Jimmy Moore’s Blogiversary, Part One

For this post, I’m going to set aside my usual smart-aleck persona in order to introduce you to someone whose work I admire and whose web site is, in my opinion, a public service:  Jimmy Moore.

If you don’t already know about Jimmy and his Livin’ La Vida Low Carb blog, you should.  Jimmy is a prolific writer who manages to put up new and interesting posts on diet and health topics on an almost daily basis, as well as releasing bi-weekly podcast interviews with some of the top researchers and writers in the nutrition field.  I’m talking about people like Gary Taubes, Drs. Mike and Mary Dan Eades, Dr. Richard Feinman and Dr. Jeff Volek, to name just a few.  No wonder his podcast is one of the highest-ranked health shows on iTunes.

And as if that weren’t enough, he also produces a Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb show that he uploads to YouTube.  In short, he’s a machine.

Jimmy Moore at over 400 pounds

Jimmy Moore at over 400 pounds

I download Jimmy’s podcasts and listen to them while I’m walking or driving. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from them.  My only regret is that I didn’t discover Jimmy’s site until I was pretty much finished shooting Fat Head, or I would’ve asked some of the people he’s interviewed to appear in the film.  Maybe I would’ve flown to South Carolina to get Jimmy on camera as well.

Jimmy’s blog is about to celebrate its fourth anniversary.  Think about how much work that is:  four years of almost-daily writing, bi-weekly podcasting, and video production.  Now think about all the people who’ve benefitted. Just recently, the composer for Fat Head emailed me that a Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb podcast show helped him realize he was suffering from vitamin D deficiency.  He added some vitamin D to his daily supplements, and now the aches and pains that were bothering him so much are gone.

Jimmy Moore, nearly 200 pounds lighter, with wife Christine.

Jimmy Moore, nearly 200 pounds lighter, with wife Christine.

I’m not going to write about Jimmy’s amazing journey from being a morbidly obese man to a happy, healthy blogger who has inspired so many others to follow his lead, because I’d rather you hear it from Jimmy himself.  I asked a lot of questions for the interview, so I’m going to post it in two parts.  Today, most of the questions are about Jimmy’s battles trying to lose weight — and how he finally succeeded.  Tomorrow, we’ll focus more on career as a top blogger.

Just over five years ago, you weighed more than 400 pounds.  What was your quality of life back in those days?  How did you feel in your day-to-day activities?

Thanks, Tom!  Those are questions I’ve been asked about often since my Atkins low-carb weight loss success in 2004, and I shudder when I think about what my life was like before I started livin’ la vida low-carb.  Quality of life?  Survival.  And it was LITERALLY trying to make it from day to day without ripping another pair of overpriced Big & Tall store pants, wheezing from breathing problems, worrying about my high cholesterol and high blood pressure making me keel over with a heart attack any day now, feeling like everybody was staring at me because I’m “the fat guy,” and genuinely wondering why I ever got to be in this situation that seemed to be so permanent.

I’m sure many people who are or have been morbidly obese in their lifetime can relate to the helpless, hopeless feeling of being trapped inside of your own body with no way out.   It was miserable — although I always tried to keep a happy face to conceal the deep-seated pain I was feeling.

I don’t know any fat people who haven’t tried to lose weight, and I’m sure you did too.  What kind of diets did you try, and what kind of results did you get?

Do you have all day, Tom?  You name it and I’ve pretty much done it.  Rabbit food, 1000-calorie, Weight Down, TOPS, yadda yadda yadda, the list goes on.  However, Slim-Fast was one of the diets I did most often because I could — sorry to be so graphic — poop my fat away.  But in addition to all that fiber they put in it, there was also a boatload of sugar in it, too.

Of course, I didn’t mind eating sugar because it was “fat-free” after all.  And growing up in our fat-phobic society, I just naturally gravitated to any diet that would cut the fat as low as possible.  In 1999, I actually lost 170 pounds in nine months on a very high-carb, very low-fat diet probably on sheer determination. But the weight loss didn’t last very long.

Why didn’t you become an advocate for low-fat diets?  You didn’t start the Livin’ La Vida Low-Fat site.  Why not?

