It’s been a long time since I’ve posted letters from viewers. Here are a few from the files. Their letters are in regular text; my replies are in red italic.
Mr. Naughton –
I don’t have a big long e-mail like some other people, but I figured I’d send you a short note. Today marks two years exactly since I took my “before” picture the day after watching Fat Head for the first (and certainly not the last) time. So of course I had to take an “after” picture, even though I’m still losing.
In addition to losing weight, the terrible acne I had for years vanished within the first few months and almost immediately the nauseating heartburn I got whenever I went more than a few hours without eating stopped. It’s been two years and sometimes I forget I used to be fat. I just feel … normal. I can go on the amusement park rides I love without worrying about not fitting in the seat. I can take up Judo without feeling guilty every time my partner has to pick me up. I can eat my occasional junk binge with my friends without being paranoid people are judging the fat girl with the double chocolate peanut butter banana split (although I know I’ll be sick the next morning…). I can just be… me.
So, without further ado, here’s my “before and after” exactly two years later (those are the same shorts, btw):
(From a reader who chose to remain anonymous)
That’s quite a transformation, Anon. Isn’t it great to feel normal?
I know you’ve probably gotten a truckload of these letters (you know…if e-mails were physical things that could go in a truck. I’m regretting this metaphor. Pretend this never happened), but I’m adding mine anyway. It turned out to be way longer than I intended — sorry about that. Feel free to give me the e-mail equivalent of a polite smile and nod.
I’ve been obese (not just the bogus BMI definition, but my own “I-feel-crappy-and-way-too-large” definition) for most of my adult life. My friends and I are confirmed smartasses, so at first we would joke about our growing waistlines (“Don’t get between us fat chicks and the buffet!”). It stopped being a joke when I started getting shaky between meals. It got even less funny when I stopped being able to walk up a flight of stairs without huffing like a steam engine.
I tried Weight Watchers a couple of times, but never stuck to their plan. Sorry, but counting points is no less confusing or frustrating than counting calories. Of course, I blamed myself and my lack of willpower/laziness for falling off the wagon. I never blamed the fact that I just felt crappier on that diet — because that’s how you’re supposed to feel on diets, right? Right??
I did some farm work for a few years (if anyone ever needs a reason not to eat factory-farmed pork, I can give them an earful), and that at least kept me somewhat physically active. Nowhere near “in shape,” but I was at least doing a lot of walking.
Then I started freelance writing full-time, about four years ago. (Yes, I realize it’s an odd shift — farm hand to freelance writer. My work history has been … colorful.)
Anyway, that meant sitting at a desk all day. I was already, as I mentioned, too big before the desk work. Freelancing put even more inches around my middle, made me even more sedentary, and pretty soon I found myself so exhausted all the time that I couldn’t function without an hour-long (or two-hour-long) afternoon nap.
A couple of months ago, I was cruising the documentary section of Amazon’s streaming videos (I’m a docu-geek), and I ran across Fat Head. When the description said it was a response to “Super Size Me,” I was sold — that film had always rubbed me the wrong way, though I couldn’t put my finger on why.
To make an already-too-long story a tiny bit shorter, the points you made about how the body actually processes carbs made a lot of sense. I watched it again, and then started buying ALL THE BOOKS I could find related to low carb.
After convincing myself that the science was as sound as it…er, sounded in Fat Head, I passed the movie on to my mom (I get my “fluffy” body type from her), and started throwing away every bit of bread, cereal, and other junk in my house.
I started out with just restricting carbs to less than 100 per day, but I apparently have one of those metabolisms that can’t handle carbs at all, so I went on Atkins induction a week and a half ago. The first three days, I’m not gonna lie, were torture — I’ve always loved veggies and fruit in mass quantities. Cutting fruit for two weeks turned out to be harder than cutting the bread and sweets I thought I’d miss. And Easter Sunday wound up being the day after I started induction (planning is apparently not my greatest skill) — so I had to resist an absolutely gorgeous fruit salad and chocolate cake. I managed, but I think the fingernail marks will never leave my palms.
On Day 4, though, it was like a fog lifted. I woke up not feeling exhausted for the first time in … well, I can’t even say. I don’t remember a time when I ever woke up feeling refreshed and not like I needed to go right back to bed. And my mind felt sharper; it was easier to focus on work.
The cravings also seemed to just switch off. I know some people won’t believe me (but I’ve never cared much for what “some people” think anyway), but I haven’t craved anything sweet or starchy since those first few days.
And today, I felt compelled to write all this out and send it to you, because for the past two days I’ve felt downright wired. I’ve never had this much energy to burn — I have to go for a walk, or I’m going to climb the walls. For the past few years, I’ve barely been able to drag myself out of bed — “exercise” was a four-letter-word — and now I feel compelled to exercise.
I don’t have any impressive numbers to give; my body’s carb-sensitive metabolism has kept my weight loss fairly slow even on induction, and I didn’t bother getting a doctor’s approval before starting this so-called “fad diet.” I just know what my body is telling me: “This is how you should have been eating all along, you fool.”
So thanks for setting me off on this journey. It sounds hyperbolic, but you very likely added a lot of years to my life, and helped improve my mental clarity — so I’ll be a smartass well into old age. I hope you’re happy.
Angie (Slowly Shrinking Fat Chick )
Welcome to the journey, Angie. If you’re already feeling that compulsion to move, I predict the weight loss will continue. And even if it doesn’t, this is about feeling good and being healthy more anything.
And yes, of course I’m happy to know the world won’t run out of smartasses anytime soon.
