Archive for the “Random Musings” Category

You may have heard that 60 is the new 40. I’ve generally interpreted that as Unlike previous generations, we didn’t save enough for retirement and now we have to work until we die.

Okay, that may be overstating it. I know the idea is that today’s 60-year-olds want to live and feel more like 40-year-olds. Trouble is, plenty of recent studies suggest that the baby-boomers are sicker than their parents were at the same age, largely because of the rise in type 2 diabetes and other features of metabolic syndrome.

I’ll turn 60 in just under 14 months. I don’t know what 60 is supposed to feel like, but I know I feel better at 58 than I did at 38. I’ve also had more than a few people express surprise when they learn my age and tell me they had me pegged at 40-something.

Well, heck, it turns out my DNA thinks it’s only 39. That’s some wildly optimistic DNA … or perhaps I’ve got a Jack Benny thing going on, turning 39 yet again.

Anyway, those are the results of my TeloYears test. If they’re legit, then I guess 60 will be the new 40 for me. Chareva will turn 45 in a few weeks, so now I feel like I’m hanging around with a hot older chick … although as she reminded me, we don’t know her TeloYears age.  My daughter Alana also wondered if there’s a separate test for my maturity level.

To be honest, I paid no attention to telomeres until someone at TeloYears got in touch to ask if I’d like to try the test. It’s a simple matter of filling out a form and sending in a blood sample, so I said sure, why not? But I still didn’t read up on exactly what telomeres are.

Here are some quotes from the literature they sent along with my results:

TeloYears is a simple genetic test that reveals the cellular age encoded in your DNA, allowing you to assess how well you are aging at the cellular level.

The TeloYears test measures one thing: the length of your telomeres, which are the protective caps on the ends of your DNA that tend to shorten with age. To calculate your age in TeloYears, we use proprietary scientific methods to measure your telomere length, and statistical methods to determine your age in TeloYears, based on the average length of other people of the same age and gender.

Hmmm … my concern was that this might be like those online IQ tests that declare everyone a genius. So I did some poking around online and found an interview with the woman who won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of and research into telomeres. Here are some quotes:

If you think of your chromosomes – which carry your genetic material – as shoelaces, telomeres are the little protective tips at the end. They are made of repeating short sequences of DNA sheathed in special proteins.

During our lives they tend to wear down and when telomeres can’t protect chromosomes properly, cells can’t replenish and they malfunction. This sets up physiological changes in the body which increase risks of the major conditions and diseases of ageing: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, a weakened immune system and more. But the process is somewhat malleable. It is happening in all of us at some rate, but the rate can change. An enzyme called telomerase can add DNA to the ends of chromosomes to slow, prevent and partially reverse the shortening.

We all have health spans – the number of years we remain healthy, active and disease-free – and the shortening of our telomeres contributes to ageing and our entry from health span into disease span. But we can [do things that] affect our telomerase and telomeres, that can [delay] entry from health span to disease span. So we are talking more about keeping people healthier for longer and staving off some diseases of ageing. This is not about extreme life span extension – though of course staying healthier longer does have a reflection in mortality rates.

Yeah, okay. So according to my results, I have the telomere length of the average 39-year-old male, and that means I’m aging slowly – assuming the science is all legit.

If it is, I’m going to be honest and blame a big part of my results on lucky genes, much as I’d like to credit my diet and lifestyle. A lot of people in my family lived to a ripe old age – in fact, other than the ones who shortened their lifespans with smoking and/or heavy drinking, they all seemed to live to a ripe old age.

My great-grandfather, to name one shining example, lived to age 101 and was mentally sharp until the last couple of years. Chareva and I got to know his daughter (my great-aunt) when we lived in Los Angeles.  She was 96 and still sharp as a tack when we first met her.  I remember her complaining that people in her family live too long; all her friends in Los Angeles had passed away years earlier.

Apparently, some wing of my dad’s side of the family took the normal 80-year aging program and stretched it out to 100 years. From what I’ve read online, most guys reach their full adult height by 17 or 18. I was only 5’8” when I was 17. I didn’t stop getting taller until age 23, when I finally hit exactly 6’0”. (I’ve since shrunk to 5’11” despite having DNA that thinks it’s only 39.)

Of course, I believe diet also plays a part. Although I didn’t start seriously cutting back on carbs until my 40s, I’d pretty much given up sugary sodas, candies, pies, cookies, cakes, donuts, etc. by the time I was 20. Sugary stuff just didn’t appeal to me anymore, and given that I tended to feel like crap when I did indulge, I was convinced it couldn’t be good for me.

The TeloYears literature lists dietary tips for slowing the aging process, and avoiding sugar is one of them. Unfortunately, other tips appear to be straight from the USDA/American Heart Association playbook. Here are some examples:

  • Eat five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit most days of the week. (I don’t.)
  • Don’t eat processed meats (salami, sausage, bacon, ham) more than twice per week. (I do.)
  • Follow a mostly plant-based diet that’s low in fat. (Not a chance in hell.)
  • Replace butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oil. (I’m fine with olive oil, but not as a replacement for butter.)

The literature mentions several studies in which plant-based and Mediterranean diets were correlated with longer telomere length. I don’t doubt that, but these were observational studies, and what we’re actually seeing (once again) is the “healthy person” effect: those diets attract people who care about their health, and are thus different in many, many ways.