Well, blogs weren’t really in vogue in the late 1990s yet, but I was boasting about my success to everyone I knew.  They all thought I had done the Atkins diet, and I remember responding angrily at these people assuming I ate that unhealthy high-protein diet.  Yes, I was a dope back then and would one day learn the truth about low-carb living for myself.

But I had a secret regarding low-fat living that I didn’t want anyone to know about:  I was so constantly hunger, feeling deprived of the foods I wanted to eat, and actually getting angrier and angrier in my demeanor (my wife Christine often reminds me what a royal you-know-what I was on my low-fat diet) that I couldn’t sustain that way of eating for long.

A fateful trip to McDonald’s just weeks after losing all that weight to get Christine a Big Mac meal that she wanted was the beginning of my rebellion against low-fat eating and I binged my way within four months back up to where I started and then some.  Although I felt bad about gaining back the weight, there was no way in the world I wanted to live like that for the rest of my life!

You started on the Atkins diet in January of 2004.  After gaining and losing and regaining in the past, what made you decide to try yet another diet?

Actually, I have my in-laws to thank for this.  They purchased me a copy of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution for Christmas 2003.  I remember reading that book cover-to-cover and thinking how bassackwards everything was in it from what I had heard and been taught about healthy living.  The whole time I was reading it, I kept saying to myself, “There’s no way possible you could ever lose weight and make these kind of positive changes in your health by eating all that fat!”

Fat-phobia had been hammered into me hard my entire life!  But even before I started, something told me this time was gonna be different.  Yes, I was beginning a New Year’s resolution on January 1, 2004 to lose weight, but in all actuality this was gonna be a New LIFE resolution that would have to sustain me forever and ever.  That is one of the things that attracted me to low-carb, that it allowed me to enjoy delicious and satisfying meals that kept me from ever being hungry or feeling deprived.  Could I possibly eat this way and lose weight?  Well, the proof was in the results.

How is the experience with a low-carb diet different from your previous attempts at dieting?

Night and day.  In the first few days of Atkins, I had a tough time adjusting to the sugar and carbohydrate withdrawals during the crucial Induction period the first two weeks.  Being a severe sugar addict, I had to basically detox from all that.  People who eat low-fat don’t experience this bodily response, but I imagine it is somewhat similar to what a cocaine addict goes through coming off of the drugs for the first time.

But, unlike low-fat diets that left me feeling so empty the longer I did them, something truly miraculous happened.  Not only did I feel better after a short period of time, I felt like for the first time in my life I had found the hidden key to a door that had never been opened.  I was beginning to see freedom from the bondage that morbid obesity had put me under for three decades of my life and there was a glimmer of hope.  By the end of that first month, I had lost 30 pounds and by the end of February 2004, I lost another 40 pounds.

The weight was pouring off of me so fast that I couldn’t believe what was happening on the scale and in my clothes.  Despite a 10-week stall in the midst of my 180-pound weight loss that year, I stuck with it.  Why wouldn’t I when it was working so amazingly well?  What’s a stall supposed to do to discourage someone who’s already lost 100 pounds?  It was at that point I knew I’d never eat any other way ever again.

What was it about losing weight on the Atkins diet that inspired you to become such an advocate for low-carb diets?

You know, Tom, I think it was the realization that I had been lied to about what constituted a healthy lifestyle.  I grew up as a child of the 1980s and watched my mom go to Weight Watchers, eat rice cakes, use margarine, cut the fat almost completely out of her diet and more, all in pursuit of getting thinner and protecting her health.  And what did it get her?  She’d lose some, gain some, lose some more, gain a lot more — the cycle never ended.

Was it my mom’s fault she couldn’t keep the weight off, or were the nutritional mandates by those so-called health “experts” setting her up for failure even before she started?  The adage was that she just didn’t try hard enough, didn’t exercise enough willpower to control her desires, didn’t get enough exercise on a daily basis, and on and on the excuses go.  This guilt-tripping of Americans who simply are not equipped to succeed on a low-fat diet is what I believe is the primary reason obesity and diabetes are running so rampant these days.

