reasonable quantities.

        PS: I don’t eat much fruit, it’s true, but when I do it’s primarily berries. I do have full-fat cream or Greek yogurt almost daily. Chocolate? Never been a fan.

        1. Pierson

          Thanks for your reply, Kathy. You mentioned poor nutrient absorption and sleep, which may suggest some kind of gut flora deficiency. Do you take probiotics, and are you getting enough fermentable fiber in your diet? Perhaps some raw potato starch and kamboucha might help, if you can tolerate such additions

          1. Kathy from Maine

            Yup, taking digestive enzymes and probiotics, and mega doses of pretty much everything else. My thyroid level isn’t great, but we’re attacking this one problem at a time.

            I don’t want to hijack any more of Tom’s blog, so please know that I’ll take everyone’s advice to heart.

            Thanks, all! Especially you, Tom, for continuing with such great blog posts!

            It’s not hijacking. Discussions in comments are a big part of what makes the blog useful.

        2. Galina L.

          I am sure your thyroid was checked, but decided to remind you about that gland it anyway. May be you also need more T3?

        3. Lori

          I hear you. When I don’t take my supplements, I don’t gain weight, but my skin breaks out and my energy level drops so low that I can hardly prise myself out of my chair. I need iron and zinc despite eating red meat every day. Clearly, I don’t absorb these minerals well.

          1. Cindy C

            Hi Lori.

            Do you eat any wheat or grains at all? They are known to block absorption, and some uncooked vegetables can do likewise.

          1. Lori

            @Cindy, I quit eating grains four years ago. Rarely, I’ll have a few corn chips. I eat some raw veg, but nowhere near the boatload authorities recommend. No coffee or tea with iron pills and no dairy except butter, either.

        4. Dave

          There is some evidence to suggest that dairy products are problematical for some people. I also love heavy cream, cheeses, butter, and full fat Greek yogurt when I can find it. However, I’m about to embark on a dairy free period to see if I can do even better on my HFLC way of eating. I have noticed spikes in my blood glucose following consumption of too much heavy cream. I like to put some in a blender to make a sort of ‘pudding’ and add blueberries to it. Sadly, I think I can’t do this anymore. Blueberries by themselves won’t cause this problem, so it must be the cream.

          1. Dave

            I would just add that I normally have BG between 75 and 90, so a “spike” to me is anything that gets over 110. With a heavy cream “pudding,” the spike lasts much longer than a simple sugar spike that used to send me into a reactive hypoglycemia. Nearly 12 hours after a heavy cream “pudding” my BG might still be in the upper 90s.

    2. Firebird7478

      I haven’t had a physical in two years, not since he sent me around to a bunch of scalpel happy colleagues that wanted to put me on dialysis, perform open heart surgery and put me on statins because my cholesterol was high and my kidney function, based on a a blood test, were operating at 25%. Of course as stress test, urinalysis and ultrasounds all proved the blood panel wrong…but they all still wanted to talk about my cholesterol.

      I have to give my doctor credit. He mentioned statins once for my “high” cholesterol and I replied that I wouldn’t take a statin unless you had a gun to my head. He never mentioned them again.

      1. Kathy from Maine

        I live in rural Maine. I’ve looked at all the websites for paleo/primal/LC docs, and either none are even close to me, or if they are they don’t take insurance and are incredibly expensive. Besides, I like my current doctor personally, he doesn’t push statins or unnecessary treatment on me, he’s local, and works out of the hospital right here in town. Good to know I can be seen virtually immediately if there’s a need rather than having to drive 2 hours to see a paleo doc.

        99% of the time I avoid gluten, sugar, and starch. Not perfect and never will be.

        I’ve gone without dairy for long periods and have noticed no difference with or without, same with eggs and other common foods that can cause inflammation. It’s a known fact that after age 50, women especially don’t absorb protein as well as men of any age, and actually need more protein than men as a result. I guess it comes with the territory. My need is just exacerbated by perhaps a genetic quirk.