I also care about my health, so I avoid what I consider the Big Three of disease-inducing foodstuffs: sugar, refined grains, and industrial seed oils.  I also eat mostly whole foods.  If the TeloYears test is accurate and my DNA really does think it’s only 39 years old, then some portion of that happy result is because of factors I inherited, and the rest is because of what I eat and what I do.

So I’ll ignore the advice to switch to a plant-based, low-fat diet and keep doing what I’ve been doing.  And of course, I expect to enjoy my sixtieth-new-fortieth birthday next year.

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I decided to post this here instead of in the Fat Head group on Facebook. The subject of the post is in response to conversations in the group, but I think it’s relevant to the blog as well.

One of the many doctors whose lectures I’ve enjoyed (it may have been Dr. Eric Westman) told a story about his first day in medical school: a professor told the students, “Over the next twenty years or so, we’ll learn that half of what we’re teaching you today is wrong. Trouble is, we don’t know which half.”

Yup. Twenty years ago, I still thought saturated fats clog our arteries and Grape-Nuts with skim milk was a healthy breakfast. Heck, back in the 1980s, I was writing for a small magazine and telling people to avoid saturated fats and eat their grains.  Bad advice straight from the USDA, repeated under my byline.  Shudder.

I know better now because people disputed what I thought I knew. They asked questions. They posed challenges. They provided evidence that what I believed was wrong. Thank goodness I didn’t just close my ears and cling to my beliefs. If I’d insisted on maintaining my beliefs because changing them would remove me from my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be as healthy or happy today.

I’m pointing that out because of two equal-but-opposite forces that seem to pop up regularly in the Facebook group — and probably pop up in all kinds of online discussion venues:

1. Trolls who deserve to be banned.
2. A tendency by some to label anyone who debates a point as a troll who deserves to be banned.

I’ve said it in comments on the blog, I’ve said it in the Facebook group, and I’ll say it again now: debate and discussion are good.  Disagreements and challenges and counter-challenges aren’t always pretty, but they enable the Wisdom of Crowds effect to work its magic.

We’ve had a few people in the group announce that they’re leaving because they don’t like seeing comments or links to articles that dispute the benefits of low-carb or ketogenic diets. They want a supportive atmosphere, dangit, not never-ending debates.

Well, sorry. I’m not a fan of the “safe space” mentality. That’s the kind of nonsense that’s ruining American universities – our supposed centers of learning. The teachers and administrators who create “safe spaces” for students are doing them a huge disservice. They’re discouraging critical thinking. They’re encouraging group-think.

That doesn’t prepare students for the real world. In the real world, people are going to disagree with you. They’re going to challenge you. If you’re convinced your beliefs are legitimate, you’d best be prepared to defend them … and a namby-pamby “supportive” environment doesn’t prepare you for anything except being an intellectual lightweight.

Facebook groups and blogs aren’t universities, but if you visit them because you want to learn, then you’ll be doing yourself a favor by adopting the attitude that should exist in universities – i.e., the attitude expressed by that medical-school professor: much of what you think you know today will turn out to be wrong. If it’s wrong, you’re better off finding out that it’s wrong – and the sooner, the better. People who pose challenges to your beliefs are doing you a favor, because they might just lead you to discover something you believe is wrong.

But what about when people challenge our beliefs and we’re not wrong? Well, in that case, there are two likely outcomes, and they’re both good: 1) you develop a strong argument to support your belief, and 2) that strong argument supporting your belief is convincing to someone who wasn’t previously convinced.

Someone expressed concern about a hypothetical newbie who isn’t well informed and might be swayed by an article warning about the dangers of eating meat. Surely we must act to protect that newbie by banning such articles from the group.

Uh, no. As I replied to that comment, would you rather the newbie be exposed to a “meat kills!” article in the Fat Head group, or by receiving it in an email from a well-meaning relative or co-worker? I’d rather the newbie see it in the Fat Head group … because we have hundreds of intelligent, well-informed members who can (and will) explain why the article is nonsense – complete with links to evidence that it’s nonsense.

So as I wrote in the group, let’s avoid the temptation to simply dismiss or (worse) heap scorn on anyone who asks challenging questions or dares to debate a point. If you’re sure they’re wrong, explain why they’re wrong. Prove them wrong. We’re not going to ban people for engaging in debates. As one member aptly put it, this isn’t about defending the tribe.

Now … having said all that, I don’t have any problem with banning genuine trolls, so let me define genuine troll. A genuine troll is someone who obviously joined the group (or who shows up in comments here) for the sole purpose of trashing low-carb diets. Often they post and post and post and post and post, apparently believing whoever argues the most automatically wins.

I don’t feel any obligation to indulge or tolerate those people, because frankly, they’re just jackasses who can’t stand it when other people don’t agree with their beliefs. They remind me of two quotes from Eric Hoffer’s terrific book The True Believer:

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.

The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than a deep conviction.  The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.

If you’re happy with yourself and confident in your own beliefs, you don’t feel driven to go find everyone who doesn’t agree with you and convert or belittle them.