People need to know that there are viable alternatives to low-fat eating that are just as effective, if not more, for weight loss and health improvements.  And no matter what the anti-meat, vegetarian zealots would have you believe, diets like Atkins are absolutely safe and preferred for people dealing with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome — which is most of the population.  Where are people going to get this information if our government, media, and doctors won’t tell them about it?

That’s why the new media in the form of blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, Facebook, Twitter, and the like are all VITAL to this open communication with the public about what the facts are about healthy living.  By no means do I have all the answers regarding the questions people have about livin’ la vida low-carb.  But what I do have is experience, success, and a Rolodex full of people who are voraciously researching and treating patients with a carbohydrate-restricted diet and changing their lives forever.  In the absence of the late, great Dr. Robert C. Atkins, I am happy to carry on his legacy for future generations.

You’ve been very open and honest about the loss of your brother, Kevin, who died from heart disease at age 41 some months back.  If you hadn’t decided to change your diet permanently, you probably would be on your way to the same fate.  Why wasn’t Kevin inspired by your example?  Did the two of you talk about health issues?

Like many overweight and obese people walking around today, Kevin made choices for himself that were about feeling good at the time.  He actually did try the low-carb lifestyle and lost about 60 pounds or so a couple of years ago following my diet.  But then he started feeling better, coming off some medications, and quit the diet, thinking he was all better now.  And when the predictable weight gain happened, he was right back in the same mess he was in before.

I often asked Kevin how I could help him and even had some of my podcast guest experts offer to fly down to Florida to counsel him — but he just shrugged his shoulders and didn’t take it very seriously.  Of course, he had three heart attacks in the span of a week back in 1999 that the doctors said should have killed him at the age of 32.  So we feel fortunate that he lived nearly a decade longer than he should have.  His death in late 2008 has stirred me to be even more passionate about sharing the low-carb message with as many people as I can.  If we can prevent another “Kevin” out there from falling prey to morbid obesity and heart disease, then all my efforts will have been worth it!

Check back tomorrow to learn how Jimmy became a professional blogger whose site draws hundreds of thousands of readers every month.

A note:  As part of celebrating his four years as a blogger, Jimmy is sponsoring a “blogiversary” contest for his readers. He’ll be giving away over 100 prizes, including autographed copies of books by authors such as Gary Taubes, Dr. Jeff Volek, Dr. Keith Berkowitz, Judy Barnes Baker, Dr. Loren Cordain, Nina Planck, Fred Hahn, Jackie Eberstein, and many more. He will also be giving away five autographed DVD copies of “Fat Head.”

I apologize ahead of time for my lousy penmanship.

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And The Lap Band Played On …

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I saw this billboard while driving to my office a couple of days ago.  I was so stunned, I nearly blew through a stop sign.  I pulled over and snapped a picture with my cell phone, but the resolution wasn’t good, so I went back the next day with a digital camera.

Let’s talk why this sign is a load of bologna.  We’ll start with “Dieting Sucks.”  That kind of depends on the diet, doesn’t it?  For me, low-fat diets certainly sucked.  I’d lose a little weight, stall, and end up feeling lethargic and depressed.  The “Fit For Life” diet also sucked.  After consuming nothing but fruit and juice half the day, I’d get a sugar buzz, then crash, then up feeling shaky from not having any fat or protein in my system.

But my current diet doesn’t suck.  Here’s what I consumed today:

  • Breakfast — Italian sausage with sautéed onions, scrambled eggs, a couple of strawberries, coffee with heavy cream.
  • Lunch —  Big handful of roasted almonds, a tablespoon of coconut oil.  (It was a late breakfast, so I wasn’t that hungry.  The almonds would’ve been plenty, but coconut oil is waaaay yummy.)
  • Dinner — Ribeye steak, Caesar salad without croutons, sautéed vegetables drizzled with butter.
  • Late-Night Snack — A slice of goat’s milk brie cheese, and a mix of almonds, Brazil nuts, and macadamias.  I picked the nuts out of the big jar my wife buys at Costco.  My girls prefer the cashews, so it works out well.  I like the big Costco jar of nuts because it’s inexpensive, and they don’t roast the nuts in any nasty vegetables oils.

It’s late at night as I write, and I feel full and satisfied.  Not once all day did I look at what I was eating and say, “Man, this diet SUCKS!”