Dear Mr. Naughton,
I wanted to thank you for your documentary and lectures bringing light to the lipid hypothesis fallacy. There is so much misinformation, and frankly I get sick of hearing the same nonsense from physicians and colleagues who do nothing but spout off “handed down information” (because clearly they didn’t do the research themselves!).
My story was sad, but is now more uplifting since I’ve discovered you. I have a Master’s Degree in Medical Biochemistry, so I have an intricate understanding of the human body at the biochemical level. Four years ago I was accepted to medical school. Within the first month we were being taught principles of the lipid hypothesis, but it didn’t add up with what I had learned in my 2 years of intensive graduate courses in biochemistry. After class one day I went to the professor and asked him a few questions to get clarification, and he became angry and frustrated with me.
The next day I was called to the Dean’s office for a meeting between the Dean and the professor due to my “lack of professional respect” and because the professor felt I was “questioning the authority” of his education. I apologized and kept my mouth shut after that, but later in the year when doing dissections in the anatomy lab I noticed some anomalies. The patient we had in our pod was an older woman who had died of CVD. We had limited information on the patient, but what we did know is that she was a life-long vegetarian (this info was given to us to explain her “small, fit frame”) with no previous cholesterol problems (no HDL, LDL, or vLDL out of range). Yet when we started cutting into her aorta and other cardiac arteries, they were all caked with massive plaque crystals! It was disgusting! I remember vividly cutting with my scalpel and hearing the *crunch* of the plaque as we tried to unclog her vascular system.
Again, it wasn’t adding up: life-long vegetarian, no abnormal cholesterol count, and yet she had massive plaque in her major vessels? No wonder she died from CVD!!! I went to the anatomy professor with my findings, and again was told that I needed to keep my academic professionalism in check. From there, my confidence in our medical education system went downhill, and when I became pregnant I used it as my excuse to give up my seat and exit medical school. It was quite tragic…I had worked so hard to become a doctor, and now I wasn’t going to become one. To add insult to injury, I had accumulated $100,000 in student loan debt between undergrad, grad school, and my one year of med school.
My personal experience with the lipid hypothesis is even more compelling. I have always been “thick”. At 5’8″ tall, my “normal” weight was always around 150 or so. After med school and being pregnant with our son, I ballooned up 215 lbs and acquired gestational diabetes. Six months after having our son, I went down to 200, and a size 14/16. I was miserable and felt ugly, and my blood work looked dismal (triglycerides: 189, A1C: 7.5 — still diabetic). Even my husband, Steve, gained weight (he went from 225 to 270 lbs).
So we did the conventional thing: joined a gym and started working out 3x per week. We also cut back on calories. My limit was 1500 kcals per day. After four months I had barely lost 10 lbs. Steve lost just 3 lbs more than me. I became frustrated and wondered what we were doing wrong. Then I remembered — oh, yeah … I’m a scientist! So I stopped listening to the “experts” and went back to the basics of my graduate studies in metabolic biochemistry. Two weeks later I had a plan of action. I would limit my carb intake to 30g per day, and do moderate exercise (like walking or biking) instead of killing myself at the gym.
Long story short, in just 7 months I went from 200 lbs to 128, and from a size 14/16 to a size 2! Similarly, Steve went from 270 lbs to 195, and from a size 44 to a size 36 in the same time frame! My triglycerides are now under 40, and my A1C is at 5.0 (not diabetic anymore!). And in case anyone is wondering, my cholesterol count is also perfect! I have redefined what my “normal” is.
After leaving medical school, I got a job working for an allergy company where I am still employed today. But after watching your media offerings, I find myself compelled to go back into research to disprove the lipid hypothesis. It seems like a fruitless effort, though. After doing some searching, I have found dozens of studies conducted all over the world (USA included) which disprove the lipid hypothesis. And yet our government — and worse, our doctors and medical schools — still promote it and teach it as truth. Why is that?!? Why, if the evidence is so plainly black and white, do doctors still promote this bunk? It boggles my mind. No one can convince me that the Food Pyramid is good for anyone, or that “eating fat makes you fat”.
It feels good to write all of this down. I’m sure you get a ton of fan mai”, but hopefully you can see how positively this lifestyle affects people so you keep going and spreading the word. Just keep using scientific fact, and you’ll have GOOD scientists like me backing you up all the way!
Thank you for everything you do,
Thank you, Christina. You learned the hard way that many doctors think they already know it all and don’t like being questioned. But as you found out, sometimes we have to ignore them to get good results – and your results are great.
Dear Tom Naughton,
I hesitated to send this email to you for a long time but I thought the good news must be shared with you. I sent you an email in July. At that time, I had serious diabetic and heart issues. My weight was 240 pounds at 5’11″ tall. I’d tried everything that people said was good for my health for a long time, such as brown rice or a vegetarian diet but the result was really bad. My blood sugar rate kept going up, from 140 to 200. My doctor told me I had to take 2000 mg of diabetic pills everyday.
Nothing got better at that time. I had to quit my primary job because I couldn’t work. I was hopeless.
After watched your video, I thought, hey, I’ve tried everything already, why not this? So, I told my family I am going to do this. Although all my family said I was crazy and some of them even cried, I started your diet plan.
First, I decided to cut carbs. People say we Asians can’t stop eating rice everyday but I quit it. In the morning, I ate 2 eggs and some vegetables and 2 sausages. I went to Wendy’s and ordered double cheeseburgers without buns for lunch. I always added extra lettuce, tomato and onions. At night, I ate a kind of vegetable soup from Korea that has a lot of fiber and very little protein. I never felt hungry at all so I didn’t have to eat a lot at night. Total calories in a day was under 1500.