I’m a fallen-away Catholic, but I would never join a Catholic discussion group for the sole purpose of trashing the church. I think many vegans have kooky beliefs about meat, but I would never join a vegan discussion group for the sole purpose of trashing vegans. I’m a libertarian, but I would never join a Democrats For A Bigger And More Activist Government discussion group for the sole purpose of trashing Democrats.

Why not? Because that’s jackass behavior. People who engage in that kind of nonsense aren’t interested in an actual discussion, because they don’t believe they have anything to learn from the group’s members … but by gosh, they believe they have plenty to teach the group’s members. So they feel compelled to join groups where the inferior or misguided minds have gathered and try to enlighten them – for their own good, of course.

As I mentioned in a post on Facebook, I don’t have time to read most of what’s posted in the group.  I could spend entire days just trying to catch up.  So I’m not always aware of when a genuine troll is polluting the group.

I do remember one, however.  In response to charges that he was trolling, the guy replied something like, Gosh no, I’m just curious and here to learn!  I ask all these challenging questions and post all these articles about the dangers of low-carb diets so people can tell me why those articles are wrong.  It’s all part of my learning process.

So I went searching for him online.  Turned out he runs some group promoting a low-fat diet, and he makes plenty of comments in that group about how low-carb diets will kill you and low-carb dieters are crazy.  Okay, now that’s a genuine troll.  I banned him.

(Next two paragraphs added Tuesday based on comments and emails from readers.)  Unfortunately, some people who don’t fit my definition of genuine troll also need to be given the boot because they’re incapable of engaging in debates and discussions without hurling insults and perhaps even threats.  It’s not about creating a “safe space” where ideas aren’t challenged; it’s about maintaining a tone that invites participation.  If I visited, say, a Facebook group on raising chickens out of curiosity, and the first thing I saw was members hurling insults and threats and four-letter words at each other, I’d leave.

I’ve only banned a few people personally, but one of them got the boot because when Chareva asked him politely to stop calling people c%@ts  and f#$@tards in our group, he came back at her with a nasty and aggressive reply.  (He likes to tell people he was banned for arguing in favor of eating potatoes, because that story makes him the Free-Thinkin’ Hero instead of the jackass who insisted on maintaining his “right” to yell F@#$TARDS! at other people in a group he doesn’t own.)

If you’re aware of genuine trolls in the Facebook group, let us know. If you’re aware of people who can’t discuss or debate an issue without engaging in personal attacks, let us know.  We’ll deal with them. But let’s not label anyone who expresses a doubt or a disagreement as a troll. We don’t learn with our eyes, ears, or minds closed. And we all still have plenty to learn.

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My mom called on Saturday to tell me she’d found a digital picture frame I gave her 10 years ago.  You know, the kind that displays a slide show of pictures, dissolving from one to the next. She told me she both laughed and cried.

She laughed at the pictures of my girls as toddlers – they were quite expressive back then. She cried because some of the pictures were of my dad with the girls. He was so tickled by them, even though his memory was already starting to fade. I know he’d enjoy them immensely today if he were alive and coherent.

Today would have been my dad’s 83rd birthday. I thought about that while looking at my favorite picture of him, the one I keep in my office at home. He’s 57 years old in the picture, and the traits that most defined his personality – the intelligence and the wit – are obvious in the eyes.

I’ll give you just one example of his sense of humor: many years ago, during a conversation about burial vs. cremation, Dad said, “When I die, dump my ashes in the water hazard on the 17th hole at Lincoln Greens. I’d like to spend eternity with my golf balls.”

Dang, what I wouldn’t give for one more conversation with the man.

When his birthday comes around each year, I take it as a reminder of This Is Why We Do What We Do. When I was born, Dad was only 24. He began fading noticeably around age 70, when I was 46. It was painful to witness, but I was approaching middle age or already in middle age, depending on how you define it.

By contrast, I turned 45 the week after my daughter Sara was born. I was 46 when Alana came along 18 months later. If I fade at age 70, they’ll only be in their twenties. I like to think they’re going to want my fatherly advice for many more years beyond that. And even if they don’t, it’s like I said in Fat Head: I want to dance at their weddings. I want to play with my grandkids.

Chareva’s dad turned 75 on Saturday – in a hospital. He was hobbled by a stroke more than a year ago, and a few weeks ago, he fell and broke his hip while attempting to limp to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Fixing the hip required surgery. He ended up with blood clots in his legs, so he needed another surgery to implant a mesh designed to keep the clots from reaching his brain. Not exactly a happy birthday for him.

My dad smoked until he was 58, he drank too much, he didn’t exercise, and he paid little attention to his diet. Chareva’s dad did exercise and was a lean-mean-dancin-machine well into his sixties, but he kept eating his bagels and chocolate candies even after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  I think it’s a fair bet the ever-worsening diabetes led to the stroke.

I’m not criticizing them; I’m just pointing out that the lifestyle decisions we make have consequences.

We’ve both seen our dads lose their quality of life by age 74. I’ll be that age in 15 years, and when I think about what our dads went through, I say to myself, No way in hell. In my nineties, maybe, but not in my seventies.

This Is Why We Do What We Do. It’s nice when people express genuine surprise that I’m pushing 60 (as happened at the office last week), it’s great to be able to do physical farm work on Sunday morning and still hit the gym for a workout on Sunday afternoon (as happened yesterday), and it’s satisfying to wear smaller pants now than I did 20 years ago.