Do I wish I could eat Doritos and pizza without getting fat and sick?  Sure.  I used to love that stuff.  However, if you want to be healthy, you can’t eat everything.  You have to make choices.

But you wouldn’t know that from the billboard, would you?  Hey, dieting sucks!  Don’t put yourself through that … get surgery instead!  Just one little problem:  lap-band surgery doesn’t save you from dieting; it just forces you on a diet by shrinking your stomach to a fraction of its natural size.

And what a luxurious diet it is!  Here’s some information I copied and pasted from a web site for people considering lap-band surgery:

The second phase of the Lap-Band diet consists of 5 to 6 weeks of a modified full liquid diet; the key component of this phase is consuming two ounces of a protein shake every hour for ten to twelve hours a day with two ounces of other liquids such as soup, baby food, or sugar-free gelatin three times a day.

During the second six weeks following Lap-Band surgery patients may eat food that is shredded in a food processor prior to eating. The basic foods on the Lap-Band diet include meats or other forms of protein, vegetables, and salads.

After Lap-Band surgery the stomach will never hold more than 4 to 6 ounces per meal, so making every bite count is essential for healthy and nutritionally rounded weight loss success.  Protein is especially important following Lap-Band surgery.  The Lap-Band diet does not include most bread, potatoes and other starchy vegetables.

Hmmm … protein shakes for six weeks, a gut-busting two ounces at a time.  But after that, you can pig out on up to six ounces of protein, salads and vegetables.  Gee, aren’t you glad you didn’t have to go on some awful diet?  (But remember, you need to avoid bread, potatoes and starchy vegetables … almost like someone following one of those crazy low-carb diets.)

Compare the diet of a lap-band victim to the list of what I ate today, then ask yourself a question:  which diet actually SUCKS?  And what can we say about a surgeon who would put up this billboard to encourage people to undergo an expensive and unnecessary procedure?  Let me see, the words are coming to me … oh, I know:  he sucks, too.

p.s. – A friend of mine had gastric bypass surgery a couple of years ago.  After being thin most of her life, she became obese in the span of a single year and started developing diabetes.  In other words, she crossed the threshold of insulin resistance – she wasn’t eating any more than when she was thin.  The surgery was presented to her as case of “do this or die.”  Yes, she lost a lot of weight.  But she can never eat a normal meal again, and she has recurring problems with digestion.  After watching Fat Head and realizing her weight gain and diabetes were almost surely the result of eating too many carbohydrates – something her doctor never suggested – she regrets having the procedure.

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Well Done! Chef! Interview & Contest

Jason Sandeman of the Well Done! Chef! web site recently posted a review of Fat Head. What a pleasure to know there are still chefs who don’t buy into the low-fat nonsense. I bet Jason’s culinary creations are delicious. 

And if you peruse his site, you’ll see that he’s also a thoughtful guy who writes on a variety of topics related to food.  His post on the poor sap accused of stealing water is spot-on.

Jason also conducted an interview with me and will give away a copy of the Fat Head DVD to someone he’ll pick at random … well, someone who leaves a comment on the interview, that is.  (I don’t think he plans to toss the DVD out the window and see who picks it up.)

And while you’re there, check out the treasure trove of recipes.

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Digest Some Bologna, Readers

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Reader’s Digest recently published an article titled “Why Low-Carb Diets Aren’t the Answer.”  The article was full of the usual bologna, with a few side orders of pseudo-scientific salami.  Curiously, the article was not credited to any particular author.  I’m guessing the unusual anonymity is due to one of two reasons:  the author doesn’t want to be on record when the article is shredded by real scientists, or he’s a food-industry hack whose conflict of interest would torpedo his credibility. 

But I digress.  Let’s examine the bologna this article asks you to swallow:

Low-carb diets usually begin with an “induction” phase that eliminates nearly every source of carbohydrate. Often, you’ll consume as few as 20 grams of carbohydrate a day. That’s less than 100 calories’ worth—about what’s in a small dinner roll. On a 1,200-calorie diet, that’s only about 8 percent of your daily calories. By contrast, health experts recommend that we get between 45 and 65 percent of our calories from carbs.