I tried this diet right after I watched your video. 14 days later, my weight went down to 220. My blood sugar went down from 200 to 120. A month later, my weight went down to 200. My blood sugar was between 80-100. I reduced my diabetic pills to 500mg/day. As of today, although I eat ice cream or cookies sometime, my blood sugar rate always fixed at 100.
My wife was shocked. Even my parents in Korea were shocked, because no one in Korea ever thought eating a hamburger everyday would make a miracle like this. Now, I have my life back. I work every day without any problem and I feel pretty good. In fact, couldn’t be better!
Mr. Naughton, I have no idea what led you created the video Fat Head but I want you know what you have done actually saves a person’s life. I deeply thank you for your efforts. Only thing that I regret is, I can’t properly give thanks to you because of my poor English.
No worries, Jihyun. As you requested, I cleaned up your English a little before posting. But believe me, I understood your message. I thank you in return for letting me know.
I do not normally do this, but I wanted to thank you for your film. It had a huge impact on my life. Just over a year ago I started a diet and came across your film on Amazon. It changed the way I ate. I watched the film over and over and even bought copies for friends and had a few get together where we viewed the movie.
In total, I lost over 40 pounds and I am down in the 190s on my 6 ft frame. I lost the weight quickly and I have been able to keep most of it off. My original goal was only 20 pounds lost but I just kept going following the guidelines in your film.
I was reminded today when I wanted to review the movie again and found it off of the instant video. I will have to buy another as I have given away all my copies. I still struggle with wanting the sugar (Reese Pumpkins are back out) but by eating in moderation and trying to avoid carbs whenever I can, the weight has not come back.
Thank you again. Keep up the good work.
Thank you, Kris. I’m always happy to sell copies of the DVD, of course, but Fat Head is also still available on Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.
Thanks for making your documentary. I never bothered to watch Spurlock’s movie since I’m a pretty natural skeptic, and I’ve virtually ignored government “nutrition” standards for my whole life—at least I thought I did. I never considered watching Fat Head either since I lumped it in with all the other “documentaries” that are really only pushing political agendas.
I grew up pretty fit and healthy. At 5’-10” I was 150 lbs. when I graduated high school and only about 155 six months later when I enlisted in the US Air Force. That began a decade-long imposition of government nutrition standards via military chow halls and various public-university dining plans. In the first six months of my enlistment I gained 30 pounds, and I’d estimate that maybe half of them were good, lean muscle mass. By the end of college I was pushing 200 lbs. I’ll stipulate that I had a very cavalier attitude toward nutrition and ate almost entirely for pleasure, frequently chasing multi-cheeseburgers with lots and lots of soda and midnight runs to the truck stop for enchiladas with rice and beans. I was incredibly active and really not that interested in my physical appearance so I continued to eat whatever I wanted from the (frankly, daunting) wide selection of approved foods on offer.
Shortly after graduation I married my college sweetie—an event followed closely by a desk job, three kids, a graduate degree, an even-better desk job, and another kid. For the first time in my life I started thinking about my health. I tried at times to kick sodas, cut calories, increase the amounts of whole grains, reduce fast food, get more exercise, and all the other conventional advice you sort-of gain by osmosis with this crazy society. I’d get bored, or frustrated, or depressed; and in a blink I’d be back to my old eating habits. Sure I was getting ever so-slowly fatter, but at least I was mostly happy.
I only need to mention that I’m adopted to clarify that I had no idea about my family health history. Through the course of time I managed to partially reconnect with my paternal biological family, and I learned that we’re prone to all sorts of metabolic problems—one uncle was even no-kidding diagnosed with a food addiction, another recently received a Type-II diabetes sentence, and my grandfather died before 70 due to the complications of diabetes plus obesity. Learning these things set off alarm bells, but I continued to struggle in my own way without really caring.
Then I turned 35, and seemingly overnight my health became an issue. Energy levels were just gone. Walking up a short set of stairs left me winded. My blood pressure was high and my body was achy all the time. The mirror wasn’t showing me any signs of “real” obesity, so I hadn’t bothered with the scale either. Under the constant pressure of life events, I false-started at several more of the same attempts to improve my health. I made no progress, and still the worry was growing. I was loathe to start working with a doctor because my wife was having such a terrible experience with hers—all they want to do is put her on meds—and because I was afraid of what I might find out (and what it would cost to “treat” it).
Finally this year at the age of 37 I got serious. I had tipped the post-holiday scales at a whopping 245 lbs.; and according to the government standards I wasn’t just obese, I was a class-II fatty. Even though I knew it was an arbitrary standard, it was still an objective number and I drew my line in the sand. I wasn’t just going to improve my health, I was going to improve my overall fitness—but how?
I made a few small changes to my life to accommodate my new motivation, but I still needed a plan lest I fall right back in to my old ways. I started researching not just weight-loss but actual nutrition and fitness, and that’s when I discovered a clip on YouTube titled “Why You Got Fat”. The skeptic in me tried to dismiss it, but my ignorance demanded I look in to it further. I read the book by Mr. Taubes, watched a few of his lectures and interviews, and then stumbled almost by accident across Fat Head. Talk about clarifying the issue. Suddenly it all made sense. And I knew what I was going to do.
That was 13 weeks and almost 34 pounds ago.