        I just read in “The Obesity Cure” by Dr. Scheele that: “Protein deficiency appears to lead to an imbalance between fat storage and fat metabolism. Under these conditions, fat storage exceeds fat metabolism, and fat pads increase without restraint. Protein deficiency also appears to lead to poor nutritional health and accelerated aging.”

        That’s me in a nutshell. I’ve been saying for a while now it’s like since my body isn’t absorbing the nutrients, the only thing that makes sense is that the food I eat is being shuttled off for storage as fat instead of being used for fuel. According to Dr. Scheele, anyway, I was right.

        With my new regimen of extra protein, supplemental protein shakes, and mega doses of all kinds of things (including B vitamins, digestive enzymes, and probiotics), I think I’m on my way to better health. I’ve lost a couple pounds, but seem to have lost quite a few inches in the past several weeks as well. I’ve no doubt that I’ll start feeling totally different (read: better) soon. Thanks again for all your comments.

    3. Jean Bush

      I feel for you, Kathy. I’m 65, shrunk from 5’3″ to 5’2; haven’t slept well in over 15 yrs due to menopause; my colon collapsed 4 yrs ago, and double surgery left me with a hernia on left side which won’t go down as all my weight seems to go to my stomach. I did the LC thing for 3 weeks faithfully and didn’t loose a single electron 🙁 I try to walk as much as possible and watch the starch, but I don’t seem to have the stamina and energy I did 8 years ago. I feel stuck at 170.

      Growin’ old ain’t for sissies.

  5. Kristin

    Excellent addition to this series. I’ve really been enjoying it. I heard the story of the wonderful new nutrition labels on NPR doing errands in the car last weekend. I was laughing out loud in both amusement and frustration at the fanfare over the BIGGER FONT on total calories. There was one thing I was happy with about the changes. That naturally occurring sugars from the ingredients and added sugars have to be reported separately. I recognize that sugar is sugar but at least it will be a bit harder for manufacturers to hide all their extra sugar.

    The other thing I found fascinating was making manufacturers use a ‘reasonable’ portion size. I wonder how that one is going to play out. Who gets to decide what reasonable means. The first thing I thought of is Braggs Aminos who have for years been using a selling point of it being ‘low sodium’. Boy is that a load of manure. Their serving size is 1/2 tsp with 160mg of sodium. Most soy sauces give info by the tablespoon. So if you multiply it out you get 960mg in the Braggs, more than in Kikkoman regular (920). Now I don’t bother controlling sodium intake but there are a lot of folks out there using Braggs thinking they are using something healthier than soy sauce. Total scam. Are they going to have to re-label? I’m rather curious.

    No idea what the new labels will require for sodium.

    I noticed the editorial writers failed to mention that those “good” parents in the 1960s didn’t have nutrition labels to guide them, much less labels with LARGER TYPE.

    1. Chris

      I am not in the USA so forgive me if I get some of the issue wrong; but as I understand Tom’s argument it is that people (1) need to understand the chemistry of their body; (2) understand what that means; and (3) understand what food they are eating and the effect on their bodies given (1) and (2)

      (and, then, (4), eating the right food if they want to lose weight – which isnt always done even if (1) – (3) are met)

      So I would have thought that any information provided on food labels is an essential part of this – particularly step (3). Sure its nice to think people will eat unprocessed foods or things straight from the farm at all times, but that doesnt always happen. People will often buy this or that from a supermarket.

      If you pick something up and realise it has quite a lot of calories, it will trigger you to look at why – probably dosed up with sugar or frutctose syrup. Lots of foods have hidden ingredients (ie ones you dont expect will be in there).

      More objective information is surely never a problem? Perhaps focusing on calories is the wrong focus, but those food ingredient breakdown tables (whether on cans or at McDonalds) are essential for any diet.

      Information is useful for people who are, for example, avoiding processed foods that contain gluten or sugar. But the idea that presenting obese people with calorie counts and portion sizes will inspire them to eat less and lose weight is clearly wrong. It’s been tried and it hasn’t worked. Making the calorie count bigger (maybe they’re not noticing it!) is just government silliness.