Oh, I see.  We must need lots of carbs, because that’s what “experts” recommend.  Well, there’s proof for you.  Open a textbook in biochemistry and look up “essential fatty acids.”  You’ll find them listed.  Look up “essential amino acids,” a.k.a. proteins.  You’ll find them listed.  Look up “essential carbohydrates.”  You won’t find any, because there are no essential carbohydrates. 

Humans can live without any dietary carbohydrates whatsoever, and have done exactly that in cultures all over the world. So, according to Dr. Anonymous, we’re supposed to get most of our calories from the one macronutrient that isn’t biologically essential.

With virtually no carbs in your system, you may even have trouble concentrating. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the human brain requires the equivalent of 130 grams of carbohydrate a day to function optimally—and that’s a minimum.

If you’ve been living primarily on carbs and then stop eating them, you will indeed feel foggy – for a few weeks while going through withdrawal, which is what happened in the bogus NAS study.  People also feel foggy when they give up smoking.  Guess they’d better not quit; nicotine is obviously essential for the brain to function optimally.  Meanwhile, I somehow manage to write complicated software programs while consuming perhaps 50 grams of carbs per day – closer to zero on many days.

But the low-carb diet will also wreak some havoc. When your body breaks down lean body mass—muscle—for energy, your metabolism slows because muscle tissue burns up a lot of calories. This may be one reason that the weight often comes back after you’ve been shunning carbs for a while.

Okay, this one is just plain stupid.  Studies show over and over again that ketogenic (low-carb) diets are superior for maintaining lean muscle mass while losing weight.  If you starve yourself, then of course you’ll break down muscle tissue, but low-carb diets aren’t about starving; they’re about lowering insulin. 

I added a weight-lifting program to my exercise regimen this year and put on 16 pounds while losing fat around my waist.  My legs and chest got noticeably thicker.  If I’m losing muscle mass, then someone is injecting silicone into my muscles while I’m asleep. Meanwhile, low-fat, high-carb diets are notorious for slowing down the dieter’s metabolism.

The effects on your heart are also questionable. Especially if you switch to a high-saturated-fat diet, as people do when they start eating their fill of steak and bacon, your “bad” LDL cholesterol will go up.

When I went on a “saturated fat pigout” diet for a month – all the steaks, bacon, sausage, cheese, cream and butter I wanted, but no sugar or starch – my LDL dropped by 30 points.  I know several other people who’ve had similar experiences. 

And frankly, the LDL number by itself is meaningless, because LDL can either be small and dense (the harmful kind) or big and fluffy (the harmless kind, which may even have anti-inflammatory properties).  And guess which macronutrient tends to produce small, dense LDL? Yup … carbohydrates. Meanwhile, Dr. Anonymous conveniently failed to mention that increasing fat in the diet raises your HDL – you know, the “good” cholesterol.

It’s not just that you’ll feel deprived because you’ve had to give up bread, fruit, and all the rest. Your body will also be deprived of foods and nutrients that are essential for good health, including the following:

Whole grains. These protect against metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

The idea that whole grains protect against metabolic syndrome and diabetes came from studies in which researchers compared the effects of eating white-flour products versus eating whole-grain products.  Surprise!  People eating the white flour – which spikes your blood sugar faster than sugar does – had worse health outcomes.  The researchers then translated that result into “whole grain products protect against metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease,” blah-blah-blah. 

Using the same logic, if I compare smokers to people who chew tobacco and determine that the smokers have a higher rate of lung cancer, I can declare that chewing tobacco protects against lung cancer.

Low-fat dairy foods. Sure, you can have butter and cream on a carb-restricted diet, but you won’t get much calcium or protein from them. Fat-free and low-fat versions of milk and yogurt are excellent sources of those nutrients.

Here’s a crazy idea:  get your protein from meat.  And get your calcium from spinach and nuts.  Considering that pre-agricultural humans had amazingly thick bones without the benefit of raising dairy cattle, I’m pretty sure we can live without fat-free milk.

Fiber. Getting fiber from these foods (except dairy) helps reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Beans and many fruits and vegetables are particularly rich in soluble fiber, which helps lower blood sugar, curbs hunger, and lowers LDL cholesterol.