I’m halfway to my goal, and in addition to getting leaner I’m also stronger, faster, and much happier with how my body is performing than I’ve been in over a decade. My BP is down to almost normal and a lot of the worries I’d been having are gone. Now I only worry about getting enough protein so I can go for that 200-lb bench press I’m working toward. And as excited as I am for my own success, nothing makes me happier than the improvement my wife has made. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she’s completely off meds by the end of the year (thank God that she refused to go on statins right from the outset). I have every confidence in reaching my goals, and I’ve implemented what I’ve learned (in no small part due to your movie) throughout my household. We haven’t become carb zealots, but we’ve been able to make much smarter choices now that we have the information that’s been critically lacking in our society.
All that is a really long winded way to say thanks. Thanks for helping to spread the truth. Thanks for your YouTube channel and the clip that finally got me launched in the right direction.
Bettendorf, IA (not far from the map of your childhood neighborhood in the movie)
If my dad hadn’t been transferred to Illinois, we might have been neighbors, Tim. Congratulations on the impressive weight loss, and I wish you and your wife continued good (and ever-improving) health. Wave to the old neighborhood for me.
In a psychology class I took in college (during my brief stint as a psych major), there was a lecture on what determines our personalities. One of the factors was what the professor called energy endowment. Some people are born to be energetic and some aren’t. Your energy level would certainly affect your personality.
I recall thinking at the time, Well, that explains a lot. I’m not blessed with much of an energy endowment. I wasn’t especially lazy or anything, you understand. I went to my classes, I was diligent about my homework, and I worked as a waiter on weekends to make a few bucks. But I didn’t crave physical activity. I liked reading, playing in a band, and talking about every subject under the sun with my friends. I was never the guy who said, “Hey, let’s go play football in park!” Sometimes I did go play football in the park if other guys invited me, but I was kind of relieved when it was over and we all went to sit down in a pub.
Fast-forward 35 years …
The forecast for Saturday was rain all day. Just as well … I knew Chareva and I wouldn’t be doing farm work together because she took Sara to a seminar for girls on math and science careers. So I figured I’d spend the day indoors, working on my speech for the upcoming cruise.
As I was sitting at my desk and going over the speech, I noticed a ray of sunshine peeking through the window blinds. Then I felt mild tension in my right calf. I looked down to see my right foot inching towards the door.
“Excuse me, foot. What do you think you’re doing?”
“It hasn’t rained all day. I want to go out.”
“And do what, exactly?”
“Well, I’m a foot, so it would probably be something that involves walking, genius.”
Not wanting an angry foot on my hands, I gave in and played 18 holes of disc golf in the front pastures. Then Alana and I took food and water to the chickens in the front pasture and collected the eggs. Then we took food and water to both flocks of chickens in the back pasture. Then we took food and water to the hogs.
Feeling I’d done right by the foot, I sat at my desk to go over the speech.
“You know, it’s still not raining.”
“Yes, I know. The forecast was wrong. Big surprise.”
“Well, I want to go back out.”
“But I have to—”
“You can always write later if it rains.”
Can’t argue with that logic. So I went out and played another 18 holes of disc golf. When I tried to take my shoes off to go inside, the right foot refused to let go of the leather.
“What now? That’s 36 holes already!”
“I’m just negotiating on behalf of your arms. They don’t talk much.”
“Well, what do they want?”
“Work. I mean, real work. Tossing those little discs around isn’t work.”
“Tell them Chareva is gone, and the next farm chore is stringing more fencing. That’s a two-person job.”
“Hang on … They say the driveway could use more patching.”
“Well, yeah, now that you mention it …”
“You need to fill in the holes with rocks. They like that idea. Rocks are heavy.”
Chareva’s garden cart was full of tools, tarps, gloves, zip-ties and other items dumped in there in no apparent order, which means she planned it that way. I decided not to mess with her system, even though the garden cart is good for hauling rocks.
So I took a big bucket down to the creek, which serves as my quarry when I need rocks. For the next couple of hours, I scooped rocks and gravel from the creek into the bucket. Then I hand-carried the loaded bucket from the creek, across the front pasture, and to the top of our driveway, making sure to switch arms so neither would feel left out. Then I filled canyons and craters in the driveway with rocks and gravel. When we get a few days with no rain in the forecast, I’ll mix up some Quikrete and pour it between and on top of the rocks.
The rain that had been forecast all day finally came. My muscles were tired by then, so the foot and his silent companions didn’t complain when I went inside.
In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes wrote about what he calls the compulsion to move. We see lean people who move around a lot and fat people who don’t, so we assume the lean people are lean because they’re active.
Taubes says that’s getting the causality backwards. Lean people are lean because their bodies aren’t hormonally geared to store a disproportionate share of calories as fat. When they eat, their bodies would rather burn the calories than store them – so they feel a compulsion to move. Longitudinal studies have shown that despite what most people think, kids don’t sit around and then get fat. They start getting fat first, then sit around more – because they’ve lost the compulsion to move.
I believe there is such a thing as an energy endowment and that it’s partly genetic. Some people are born bouncy and stay bouncy. Others, not so much. But diet has to figure into it as well. When I was college, hardly a day went by when I didn’t eat wheat. Toast or cereal in the morning, a sandwich for lunch, noodles or a roll with dinner – heck, that’s just normal food, right?
Now I rarely touch wheat. But when I do – like, say, for my very rare pizza indulgence – I can feel the difference the next day. I lose my enthusiasm for physical activity. I feel like I did back in the days when I believed I was born with a low energy endowment.
I don’t have that low energy endowment anymore. I’m not the bouncy type and never will be. But when the weekend rolls around, I feel a compulsion to move.