  6. EL

    Hypocrisy abounds in nutrition. I see it every day with my small kids in daycare. They feed the kids food that hits their budgets lightly; so it’s pure crap and teachers are constantly scolding kids to behave because these kids are so wired on simple sugars and carbs.

    Our kids are often extremely hungry when we pick them up we usually pack snacks for them to eat on the way home and once home they eat continually until dinner.

    Sadly, it’s the most affordable daycare for us but, it affords us jobs that we can save money to get to our goal of one of us being able to stay home with them full-time while the other works so we can possibly home school when they’re older. I just can’t handle a government official pretending they care more about our children than we do.

    I can’t handle government officials thinking they know what’s good for my kids to eat but I don’t.

  7. Deb

    Thanks again for your awesome article and observations! This series is MUCH appreciated for its common sense approach, and for its defense of individuals who have struggled with weight issues. Too bad the “carb deniers” (that is typed as very tongue-in-cheek) will not accept the message any more than Brownell will look in a mirror and see reality.

    Like Jacob Sullum, I wouldn’t normally point out Brownell’s girth. I have sympathy for fat people … but not for fat people who want to impose their weight-loss solutions on the rest of us.

  8. Jan's Sushi Bar

    We just got a letter from Kent State, where our youngest is a freshman, reminding us that finals are coming up and suggesting we should send a care package to help our son fend off the stress and depression that often accompanies these strenuous end-of-year tests.

    There was an extremely helpful list of suggestions for said care packages, including “healthy treats and snacks” that would give our student energy and allow him to focus on studying. These included Pop Tarts, Rice Krispie Treats, Goldfish crackers, NutriGrain bars and Skittles.

    Needless to say, my husband and I are most definitely not going to be sending the boy ADHD In A Box to help him get through final exams.

    Good grief. That’s certainly not what we fed Sara before her state exams.

  9. Kelly B

    “baked tater tots, chilled applesauce, whole-grain spaghetti, garlic bread, bananas, chilled pears, turkey corn dogs and soft-baked cookies” Not only is that list nutritionally bereft and guaranteed to have them all sleepy and unable to learn by 1 pm, but it is a total fail even in line with current conventional wisdom. It’s all yellow, and I know I’ve read multiple recent CW articles that encourage eating foods of a wide range of colors. If not that, my 31-year old Navy training in food service certainly had that as a rule. Never serve an all-yellow meal.

    Ugh. Just Ugh.

    And it’s not even pretty to look at.

  10. neal matheson

    ” liver and onions, tuna casserole, beef stroganoff, meat loaf, lima beans, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.”

    “baked tater tots, chilled applesauce, whole-grain spaghetti, garlic bread, bananas, chilled pears, turkey corn dogs, soft-baked cookies.”

    Is this even food?

    Sort of. The bananas are food.

  11. Jason

    Well done, Tom.

    I’m a teacher and I’m constantly appalled at the foods which are given, free and reduced, to a large (40%) population of our building. The only protein? A bit in the cheese/pepperoni of the pizza or a small disk of sausage on “breakfast” day.

    Everything else? Healthywholegrains, lowfatmilk, fruitfruitfruit, and the like.

    It’s appalling. Lots of kids eat a piece of pizza, two bags of Doritos and “100% fruit juice” – aka – pop minus the fizz.

    And then I have to teach them Algebra.

    Aye aye aye.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    Algebra after that meal. You’re a brave man.

  12. Stephanie

    I really liked this series. Also, I think it’s great when you reference books in your posts, I’ve already read a few of them on your recommendation.

    Thank you.

  13. Marla

    I think it’s funny when the government encourages people to eat low calorie foods. Calories are a commodity that we all need a certain quantity of to survive. So we should be encouraging people, especially those with limited financial means, to purchase the most calorie dense foods their money will buy. Buy the Big Mac, or the Whopper; you won’t have to eat for the rest of the day.

    Or two McDoubles without the bun. Yeah, it’s a strange world where cheap calories are considered a problem. I’ve never bought the theory that we got fatter as a nation because food became cheap. That wouldn’t explain why wealthy people, who can most afford to over-eat, are the least likely to be obese.