Well, if the choice is between foods high in fiber and foods high in refined carbohydrates, which is the comparison that was used to tout the benefits of fiber, then Dr. Anonymous has a point.  Otherwise, he’s full of the beans he insists we should be eating. 

And ain’t it strange that Dr. Anonymous is recommending fiber to lower blood sugar?  How about if you avoid carbs so you don’t raise your blood sugar in the first place?  Then you won’t have to lower it.  But if Dr. Anonymous has convinced you that fiber is important, you can get all the fiber you need from broccoli, spinach, almonds, blackberries, and any number of other low-carb foods.

If you load up on saturated fats—the original Atkins diet got as much as 26 percent of its calories from saturated fat versus the 10 percent or less that experts recommend—it’s bad for your health.

Once again, saturated fat is bad for you because “experts” say so.  Too bad the experts can’t point to any real science to back up that opinion.  There have been several major studies that attempted to lower heart-disease rates by reducing saturated fat intake.  They were all colossal failures. 

Meanwhile, the French and the Swiss eat diets that are full of saturated fats, yet have low rates of heart disease.  Inuits and Plains Indians lived almost exclusively on fatty meat, yet had virtually no heart disease.  (If saturated fat truly caused heart disease, Custer would’ve lived to a ripe old age.  Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull would’ve been long deceased.)

In one study, which lasted six months, the low-carb diet seemed to win hands down. The people on it lost nearly 13 pounds (6 kg); the low-fat dieters shed just 4 pounds (2 kg). But the second study lasted six months longer, revealing a truth about low-carb diets: The results don’t last. This study too found that the low-carb dieters lost more weight in the first six months, but in the second half of the year, the weight came roaring back. By the end of a year, there was no significant difference in weight loss between the two groups.

Uh … what the data revealed is that people who didn’t stick to their diets regained all the weight.  Lord knows that would never happen to people who stopped going to Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig.  Jimmy Moore lost 180 pounds on the Atkins diet in 2004 and has kept it off.   I guess the roar of his inevitable weight gain is simply inaudible. 

I’ve read books by Dr. Atkins and Drs. Eades and Eades of the “Protein Power” series, and I don’t recall a single sentence along the lines of “When you’ve lost all the weight you want, drop this diet and return to your old ways of eating.”

No matter how you slice it, we eat too many carbohydrates. We consume many more calories than we used to, and most of those extra calories come from extra carbs (so many chips and cookies!). Thus, it makes sense to cut back some on carbs.

Wow … Dr. Anonymous got one right.  Proof once again that even a broken clock is correct twice per day.

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2Blowhards Interview

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Michael Blowhard, of the brilliant and eclectic site 2Blowhards.com, posted an interview with me today.  This was a follow-up to the interview he conducted while I was still producing Fat Head.  That interview was published as Part One and Part Two back in January 2008.

Michael is also a filmmaker, so many of his questions were about the filmmaking process.  If you’ve ever wondered how little indie films get made, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one.

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Jane Brody’s Cholesterol Headache

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Boy, I’ve had a real problem lately with headaches. Seems like all day, every day, I have a headache. And it’s not as if I don’t know how to get rid of them. I have, in fact, been writing about headache prevention for years, so I did exactly what I’ve always instructed my readers to do:  hit myself in the head with a hammer.

I began with a fairly conservative treatment:  two daily hammer-whacks to the temples for two weeks.  But when I next checked my headache status – which means I sit still for a minute and ask myself, “Does my head hurt right now?” – I was stunned:  instead of being diminished, my headache had gotten worse.

Frustrated, I tried three hammer-whacks per day for another two weeks.  But once again, my headaches only got worse.  So I tried four hammer-whacks per day combined with a stronger dose – namely, a big old sledgehammer I nicknamed “Slammin’ Sammy,” the kind used to knock down walls.

Amazingly, my headaches grew worse.

There was only one conclusion I could draw from the results:  my condition is hereditary. Despite all the studies recommending them, simple hammer-whacks will not do the trick in my case.  (And I must confess that this whole affair is a bit embarrassing, considering how many articles I’ve written praising head-bonk therapy.)