I admit it: I eat a high-protein diet. Not just low-carb, and not just high-fat. It’s high protein.
I thought I should make a public confession because every time some dunce in the media opines that the “high-protein Atkins diet” will kill you, low-carbers around the world jump up and down and yell, “It’s not high protein! It’s high fat!”
Speak for yourself.
It’s true that when most of us switch to a low-carb diet, we don’t replace 300 grams of carbohydrate with 300 grams of protein. We swap a lot of the carb calories for fat calories, and that’s good. But a lot of us also swap a chunk of carb calories for protein calories, and that’s also good. I used to eat pasta with low-fat marinara sauce for dinner. Now I eat meats and vegetables. More fat, more protein. I almost certainly eat more protein — quite a bit more — than people on the standard Western diet. I suspect a lot of people on paleo and/or low-carb diets do as well.
People who aim for a constant state of ketosis are, of course, an exception. Many find they have to restrict protein. Fine, if that’s working for you, keep it up. But as I stated in this post and others, I see “nutritional ketosis” as an intervention that’s useful and perhaps even necessary for some, but not the ideal state all health-conscious people must seek. It’s likely less-than-ideal for a large share of the population.
When ketogenic diets were all the rage, I tried getting into ketosis and staying there, but found it difficult. Restricting carbs to almost zero and eating plenty of fat wasn’t enough. I also had to restrict my protein intake to somewhere around 50 grams per day. Even that barely got me past 1.0 on the keto-meter.
After mulling it over, I concluded that if maintaining chronic ketosis requires that much effort, it can’t possibly be the natural metabolic state of our paleo ancestors – at least not my Irish paleo ancestors. They wouldn’t have restricted protein, and they certainly weren’t importing avocados year-round to keep their fat intake at 80 percent.
Yes, I’m sure they, like other paleo people, prized fat. But that doesn’t mean they were able to live on mostly fat. People prize gold too — because it’s difficult to obtain. There just aren’t that many fatty foods available in the wild, at least not in Northern Europe. Even if you’re a successful hunter of Paleolithic beasts and eating them nose-to-tail, I doubt you end up at 80 percent fat and only 50 grams of protein per day. The Inuits — our poster-boys for a VLC diet — consumed 240 grams of protein per day, according to one study. That doesn’t sound ketogenic to me.
I went back to eating high protein because I listen to my body. I gave myself several weeks to adjust to ketosis, but never felt quite as strong, energetic or alert as when I eat a higher-protein diet. Wondering why that was the case, I looked to simple math for an answer.
Our brains, mucous membranes and red blood cells require glucose. Ketones can substitute for some of the glucose, but not all of it. The bottom line is that our bodies must have glucose – nowhere near as much as the USDA dingbats tell us, but some.
The answer in low-carb circles has always been Yes, but your body can produce glucose by converting protein. It’s called gluconeogenesis. Yup, I’m totally on board with that, and I’m pretty sure I rely on gluconeogensis for at least some of my glucose needs. But we also need protein to maintain muscle mass. Different gurus have different opinions on exactly how much, but the typical figure for a guy my size would be a minimum of 60 grams per day.
See the basic math problem here? If I’m only eating 50 grams of protein per day, that might just cover what I need to maintain muscle mass, or it might just cover my body’s requirement for glucose via gluconeogenesis, but it sure as shootin’ won’t cover both. So if I can only stay in ketosis by going zero-carb and low-protein, I’m either going to run short of biologically necessary glucose or lose muscle mass. (If I’m missing something in the equation, somebody can enlighten me.)
When I’ve mentioned that I don’t aim for ketosis and don’t believe it’s the natural human metabolic state (at least not as a constant state), I’ve had well-meaning people assure me that if I’m not in “nutritional ketosis,” it means I’m still primarily a glucose-burner. Let’s see how that holds up to simple math.
Suppose I consume 150 grams of protein in a day, plus 50 grams of carbohydrate. That would be a typical daily intake for me, and definitely prevent me from going into ketosis. My body will likely use 50 or more grams of protein to maintain lean tissue, but what the heck, let’s say all that protein ended up as glucose for energy. In that case, we’re talking about 800 calories of protein and carbohydrate combined. At my size and activity level, I probably burn at least 2400 calories per day. That means the other 1600 calories come from fat … otherwise known as 67% of the total.
So no, I’m not primarily a glucose-burner. I’m primarily a fat-burner, even at a high protein intake. I don’t know why that doesn’t translate into higher readings on the keto-meter, nor do I care. What I do care about is feeling alert, energetic and strong – which I do on a higher protein diet.
Once we let go of the “but I won’t be in ketosis!” fear, the question is whether going high-protein provides metabolic advantages. For most of us (meaning those who don’t over-produce insulin in response to protein), I believe it does.
This study, for example, found that increasing protein to 30 percent of calories (which is what our friend Jonathan Bailor recommends) produced a spontaneous decrease of 440 calories per day and a reduction in fat mass. As you know, I don’t believe restricting calories is the key to weight loss all by itself. Your body has to be satisfied with fewer calories, or the elephant will panic and run away. (That’s a reference to a post about The Rider and the Elephant, in case you missed it.) When people eat less despite not being instructed to do so, it means their bodies are satisfied.
This study (as well as others) demonstrated that while losing weight, people on a high-protein diet were more likely to maintain their muscle mass. If you’re trying to lose weight (and I’m sure many of you out there are), you don’t want it to come from your muscles. That sets you up for a lower metabolism and a less-appealing body composition. So restricting protein as part of a weight-loss diet could backfire in the long term. A high-protein diet, on the other hand, has been show to raise metabolism.