    1. rs711

      It’d be interesting for you to discuss this with Stephan Guyenet who has postulated that the rewarding aspect of food is more easily obtained and thus abused in the modern food environment (this is certainly ‘true’ but doesn’t explain why rich people aren’t fatter/sicker than poor people, as you rightly point out).

      I don’t think Guyenet is totally wrong. I don’t believe food-reward is the whole problem, but it’s part of the problem. The foods that are engineered to tickle the reward center in the brain are mostly refined-carb garbage.

      1. Walter Bushell

        It’s food reward without satiety. In the carbage industry you don’t want to satisfy the consumer, you want him to be ready to eat your product again soon. J Staton writes a lot about this, protein and fat at every meal and not snacking.

        Carbage has little complete protein and plenty of carbs and usually sugar. People eat until they get enough protein and so the manufactures goals are met.

  14. tony

    Great post but I have a great concern. Since this new dietary campaign is destined to fail, what’s next? WW II ration cards for everybody?

    Best not give them ideas. We are talking about The Anointed, after all.

  15. Bill Murrin

    Tom, Another terrific article. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire series.

    I completely agree with everything you wrote and believe the current recommendations, although they might be coming from a good place for the most part, are having a very negative effect on us, our children, families, etc.

    Hopefully with enough support from incredible voices such as yourself, we might someday be able to change the Dietary Guidelines and end some of this conflict of interest between the government and food industry as well as lessen the pain and suffering of the American people.

    Thanks again for this series, phenomenal job! 🙂

    I have no faith that the government guidelines will ever be based on anything but a desire to support and please the grain industry. But I do have faith that the Wisdom of Crowds effect will kick in and people will ignore those guidelines.

    1. Babs

      Would be interested in hearing ur thoughts on WHY it is the govt endlessly wants to support the grain industry.

      1) First primary (caucus, actually) every presidential election is in Iowa. Poor showing in Iowa, you’re probably out of the race.

      2) Federal agencies generally end up being run by people from the industry they’re nominally supposed to regulate. Monsanto and the USDA have such a revolving door for personnel, they should merge and get it overwith.

      3) Because of 1 & 2, the feds subsidize grains heavily. That’s why Michael Pollan described the school lunch program as a disposal system for excess agricultural products.

      4) As Denise Minger explains in her new book (review coming soon), cheap grains are what the food-stamp program could afford, so grains became health food for political reasons … i.e., the government couldn’t admit it was feeding poor people crap food.

      1. Stefan

        “…. the government couldn’t admit it was feeding poor people crap food”. Why would the Government admit that anyway? Worked well before, see Gary Taubes re the Pima living on Government rations.

  16. Adam

    I took a class with Brownell when I was at Yale. Nice guy, and a good prof. Too bad he aligned himself with the forces of nutritional evil and accidentally helped genocide the American people. Oops!

    He’s probably a nice guy, but I have a low tolerance for people who want to impose their solutions on the rest of us, no matter how noble their intentions. Lots of good intentions have led to very bad results.

    1. Peter

      I remember reading that Brownell had said that he is fat because he is “so busy” that he doesn’t have time to exercise. A very convenient excuse if you buy into the typical calories in, calories out nonsense.

      I remember that excuse. If you believe in CICO, it doesn’t make sense — if you don’t have time to exercise, you simply consume fewer calories and it’s problem solved. I certainly don’t recall him saying he supports calorie-count menu boards but doesn’t expect them to work for people who are too busy to exercise.

  17. Wayne Gage

    Great article. We are given advice by an agency that cannot be held accountable for the deadly outcome. Something is terribly wrong with that situation.

    Welcome to the joys of government. (But as I understand it, you can sue the government … as long as they grant you permission first.)

  18. Eric from Belgium


    Maybe a bit off topic, but kudos for mentioning ‘the vision of the anointed’. I finally managed to get the book, and reading it blew my mind. Somehow dense reading but a brilliant analysis. I highly recommend it, and will probably use some of the material in soon to come lectures.