And so, much as I don’t like the idea, I’m considering undergoing the admittedly drastic step of having my head removed.  There are some known side effects from the procedure, such as forgetting the names of your children and expecting the Cubs to win the World Series this year, but they’re not as big a threat to my overall well-being as a constant headache would be.  I will have my head removed and report the results in a month or two.

Does this all make sense?  Or do I sound unbelievably dense?  Because if you substitute “cholesterol” for headache and “low-fat diet” for hammer, I could be an influential health writer for the New York Times.  This is pretty much the experience Jane Brody had trying to treat her “high” cholesterol with a low-fat diet … i.e., the very diet she’s been promoting for decades.

There were many interesting topics that came up while I was researching Fat Head that didn’t quite fit into the film.  Ms. Brody’s campaign to lower her cholesterol was one of them.  If you watch the bonus interview track, you’ll see that Dr. Mary Dan Eades mentions Ms. Brody as an example of someone who simply can’t bear to admit she’s been wrong all these years, in spite of the evidence.

Ms. Brody’s cholesterol panic began when a routine test revealed her total cholesterol to be 222.  (So much for a low-fat diet keeping cholesterol down.)  Since she just knows that a “heart healthy” level should be below 200, Ms. Brody dutifully stopped eating cheese and went on a diet to lose a few pounds.

But – horrors! – when she underwent another test a few months later, her cholesterol had risen to 236, and her LDL had gone up, not down.  Now, you’d think someone with a functioning brain would pause at this point and wonder if perhaps the whole low-fat diet theory is load of bologna.  But not Ms. Brody.  After all, she’s been telling her readers for decades to cut the fat, cut the fat, cut the fat.

So she cut the fat.  She stopped eating red meat, switched to low-fat ice cream, took fish oil, and increased her fiber intake.  In other words, she did just about everything she’s been telling her readers they must do to prevent heart disease.

And boy, what wondrous results!  Her next test revealed that her cholesterol had risen to 248, and her LDL was up yet again.

If this were a horror movie, we’d all be screaming at the screen, “Don’t go through that door, you freakin’ idiot!  Everyone who went through that door ended up hanging on a meat hook!”

But Ms. Brody went through the door.  Mere paragraphs after recounting how her low-fat diet failed utterly to bring down her cholesterol, she reminded her readers how important it is to exercise more and cut the saturated fat from their diets.  She even informed us that a former roommate lowered her cholesterol by becoming a vegetarian.  (“See, this diet made my cholesterol worse, but I know someone who had good results, so you should do exactly what didn’t work for me.  Okay?”)

Yup … hitting myself with a hammer didn’t cure my headaches, but I know a guy who knocked his head clean off and never has a headache anymore, so I still recommend the treatment.  Talk about grasping at straws.

Finally, Ms. Brody reported that despite having some reservations, she began taking a cholesterol-lowering drug.  And lo and behold, her cholesterol went down!  (At this point in the story, you are allowed to scream, “Of course your cholesterol went down! That’s why it’s called a cholesterol-lowering drug!)

Now, here are a few no-bologna facts that Ms. Brody either doesn’t know or can’t bring herself to admit:

  • For women of all ages and men over age 50, there is zero statistical relationship between high cholesterol and heart disease. (In other words, the relationship only shows up in men under 50 – and even then, it’s weak.)
  • The Swiss have an average cholesterol level of around 240. Russians have an average cholesterol below 200. But the Swiss have a low rate of heart disease, and the Russians have one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world.  If you check cholesterol levels and heart-disease rates around the world, you’ll see this pattern (or non-pattern) repeated over and over.
  • There’s never been a single study that offers any evidence whatsoever that cholesterol-lowering drugs prevent heart attacks in women.
  • Cutting carbohydrates reduces your triglycerides, and eating more fat raises your HDL, or “good cholesterol.”  Both effects are good for the health of your heart.

So despite her enthusiasm over her new and improved cholesterol reading, all Ms. Brody actually accomplished was to produce a drug-induced test score that made her feel better about the miserable results of her low-fat diet.  This is equivalent to darkening your gray hair with some Grecian Formula, then telling yourself that you’ve reversed the aging process.  If you have gray hair and you feel old and tired, go ahead and give that a try.

And then whack that newly-darkened hair with a hammer.  Maybe your headache will go away.

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