But that’s not really what this is all about. It’s about feeling confident that if I avoid stepping in front of the proverbial bus, I’ll be dancing at my daughters’ weddings … and perhaps watching their daughters graduate from high school.

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No post today, other than to mention that we enjoyed the Great Eclipse of 2017.

Our property is about 15 miles south of the zone of totality — a term I never heard until recently.  We wanted the full experience, so we drove north to the Green Door Gourmet, a 350-acre organic farm outside of Nashville that puts on a number of events during the year.

That’s Chareva, her mom, and the girls in the radical-lookin’ shades below.  (Chareva’s dad, unfortunately, is still in the hospital after falling recently and breaking his hip.)

The shot below was taken just a few minutes before the total eclipse.  Amazing how much light there was, even with the sun mostly obscured.

The picture below was taken right around the time of the total eclipse.  My Canon camera does a fine job in low light, brightening things up a bit, so it actually appeared darker outside than the image suggests.

Once again, the camera exaggerated the ring of light around the moon in the photo below, but here it is anyway.  To the eye, the ring of light was just barely visible around the edges.

Two minutes of darkness, then it was all over.  Quite an experience, though.

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A doctor from Mexico emailed today to tell me he enjoyed the previous two posts on calories. He apologized for his English (which a lot better than my Spanish), so I cleaned up the spelling and punctuation a bit, but here’s how he views the explanation that people get fat because they consume more calories than they burn:

It’s like saying it rains because water falls from the sky.

Somebody replies, “No, really, WHY did it rain?”

And you shout, “BECAUSE WATER FELL FROM THE SKY! ARE YOU DUMB?”

Yes, it’s true that when it rains, water drops fall from the sky, but that is not WHY it rains. You are simply saying it’s raining because it’s raining. What is the meteorological explanation? What conditions get together to cause the rain?

And later in the email:

In weight gain, the cause in the majority of the cases is the alteration of the hormonal pathway that normally controls that area of the physiology. The human body has multiple mechanisms of regulation. For everything else, scientists have very complex biochemical explanations. But for obesity, all they have is a religious explanation of gluttony and sloth, expressed in a mathematical form.

The hormone that controls the storage of energy is insulin. There are other factors in obesity, but all of them are affecting the hormonal, physiological mechanisms of control.

Well said, Doctor – in any language.

As for those other factors, I thought I’d mention a couple that I left out of the previous posts because the posts were already lengthy.

How many fat cells do you have?

This is an area I hope gets a lot more attention in future research. Apparently scientists have only known since 2008 that the number of fat cells we carry as adults is constant. Here are some quotes from a New York Times article:

Every year, whether you are fat or thin, whether you lose weight or gain, 10 percent of your fat cells die. And every year, those cells that die are replaced with new fat cells, researchers in Sweden reported Sunday.

The result is that the total number of fat cells in the body remains the same, year after year throughout adulthood. Losing or gaining weight affects only the amount of fat stored in the cells, not the number of cells.

“There is a system waiting to be discovered,” said Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier, an obesity researcher and dean of Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Flier and other obesity researchers cautioned, though, that even if scientists knew how the fat cell system worked, it was not clear that it would be safe or effective to treat obesity by intervening. One of the hard lessons of the past couple of decades has been that the body has redundant controls to maintain weight.

Redundant controls to maintain weight? Nawww, this stuff’s simple. If you consume fewer calories, your body goes and retrieves calories from your fat cells to make up the difference, and you lose weight. Works that way for everyone … although I seem to recall writing this in the Fat Head Kids book, in the chapter where we explained that Marty Metabolism, the ship’s chief engineer, is like a super-complicated software application:

Like all important apps, Marty’s code includes something called redundancy. That’s a programmer’s term that means if one block of code doesn’t work, the program switches to another … and another, and another, until the command is obeyed.

Anyway, back to the New York Times article:

“This is a new way of looking at obesity,” said Dr. Lester Salans, an obesity researcher and emeritus professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

“I suspect that the body’s regulation of weight is so complex that if you intervene at this site, something else is going to happen to neutralize this intervention,” Dr. Salans said.

Complex regulation? If you intervene, the body may respond by neutralizing the intervention somewhere else?

Geez, these obesity researchers just don’t seem to get it. It’s a simple matter of calories in vs. calories out, so just cut the calories. No other intervention needed.

There was a time a few decades ago, before the current interest in how the brain regulates how much is eaten, when obesity researchers spent all their time studying and discussing fat cells. Investigators discovered that fat people had more fat cells than thin people and that fat cells shrank with weight loss and bulged with weight gain.

The result was the fat cell hypothesis, a notion that obsessed researchers. Fat cells, the hypothesis said, are laid down early in life and after that, they can change only in size, not in number. When people lose weight and their fat cells shrink, that creates a signal to fill the cells again, making people regain.

There’s more to the article, but here’s the important point: Yes, it appears that when we get fatter as kids, we do so mostly by creating new fat cells. But when we get fatter as adults, we do mostly by enlarging our existing fat cells.