    On the other hand, it’s depressing to realize that all the ‘anointed’ always seem to follow the same pattern… We are having elections in Belgium in a few months, and it’s appalling to witness that politicians all come with new ‘plans’ to deal with ‘crisis’ …. Oh, by the way, anointed translates directly to ‘elected’ in French.

    Regarding the size of the universe, we have a pretty good idea said Einstein. But human stupidity is impossible to measure….

    I enjoy Sowell’s books very much, despite the density of the information. He deals with complex subjects but explains them very well. The man is a treasure. It can be a bit depressing to see The Anointed follow the same pattern over and over, but it’s also good to be aware of the pattern.

  19. Babs

    Its hard for me to describe how much I cringe when I read somehing Michelle Obama says about obesity. I physically cannot read her words (its hard to read while rolling ur eyes).

  20. James Gegner

    Regarding the bit on school lunches: I just read an article that said more than 1 million school students stopped buying lunches at school during the 2012-2013 school year. Here is the link to the article:

    Great series, Tom. This post in particular really sums up why it truly is matter of chemistry and not character.

    The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

  21. T.

    “How the editorial writers failed to notice the contradiction is beyond me.”

    They’re stupid? LOL I credit Dr. Eades with helping me deal with the stupid people in my life. Have you read the book he recommended on his blog once, “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”? It’s very enlightening.

    Haven’t read it, but I love the title.

  22. Bob


    Thanks for this series of posts and your blog in general, AND your movie (I’ve given away 5-6 copies so far).

    Your first post in this series really hit home for me, especially your description of trying to drink just one beer. A while ago I too though I had a drinking problem because, when I drank, I kept going all night long. One year, I gave up beer for Lent. Guess what; I still drank all night long, but it was pop instead of beer. Not water, mind you, but pop; I just had to drink something sweet (and I still felt like crap the next morning). Reading the comments on your first post in this series led me to Julia Ross’s interview, which lead me to her book. I read it, a light went on, I ordered a bunch of supplements from her, started taking them, and things started to change.

    Look, I’m a code-monkey (well, at this point in my career I’m either a Senior code-monkey, or Principal code-monkey). Anyhow, pop is my coding fuel. Diet/Regular, I’d switch back and forth depending on how tight my jeans were at the time. Whenever I needed to get my head into a problem, I’d go to the vending machine, get a Mt. Dew, and recite, “It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Pepsico that thoughts acquire speed, the ass acquires fat, fat becomes a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.” (apologies to Frank Herbert). Guess what? In the 2-weeks since I’ve changed my diet and started taking L-Glutamine, my sugar cravings have vanished. I still have a little bit of a sweet tooth, but instead of drinking 4 bottles of pop a day, along with 3-4 candy bars, I’m down to a couple of Halloween sized York Peppermint Patties. Last week at happy hour I nursed my beer, something that I never do. This week I’ve been working 12’s because I want to! I am in the zone, and have plenty of energy; it’s like I’m back in college again. Thank you!

    That’s good news all around, Bob. Here’s to your health — and happy coding.

  23. Jean Bush

    Wonderful and informative series, Tom. Always looking forward to the next one, article or series.

    A commentor mentioned this book:

    I got this from The Obesity Cure book promo on In The Author Spotlight:’

    Based on 40 years of research, The Obesity Cure explains how obesity and metabolic disease are directly related to the composition of the diet and further explains how to alter the diet to reverse these diet-related diseases. “Refined sugars and processed carbohydrates should be avoided and replaced by whole grain carbs and saturated- and trans-fat should also be avoided and replaced by unsaturated fats including omega-3-6-9 essential fatty acids.” says Dr. Scheele. “But the real breakthrough in weight-loss success came when I discovered that a group of all-natural amino acids, which I call Power Amino Acids®, have the ability to correct deficiencies in the food chain, including positive-charged amino acids, proteins, and metabolic pathways that adversely affect satiety, metabolic health, and body weight.”

    I think not.


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