I don’t feel the need to make major changes in my diet. Going low-carb in 2008 was a major change that provided a slew of benefits, so most of what I do now is tinker. Last year I tinkered by re-introducing a bit of safe starch and adding some resistant starch. This year I’ve been tinkering by reducing my fat intake a bit and increasing protein. It’s still a high-fat diet, but not as high.
Most days I aim for somewhere around 150 grams of protein. Since I don’t want to slog down 75 grams for lunch and another 75 for dinner, that means I’ve started eating breakfast again – well, most days. Some days I just don’t feel like it. I also still pick two days per week for intermittent fasting, meaning I don’t eat until dinner – usually around 7:00 PM. I accept that I won’t get as much protein on those days.
On the non-fasting days, I’ve upped the protein partly by adding eggs whites to my meals. Don’t scream. I know we all think of eggs whites as those icky things the anti-fat hysterics want us to eat instead of whole eggs, but I still eat whole eggs – usually three per day. However, I don’t want to choke down six whole eggs in the morning for the sake of consuming a high-protein breakfast. I like eggs yolks, but not that much. So I’ll eat three eggs with a cup of eggs whites added to the pan. I’ve also been adding lean cuts of meat to my lunches and dinners – which already contain plenty of fat, so the point isn’t to create a low-fat meal. The point is to create a high-protein meal.
After extolling the benefits of a higher-protein diet, I’m probably supposed to tell you how much weight I’ve lost. Trouble is, I don’t know. I’ve mentioned before that we don’t have a scale at home so I only weigh myself at the gym. Turns out even that was useless, or at least it is now.
I realized as much when I stepped on the gym scale a few weeks ago. It’s one of those “medical” scales you see in doctors’ offices, with the sliding weights and the balance mechanism. It all feels so very precise, sliding that top weight over … and a little more … and a little more until the balance is dead center.
But I knew the gym’s scale wasn’t precise when it told me I weighed 206 pounds. That’s not an impossible figure – I weighed more than that 10 years ago – but just a week earlier, the same scale told me I weighed 194 pounds. All I’ve done since then is follow my usual diet and exercise program, which isn’t likely to induce a gain of 12 pounds in seven days.
So I turned to a nearby staff member and said, “This scale has me weighing 12 pounds more than a week ago.”
“Oh, yeah, don’t pay any attention to that thing. It’s all messed up.”
Makes me wonder why it’s still in the gym instead of being fixed or sent to the scrap heap, but that’s not my concern.
Anyway, I don’t know how much I weigh. But I can say I’ve had to cinch my belt a notch tighter since tinkering with a high-protein diet.
“It’s like déjà vu all over again” may be the best-known Yogi Berra line, but my favorite is still his comment on a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”
Anyway, the farm work over the weekend was largely like déjà vu all over again because we were constructing the second chicken yard, otherwise known as Flock A in Chareva’s grand design:
I’ll start with the end: we’re almost done with the chicken yard, but had to stop for what the Pentagon would call an operational pause because of rain.
The young chickens will live in the yard in the foreground, and the older chickens will be moved to the the yard in the background. (The really old chickens will be moved to a stew pot.)
The first job we had to tackle on the second chicken yard was stretching the fencing across the posts. With our hilly, uneven terrain, it’s difficult to pull the fence into a nice, straight line. I tried using a come-along, as a reader or two suggested. It would be the perfect tool if we were stretching the fencing between heavy posts sunk into the ground. But these are mere t-posts and, as I feared, the come-along starting pulling the-posts out of the ground long before the fence was straight. So we accepted the bends and wobbles in the fence.
Well, almost. There was one spot where the top of the fenced bowed in more than I could ignore. Purely an aesthetic issue, you understand. The chickens will be just as safe either way. But after trying and failing to convince myself the bowed-in fence didn’t bother me, I finally pounded in an extra t-post to straighten it … a little.
Now, of course, the sight of that extra t-post bugs me. But I can live with it.
We are able to secure the fencing to the posts much quicker than last time. That’s because this time we had the good sense to buy aluminum fence-ties. Last time we used steel ties. Those are fine for fencing with large gaps, because you can wrap the tie around the wires using pliers and a screwdriver.
But with this fencing, the gaps are only 1″ x 2″. Good luck sticking a pair of pliers or a screwdriver through those. With the steel ties, we ended up pushing them through the gaps with our fingers, yanking them with pliers, rotating them around the wire with a small bolt, grabbing them again with pliers, lather, rinse, repeat, four times for each post … oh, and try not to become unreasonably grumpy with the innocent person on the other side of fence.
The aluminum ties were a breeze. Chareva would clamp one end, bend the tie around the post and pass it through to me, then I’d wrap it around the wire with my gloved fingers.
This chicken yard, like the other, will open into a chicken moat that runs alongside the gardens. The gate is for closing off the moat at night.
Thanks to the dog kennel we re-purposed, this chicken yard will also feature a human-sized entryway. Since the yard and thus the net slope downhill from here, we also had to build another cattle-panel arch to elevate the net well above the door.
I pounded in two rows of t-posts to set the outer edge of the new hoop house, and then we bent cattle-panels (Chareva’s new favorite construction material) inside the posts to form the hoops.
I’m pretty much just the hired labor for hoop houses. Chareva’s the architect and engineer. She’s getting pretty good at building these things. As you can see in the picture below, the four cattle-panels all start out having different opinions of where to meet.