I poked around online for more information and found that some researchers believe (but haven’t proved) the number of fat cells we’re born with is largely genetic. In other words, people with a tendency to get fat easily — a trait that clearly runs in families — may have been carrying more fat cells from birth.

I also found that lean people typically have between 25 billion and 35 billion fat cells, while fat and obese people may have anywhere from 75 billion to 150 billion fat cells. (Another study, by the way, demonstrated that adults can grow new fat cells if they gorge themselves to gain weight quickly, but it’s a few billion, not an extra 100 billion.)

So … let’s suppose I make it to adulthood at a lean 15% body fat and have 30 billion fat cells. Let’s also suppose I’m six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds. That means I’m carrying 30 pounds of fat – one pound for each billion fat cells. Let’s suppose that’s the normal size for fat cells.

Now suppose my best friend is also six feet tall and has about the same lean body mass, but is cursed with 150 billion fat cells, perhaps because of genetics, or perhaps because he became very fat as a kid.  Or perhaps a bit of both.

If his fat cells are the same size as mine, he’ll be carrying 150 pounds of fat. I weigh 200 pounds (170 lbs. lean, 30 lbs. fat), but he weighs 320 pounds (170 lbs. lean, 150 lbs. fat). I’m at 15% body fat, he’s at 47% body fat … but our fat cells are the same size.

If I live on pizza and beer during my 20s and balloon up to 250 pounds, I’m not saying it would easy to lose the weight. But to return to 200 pounds, I’d only have to shrink my overly-large fat cells back to their normal size.

But for my obese buddy to get down to 200 pounds, he’d have to shrink all his fat cells to one-fifth their normal size and keep them shrunk. I’d be very, very surprised if those redundant controls to maintain weight don’t fight against that.

So if change my diet and get back down to a lean 200 pounds, and my buddy changes his diet but only manages to get down to 245 pounds, it still means he shrunk his fat cells to half their normal size, while I merely shrunk mine back to normal. I’d be a bit of a jackass if I judged him a failure because he’s still 45 pounds overweight. His weight loss was almost certainly more difficult than mine, and will be more difficult to maintain.

Gut Bugs

In my review of the 2017 low-carb cruise, I wrote this:

Another lecture I enjoyed was delivered by Erynn Kay, a physician’s assistant who works with Dr. Jeffrey Gerber. She spoke about the importance of feeding our good gut bacteria – a topic I don’t believe gets enough attention in low-carb circles. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors weren’t gathering bacon, after all. They were gathering plants with fibers that feed the gut microbiome.

If you’re trying to lose weight by living on cheeseburgers, bacon, eggs, butter, heavy cream and a bit of broccoli now and then, you’re not feeding your gut bugs. Bad idea. That’s why there’s a chapter in the Fat Head Kids book titled To stay healthy, you need to feed trillions of your closest friends.

One of the low-carb doctors who does write extensively about the importance of feeding the gut microbiome is Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly and, more recently, Undoctored.

Speaking of Undoctored, pardon me while I go on a bit of sidebar rant …

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In Undoctored, Dr. Davis stresses again and again that we can’t simply trust the health-care system (which he points out is a sick-care system that has little to do with health) to take care of us. We have to pay attention and be our own advocates.

We saw another example of that recently. Chareva’s father was hobbled by a stroke many months ago. He’s also an insulin-dependent type 2 diabetic. He recently fell and broke his hip while trying to limp to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

After surgery to repair the hip, he was placed in a rehab center. Someone forgot to tell someone else he’s a diabetic, even though it was written on the admission form. He wasn’t given insulin for four days, and only then because Chareva’s mom asked someone on the staff how his blood sugar was doing. Then, and only then, did a nurse finally check his blood sugar. It was over 600, and had probably been that high since he was admitted.

In an age when one-fourth of all senior citizens are type 2 diabetics, how in the @#$% do you not check a 75-year-old man’s blood sugar?

Don’t just trust the medical staff to pay attention and do their jobs. Ask. Demand.

End of rant.

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Anyway, here’s a video by Dr. Davis I think everyone on a low-carb or keto diet should watch and consider carefully:

In a post back in 2015, I explained why I went back to a high-protein diet. It’s still low-carb, but not VLC, and not ketogenic.  I gave the same explanation, albeit more briefly, during a Q&A session aboard the low-carb cruise later that year.

(Jimmy Moore was so upset with me for explaining why I dropped the keto diet, he bought me drinks in the bar later, encouraged me to give another presentation on the next cruise, and made plans to visit over Thanksgiving. You know how these with me or against me types think.)

Going with a low-carb approach (75 to 100 grams per day, sometimes a bit more) certainly gives me more flexibility. I like that. But more importantly, it means I can eat more of the foods that feed the gut microbiome.

Since I knew I’d be writing this post tonight, I measured and counted the ingredients in two of my meals today instead of just eyeballing them. I looked up the calorie and macro counts. I also checked my blood sugar reactions.

Breakfast was three eggs, two tablespoons of butter, a cup of shredded cheese, and a medium potato — cooked and cooled and then rewarmed. Add plenty of salt, mash it all together, and it’s delicious. It comes out to 770 calories, 37 grams of protein, 32 carbs. An hour later, my glucose peaked at 121. It was at 85 an hour after that.

Dinner was 4 ounces of chicken breast meat, one cup of refried black beans, one cup of shredded Mexican cheese, two tablespoons of sour cream, some hot sauce, and a big scoop of salsa. It comes out to 640 calories, 55 grams of protein, 41 carbs, and – the important part – 13 grams of fiber from the black beans. That’s the feed-the-gut-bugs part of the meal. My glucose peaked at 110.

In a podcast interview with Tim Ferriss, Dr. Peter Attia said most of the patients he put on ketogenic diets did very well. They lost weight and their lab markers moved in the right direction. But he said a dozen or so patients didn’t do well at all. Their markers moved in the wrong direction, and some of them gained weight quickly. So he did the smart thing and took them off the diet.

When asked, he said he doesn’t know why some people don’t get good results. Based on what Dr. Davis explained in the video, I’d say failure to feed the good gut bacteria might be part of the problem.

So don’t do that.  Feed your little friends.

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Can’t say I was surprised a post about calories generated a lot of discussion. Like I said, it’s apparently the issue that will never die. Based on back-and-forth comments on the blog and elsewhere, here are some additional thoughts about the calories debate in no particular order.

Extreme positions.

As someone pointed out in comments, people engaging in the calories debate often have more extreme views than the leaders whose ideas they’ve supposedly adopted. Yup, I agree. (And for the record, I don’t believe I’ve ever written that calories have nothing to do with it. If I have, let me know — I’m not going to go check every post I’ve ever written.)

When I re-read portions of Protein Power (1996) and The Protein Power Lifeplan (2000) to pull some quotes, I was struck by how well both books have stood up over time. I didn’t come across anything that made me think, “Boy, I bet they wish they hadn’t written that.” In fact, I was reminded that Drs. Eades and Eades were way ahead of the curve. They were explaining this stuff in terms of evolution and what our Paleolithic ancestors ate long before PALEO ™ became a thing.

But just to be sure I wasn’t quoting opinions they no longer hold, I emailed Dr. Eades to check. No, he replied, I haven’t changed my mind on how calories figure into it, so quote away. Then he added this:

I do believe that you can cheat the calorie math a little on the low-carb diet front. In another early blog post I guesstimated (an educated guess, but still a guess) that people on low-carb diets could probably get away with about 300 more calories than they could on a low-fat, high-carb diet. A few years later, Ludwig and colleagues came up with almost that same number (theirs was 325 kcal, as I recall) of excess energy expenditure on low-carb diets as compared to low-fat.

Perhaps a bit of a caloric advantage when trying to lose weight on a low-carb diet. That’s a heckuva long way from calories have nothing to do with it. But I wonder how many people who are fans of Dr. Eades insist calories don’t figure into it?

On one of the low-carb cruises, someone asked Dr. Eric Westman during Q&A if calories count. “Yes, calories count,” he replied. “But that doesn’t mean you need to count them.” He went on to explain that if you adopt a diet that lowers insulin to where it should be, your appetite should naturally fall in line with your energy needs, and your weight will normalize without counting calories.

Once again, that’s not the same as calories have nothing to do with it.

Low-carb and overeating.

In the previous post, I quoted Drs. Eades and Eades explaining that they had patients who wanted to know why they weren’t losing weight on a VLC diet. Diet journals showed that these patients were consuming 4,000 or more calories per day. That’s why they weren’t losing weight.  (The pleasant surprise was that they weren’t gaining, either.)

Several studies have demonstrated that people on low-carb diets spontaneously eat less and report feeling less hungry, so what was happening with these people? Why weren’t their appetites reduced?

I remember Dr. Mary Dan Eades telling me over dinner years ago that if anything would torpedo the low-carb movement, it was all the junk-food low-carb products being sold. She explained that when they had patients who were still overeating, diet logs often showed they were stuffing themselves with processed junk that happened to be low-carb.

Unlike a lot of low-carb enthusiasts, I don’t simply dismiss Stephan Guyenet’s ideas about food reward. No, I don’t think it’s the entire answer, but this isn’t an either-or situation. The makers of processed foods don’t hire all those food-flavor scientists for no reason. In fact, for those of you who haven’t read it, here’s a part of chapter seven of the Fat Head Kids book:

The Nautilus was programmed to choose the right fuels and building materials automatically. Inside the FUD hatch, special sensors send messages to The Brain that say This is what the ship needs. You experience those messages as This Tastes Good.

When humans hunted and gathered their food, this app worked perfectly. Our taste for sweets told us to eat fruits and sweet-tasting vegetables like carrots and squashes. Our taste for fats told us to eat olives, nuts, eggs and meats. Our taste for salts told us to eat meats and seafood. Our taste for spices told us to eat plants that were full of vitamins and minerals.

But as we’ve seen, apps are designed for a particular environment. The This Tastes Good app was programmed for The Planet of Real Foods. It still worked reasonably well when we migrated to The Planet of FUD Farms. But when we migrated to The Planet of Industrial FUD, we created a huge mismatch between the app and the FUD in the environment.

The makers of food-like products understand exactly how the This Tastes Good app works. So they add just the right combinations of sweet, fatty, salty and spicy flavors to industrial FUD. When these food-like products enter the FUD hatch, our sensors tell us This Tastes Good. This is what the ship needs. That’s how The Nautilus was programmed.