So after they’re lined up, she clamps them together with something called hog rings. (Don’t ask; I don’t know.)
We had a bit of excitement on Saturday. As we were working on the hoop-house, the dogs started barking like crazy. Chareva speaks a bit of canine and understood they were yelling at the hogs. (Their exact words, according to Chareva, were “Hey, hogs! Hey! Hey, stop that! HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY!!”)
She ran off to investigate, then yelled back to me. (Her exact words were “Hey, Tom! Hey! HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY!! GRAB A T-POST AND GET OVER HERE, NOW!)
Turns out the female hog was trying to push her way under the fence at the back of the hog-house — and doing quite a good job of it. Her head was outside the fence and she was sniffing freedom.
Chareva scared the hog away from the fence, then I pounded a t-post deep into the ground. We connected the fence to the post, which was enough to convince the hog there would be no great escape. (That’s the male in the picture below. The female was off sulking.)
When we covered the first new chicken yard with a 50′ x 50′ net, we used up our existing net-lifting poles, so I had to make three more. Before the weekend work got started, we picked up three cheap buckets, three galvanized steel pipes and a sack of Quikrete at Home Depot. I used the front stairs and some Velcro strips to hold the pipes in the center of the buckets.
After adding water to the Quikrete, I hired a cement-mixer who was willing to work for less than union scale if she could make a hand-print in the cement.
I still have to bury the buckets in the ground to keep the poles from tipping over. I was just about to start that job when the rain showed up.
Sounds like a busy weekend, eh? Heh-heh … heck, that’s just part of it. Last year, this chunk of our land was still a jungle with chest-high weeds. I knocked down the weeds with the brush mower I call The Beast, then we spread grass seed. It’s nice to have grass everywhere, except for one annoying feature: the stuff keeps growing.
So in addition to helping with the construction, I got to mow all this …
and this …
and this …
and this …
and some other parts I didn’t shoot. That took five hours. Thank goodness the new chicken yards took part of the side hill out of the equation, or it could have taken five hours and twenty minutes.
I’m not complaining, mind you. I never liked mowing lawns before, but this doesn’t feel like mowing a lawn. It feels like maintaining my land. It’s not a chore; it’s a chance to go out and get Dog-Tired Satisfied.
Weather permitting, we hope to wrap up Chareva’s spring project in the next 12 days or so, and with good reason. I didn’t want to announce this until the schedule was set, but now it is: Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans will be coming to the Fat Head farm at the end of this month to film an episode. Some of you fans Down Under had mentioned in comments that I should meet this guy some day. Perhaps you put that thought into the universe, because he ended up emailing me to ask about doing an interview.
He at first suggested flying me to New York for the interview. I said sure, but mentioned that since making Fat Head, we’ve moved to a small farm with chickens, two hogs, gardens, etc. He wrote back to say in that case, he’d rather come to the farm for a cooking episode plus the interview.
So the farm should probably look nice when he gets here.
When I wrote a recent post disputing Dr. Dean Ornish’s cherry-picked evidence that meat will kill you, I ignored his closing paragraph. That’s because I wanted to focus on the Meat Kills! nonsense.
Here’s how Ornish finished his essay:
In addition, what’s good for you is good for our planet. Livestock production causes more disruption of the climate than all forms of transportation combined. And because it takes as much as 10 times more grain to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, eating a plant-based diet could free up resources for the hungry.
This has become the latest weapon in the arsenal of The Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet. They’ve tried convincing us that meat causes heart disease and cancer, but fewer and fewer people are buying that line — because it’s nonsense. So the thinking seems to be Well, that didn’t work. Let’s scare them away from meat by insisting that livestock are ruining the planet. I give it maybe five years before The Anointed float the idea of requiring meatless days in school lunches.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a federally appointed panel of nutritionists created in 1983, decided for the first time this year to factor in environmental sustainability in its recommendations. They include a finding that a diet lower in animal-based foods is not only healthier, but has less of an environmental impact.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said sustainability is an issue that falls outside the scope of the guidelines. But members of the committee say they had free reign to discuss food supply in recommending what people should and shouldn’t be eating. “The scope is ours to fully define,” said Barbara Millen, chairwoman of the advisory committee and a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
Translation: We’re The Anointed. We can tell you what to do even when it’s not our official mission. After all, given the wild success of our dietary advice in making Americans leaner and healthier, it’s only natural we should expand our focus and save the worldwide environment too.
This is, of course, exactly the kind of theory The Anointed absolutely love. The mission is HUGE — after all, what’s more important than saving the entire planet? – which means it will require a Grand Plan, which makes The Anointed feel So Very Important. Given the opportunity, they will feel justified in imposing the Grand Plan on all of us – for our own sake, of course. Remember, they’re trying to save the planet! Just where the heck do you selfish meat-eaters think you’ll live after your livestock causes global warming – uh, I mean climate change – and renders the planet too hot … or too cold … or flooded because of the torrential rains … or barren because of the lack of rain?
Best of all, as with any Grand Plan, there’s no real way to prove The Anointed wrong. They want us to give up meat so the planet doesn’t boil (or freeze) in 50 years or so. If the planet isn’t boiling (or freezing) in 50 years, The Anointed who are still alive and remember the Grand Plan can claim it succeeded. However, if the planet is boiling (or freezing), they can say we didn’t do enough to stop it. The Grand Plan should have been bigger.