But of course, these aren’t the foods the ship needs.

We are programmed to find certain flavors highly rewarding. So my guess is that if you’ve been dealing with a dysregulated appetite for years (or even if you haven’t), it’s easy to continue craving and stuffing yourself with oh-so-tasty junk foods – even low-carb junk foods – if they tickle the right part of the brain. After all, people crave and over-consume lots of substances that don’t provide calories or jack up insulin.

That’s just one guess. Another guess is that people who fill up on low-carb junk foods aren’t getting enough protein or micronutrients. As we point out in the book, your body knows what it needs. If you don’t provide what it needs, it will keep triggering hunger in the hope that you’ll eventually stumble across some actual nutrients in your food. In that case, you won’t stop until you’re stuffed. Here’s what we wrote in the book:

Food-like products can satisfy your appetite for awhile – but not because The Nautilus has what it needs. When the belly of the ship becomes full and begins to stretch, special sensors warn Marty to stop running the Get Hungry! program. But by the time that happens, you’ve probably consumed way more FUD than you actually need.

Marty has to do something with all that extra fuel. If you’re one of those lucky people (like my wife) Mary will crank up your metabolism and burn it away. But if you’re not so lucky, Marty will store the extra calories as fat.

Not exactly a calories have nothing to do with it argument, wouldn’t you say?

Why calorie math sucks, part one.

Calories have nothing to do with it is an extreme and unsupportable position. But so is The Piggy Bank Theory with its stupidly simple calories in/calories out math. Suppose you’re overweight and go online looking for advice. Here are some samples of what you’ll find.

From Shape Magazine:

In one month you can reasonably anticipate losing eight to 10 pounds if you follow a pretty strict plan. Losing one pound of body fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. To lose two pounds per week, you must drop 1,000 calories per day. Elimination can be done by cutting the calories consumed in a day or increasing the amount of calories burned during your workout.

From Good Housekeeping:

If every day you can cut about 75 calories through diet and burn about 75 calories through exercise, you’ll drop between 10 and 15 pounds in a year. It’s practically losing weight in your sleep.

From Eat This, Not That:

On average, a slice of cheese—whether it be atop a sandwich, salad, omelet or burger—has about 70 calories. Eliminate it from just three meals a week to keep 10,920 calories and keep 3 pounds off of your frame over the course of the year.

From the Centers For Disease Control:

Paul is 47 years old and weighs 240 pounds. He’s at risk for type 2 diabetes. His doctor urges him to lose 40 pounds at a rate of 1 pound a week. Losing 1 to 2 pounds a week is a healthy goal for most adults, experts say. This gradual weight loss is the way to make lasting changes. To lose 1 pound a week, Paul needs to burn 3,500 more calories than he takes in each week. That’s 500 calories per day.

The CDC then lists all kind of ways to cut those 500 calories: swap skim milk for whole milk, use reduced calorie margarine on your toast instead of butter, steam your vegetables instead of sautéing in oil, etc., etc.

From Fitness Magazine:

To lose one pound in seven days you need to reduce your net calories by 500 every day. The easiest way to do that is a 250 split: Cut half from your diet and burn the other half through exercise…. Choose one strategy from the diet and exercise columns each day and after seven days you will have cut out 3,500 calories. Losing four sticks of butter has never been such a cinch!

Heck, it’s a cinch, ya see! The article then lists all kinds of ways to cut those calories … switch from a cup of premium ice cream to light ice cream, eat an ounce of soy nuts instead of three ounces of almonds, etc., etc., blah-blah-blah. Simple math.

I could go on and on, but you’ve already seen this advice everywhere.  You’ll hear it from doctors, dietitians, trainers, workout buddies, and countless internet cowboys.  Just cut those calories, and the pounds will drop off in exact proportion to the number of calories you cut.

So people follow that advice and fail to lose weight – because our bodies don’t work like bank accounts.  But that’s just part of the problem …

Why calorie math sucks, part two

Here’s a quote from the Fat Head Kids book, after a section describing the typical “just cut one pat of butter per day from your diet!” advice:

Well, that sounds easy, doesn’t it? So according to these people, if you’re fat, it’s because you’re not willing to eat just a little less — which means you’re a pig. Or you’re not willing to exercise just a little more — which means you’re a lazy pig.

The real problem with The Piggy Bank Theory is that it gives people who don’t know what the @#$% they’re talking about a license to be judgmental jackasses. It allows them to assume that anyone who gains weight or fails to lose weight is simply eating too much and could therefore lose weight by just eating normally. That’s nonsense. Here’s a quote from the book:

In a study from the 1960s, researchers wrote about obese patients who were locked in a hospital and fed just 600 calories each day. That’s about one-fourth as much as most adults eat. And yet the obese patients didn’t lose weight. Is that because of a flaw in their character? Should they only eat 300 calories per day? Or 200?

The researchers, by the way, referred to these people as the resistant obese and thermodynamic paradoxes. They were at a complete loss to explain how anyone could stay fat on 600 calories per day.  But they did.

Here’s another quote from the book:

A documentary I saw called The Science of Obesity featured a woman who was lean until about age 35. Then she suddenly started getting very fat. She cut her calories to just 1500 per day and still got fatter.

So, was she consuming more calories than she was burning? Yes, absolutely. That is always HOW we get fat. But was consuming too many calories WHY she got fat?

No, of course she wasn’t consuming too many calories. But thanks to the belief in Piggy Bank math, doctor after doctor accused her of lying about her food intake, even though she’d been keeping detailed records. By gosh, nobody could get that fat on 1500 calories per day!

Uh, yeah, some people can. And some people don’t lose weight even on low-calorie diets. Of course, pointing that out inevitably leads to some jackass citing …

The concentration camp argument

If there’s one argument that makes me want to smack the person offering it, that’s the one.

Well, no fat people ever walked out of a concentration camp, so that proves it’s all about the calories! Huh? Huh? I bet you crazy low-carbers never thought of that one!

Ehhhhhh …

Yes, we’ve thought of that one. Here’s a quote from Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes:

Yes, it’s true: If you are stranded on a desert island and starved for months on end, you will waste away, whether you’re fat or thin to begin with. Even if you are just semi-starved, your fat will melt away, as will a good share of your muscle. Try the same prescription in the real world, though, and try to keep it up indefinitely – try to maintain the weight loss – and it works very rarely indeed.

There’s a reason it rarely works: it’s true that no fat people ever walked out of a concentration camp. It’s also true that no healthy, happy people with well-functioning metabolisms ever walked out of a concentration camp. The only reason they could be starved into an emaciated state is that THEY WERE LOCKED INSIDE A CONCENTRATION CAMP, YOU @#$%ING MORON!

There, I think that more or less expresses how I feel about it.

Ancel Keys actually conducted a useful study in the 1940s. To determine the likely effects of food shortages in Europe after WWII, he locked a group of young, healthy volunteers inside a camp and fed them 1500 calories per day for weeks on end. They lost weight. They also lost their energy, their libidos, and in a few cases, their sanity. They were miserable. They were cold. They were obsessed with food. One participant bit off part of his own finger to get out of the experiment.

When the CICO crowd insists that fat people should just starve themselves into being thin, they’re telling them to suck it up and live in a state of constant misery.

Yes, the woman who continued getting fat on 1500 calories per day probably could have starved away the fat at some ridiculously low intake of calories. She also would have been miserable the whole time, and would have had to remain miserable to avoid regaining the weight.

In a speech about what he calls “the fat switch,” Dr. Richard Johnson mentioned what happens in experiments when animals lose weight. When they burn dietary calories, they’re calm. When they start burning their own body fat, most of them remain calm. But when they start burning away lean body mass, most of them become highly agitated. That’s what happens when the body believes it’s starving.

The alcoholic analogy.

We used various analogies in the Fat Head Kids book: Saying people get fat because calories in exceeded calories out is like explaining that Donald Trump is a billionaire because he deposited more dollars in the bank than he withdrew. It’s like a plumber explaining that your toilet overflowed because more water went into the tank than drained out. Those statements are true, but they only explain HOW something happened, not WHY it happened.

Here’s an analogy I’ve used in speeches, but not (for obvious reasons) in a book targeted at kids: saying people become obese because they eat too much is like saying people become alcoholics because they drink too much. That not only fails to provide an answer, it doesn’t even ask the relevant question, which is: WHY do they drink too much? What’s the root cause of the excess drinking? Why do they crave far more alcohol than normal drinkers?

To me, arguments about calories are often as ridiculous as:

“The cause of alcoholism is drinking too much.”

“What?! That doesn’t explain anything. You’re confusing the symptom with the cause.”

“No, no, no. We’ve studied this extensively, and every time an alcoholic becomes drunk, it’s because the amount of alcohol he consumed exceeded his body’s ability to process it. So the cause of alcoholism is obviously drinking too much, and the cure is to stop drinking too much.”

“It doesn’t work that way in real life.”

“Of course it does! We locked alcoholics and normal drinkers inside a prison and gave them each just two drinks per day. At the end of each day, they were all equally sober. So that proves the cause of alcoholism is drinking too much, and the cure is to stop drinking so much. Don’t be anti-science!”

Assuming we live in an alternate universe where we can’t live without alcohol and not drinking at all therefore isn’t an option, any treatment for dealing with alcoholism would have to address the underlying biochemical drive to drink to excess. “You’re a drunk because you drink too much” isn’t an explanation; it’s just a restatement of the symptom.

“To cure your alcoholism, just drink less” would be ridiculous advice.  But it would be equally ridiculous to say “being drunk all the time has nothing to do with the amount of alcohol consumed, so nobody has to count how much they drink.”

Previous posts on the topic.

Someone mentioned in comments that there are probably people who read the previous post, but aren’t long-time readers.  Duh.  I should have thought of that.  So here are links to some posts related to this whole, never-ending debate about calories.

Toilet Humor And The HOW vs. WHY Of Getting Fat.

The Rider and The Elephant explains why we can’t just starve ourselves into being thin.

Puppies and Thermodynamics is about how we have two Rotties who eat exactly the same meals … but one has 35% more body mass, despite being the more active of the two.

Fat Accounts and the Laws of FiscalDynamics is another take on the body-as-bank-account analogy.

I hope that helps.

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