Lierre Keith dealt with the notion that a vegan diet will save the planet in her outstanding book The Vegetarian Myth. Keep in mind she was a committed vegan for 20 years and used to believe all that stuff. But then she educated herself. Here’s an excerpt from my review of the book:
As Keith explains in section two, Political Vegetarians, eating soy burgers won’t save the planet, either. All those goofy vegetarian arguments about how many more people we could feed per acre if we all ate the crops instead of the animals who eat the crops are based on a flawed idea: that the animals who provide our meat are supposed to eat corn. They’re not. They’re supposed to eat grass. Keith recalculates the calories-per-acre figures assuming we were smart enough to raise our animals on their natural food, and not surprisingly, the disparity shrinks to nearly zero.
And feeding the masses is only part of the equation. When you raise animals in a pasture, you create topsoil — you literally can’t create topsoil without animals. But when you raise corn, you destroy topsoil. It’s mono-crop agriculture that uses extraordinary amounts of water and creates soil runoff. Then, of course, there’s all that fossil fuel required to keep the crops growing as the topsoil disappears. (Imagine the fun of explaining to your wild-eyed vegan friends that their “sustainable lifestyle” is enriching the oil industry.)
Since vegans are pushing the idea that going meatless will somehow prevent global warm– er, climate change – I re-read portions of The Vegetarian Myth today. Here are some quotes:
The vegetarians aren’t looking for truth about sustainability or justice. They’re looking for the small slice of facts that will shore up their ideology, their identities. This is where politics becomes religion, psychologically speaking, where the seeker is looking for reaffirmation of her beliefs rather than active knowledge of the world. I was one such believer.
After quoting one of the vegan zealots who was yammering on (like Ornish) about how many more people we could feed if we didn’t waste grain on cattle, Keith writes:
Yes, it is a waste, but not for the reasons he thinks. As we have seen in abundance, growing that grain will require the felling of forests, the plowing of prairies, the draining of wetlands and the destruction of topsoil. In most places on earth, it will never be sustainable, and where it might just possibly be, it will require rotation with animals on pasture. And it’s ridiculous to the point of insanity to take that world-destroying grain and feed it to a ruminant who could have happily subsisted on those now extinct forests, grasslands and wetlands of our planet, while building topsoil and species diversity.
I can vouch for animals creating topsoil. The soil in our chicken yards is rich and alive, thanks to all that chicken poop. For a couple of years now, Chareva has been scooping poop-laden straw from the hen-houses and adding it to her compost pile. The compost has been going into the garden, because it’s great for growing plants.
Later in her book, Keith writes about the “green revolution” – a misnomer if there ever was one. There’s nothing green about it, at least not if we’re using green to mean good for the environment:
Between 1963 and 1997, worldwide crop yields doubled. This doubling came at a cost: fertilizer use increased by 645 percent … the practice of repeatedly plowing the fields, removing the covering of grasses and poisoning the bugs and the weeds robs the soil of its most life-giving characteristics. We’ve already seen how these crops demand more water from dying rivers, sinking water tables, emptied aquifers, how irrigation creates a wasteland of salt-caked desert. My point here is that this abundance of grain is no true abundance. When the vegetarians claim, for instance, that Britain could support a population of 250 million on an all-vegetable diet, they are basing those numbers on the over-inflated production only made possible by fertilizer from fossil fuel.
Anyone who believes eating soybeans and whole grains will somehow save the planet is blissfully ignorant or deluded. To quote Keith again:
To eat the supposedly earth-friendly diet Motavalli is suggesting would mean that everyone in a cold, hot, wet or dry climate would have to be dependent on the American Midwest, with its devastated prairies and its ever-shrinking soil, rivers and aquifers. It also means dependence on coal or oil to ship that grain two thousand miles. So you’re an environmentalist; why are you still eating outside your bioregion?
The logic of the land tells us to eat the animals that can eat the tough cellulose that survives there. But the logic of vegans leads us away from the local, our only chance of being sustainable, back to the desperate Mississippi and her dying wetlands, her eroding delta. Yes, eating grain directly is less water-intensive than eating grain-fed beef. But why eat either? Animals integrated into appropriate polyculture destroy nothing. That is the point the political vegetarians need to understand. In the end, all our calculations don’t matter. Who cares if more food can be produced by farming when farming is destroying the world?
But .. but … it’s a plant-based diet!!
Keith argues in the book (and I agree) that none of this is sustainable long-term. Barring some breakthrough in food production (one that doesn’t require even more pollutants), at some point we’ll probably blow through the resources we’re now using to feed 8 billion people. If anything will destroy the planet, it’s overpopulation. But I don’t see anyone – vegans included – offering to commit mass suicide to save the environment.
If you want to save the planet, buy grass-fed beef. Better yet, raise a cow on grass. Raise chickens in a pasture. That soy-burger – grown with fossil-fuel fertilizer and shipped halfway across the country — won’t do diddly to help.
I’ve posted this before, but it’s worth seeing again. Here’s how properly-raised livestock could perhaps save the planet:
The film follows Donal – a lean, fit, seemingly healthy 41 year old man – on a quest to hack his genes and drop dead healthy by avoiding the heart disease and diabetes that has afflicted his family.
Donal’s father Kevin, an Irish gaelic football star from the 1960s, won the first of 2 All Ireland Championships with the Down Senior Football Team in 1960 before the biggest crowd (94,000) ever seen at an Irish sporting event.
When Kevin suffered a heart attack later in life, family and friends were shocked. How does a lean, fit and seemingly healthy man – who has sailed through cardiac stress tests – suddenly fall victim to heart disease?
Can a controversial diet consisting of 70% fat provide the answers?